The RAF Chivenor Collection

One of the most popular collections in our care is the RAF Chivenor Collection. The military base next to the river Taw has been a part of North Devon life for over 70 years and many locals have fond memories of the base.

Our collection covers the history of Chivenor as an aerodrome and airport for North Devon before becoming an RAF base during the Second World War and up to the RAF’s handover of the base to the Royal Marines in 1995.

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The gems of the collection are the 7 large photo albums covering Chivenor’s time as a local aerodrome and RAF base. The albums are full of fascinating images and stories including the night a German war plane landed on the runway thinking it had reached occupied France in 1940, the night one of the Search and Rescue helicopters collided with an overhead power cable and ended up in the River Torridge and the Hawker Jets’ involvement with the Torrey Canyon disaster.

The collections also contain histories of some of the various squadrons which were based there over the years, the planes they used and accounts of some of the events the base was involved with over the years. It also includes reminiscences of former personnel who were stationed there.

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Another gem from the document collection is the visitor book which dates from 1941 to 1972 and includes signatures of Clement Atlee, Gracie Fields, foreign dignitaries and important locals.

Outside the Chivenor collection we have items about the base and it’s place within North Devon in our Document Collections. Our North Devon Journal Archive contains lots of stories about Chivenor and includes several images in the negative collection – including the helicopter crash, the preparation for the Torrey Canyon run and the official handover of the base to the Royal Marines in 1995. We also have images of the Chivenor and the SAR’s work in a new collection of images we received from the Beaford Archive earlier this year.

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You can also discover more about Chivenor on our shelves as we have a selections of books about Chivenor and other Devon aerodromes on our shelves. We also have books on World War Two and original pamphlets from the War including the work of Coastal Command.

For more information visit our website and search our catalogues.

 

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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 H H Munro…On Our Shelves!

In a field in France, lie the remains of Hector Hugh Munro, author and playwright who was also known to many as Saki.

The youngest of three children, Munro was born in Burma on the 18th December 1870. In 1872 his life changed dramatically when his mother died after being charged by a cow in North Devon.

His father, Colonel Charles Augustus Munro, was an inspector-general of the Burma police and worked abroad. Charles rented Broadgate Villa in Pilton for his mother Lucy Eliza, and sisters Augusta and Charlotte so they could take are of the children while he was away. This was to prove a rich source of inspiration to Munro in his writings.

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A selection of some of our Saki items, one of them contains an introduction by A.A. Milne

Our shelves hold several collections of the short stories which made his name in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1902 he teamed up with another Barumite, the political cartoonist, Sir Francis Carruthers Gould, to produce The Westminster Alice. A satirical look at the Politics of Westminster based on the Lewis Carroll stories. A copy of this was donated to the Athenaeum by Gould and sits alongside Munro’s other works including When William Came published in 1913. When William Came explored the idea of what it would be like if the German Emperor invaded and occupied Britain.

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When William Came

With the out break of war in 1914, Munro was 43 years old and not expected to join up. However, he insisted on enlisting and refused a commission. In 1916 Munro was sent home after coming down with what his service records describe as influenza but which may have been a recurrence of malaria. In November, however Munro made his way back to the front to take part in the last big offensive in the Battle of the Somme.

Lance-Sergt. H.H. Munro was killed by a German sniper of 14th November 1916, during the last days of the Somme. He was 45 and his body was never found.

The news of his death was published in the local newspapers nearly a month later.

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North Devon Journal 7th December 1916 page 6 column d

The Square Egg was published in 1924 and contained a biography of him by his elder sister, Edith. Her recollections of life in North Devon differ from her brother’s.

Many have compared Munro to Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde and another writer with a North Devon connection, Rudyard Kipling. He is also considered to have influenced other writers such as A.A. Milne, Noel Coward and P.G. Wodehouse, whose uncle was vicar of Bratton Fleming for many years.

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We also hold items about Munro and his work

Munro would often return to North Devon and his family. His father retired first to Heanton Punchardon and then Westward Ho! His grandmother and aunts remained in Pilton and Newport and the family are interred at Bishops Tawton, all expect Hector who lies in the fields of France, a corner of which will be forever, North Devon.

…Barum Athena