Rescuing the Rescuers!

Preparing for this year’s Armed Forces exhibition I came across this story about the Air Sea Rescue Helicopter from RAF Chivenor whose crew had a lucky escape…

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Waving boys saw sudden blue flash

Four schoolboys waved to a passing helicopter above Bideford Bridge on Tuesday night, and in the same second there was a vivid blue flash. In front of their eyes the aircraft somersaulted and plunged 50 feet through the air into the River Torridge.

For the four-man crew of the R.A.F.Whirlwind Mark 10, themselves responsible for saving several lives along the North Devon Coast this summer, it was an amazing escape from death.

The aircraft, its tail completely severed by a 33,000-volt electricity cable, came to rest almost submerged in ten feet of water. But its door was facing upwards and one by one the crew scrambled clear.

As two policemen and a fisherman waded into the water to help them to the river bank near Little America hundreds of sightseers converged on the area, drawn by the flash which lit Bideford.


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A second helicopter, piloted by the Chivenor helicopter unit commanding officer, Flight-Lieut. Bob Jones, picked up the badly-shaken crew – Pilot Flight-Lieut. Roger Wain, Master Navigator Gerry Perrell, Master Signaller Dennis Gibson and Junior Technician Ralph Kadby – and flew them back to the aerodrome.

Back in their crewroom, where hot coffee was awaiting them, it was discovered that the most serious injury was merely a bruised eye. All four were on duty again yesterday. But, said Flight-Lieut. Wain: “I can tell you, we must be the luckiest people in North Devon, all four of us.”

The Helicopter had been sent to Bideford to look for a person in the river, however, no-one was found and it was believed that a log floating in the river may have been mistaken for a body. This also meant there were plenty of eyewitnesses to the crash and police officers who were searching for the man on the river bank were able to help the crew of the helicopter back to dry land…

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The fisherman who eye-witnessed the crash, Mr. Roger Davey, of Marland Terrace, Bideford, said: “After the flash the helicopter turned over and went straight into the river.”

The four Bideford schoolboys – Paul Spearman, Norman Raymont, Terry Cudmore, and Mervyn Symons – watched from the bank as Mr. Davey, with Constable Jack Lane and Det.-Consable Peter Ingram, who were helping with the “man in the river” search, raced into the Torridge…

Constable Lane, deep in the water and fully clothed, grabbed two of the crew who were floating in their Mae Wests. Another, after inflating the helicopter dinghy, was pulled ashore, and the fourth reached the river bank unaided.

The accident also, unsurprisingly, caused a blackout in Bideford…

As it snapped, the cable, carrying power from an East-the-Water substation to Clovelly, caused a blackout in that area which lasted for 45 minutes before an alternative supply could be laid on. Some parts of Bideford lost their lights only briefly, and Bideford Town Hall, where the council were in session, was one of the places plunged into darkness.

A follow-up article about the helicopter appeared a week later…

Divers help to raise crashed helicopter

IMG_1291 (3)The ripped and battered remains of the helicopter which crashed into the Torridge last week is to be taken to the R.A.F.’s maintenance command…Work on salvaging the wreckage started on Friday and by Saturday the remains were back at R.A.F. Chivenor. The principal part of the operation was performed by an Instow R.E.M.E. unit, led by Major D.F. Dudbridge. Four soldiers, five civilians, and two shallow-water divers were engaged. They were helped by an R.A.F. salvage unit from Pembroke Docks. The full extent of the damage is not yet determined. An inquiry was held on Monday.

The articles were taken from the North Devon Journal-Herald 23rd & 30th September 1965 held in our collections. We also have an RAF Chivenor Collection in our Document collection. For more information read our Chivenor and North Devon Journal posts or visit our website.

…Barum Athena


100 Years of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

On this day in 1917, a Royal Charter was given establishing what is now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The cemeteries and graves the Commission look after can found across the world.

The Commission was the brainchild of Sir Fabian Ware who, being too old to fight in World War One, commanded a British Red Cross mobile unit. Whilst serving in France he realised  the need to mark the places where the fallen were buried so they would not be forgotten. By 1915 his work and that of his unit were recognised by the War Office and in 1917 they were given a Royal Charter and the Commission was officially formed.

The Commission had identified around 587,000 graves by 1918 and nearly as many registered casualties whose graves were unknown. After the end of the war the Commission set about creating the cemeteries and memorials we most associate the Commission with today.

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Leading architects of the day were called upon to help design the cemeteries and gravestones and Rudyard Kipling was brought in as literary advisor for the inscriptions.

