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HISTORY


DARTMOUTH IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR - the port


HMS BRAZEN


used by most ships. Dartmouth was a ‘coaling station’ on the shipping routes from the North Sea down to the Mediterranean and beyond. Coal as a fuel was cheap and plentiful but it also had a problem: it was big and bulky. Ships had to make lots of stops


D


to take on fuel on long journeys. Dartmouth was a convenient stop off before they headed into the Bay of Biscay.


There were boat hulks in the river that held massive amounts of coal. Men were employed to smooth down the coal with shovels and ensure the maximum amount went into each hulk and into every ship refuelling. The ‘Coal Lumpers’, as they were known, were a important part of the community. Their donations made the creation of Coronation Park from the tidal Coombe Mud possible in 1935. But the decline in steam vessels using mainly coal to make way for oil burning ships forced the port in dire straits. Oil was massively more efficient in terms of weight often provid- ing a 40 per cent saving. In 1939 there was only


one permanent Pilot remain- ing to bring ships into the harbour and he would have been forgiven for looking for


artmouth was a port in decline in the 1930s – because of a change in fuel


other employment. Then at Regatta an ominous sign came that there might be more urgent need for the port than before. The Guardship for the cen- tenary regatta, the HMS Brazen, two days after its arrival, started to sound its sirens and its search lights swept the harbour from 10.30pm. It was a sign for its crew to return to the ship, before it sailed at 1am. On September 3 war was declared.


Suddenly, the strategically


important harbour was filling up with ships


That was the start of big changes for


Dartmouth. Suddenly, the strategically important harbour was filling up with ships – before the war there had only been one pilot, at its height their were 11 full


time, working round the clock to safely bring ships in and out of port. A group of evacuees from Acton in London arrived and were billeted around the town – organised by an ef- ficient young woman who would later become mayor and a Freeman of the town, Mrs Irene Scawn. Ship builders Philip and Son, based at Sandquay and across the river at noss on Dart, found itself inundated with work, building more than 230 ships during the war years and repairing many more, including those damaged during the debacle of Exercise Tiger. The Britannia Royal naval College meant that the river was a hive of activity early in the war and this meant that it became a legitimate target in the eyes of German commanders. On September 18 1942, six German


Picture taken just prior to the war, Ship builders Philip and Son, based at Sandquay on the Dartmouth side of the river is now no longer in existence. Photo from the Dartmouth Museum www.dartmouthmuseum.org


bombers swooped along the Dart val- ley and bombed the noss Shipyard, the coal bunkers moored in the river and the BRnC itself. Twenty men were killed at the shipyard, four coal lumpers lost their lives and a Wren officer was killed at the college. Noss shipyard was quickly repaired and was fully operational by Christmas 1942. However, the naval cadets were moved out of the BRnC: first to Bristol and later to Eaton Hall in Cheshire. This tragedy did little to


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