The town of Newton Abbot’s connection with HMS Beagle began in 1941 with the eighth one; she became the town’s adopted ship during Warship Week. She had four 4.7 inch guns and four 21 inch torpedo tubes and saw action in all theatres of the Second World War in Europe.
In 1941 she was stationed at Gourock (on the Clyde) on escort duty for convoys carrying material to Russia from the USA.
In May 1945 she took the surrender of German occupying forces on Jersey in the Channel Islands. She was scrapped in 1946. The most recent Beagle, a Coastal Survey Vessel of 1089 tons with no armament, was launched in Lowestoft in 1967, and surveyed in many parts of the world.
She was decommissioned in 2002, thereby ending the town’s connection with the successor ships of Darwin’s Beagle.
My War Story by Miss Dorothy Parker
It was early August 1940. The phoney war had been going on for a year. On a Friday afternoon there had been the first Air Raid anywhere near London when bombs fell in the Motspur Park / Raynes Park area, killing a watchman at the gate of a company who, I believe printed bank notes and chequebooks. The bombs fell both sides of the railway line which I travelled daily to and from work, and we were all a bit shocked by the damage we could see from the train on the homeward journey.
The next day my mother, 11 year old brother Ken and myself went to stay with former Worcester Park neighbours, Margery, Bob and their 9 year old son Peter, who had moved to Newton Abbot in Devon. My father and older brother both stayed at home as they couldn’t get the same holiday period as myself.
The following Tuesday (I think) we all went by bus to Torquay for the day. On the way back, as we travelled through the hills, several times we passed and were passed by a steam train, also travelling to Newton Abbot. The two lads, Bob and I, had the front seats at the top of the bus. At the station the bus and the train stood side by side, just the station itself separating us.
As we waited for passengers to alight, I looked ahead, and coming straight for us, and flying pretty low, 3 planes. I said “Look Bob, Planes – supposing they were………” and before I could say the word ‘German’, we could see a cluster of about six objects falling from the first plane. Bob shouted “Get down, get down,” pushing me to the floor, and throwing his body across the two boys. We lay there while the bus shook and shuddered. The noise was indescribable, and I clearly remember feeling quite calm and thinking ‘this is what it feels like to die’. We were covered with glass. When the noise stopped, the conductor came upstairs and told us to get off the bus quickly and go to the other side of the road were there was an Air Raid shelter in a park. He and the driver had got under the bus somehow, and no one had been hurt. But oh, the train….
As we descended the stairs we could see the engine lying on its side across the track, the coal stacks by the lines were ablaze. There were no coaches visible, but pairs of wheels, some on the line and some on the platform, and the metal bases of the coaches slewed about. The upper parts were smashed and some recognizable carriages were across the platform over a lady’s body, moaning and swaying back and forth in agony.
I sae a mum and dad with a tiny baby, apparently dressed completely in scarlett – and I realised blood. As we crossed the road to the park, I saw one railway line twisted like a bent drinking straw lying between the bus and the park. It must have been blown right over us.
The shelter was crowded, mainly with mothers and children from the park, but an elderly man was striding up and down saying loudly “They’re coming again, they’re coming again.” I caught his arm and shouted at him, “You’ve no right to say that”, your frightening people, BE QUIET.” My mum said she was proud of me – I had been conceived during the First World War when Dad was on leave after receiving the M.M and mum wondered how I would react in an air raid.
After about half an hour the Air Raid WARNING sounded as we walked back to our friend’s house and fire engines and ambulances were busy – people meeting us were asking “Where was it?”, “What happened?”
That night we waited up to hear Lord Haw Haw and he said that there had been a successful raid on “Exeter Junction”. The BBC reported slight enemy action in the South West. I believe about 40 were killed…….. Mum said “If we are going to get killed I’d rather we were all killed together”, so we returned home the next day.
About 3 weeks later, London ‘got it’ in earnest, and for months afterwards I travelled to and from the City in Air Raids and the aftermath daily, but that’s another story.
I sometimes think of Newton Abbot and wonder what memories others have of that day.