Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust

Tavistock Museum News

Press Release - July 2019

Sunday School Banner Comes To Tavistock Museum

A large banner previously displayed in the United Reform Church at Tavistock has found a new home at Tavistock Museum. The cloth banner shows a painting of the imposing Congregational Church, a gothic structure with a tall spire, built in 1873 which once was a feature of Duke Street.

Unfortunately by the early 1960s this church building was in a poor state of repair. The Congregationalists relocated to the former Methodist Chapel in Russell Street. Nationally at about the same time they combined with the Presbyterian Church to emerge as the United Reform Church. Their previous home in Duke Street for nearly 90 years was sold to the Pearl Insurance Company who promptly demolished the Church and redeveloped the site.

For all its size the banner is quite light and therefore suitable to be carried on poles at Sunday School parades. 'Established 1799' on the banner refers to the date a Sunday School was started. A split had occurred in the Unitarian movement five years earlier and a minority group, the Congregationalists, broke awayto set up their own Church elsewhere in the town.

Roderick Martin, manager of the museum, stated that he was very pleased that the museum was able to offer a home for the banner. It is a reminder of the important role the Congregational Church played in the history of the town. The banner must be at least sixty years old, and possibly older. It appears to have been made in two halves which have been joined down the middle. Any information about the age of the banner and who made it will be very welcome.

Press Release - May 2019

Publication of Tavistock's Blue Plaques

A new booklet about Tavistock's Blue Plaques has gone on sale at Tavistock Museum. The booklet contains a photograph and information about each of the 28 locations recognised as places of interest in the town by the erection of a Blue Plaque. These include monastic sites, public buildings, former industrial buildings, local hostelries and open spaces. There is a centrefold map to guide visitors to the various locations.

Roderick Martin, manager of Tavistock Museum, stated that the booklet has been compiled in response to many requests by tourists and residents over the years for a publication about the Blue Plaques in Tavistock. It is intended that the booklet will be re-printed regularly so that it contains the most complete and up-to-date information. He hoped the publication would appeal to young people, who using the booklet as a guide, will gain an insight into the history of the town as well as enjoying the challenge of finding all the plaques.

Copies of the booklet may be purchased at the museum price £3 or online from our Online Shop at the Devon Museums website.

Press Release - January 2019

Tavistock Museum bags £4000 from Tesco's community grant scheme

West Street, TavistockTavistock Museum is pleased to announce that it has been successful in bagging £4000 from the Tesco Bags of Help community grant scheme for its new film project.

Bags of Help is run in partnership with environmental charity Groundwork, and sees grants raised from the sale of carrier bags awarded to thousands of local community projects every year.

Since launching in 2015, it's provided more than £63 million to over 20,000 local community projects.

The new film 'This is Tavistock' will welcome visitors and tell them what they can see in Tavistock. It will introduce them to heritage features such as the remains of the lost Abbey, the Drake Statue, the Tavistock Canal, and the many domestic and civic buildings built by the Bedford Estate, as well as more recent additions such as the refurbished Pannier Market and the new sensory garden. It will additionally show some of the more important artefacts in the town museum.

Roderick Martin, manager of the museum, said:
''We are delighted to receive this grant and thank everyone who has supported us last September and October at the Tesco Store in Tavistock. A new film promoting the town is long overdue and it will have a positive impact on local tourism. The film will be of duration approximately ten minutes which we believe is sufficient to tell visitors about Tavistock and allow them to get much more out of their visit. Besides being screened in the museum the new film will be made available for downloading and purchase as a DVD.''

Alec Brown, Tesco's Head of Community, said:
"Bags of Help has been a fantastic success and we've been overwhelmed by the response from customers. It's such a special scheme because it's local people who decide how the money will be spent in their community. We can't wait to see the projects come to life."

Voting ran in stores throughout September and October with customers choosing which local project they would like to get the top award using a token given to them at the checkout.

Tesco customers get the chance to vote for three different groups each time they shop. Every other month, when votes are collected, three groups in each of Tesco's regions are awarded funding.

Groundwork's National Chief Executive, Graham Duxbury, said:
"Bags of Help continues to enable local communities up and down Britain to improve the local spaces and places that matter to them. The diversity of projects that are being funded shows that local communities have a passion to create something great in their area. We are pleased to be able to be a part of the journey and provide support and encouragement to help local communities thrive."

Funding is available to community groups and charities looking to fund local projects that bring benefits to communities. Anyone can nominate a project and organisations can apply online. To find out more visit www.tesco.com/bagsofhelp.