Twenty years after the Commission received it’s Charter, Ware wrote a book about its work called The Immortal Heritage – An Account of the Work and Policy of The Imperial War Graves Commission during the twenty years 1917-1937. The book includes a brief history of the Commission, alongside pictures of the cemeteries they created and a table showing the distribution of the cemeteries, graves and memorials in their care.

The cemeteries and memorials to the fallen can be found all over the world and include graves and memorials to servicemen and women from North Devon. Men like Jack Haysom (18) who died in India in 1915 whilst serving with the Devonshire Regiment; Serjeant Ernest George Symons of Landkey who was killed at Gallipoli and Lance Corporal Edward Brayley (31) who died during the Battle of Dujailah in Mesopotamia. All were buried in war cemeteries looked after by the Commission.

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The Commission, however, also look after graves much closer to home. In 1937 the Commission were looking after over 88,174 graves across 9,262 burial grounds within Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Barnstaple has 27 World War One graves, Bideford has 15 and Ilfracombe 21 and there are many others scattered across North Devon.

The cemeteries and graveyards of North Devon also contain the graves of those who fell in other conflicts. Barnstaple has another 22 World War Two war graves, including 2 civilian war dead. Wilfred Cater is one of those buried in Barnstaple after he died in training as an RAF Volunteer Reservist in 1941 aged 42. His Brother, Frank, had survived the First World War having seen action with the Royal North Devon Hussars at Gallipoli  before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently the Royal Air Force.

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli

Heanton Punchardon has the largest number of war graves in North Devon – 127 in total. The churchyard at St. Augustine is the burial-place for many of the men who were lost from RAF Chivenor during the war. Many of them were members of the Canadian and Australian Air Forces and they also include Czech servicemen who were part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves.

No matter where the graves and memorials are located the Commission are charged with their care.

Find Out More

Find out more about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Sir Fabian Ware by reading the following items we hold on our shelves

The Silent Cities by Sidney C Hurst [940.4411/HUR] is an illustrated guide to the war cemeteries and memorials in France and Flanders published in 1929

The Immortal Heritage by Fabian Ware [940.411/WAR] published in 1937 is an account of the first twenty years of the Commission

…Barum Athena

Discover Shakespeare…On Our Shelves!


All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages


One of Barnstaple’s claims to fame is that it is the birth place of the poet and playwright John Gay, however 80 years before he was born Barnstaple played host to a troupe of players amongst whose numbers may well have been another playwright – William Shakespeare.

Hidden away in the accounts for the Borough of Barnstaple are references of payments to the “Kynges Players.” They first visited the town in 1604/5 being paid 10 shillings for their troubles. They came back again in 1607/8 by “Master Maiors Commaundement” and were paid twice what they had been paid before.

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[North Devon Record Office: B1/3972]

The Barnstaple Borough records are now in the care of the North Devon Record Office, but before 1988 they were looked after by the North Devon Athenaeum. The records were offered a safe home with the Athenaeum in the late 19th century by the then Librarian Thomas Wainwright and one of the directors John Roberts Chanter, but that’s a story for another time!

Lear in Stratford Upon Avon

More recently however, another director and current Chairman of our Board has drawn attention to another possible Shakespearian link with North Devon, this time with Bideford. Another item on our shelves is a copy of An Essay towards a History of Bideford in the County of Devon by John Watkins [D900/BID/WAT]. In it is a transcript of a decree issued from the Court of Chancery in 1608  against the Bridge Trust of Bideford after a case was brought against them by the town’s people…

part of the said rent were paid out for the private occasions of the said feoffees, as by entertainment of strangers and in banqueting and often feasting between themselves, as also for the seeing of stage plays acted within the Town of Bydeford;

[p 155, History of Bideford by John Watkins]

If the Kings Players had visited Barnstaple in 1604, they could well have visited Bideford in order to make the most money out of the trip as possible. The roads to North Devon in the 17th Century would have been awkward and unpleasant and any travelling group of players would have wanted to make the journey worth their while financially.

As well as the tantalising references to Shakespeare’s presence in North Devon on our shelves past and present, we also have several copies of his work. These stand alongside other fascinating items about his work and life including and interesting looking volume by Mrs Elizabeth Griffith entitled The Morality of Shakespeare’s Drama published in 1775.

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Perhaps the most fascinating item we have on our shelves associated with the Bard is a copy of a book he is supposed to have used as a reference for his historical plays, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande, originally published in 1577. Whilst our edition was published later in 1597, not only is it the oldest book in our Library Collection it is also nice to think it may well have been in North Devon at the same time as Shakespeare and the Kings Players.


