RAF Mark's Castle & RAF Sennen Cornwall
Some surnames are removed for the privacy of interviewee's.
Debbie and I visited Cyril at his home in Sennen. His son David made the arrangements for us to visit.
Cyril was a youngster when war broke out in 1939 living and working on his fathers farm at Sennen. He well remembers the steady influx of the Royal Air Force around the Sennen area. Although, he recalls, RAF Mark’s Castle was the first of three close-by locations to begin being built in 1940. RAF Sennen (Skewjack) began to be built very soon. Also in Sennen Cove a domestic site began to grow on land just past the harbour. This became the dinning rooms, cookhouse and boiler house. Toilet blocks and store houses were also included. He recalled three nissen huts and an Administration building. Also back towards the harbour a sick bay. The old Sennen Cove hotel, on the cliff above was taken over for WAAF accommodation. He also recalled that John, another local resident, his father was the manager of the “Old Success” pub which was taken over as the Officers Mess but the bar remained open to all.
Cyril, working from his father’s dairy farm delivered milk to RAF Sennen (Skewjack), RAF Mark’s Castle and the cookhouse at Sennen Cove. He knew the Chief Cook at Sennen Cove and quite a few of the none technical WAAF’s. He recalled that a young WAAf became pregnant and fortunately the father did the honourable and married her. This was the Chief Cook Sid Bexten. After the war they settled somewhere around the Helford.
I mentioned to him that in a number of my letters sent to WAAF Norah Leggatt, there were a number from her boyfriend Archie Easton. In these letters he frequently mentions meeting Norah for supper at the café. We are fortunate to have identified this as Cove Café or known locally as Georgina’s Café. Evidently the Café was used as the NAAFI by the local service personnel. Cyril has an original photo of the café that I can borrow to copy.
Handing a photo of two young ladies to Cyril, I asked if he recognised either. He looked at them and immediately pointed to the one on the right and said “yes, her”. This lady has puzzled us somewhat. It was passed to me by a gentleman who was trying to research his mother (the one on the right). He (the son) believed that she may have been have been a WAAF but later he thought may be a civvy. The son also believed she was in catering at Sennen. Without the certainty that she was a WAAF, Cyril did not think she would have been in the cookhouse as his memory did not recall civilians working there. I have asked the son to try and obtain her service record if she did serve.
I have a letter of recollections from an Airman who served at Mark’s Castle from mid 1943. In these
recollections he talks of the night the Land’s End Hotel was bombed and what it was like with the bombs dropping. This is perhaps a little embellishment as the bomb incident was in 1941. Cyril remembered well with a little chuckle and a glint in his lively eyes. I was 17 then and in the Home Guard. Old Tom Veal George was drinking in the bar. One of the others, a serviceman recognised the sound of the falling bomb and shouted to all to get down. Sadly old Tom was a little slow in getting down and was killed. He is buried in the Church yard at Sennen. (I hope to find his grave when I next visit.) Cyril continued….I was guarding an unexploded bomb near the hotel, being a job for the Home Guard. When the Bomb Disposal Chaps arrived, we were told that it was just the fin section of the Jerry bomb which hit the Hotel, what a laugh. It seemed that the bomb actually fell some distance from the Hotel and bounced straight into the hotel leaving its fin section behind. Had it have exploded then, poor old Tom may have finished his pint. Cyril and others thought that the bombs dropped around Land’s End were perhaps, the result of the Germans looking for convoys to target and not finding them just dumped their load over Land’s End. There was one incident Cyril recalled when a sea mine drifted into the cove it was such an explosion it took out most of the windows way up the cliffs and a number of roofs were lifted off, it was that massive.
We went on to talk of a photograph credited as a view of a Merchant Convoy passing Land’s End. It was obvious that it was naval shipping in the photo which made me think it was part of the D-Day fleet. Cyril studied the photo and said he could not place it as off Sennen, which I have to agree with. The D-Day fleet from the West coast did indeed sail past Land’s End as Cyril recalled.
Another recollection was that the Land’s End Lighthouse continued to be illuminated and it was believed that the Luftwaffe used it as a beacon to begin their run in to bomb Plymouth. Cyril remembers watching the massive red glow in the sky when Plymouth was pounded in the Blitz. I asked Cyril if he could ever remember a searchlight at Mark’s Castle used to direct lost aircraft to safety at RAF Perranporth. He could not remember one there but for a time there was a beacon on Carn Brae Hill near St Just airfield. RAF Carn Brae was set up for Chain Home Extra Low. Research leads me to understand that as Carn Brae was used for shipping it would have been partly staffed by WRNS. Could Cyril comment on this? “Yes he” said there was always two WRNS here at Sennen Cove, they worked up Carn Brae.
