DARTMOOR, DEVON AND WORLD WAR TWO

The PROJECT

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the second world war, MED Theatre have been granted funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to run a young people and community led project exploring the impact on Dartmoor and rural Devon during World War Two.

As an effort to preserve precious heritage, in the form of the memories and first-hand experiences of the local wartime generation, this project will offer the opportunity for younger members of the rural Devon communities to carry out research and oral history interviews that can be used in the creation of various creative outputs. 

This page will be updated as the project progresses with all of the research and information gathered by MED Theatre and the young people who are participating. A monthly podcast will also be made available offering updates on the project and insight into the themes and content of our performances/creative outputs. 

LAND GIRLS AND LUMBERJILLS IN DEVON

ON THE FARMS AND IN THE FORESTS

During the Second World War, around 80,000 girls signed up for the reinstated Women’s Land Army to help with the demanding, manual work that was necessary to keep Britain and the British people afloat. A good number of these Land Army members would have found themselves based in rural areas of Devon.

Many of us are familiar with the Land Girls, those working on farms to help farmers with the animals and food growth. However, less people know about the Lumberjills of the Women’s Timber Corps and their vital contribution to Britain’s timber needs.

 

INTERRUPTIONS TO NORMAL LIFE

DID YOU KNOW?

  • During World War Two, Dartmoor became the temporary home and training ground to both British and American troops. American GI’s posted in the area became friendly with the locals, many of whom had never met an American before.
  • Women had to step up during the war and would often step up to fill the roles left behind by their male relatives who had gone off to fight. 
  • Well known local man Tony Beard once recalled to Dr Tom Greeves delivering groceries around the Widecombe area with his grandfather. Mrs Chudleigh of Swincombe Farm, near Hexworthy, would meet them with a wooden wheelbarrow and an oil drum to keep her groceries dry as she crossed the river to her farmhouse.

EVACUEES AND SEEKING SAFETY ON DARTMOOR

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Castle Drogo, now a National Trust property but once owned by the Drewe family, was used during World War Two as a refuge and nursery for ‘waifs and strays’, children under the agre of 5 who had no parents to stay with. 
  • Villages on the outskirts of the moor were filled each evening by people seeking safety from the air raids in Plymouth. Tavistock, Bere Alston, Yelverton, Horrabridge, Walkhampton and Buckland Monachorum all saw victims of the blitz filling their churches, schools, cinemas and town halls. 
  • On evenings of the air raids in Plymouth, many of the residents of the city would walk up to the hills of Dartmoor to watch as the bombs dropped on their homes. The resulting fires and explosions would apparently light up the otherwise pitch black sky.
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LAND USE AND AGRICULTURE

DID YOU KNOW?

  • During World War Two, Dartmoor became the temporary home and training ground to both British and American troops. 
  • Hospitals, aerodromes and rifle shooting ranges were all built on Dartmoor during World War Two for use by the British and our allies. 
  • Farmers could no longer use the land for grazing and so livestock had to be kept on the farmland. 
  • The Women’s Land Army were employed women who worked in agriculture throughout the war. They worked hard, taking care of livestock and planting and harvesting crops to ensure that the country’s food supplies were steady throughout war. 

LIFE IN RURAL DEVON AFTER THE WAR

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Many of the evacuees that were brought to Dartmoor during the second World War made the decision to stay.
  • Soldiers returning home were offered jobs through government schemes to help them return to normal life. The women who had been filling these roles during the war had to return to their lives as they had been before the war had started.
  • Rationing continued well after the war, until as late as 1953, due to the lack of supplies and the slow recovery of materials and goods. 
  • National Parks were designated in response to cries for open access to rural areas of the country as part of Labour’s post-war reconstruction efforts. Dartmoor was one of the first National Parks, designated in 1951. 
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