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44


When War Came to the Dart 75 years ago peace was declared in Europe. Winston Churchill made the announcement on the 8th of May 1945 and to celebrate this special anniversary of VE day, a book has been written about life here in Dartmouth during those difficult years. Hilary Sunman helped to create it and Steph Woolvin has been finding out what it will uncover about the town’s military past…


it’s all explained in ‘When War Came to the Dart’. The book has been published by the Dartmouth History Research Group in time for the 75th anniversary of VE Day. “The people of Dartmouth experienced a different world during that time,” says Hilary Sunman who is a writer, historian and economist. “Thousands of troops arrived in the area. Local facilities were comman- deered and locals became wartime volunteers cooking meals for servicemen, taking in evacuees and picking up air raid warden roles.”


T Hilary says the town’s econ-


omy suffered as many young men were called up leaving businesses unattended. But this did lead to new opportunities for women and younger men who were forced to take over. “A marquee on the South Embank- ment, beside where the RNLI Visitor Centre is today was a servicemen canteen with the local Women’s Voluntary Service rustling up around two thousand meals a day! Coronation Park was used by the US to store and repair damaged landing craft and tanks. The area was virtually unrecognisable with huts covering the park and the whole area was a hub of activity. And during all this upheaval local people were still trying to live a normal life.”


The book came about because of Hilary’s love of his-


tory and love of Dartmouth. “A lot of important things happened here between 1939 and 1945. There were the big life changing events like the bombing of Duke Street and the Naval College, but there were also small- er everyday changes like the young ladies of the town intermingling with the US troops during local dances!” The book draws together information from lots of pre- vious publications which have been written about local aspects of the war including ‘We Remember D-Day’ and ‘A Wrens-Eye View’. “It means we can recount important memories and anecdotes of people alive at the time. It’s lovely to be able to bring everything that’s been written locally together in one book, which could be used by young people studying the war or by older people who may remember these years. Everyone from the History Research Group has worked very hard.”


“It means we can recount important memories and anecdotes of people alive at the time.”


he arrival of American troops, spying missions being planned in Kingswear and the important role the Wrens played here on the home-front -


Hilary has always been interested in


writing, her career as a development economist meant she was constantly writing economic reports. The job in- volved a great deal of travelling and she thinks she visited 60 countries in all. She was born in Nairobi to a colonial officer who spent over twenty years working in Kenya, but she grew up in a rural vicarage in the south east of England.


‘When War Came to the Dart’ isn’t Hilary’s first pub- lished work, she has written a couple of books about Dartmouth looking at the transformation over the past fifty years from a small town focussed on fishing and maritime services into a tourist hub with art galleries and restaurants. “When I start writing I like to shut myself away and set myself strict targets. I aim to write about a thousand words a day - but it doesn’t always work out like that!”


Hilary has houses in France and London, and a family


flat in Dartmouth and spends her time flitting between the three. “I like to paint when out in France. It’s quite a rural property, an old mill, so I get lots of inspiration!” In London she lives near the Barbican and enjoys theatre life. Here in Dartmouth she tends to write and visit the Flavel. When she isn’t doing all that Hilary says she loves gardening, “it’s the eternal optimism” she says with a smile. “I love the autumn when you get rid of all the old plants (which never turned out the way you thought) and then you get ready for spring and plant new things with new hope!”


‘When War Came to the Dart’ is £12.50 (£10 for locals with a copy of this article) and will be published on May 7th throughout the town.


and available in shops


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