The project has previously received a grant of £250 from Tavistock Lions.


Press Release - April 2018

Our Exhibitions for 2018

The Tavistock Museum will be open Mondays to Saturdays from the 24th March until the end of October. The museum will normally be closed on Sundays this season.

Our main exhibitions are:

  • One Hundred Years of Motor Buses in Tavistock, and
  • Ronald Gard - A Hero of the Great Escape

One Hundred Years of Motor Buses in Tavistock

Until the end of the First World War 1914-1918 the Tavistock area was dependent on steam railways and horse-drawn vehicles for public transport.

The first major operator of motor bus services in the area was the Devon Motor Transport Company founded in late 1919. The following year they began a market day service from Okehampton via Lew Down and Lamerton to Tavistock, other services from Tavistock to nearby towns followed.

With the merger of the Great Western Railway Road Motor services with National Omnibus Company in 1929 the newly formed Western National became the predominant provider of services around Tavistock.

During the 1920s and 1930s car ownership was the exception and the bus was an essential part of
everyday life. It provided a lifeline to the towns for many rural communities. It gave housewives a wider choice of shops as well as conveying the agricultural community to market. Children were taken to and from school. There were trips to the cinema, village events and sporting events as well as sabbatical school treats. Buses not only carried people but also a wide range of goods for local markets and businesses.

Many of the independent bus operators came and went but for many years the local villages were served by Bertram Cole who operated out of The Garage, Peter Tavy, Percy Down who operated out of the The Garage, Mary Tavy, Horace Goodman who operated out of 7 Callington Road, Lumburn, the Pridham Brothers who operated out of Down Garage, Lamerton, and the Sleep family who operated out of Station Road, Bere Alston. Such small bus operators were very much an essential part of the fabric of rural life. There was a very close
camaraderie between all of these companies and they
frequently helped each other out should there be a need.

Ronald Gard - A Hero of the Great Escape

Ronald (Ron) Gard was born at Devonport in 1909 and at the start of WW2 in 1939 was working at the Bedford Street branch of Lloyds Bank in Plymouth. On account of the serious German air raids on Plymouth the bank relocated its staff to Grimstone House at Horrabrdge where Ronald spent his last six months before joining the Royal Air force in 1941 to train as a navigator at Torquay. His wife, Lilian, and his son, Michael, went to live at Wadebridge, Cornwall with his parents-in-law.

By 1942 he was flying on night raids over Germany. In 1943 Flying Officer Ron Gard joined 12 Squadron which was based at RAF Binbrook near Lincoln, and later re-located to nearby RAF Wickenby. He went on 24 trips but a raid on Mannheim proved to be his last one. The Lancaster bomber he was flying in was attacked and damaged by a German night fighter. When the pilot gave the order to abandon the stricken plane Ron stumbled to the escape hatch in the extreme nose of the plane and sat for a moment with his legs dangling in space. Suddenly there was the fury of cannon shells bursting around him as another fighter attacked and the nose of the aircraft fell away with Ron still inside it. Fortunately he managed to get clear and open his parachute. The pilot and an air gunner were killed but four other crew members besides Ron escaped by parachute.

Ron landed in the middle of a German searchlight battery and was immediately made a prisoner. He was taken to Stalag Luft III (below), where he was to remain for the next fifteen months. Here he became an active member of the X organisation, a highly secret organisation dedicated to planning escapes, and was involved in the Great Escape of March 1944. When the camp was closed in January 1945 he was forced to march in freezing weather to other prison camps as the Germans retreated before the Russian Army. It was his good overall physical fitness which helped him survive such an ordeal.

In May 1945 after liberation Ron Gard returned to his family then living in Wadebridge. Like so many servicemen he found it difficult to adjust being restless, unable to sit still or sleep properly at night. He was always full of praise for his wife, his relatives, and the people of Wadebridge who helped him through this difficult time. He returned to banking and worked for many years in the Tavistock branch of Lloyds bank. Golf was his main sport in later life. He become the captain of Tavistock Golf Club and later an honorary life member.

A hero in many eyes but not in his own. In 1978 Ronald Willis Gard died aged 68 at Freedom Field Hospital, Plymouth.


Press Release - April 2018

Mary Freeman - An Outstanding Local Historian

Mary Freeman died on the 4th March 2018, aged 93. During her working life she was a marine scientist of international repute, and in her long retirement an acknowledged expert on the history of Tavistock.