Thanks to Cyril so many bit of the jig saw have dropped into place. Cyril has put me in touch with a few more living people who can help with this project.
I spoke to John for around an hour, a truly sharp man who belied his 91 yrs. A very informative conversation putting Mark's Castle 1941 into perspective.
John Harding remembers watching, on a number of occasions, FW Condor aircraft flying along the coast of Southern Ireland. They regularly called up Westland Whirlwind’s to intercept. This was at extreme range of CHL at 150 miles. Apparently these were the only aircraft we had with the range to intercept. (I believe these aircraft were based at Exeter).
The Operations block as seen in the main black and white photographs, this is the block in which John worked. He remembers entering through the main entrance in the photo, turning right due to an internal blast wall. The interior he remembered was one large room containing both the transmitter equipment and the receiver screen positions. I asked if he remembered any bombing, which he did. They came in right down at sea level and dropped their bombs on us. This happened rather a lot. John also remembered that several hundred yards away was Trevescan Chain Home with its masts. I heard of this from Cyril a local gentleman I interviewed several months ago.
John remembered a few of the names of others stationed there. John was billeted in the Whitsand Bay Hotel, now the Old Success. He also eat there. This gives the knowledge that perhaps the Cookhouse etc., had not yet been built. Time frame wise, I would put the bigger building schedule as late 1942 early 1943.
There is more to comment on as I have time to write.
Copyright of the following article rests with the author and the BBC WW2 peoples War
05 August 2005
My Dad was an Art Master at Bemrose School in Derby,and I was quite good at art myself.So when I was interviewed by my Headmistress as I was due to leave school.I told her I would like to do something in the arts."Oh no" she said "there is no call for that sort of thing in wartime", and offered as an alternative, teaching which I didn't want to do.I had a boyfriend called David who was in the RAF(training as a Pilot), and whenever we saw each other,he would tell me what a great time he was having,and persuaded me to think about the WAAF as a career.I had been a girl guide and had learnt the morse code,so David said I could perhaps become a wireless operator.So one day,without telling Dad,but Mum knew.I went along to the recruiting office in Derby to make enquiries.The recruiting officer for the WAAF's was someone I knew from school,although she was a lot older than I was.I also learnt from her that there were two types of operators.Wireless ops used the morse code, but radio ops were secret,so I opted for the latter.I joined up,but she said I could have a differred service for three months,which I did.So although I joined up in June 1941,I didn't actually get called up until September 1941.
I was posted to Bridgnorth in Shropshire for my initial training.I had to have quit a few 'jabs' there,which were very painful.I met some really nice girls.I remember we used to carry our cutlery, known as 'irons', everywhere with us wrapped in a small piece of cloth.At the end of every meal we had to rinse the cutlery in a big bowl of water.As you can imagine it got very nasty towards the end of mealtimes.We were taught to march,footwork was very important,and as I had done a lot of different kinds of dancing in the past,this was one aspect of the training I enjoyed.We also had a lot of lectures,obviously.We were also given our uniforms here,a few of us went and had our photos taken,to send home.I still have them.We had perhaps two or three weeks training here and then had a 'Passing out Parade',which was very special.
I was then sent to RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire for my Technical Training.I remember in the barracks there were fleas,and I got bitten rather badly.It was reported to Doctor,who said the spots were probably caused by a change of drinking water.Anyway,without going into too much detail,part of the training was plotting aircraft tracks on practice sets.It was rather exciting,although it was to be some years after the war before I realized just what important work we girls did.Whilst we were there we had a visit from King George VI.Between October and April we wore greatcoats and gloves,from April to September we had neither.His visit came during the latter,and I remember freezing on the parade ground as it was a very cold day.
In November 1941 I was posted to Stoke Holy Cross in Norfolk.Here we learnt much more about plotting aircraft.I remember there were a lot of acronyms for different tasks.For example IFF meant identification of friend or foe.Broad IFF meant aircraft in distress.It had to be tracked carefully.To tell everything would take too much time,but I enjoyed it immensely,when we passed our Trade Test we were awarded our 'Sparks' badge, which we wore with pride on our uniforms. I still have one in my collection of things.During my time here Norwich was badly blitzed,here is an extract from my diary at that time describing what happened.
