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St Martin’s at War, 1939-1945

St Martin’s at War, 1939-1945

There were other Camborne Evacuees billeted in the town which were not so well fed and looked after as this young girl (Rosie, nee Bishop – Ed.), evacuated from either Killick Street or Winchester Street in Islington to the comparative comfort of Camborne Rectory. Rosie remembers some of them coming to the back door of the house to receive a little something from Dosie the housekeeper. Another recollection was of the Rectory dog, a golden cocker spaniel known as Micky Michael Morton. One day he was hit by a car, and badly hurt, dying after three days. He is almost certainly buried somewhere in the large Rectory garden.

One particular incident can still vividly be recalled. Once, in the middle of the night, she was roused from her bed by the housekeeper and taken to the downstairs Rectory kitchen. A plane had crashed locally and two airmen in uniform were sat in the kitchen, possibly handcuffed and under the guard of two other men. She recalls the housekeeper giving them some milk. There were many tears when Rosie had to leave Camborne Rectory for Bingfield Street in Islington, taken back by her family at some point before September 1944, as she had felt at home in the care of the Morton family. In fact the family had experienced a very tough time before leaving London, as Rosie’s grandmother, Eliza Horsley, wife of Stephen Horsley, had been bombed in her home, and had been buried under rubble for a very long time, before being dug out alive. During this ordeal her black hair had turned completely white with shock. Eliza later died in this area and was buried in an unmarked grave in Illogan Parish Churchyard on 18 February 1944. While visiting Camborne in 2008 research identified the site of the grave and respects were paid by the former Evacuee granddaughter. After leaving Camborne in 1944 Rosie kept in touch with the Morton family, who eventually retired to Wych Cross, Keston, Kent.

Early in the War the Reverend Morton instituted the practice of having one of the Church bells tolled every day at noon to encourage the parishioners to pray for peace. This followed a similar practice in the Great War, begun by the Revd G B Hooper, when a passing bell was tolled at noon for the souls of the soldiers being killed in France, by one of the boys being sent up to the Church for this purpose from College Street Church School to ring the bell rope behind the tower curtain. Mr Morton encouraged the use of the following prayer, “O God, open the hearts of all men everywhere to the spirit of Jesus Christ, that we may find again the way to peace.” This was printed in the Parish Magazine and circulated on a card. However by June 1940 the practice of bell tolling had to cease as the Authorities had forbidden the ringing of all Church bells for any purpose, except that of warning in case of air raids.

Around July 1940 the Camborne neighbourhood received some 2000 Evacuee children from London. They were encouraged to go to Church, Sunday School, or one of the afternoon Children’s Services. In November 1940 the Rector noted that “I am very thankful that so many of you still brave the darkened streets in order to come to Church on Sunday evenings.” He also commented that “owing to war conditions, the adult side of our Church Choir needs strengthening, and we should welcome offers of service from men with BASS, TENOR or ALTO VOICES.” In January 1941 it was noted that the Church Hall in Trelowarren Street had been much used for “National Purposes” and was also used by the Home Guard for lectures, as well as for social and war work.

In February 1941 the Authorities ordered that empty buildings, including Churches, were to have Fire Watchers, especially in darkness, to protect them against Incendiaries. Two men or youths were to be on duty every night, using the Church Vestry as a rest room between patrols. The “A” Company of the local Home Guard also promised to place a patrol at the Church on the occasion of any Air Raid Warning after dusk. The Church Council also saw to it that stirrup pumps, extra ladders, rakes and sand and water buckets were provided at the Church for Fire Watch use, to protect the building from fire bombs falling on the roof. Although by April 1941 there were no less than 28 volunteer Church Fire Watchers the Rector still appealed for more volunteers. The Watchers did a night’s duty every fortnight. Some women of the congregation had also volunteered for duty in August 1941 but the Rector thought that this should be a “Man’s job.” In September 1941 the former Curate, the Revd R E Marsden, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for conspicuous courage and resource during a Falmouth Air Raid. Late in 1941 the Government ordered the size of all Parish Magazines to be compulsorily reduced to save on paper and this measure was brought into effect in January 1942. The Magazine did not regain its usual size and format until January 1947. The Church November Feast Monday Social Gathering, instituted in 1859 by the Revd William Pester Chappel, was not held for the first time in many years at the Church Hall in Trelowarren Street, owing to the blackout on the streets.

February 1942 saw an appeal by the Rector for more gifts of books, games and periodicals for soldiers as his supply of these items had run out. Mr and Mrs Lewis Rosewarne had also supplied a second bed for use in the Vestry by the Fire Watchers. By May 1942 the Government had introduced a compulsory Fire Watching Scheme so the need for Parish volunteers came to an end, the organizational responsibility now falling to the Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council. The Parish Church’s own Fire Watchers had been co-ordinated by the Revd H S Hancock, the Church Curate. This wartime Fire Watching was not without humorous incident as on one memorable occasion some of the Watchers stationed in the Vestry could not resist the temptation of purloining some of the white choir surplices from the cupboards and, after donning them, hiding behind some of the churchyard gravestones to await the regular late night passage through the graveyard of some men from the local public houses, in a semi inebriated state and then making their appearance so vested. The victims fled in terror from the churchyard!

In May 1942 the Rector suffered a breakdown through overwork and was advised to go slow for a while. In fact he had experienced a heart attack. He apologized to his parishioners for having to reduce his sick visiting hours as a consequence of this unfortunate occurrence. The additional financial burdens on the parish of War Damage Insurances, Fire Watching Expenses, the increased costs of coal and coke, and the provision of ARP equipment had all entailed extra annual expenditure of £100 and by the Autumn of 1942 the Church was not paying its way. The Rector made a magazine appeal for extra giving as a consequence. There was happier news in August 1942 when the Rector announced that the Bishop of Truro, Dr J W Hunkin, had nominated him to an Honorary Canonry in Truro Cathedral to the stall of St Rumon, a Redruth saint. The use of coupons and clothing restrictions also meant that the usual Eton collars and ties could not be obtained for the Church’s choir boys. An appeal was made for this purpose, with successful effect.

On September 3rd 1942, the third Anniversary of the outbreak of War, a National Day of Prayer was ordered by King George VI and Church leaders. It was noted that “Crowded as it often is, it is not often that St Martin’s has been so very overcrowded as it was at the concluding service of that memorable day.” Many were unable to gain admission as the Church was crowded to the doors. Similar services were also held at the local works.

In November 1942 the restrictions on the ringing of Church bells were partly relaxed and the full peal of eight bells was again rung on Feast Sunday, 15th November. One bell had been kept fully operational for use in any National Emergency but the other seven had been “dismantled”. This probably meant that only the ropes and clappers had been removed to prevent the bells being rung by unauthorized persons. The Tower Captain, Percy Jago, assisted by Fred Harvey, prepared the bells for ringing once again.

David Thomas