MAry Freeman - outstanding local historian of Tavistock, DevonBorn Mary Whitear at Teignmouth in 1924 she attended the Maynard School in Exeter, coming in by train daily even during the 1942 bombing of the city in which the school was damaged. Mary was academically gifted and progressed to University College, London where in 1947 she was appointed a lecturer, and remained there until 1989. Her working life was spent studying the neurology and cellular structure of fish and amphibian skin. At University College she met her husband, Richard Freeman, who worked in the adjoining zoology room. They had two children Felix and Peter.

Ann Pulsford, a marine scientist and neighbour, states that Mary was well known and respected for her marine studies. Mary published a series of papers on the fine structure of elasmobranch, teleost and amphibian skin in adult and larval stages. Using histochemistry and scanning and transmission electron microscopy she described the epidermal cells, secretory cells, pigment cells and chemosensory structures in a wide range of species. Using these techniques, she linked structure with function in processes like wound healing. She also undertook experiments on the behaviour of shore rocklings in the detection of food and found that the anterior dorsal fin could be involved but was not essential for foraging. Mary's papers were published as a single author or with her collaborators in the most respected scientific journals. She also published book chapters.

In 1989 Mary retired to live at Parkwood Road in Tavistock where she took great delight in her Victorian villa and its garden. She soon acquired an interest in the medieval abbey, foundries, and early industries of Tavistock. Mary became an active member of the Subscription Library and a long serving Secretary to the Tavistock History Society. A particular interest was the small cottage garden in the Guildhall Square, an oasis of greenery in an otherwise barren parking lot. Both here and in her own garden she redefined what was a 'weed'. She respected all creatures and believed 'all animals had a right to life', and back at home there were generations of cats, and a tortoise.

Sue Davies, formerly manager of Tavistock Museum and long time friend, states that Mary was a brilliant researcher of our town history. From her working life she brought to local history a new and more professional approach which set a high standard for thoroughness and attention to detail. Over many years she supported the town museum and contributed a number of informative articles about our town history. She also actively supported the Subscription Library and at her own expense paid for a number of its important books to be repaired.

Helen Harris, a local author and friend, remembers Mary Whitear (as she then was) from schooldays at the Maynard School, Exeter:

"She was three or four years ahead of me. I recall her as being slight of build, and with fine features. We were not acquainted then, but as it is not unusual in a large school of 400+ girls, younger pupils may remember older ones, but not the reverse.

"We met again in later years, following her retirement move to Tavistock. She was developing interests in her home county and joined the Tavistock Local History Society, the Devon History Society, and the Devonshire Association. Often she joined me (and Mabyn Martin - another former TLHS member who sadly also died very recently) in attending meetings in different parts of the county.

"Mary used her considerable research abilities to produce articles for The Devon Historian ( journal of the Devon History Society, of which I was then Honorary Editor):

  • 'The first iron foundry in Tavistock' DH 57 (1998)
  • 'Two Tavistock legends re-examined' (with R.J.Glanvill) DH 66 (April 2003)
  • 'A half-truth in a legend' (with R.J.Glanvill) DH 67 (October 2003)
  • 'Artistic licence and historical accuracy' DH 69 (2004) (about remains of Tavistock Abbey)

"She also presented a paper to the Devonshire Association, (with Ann Pulsford) published in the Transactions 2015: 'John Taylor (1779-1863) and the Tavistock Canal'.

"She was a good friend, and I shall miss her."

Roderick Martin, the present manager of the Tavistock Museum, states that in his opinion Mary was an outstanding local historian. Over many years she supported the town museum and contributed a number of short informative articles about our town history which we now sell in a leaflet format. It is intended that in the future these will be put on a CD for general sale. In her lifetime Mary was not interested in writing popular history but I believe it is important that her many years of research into the early history of our town are not lost.

Mary was always very generous with her time by very willingly proof-reading and grammatically correcting the written works of others. She enthusiastically read and improved manuscripts. Very recently she was involved with the initial review and the proof reading of Robert Waterhouse's new book on the Tavistock Canal - Its History and Archaeology. It is good that Robert's book was published last year while Mary was still alive. After the book signing he visited Mary at home to present her with a copy, and to thank her for her help. A gesture she very much appreciated.