1597 edition of Raphael Holinshed Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande [942/HOL]

Back to the present and a few weeks ago we were visited by reporters from the local news who were putting together radio and television news items for BBC Shakespeare On Tour. Once again Shakespeare is making his mark in North Devon…


You can find all of these items by and about Shakespeare and more by visiting our website or searching our catalogue

…Barum Athena



Diary of an Officer at the Battle of Waterloo

The Carnage dreadful beyond description…Lieut. John Roberts 18th June 1815


Thus ended our Sunday. The Carnage dreadful beyond description…Lieut Roberts

In our document collection is a small pocket diary chronicling one man’s experience of the final campaign against Napoleon which led to the Battle of Waterloo and the eventual overthrow of the Emperor.

In 1815 Lieut. Roberts, of Bideford, said goodbye to his wife and three daughters (the youngest, Elizabeth, not yet two months old) to join his brigade before setting out to Canterbury and leaving England from Dover Harbour on 1st May 1815. Arriving in Ostend, Belgium, on the 4th he marched on to Saas, then on again, with a brigade, to Bruges a few days later, before moving on through Ghent to a small village just outside Ghent called Merelbeke.

Whilst staying in and around Ghent he saw the King of France, did a spot of sight-seeing, dined with other officers and wrote and received letters before he received orders to march to Grammont on the 14th June just days before the battle…

15th [June]           Marched to Soignes report of French having driven in the Prussians. Ordered by the Prince of Orange to be in readiness to turn out at a moment’s notice.

16th         Marched to Nivelles remained 2 Hours in a clover Field beyond the Town. Col. Harvey arrived with Orders to advance immediately in Double Quick. Got into Action about 3 p.m. at a Place called Quatre Bras – action very severe, Our Brigade suffered particularly; at Night the Enemy gave way. Out loss was more severe than it would have been had our Cavalry been up. Marshal Ney commanded the French.

17th         Began to retire slowly our Brigade ordered to protect the retreat. The French Cavalry deployed and were charged in fine style by the Life Guards. We gave them a few round Shot and they did not afterwards molest us during the day.

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Extract from Lieut. John Roberts dairy for 18th June 1815

Sunday 18th         Our line was formed about 1 to 2 miles in front of a village called Waterloo. Our line formed nearly a half circle. The right crossed the Nivelles road and in its front the Seat of Hougoumont. Out left crossed the road leading to Charleroi in rear of us the immense Forest of Soignes. The Action commenced by the most dreadful cannonade I ever heard. The French after a short fight of Artillery commenced a most furious Attack on our Post at Hougoumont but was bravely repulsed by our Foot Guards. Our Brigade was stationed not far from Hougoumont and frightful havoc we made among them by Shapnell Shells and Case Shot. We were during the day 5 times charged by the Enemy’s Curassiers the Guns were taken but as they had no Spikes no injury was done. The French were every time they charged the Guns driven back by Gen. Byng’s Brigade of Guards. The Action was most obstinately contested throughout the day. I believe none but British Troops would have withstood the Enemy’s repeated and furious attacks. The French began to give way towards Evening when Lord Wellington commanded the whole Line to advance. The French retreating in all directions and the Prussians coming up about this time a general panic must have taken them for they fled in every direction. Thus ended our Sunday. The Carnage dreadful beyond description.

19th         As soon as day break rode over the Field and never I believe was there such a sight of dead wounded and dying. In Front of the Position at Hougoumont the French lay in Heaps. Ordered to Brussels for a fresh supply of horses we having lost more than half our number in the lasdt Action. Capt. Rudyard took command of the Brigade Major Lloyd being dangerously wounded. Our second Lieut lost his Arm.

The following days were spent collecting arms and guns taken from the French during the action and also includes a more personal note…“21st [June] Halted at Lillers, Servant arrived two-thirds of Baggage lost.”

Once the Armistice was concluded in early July he marched on to Paris where on the 7th July he “…saw Prussians enter Paris over the Pont de Jena. Went into Paris saw Palais Royal – Louvre – Touilleries – Grand Cathedral – King of France’s entry.”

He stayed just outside Paris, taking the opportunity to explore the city and it’s surrounds, until the 15th August when he “Left Paris for England”

Lieut. Roberts Campaign Medals

Lieut. Roberts Campaign Medals

On his return to England he saw Elizabeth baptised in Bideford that September and had another daughter in 1818. The family spent time in Instow and Bristol and it was while he was visiting a friend in Bristol in August 1858 that he passed away. His body was brought back to Westleigh (just outside Bideford) where he was buried in the same graveyard his daughter Elizabeth had been buried in 1853. His wife, Mary, was also buried in Westleigh when she passed away eleven years later.

His Diary was given to us by his great-grandaughter, Miss Berry-Torr, along with his campaign medals and several letters written after the Battle and other bits of ephemera. The diary and letters have all been transcribed  and are available along with the orignal in our Document CollectionsBarum Athena