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Widecombe History Group Talk April 2008

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Widecombe History Group Talk: Exeter during World War II


The talk this month was given by Dr Todd Gray on the subject of: “Exeter during World War II”.

Once again we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Todd Gray to our meeting. He has recently been researching the History of Exeter during World War II and collecting together as many photographs of the City during those years. Alas one very sad aspect is that so many of the old photographs and their plates and negatives have been destroyed in recent years by people not realising the immense importance and value of these visual images.

Much of the material gathered has been from newspaper cuttings and these pictures do not easily reproduce in a quality form. Nevertheless the illustrations shown really brought home to us the massive devastation caused by the bombing and subsequent fires on the city of Exeter.

There appears to be much still stored in the realms of “Secret Documents” some in the U.S.A. and some in the Imperial War Museum’s archives.

Interest was shown in the ‘Propaganda Posters’ issued not only by Great Britain but also by Germany during those years. Some were in ‘cartoon style’ but all carrying a message warning people to be careful in what they were saying, to whom and where!

The Westcountry Studies Library made a lot available to Todd but the story of films and papers being put in skips and dumped, made very sad listening. Often forgotten is the fact that Exmouth and Teignmouth also suffered from war time damage. However Exeter and Plymouth get the most mention.

The destruction of so much of the infrastructure of the towns is frightening but talks of the kind we had from Todd, emphasises the death and destruction of the inhabitants and the utter futility of war, this needs to be brought home to younger generations.

So many of the illustrations were in black and white and the atmosphere created by these pictures was very illuminating.

The activities of the airwardens, police, home guard and so many voluntary groups added to our awareness. Emergency washing service vans, the number of women doing jobs that in peacetime they would never have dreamt of doing. Evacuees from Bristol, railway carriages used as first aid centres.

Visits by Royalty in an effort to keep up morale, the removal of iron railings all for the war effort even exerts from ‘Pathe News’ carefully edited to keep the people’s spirits high.

The rebuilding of Exeter and Plymouth after the war also featured in this talk and the return to Exeter of the crew of HMS Exeter.

The message from this interesting lecture is still....“We must not forget the suffering and sacrifice that so many made during those years so that we may live our lives as we want today”.

Todd Gray is always interested in any memories or memorabilia that anyone has to further his research particularly getting names of those featured in the photographs. Contact him at The Mint Press on 01392 272727.

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