Press Release - February 2018

Publication Of The School Punishment Book

Stowford School Punishment Book - coverOf all the exhibits in Tavistock Museum the one which attracts the most interest is the School Punishment Book from Stowford Church of England School, a small village school, near Lifton. The book was completed for the period February 1935 until November 1946 and records the names and misdeeds of 105 pupils between the ages of 6 and 14. As so many visitors have asked for a copy of the book the museum decided to publish it and now has copies available for sale from the museum shop and on the Devon Museums website.

From 1900 it was a requirement of the Ministry of Education that a Punishment Book was kept by schools in which 'every case of corporal punishment inflicted in the School should be entered'. Corporal punishment was only stopped in state schools in 1987 so there are still many of us who can remember those good old days when teachers maintained discipline by punishing unruly, disrespectful or lazy pupils with stokes of the cane on the hands, legs or bottom. Fortunately most victims can now shrug it off with the comment that 'it did me no harm', and of course it always makes a good story, especially the time you were 'whacked' in school, and, back at home, got a 'clout around the ear' from your father for being in trouble at school.

Roderick Martin, manager of the museum, stated that he was pleased that the museum had decided to publish this excellent booklet since it was social history from within living memory, but of a time when attitudes were so very different. Many of our visitors are astonished at the severity and inconsistency of some of the punishments which, by today's standards, were often for relatively trivial misdemeanours. Roger aged 6 received 4 strokes on each hand for swearing having been warned on three previous occasions, Daniel and Eric aged 11 each received 3 strokes on each hand for giggling, Annie aged 12 received a stroke on each hand for talking one minute after a warning, Peter aged 10 and Graham aged 11 each received two smacks on seat for fighting with their exercise books, Francis aged 10 and Roger aged 13 each received 4 strokes across legs for bad behaviour in lavatories, Margaret aged 12 received three strokes on each hand for insolence and lying, and so on. The maximum number of strokes recorded was ten, administered to Peter aged 8, five on each hand, for carelessness after a warning.

Right: Stowford School in 1938 - Head teacher Marjorie Allen is on the left.

The book shows that some pupils were frequently in trouble and their names keep re-appearing. Others have the same surname as previous offenders so were probably brothers or sisters keeping up the family tradition. Punishments were usually given after a verbal warning, and in some cases several verbal warnings. A large number were for throwing objects. There were some occasions when groups of children were in trouble for throwing objects, resulting in a mass caning. Donald, Brian, Cedric, Norman, Roger and John aged 9-12 each received 3 strokes on each hand because they jumped over the school hedge into the road, threw stones and caused a horse with wagon to bolt. Joan, Jean, Phyllis and Monica aged 8 to 12 each received 2
strokes on each hand for being late for school
because they were throwing stones at a bird's nest.

The head teacher who carried out the canings, and recorded them in the book, was Marjorie Allen. She joined the school in 1935 and left in 1947 to take up a post in the North of England. It is recorded in the Western Morning News of the 5th August 1947 that on the occasion of her leaving she was presented with a wallet containing notes in appreciation of her service. The school closed in July 1950 and its pupils were transferred to the Lifton County Primary School. The former school building is today the Stowford Parish Hall.

The book is available from our Online Shop at the Devon Museums website.

Press Release - October 2017

Memories of a Special Volunteer

On Sunday 22nd October 2017 Graham Kirkpatrick, who lived in Parkwood Road, Tavistock and was a familiar figure in Tavistock, passed away aged 91. In recent years he was the carer for his wife Brenda, and could often be seen pushing her wheelchair through the town. He was involved with many town organisations including the Subscription Library, where he organised their coffee mornings on Fridays and the Tavistock Museum where he stewarded on Sundays. He appeared in good health until very recently and it was only last year when the members of the Subscription Library and the volunteers at the Museum sprung a surprise 90th birthday party for Graham, an event which he very much appreciated. (Graham is on the left in this photo of his 90th birthday party in 2016.)

Roderick Martin, manager of Tavistock Museum, stated that he was greatly saddened by Graham's death. Graham was a Scotsman through-and-through but he had a deep love for Tavistock and an enthusiastic interest in its local history. He helped promote the 900th Tavistock Market Charter commemorations in 2005 and was the author of a number of publications including Nine Centuries of Tavistock Markets and Admiral Kelly of Kelly College. He was passionately interested in the railways and set-up in our Museum a small railway exhibition. All around our Museum we have important town artefacts such as our Tavistock North Railway totem sign and our 1953 Coronation Commemorative Plaque for the opening of the Old Folks Rest Room which we would not have acquired but for Graham's dogged determination. He was a keen photographer and recorded many images of now lost Tavistock buildings and businesses. Above all it was Graham's enthusiasm and loyalty which made him such a special volunteer.

