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Hemyock Castle
Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

Wartime Village Life – Hemyock Residents Remember WWII

Before World War Two, Hemyock had been a small peaceful agricultural village. This page contains memories of wartime village life in Hemyock. It is an extract from the book Memories of War. Other pages in this series:

Introduction; Wartime Life; Homeguard; Farming; POWs; Aircraft; Evacuees; Memories; War Carpenter

Contents of this page:


In 1995, as part of the Hemyock Commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Allied Victories in Europe and Japan (VE Day and VJ Day), Margaret Sheppard and Norman Lowman collected first hand accounts from more than eighty resident of Hemyock of life during the Second World War. Although obviously not a complete record, these memories do show how ordinary people were able to rise to the occasion and "do their bit" both in the armed forces and on the "home front."

Hemyock During the Second World War

Hemyock was a small and peaceful village. Many residents were involved in agriculture, even those not farmers themselves would help the farmers during the busy times of the year such as during hay-making and harvest. Most people were employed in the local area. Everyone knew everyone else, practically anything could be bought or mended in the village. With the outbreak of war life began to change. Daily work and life still continued despite the fact that Hemyock was surrounded by airfields and army camps.

In this brief introduction before the 1995 residents relate their memories of the war years, we mention some of the aspects of life in the village that changed during the war years: the blackout, the evacuees, the effect of the surrounding airfields, the iron railings collected for the war effort, the Land Army girls, the Scouts and the farmers and their contributions to the war effort. Everyone tried to work together for a common aim – the defeat of Fascism and the defence of freedom.

Village Policeman – P.C. Stokes

Our village policeman was P.C. Stokes. His house was across the road from the pump by village crossroads, next door to where Dennis Hart now lives His duties increased greatly on the outbreak of war. Unlike the police of today, his only transport was his bicycle. On this, he would cover a very large area. An example of his "beat" shows how very fit he was and the miles he covered. A typical journey took him up Castle Hill to the first Crossway (Gipsy Cross) then left to Madford, then on up the hill to the top of Lemons Hill (Jacks House) and then down into the valley before going up through Clayhidon to the Devon and Somerset border road that runs along the ridge road above Ford Street. Then on his way back down to the turning along to Culm Davy and Whitehall, up to cover about 1 mile towards Culmstock before returning back home to Hemyock. Each time he went out it may be a short or a long duty.

His main additional duty on the outbreak of war was to keep watch on the blackout of every house, looking out for any light that might guide the enemy planes to target the surrounding airfields. This additional duty had started from 11 a.m. on Sept 3rd 1939 when Britain had entered a new era – war. There was a rush to buy black paper and cloth to screen windows and skylights. Everyone kept watch for any lights showing at night that might act as a signal to the enemy. It was one of P.C. Stokes' responsibilities to investigate any reports and tell offenders to improve their blackout.

"Spy" at Pencross

Several residents in Hemyock at that time can remember one particular incident. Looking up the hill towards Pencross a small light was flashing. Those who had some knowledge of Morse could read a coded signal. This was duly reported and the police and Air Raid Wardens investigated. The signal was traced to a cottage on Pencross (now called Honeysuckle Cottage). – Fortunately it was a false alarm, apparently the back door was opposite the outside privy where there was a mirror and every time one of the family went outside on a "visit" the light from the house as they opened the front door, would catch the mirror. The opening and shutting of the door was causing the "coded signal."

Apart from these special wartime duties P.C. Stokes was still responsible for "maintaining law and order." The older residents still complained of the youngsters as they do today. The young were still busy "discovering the limits of acceptable behaviour" as opposed to unacceptable pranks as they have been in every generation.

Youngsters of the time report how they used to gather round the pump on Sunday nights. P.C. Stokes would come out of his house and warn them he would "kick their backsides" for them. They would then move off down to the Factory where he would turn up to move them on after about 1-2 hours! They would then return to the pump. In the meantime they would have had a piece of string attached to someone's door knocker which they would keep knocking until to their glee the unfortunate householder came out. Another favourite prank was to remove Alfred Wide's gate from its hinges and leave in his front garden where he would see it when he came out in the morning! (He lived at Downmead which Gerald Pring had recently built for him.) Another trick was to visit the Pastor to ask for a Bible reading – in the meantime there would be someone out in the bushes cat-calling. Life continued much as it does today, but all this put extra work onto P.C. Stokes.

Special Constables

Captain F.R. Elmes of Culm Davy House was in charge of "C" Division Special Constables in Devon and Sgt. Wide was his second-in-command. Captain Elmes had gained military experience in the First World War. The Specials were very valuable in backing up the work of the regular police.

Other pages in this series:

Introduction; Wartime Life; Homeguard; Farming; POWs; Aircraft; Evacuees; Memories; War Carpenter

Hemyock's Memories of War – the Book

The memories were published originally in 1995 as a 65 page, A4 booklet, illustrated with many photographs. All profits went to the Royal British Legion.

The text has been extensively re-edited and republished in Amazon Kindle format, in aid of Hemyock's Blackdown Support Group charity, it is equivalent to about 115 A5 pages. The photographs have been made into online slideshows.

The complete WWII "Box Set," Hemyock Memories Volume 5, contains all the WWII volumes 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 covering life during World War II 1939-45. These Memories of WWII Kindle books contain eyewitness accounts by residents of Hemyock, of their life during WWII, both serving overseas and on the "Home Front."

Links to video slideshows

For convenience, the photos have been arranged in four groups, forming four slide shows, each lasting about four minutes. The slide shows have been uploaded as 1080p HD. This means that they can be viewed using most types of computer or mobile devices and at any of the resolutions supported by YouTube. Contact us for a DVD version of these slideshows, or versions in other formats.

Links to the Amazon Kindle pages:

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Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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