April 2nd 1942 news of alert.All confined to camp.On duty 6-11 complete with gas capes and small kit.Apparently E boats off Yarmouth coast.Bags of panic.
April 27th Went to bed 11.45pm,waken up at 12.05am by Jane.Bags of flares(just like daylight).Alarm sounded,dashed to shelters.There until 2am.All in pyjamas and tin hats.Bags of bombers,Norwich blitzed,terrible fires.Not a pleasant experience.
April 29th Went to village dance,was just leaving when terrific air raid started.Ran back to camp through the woods with Sergeant Jones.I admit I was scared.Saw German planes at 150ft.Dive bombers making incredible noise.Bags of flares and Ack Ack fire,machine gunning,shrapnel hitting trees.Went straight to shelter.
April 30th 30 in shelter last night until 1am.Terrific raid.Called to help fetch water.Worked hard all afternoon.The C.O. and Officers helped,on duty until 11.00pm.Alarm sounded,Norwich bombed again.
May 8th Just gone to bed when raid started.Dive bombed for 1hr 30 mins.Land mine 200 yards away,WAAFery wrecked.Had to sleep on floor of NAAFI all night.Masses of bombs,some unexploded.Hell we were scared.Records I bought for my birthday survived though.Warsaw Concerto,Tchaikovskys Piano Concerto and Fingals Cave.
I was on leave just after this at home in Littleover when I received a telegram to return to duty.I was still feeling pretty sick and shaken,so David,my boyfriend took me to see a Doctor at the airfield at Burnaston.He gave me another 48hours leave.When I did return to duty I was posted to RAF Marks Castle at Lands End in Cornwall.I had never been there before and it sounded rather a grim place.We had to spend 10 nights in temporary accomodation at St.Just before moving to Sennen Cove.We got to like our stay there very much.I was there from May 1942 until July 1943.
Another posting I had was in South Shields,what a different experience that was from Cornwall.It was whilst I was here that I recieved a posting back to Cornwall.I was with five new girls who were all groaning at the thought of it,but I was able to tell them it was a great place and they would enjoy it.I knew it was going to be a long journey,so I phoned the railway office to ask if the train would stop at Derby station.It would,so I phoned Davids Mum to ask my Mum to meet the train and bring me hot soup and sandwiches.Mum and Dad lived in Littleover,but they walked to Derby station to bring the food for me and my friends,and then walked all the way back.It was very much appreciated by all because it was a cold and frosty night.Anyway we got to Sennen Cove,but it was very dark and raining hard,I had some stick from the others because I had said it was a great place.They soon found out that it was.At Lands End I joined the concert party,as I had always loved singing and dancing.One day my friend and I were walking back from rehearsals,when a very swish black sports car stopped to ask us for directions.In the front were very high class officers,and in the back was the Duke of Kent.We couldn't believe it.Unfortunately he was killed not long after that.
I married David in 1944.I got a sleeping out pass so we could spend some time together.We were in a boarding house by the sea.During the night the air raid siren sounded on and off.This meant it was a shelling warning.The sound of the shingle from the beach hitting the roof and windows was horrendous.Shortly after we were married I became pregnant and had to leave the WAAF.I went to Ashford in Kent to hand in my uniform and other things.David met me there,and as we were sitting on the village green late that night,we heard a huge roar overhead. We found out the next day it was DDay. Although life was sometimes hectic, I nevertheless enjoyed every minute of my time in the WAAF and I'm still in cntact with some of my old friends.
These memories were told to Volunteer Kathy Brady of the CSV Action desk at BBC radio Derby and written on the site with Jeans Boormans'permission. The author fully understands the sites terms and conditions.
People in story:
Location of story:
St. Just, Cornwall
21 October 2005
This story has been added by CSV volunteer Linda Clark on behalf of the author Harry Trembath. His story was given to the Trebah WW2 Video Archive, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2004. The Trebah Garden Trust understand the site's terms and conditions.
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In 1943 an American Fortress, short of fuel and returning from a submarine bombing mission in Brest, landed at Calynick. My uncle went to see it but I wasn't allowed to be off school in order to see it. I remember reading somewhere that the Americans landed it but they wouldn't take it off as the runway was so small. The runway runs down a valley and then out over the sea. The RAF came and took off all the guns and ammunition and flew it back to St. Eval. Eventually it was returned to Chelmsford on the other side of London. According to a 1998 Air Force book it's nickname was Old Puffin which wasn't very appropriate. I never did see it but it survived the war and was returned to the States where it was eventually scrapped.
(Kalynack is at the NE end of St Just air field)
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