Sue Davies, the previous manager of Tavistock Museum, has told that her friendship with Graham began soon after he came to live in Tavistock. He was keen to get involved in the life of the town and through his love of books and interest in local history became a keen supporter of the relatively new Tavistock Museum and the considerably older Subscription Library. He soon began to steward when the Tavistock Museum was located in the Town Council Offices in Drake Road, Tavistock. Over the years he researched many aspects of our town history but his greatest passion was for the railways, and for many years collected items for the Museum displays. He was extraordinarily generous both with his time and with gifts for the projects which interested him.

Age did not seem to diminish his determination to be involved in things. He cheerfully climbed ladders to help dismantle exhibits when the Museum moved to Court Gate in 2003, and on more recent occasions had to be restrained from lifting heavy boxes of books for sale into the archway. Photography kept him busy but got him into some tricky situations. On one occasion in 2011 he clambered up a steep hillside and then climbed a tree to take a photograph of the Gem Bridge under construction in the Grenofen Valley. I dread to think how many times his enthusiasm to take a good picture of an abandoned railway line or abandoned industrial site got the better of him. One got the feeling from Brenda, his wife, that this was just part of his endearing character and nothing out of the ordinary.

The little corner of Guildhall Square, Tavistock where the Subscription Library and Tavistock Museum are located became increasingly the centre of his world. When possible he would bring Brenda with him and talk cheerily to the many people he knew. He was the most polite and courteous of gentlemen, generous to a fault, thoughtful of others and never dull. There was always a new project or adventure just around the corner. New enthusiasms sometimes overwhelmed more balanced considerations but what a joy it was to be the friend of someone who was still discovering new interests in their nineties. Those who could keep up with him and knew him will always remember him with a smile.

Press Release - October 2017

Tavistock Canal - its History and Archaeology

At the Tavistock Museum between 11.00 am and 4.00 pm on Saturday 11th November 2017 there will be the launch of a new book, The Tavistock Canal - Its History and Archaeology, written by Robert Waterhouse and published by the Trevithick Society. The new book will be available for purchase at the launch and the author will be present to sign copies.

Robert Waterhouse is a professional archaeologist who now lives and works in Jersey but from 2002 - 2010 he led a number of archaeological studies along the canal and at the former copper port of Morwellham. The detailed task of researching and compiling the new book has taken him sixteen years, about as long as it took to build the original canal.

Many previous authors have studied the history of this fascinating early waterway but this will be the first true work of 'historical archaeology' about the Tavistock Canal. The new book includes information about the railways, wharfs and ports, and the mines, foundries, and other industries which the canal served. Also information about some of the key people who helped promote, build and operate the canal. The new book is lavishly illustrated by survey drawings, maps and photographs including underground and surface details of the 1.5 mile long Morwelldown Canal Tunnel.

Roderick Martin, manager of the Tavistock Museum, stated that he was delighted that the launch of this important book was taking place in the bi-centenary year of the opening of the Tavistock Canal to boat traffic. Also that it was taking place at the Tavistock Museum which is an Area
Centre for the mining world heritage site thus recognising both the
important role the canal played in our past mining story and its value
today as a walkway and nature area. "This book is a giant leap forward
in our understanding and knowledge of the canal, and I can recommend
it to all.

Press Release - September 2017

West Devon Borough Council - Full Discretionary Grant Restored

Tavistock Museum Reception and volunteers  - September 2017The Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust is delighted to learn that on appeal the West Devon Borough Council has restored the museum's full 20% discretionary grant for the financial year 2017-2018. Had this not happened the museum, a free-entry town museum run entirely by volunteers, would have had to pay this year nearly £600 in rates on its premises at Court Gate, Tavistock.

Roderick Martin, manager of the museum, stated ''This is a very welcome outcome as our museum has to be run within a very tight budget.

"It was a bit upsetting earlier this year to find our grant had been reduced and some of our income would be needed to pay rates especially as our museum makes a very positive contribution to the local economy and promotes local tourism.

"Every day our stewards provide information to visitors and hand-out tourism leaflets. Hopefully, restoration of the full grant to us this year by West Devon Borough Council will prove a landmark decision and serve as a future policy guide to district councils throughout Devon. Museums and heritage attractions not only conserve our local heritage but are now often in the front-line of local tourism, providing a invaluable stand-in tourist information service at a time when local authorities can no longer afford to do so."

The Trust is most grateful to our Tavistock WDBC councillors especially Debo Sellis and Jeff Moody for their help in getting the grant restored. Also to Geoffrey Cox, our MP, for his interest and his support.


Press Release - 12th September 2013

Richard Woollcombe Painting Exhibition - October 2017

Richard WoollcombeThe Tavistock Museum will be hosting an exhibition of portrait and landscape paintings by the late Richard Woollcombe from the 16th - 31st October 2017. The museum will be open daily and there will be an extended opening from 10.00am to 4.00pm for this exhibition. There will be no entry charge but as always a donation is much appreciated.

Richard Edward de Ambrosis Woollcombe - or Dick as he was known to everybody - was one of the last surviving Tamar Valley market gardeners of the post-war period and a member of the Tavistock Group of Artists. He spent most of his life at Rumleigh in the Tamar Valley, where his father had bought some fields in 1929 to set up a market garden.

Dick was born in 1919 at Florence, Italy. His father, Major Frank Woollcombe, was a career soldier who had met his mother, a half-Italian lady, Beatrice de Ambrosis, when convalescing in Italy. Dick attended Mount House School (then in Plymouth), before becoming an aircraft designer at Bristol Aeroplane Company and at Miles Aircraft. His war service was spent as a pilot in RAF Coastal Command hunting enemy submarines.

On being demobilised in 1946, Dick took over the market garden from his ailing father. His engineering skills in devising equipment and developing a system of movable glasshouses on a shoe-string budget often put Rumleigh Fruit and Flower Farm at the forefront of horticultural innovation. He was featured in an issue of The Grower, the trade journal for market gardeners, as well as in Sovereigns, Madams and Double Whites, a book about the history of market gardening in the Tamar Valley. Over the next four decades the market garden evolved as demand changed: out went apples and hothouse crops, in came pick-your-own. He married his wife, Phoebe Morshead, in 1952 and they had two sons, Alan and Graham.


Richard Woolcombe exhibition posterDick was an enthusiastic and talented painter. His subjects ranged widely and his output was prolific. His landscapes, painted in oils from 1966, were mainly of local places but some are from elsewhere in Britain and abroad. For portraits, he often used a model engaged by the Tavistock Group of Artists, which held monthly meetings in what is now the Fenner Room at the Museum. As these portraits are not named, people may like to see if one of them features a member of their family from thirty or so years ago! He had a great sense of fun, shown in many sketches and cartoons, as well as some painted household items - as a market gardener he had to be a competent carpenter.

A series of Dick's humorous paintings featuring country-life were turned into a book called The West Country Year. He donated the originals to Plymouth's Derriford Hospital, where they are on permanent display. The Hospital is kindly lending two to the Museum for the exhibition, while the booklet of the whole series, with descriptions by Dick, will be on sale at the Museum.

Richard Woollcombe died aged 97 in 2016.

The Museum is grateful to Jane Miller and Helen Voller for arranging this exhibition, to Diane Brimacombe of Derriford Hospital for the loan of pictures, and to Alan Woollcombe and Mimi Petit for their support for the exhibition and permission to show the pictures.





Press Release - 23rd June 2017

West Devon Borough Council Reduces Support For Local Heritage

It has come as a shock to heritage organisations in West Devon to find that they will no longer have the full financial support of the West Devon Borough Council. Currently heritage organisations which are charities receive a mandatory 80% support grant towards their rates and the remaining 20% is at the discretion of the local authority. In the past the full 20% has generally been given to heritage charities by West Devon Borough Council so that they have not paid any business rates. However for this financial year it has been reduced from 20% to 10% leaving heritage organisations to find the remaining 10% from their own income. It appears that West Devon Borough Council is the only district authority in Devon to implement such a policy.

For Tavistock Museum this could mean that several hundred pounds will need to be paid to the Borough Council in rates and effectively lost from the museum income. In their letter of notification to the museum the Borough Council state that the decision to reduce the financial support has been done 'with all the Borough Councils Taxpayers in mind as they have to fund a part of the grant awarded'.

At the present time the Tavistock Museum costs £6,000 annually to run. The museum opens daily from April to October and currently has a free entry policy. Last year it had 8,500 visitors who donated £4,500 thus leaving a shortfall which has needed to be closed by fundraising through the museum shop and outside outlets. The effect of the changes will in practice mean that the donations from the first six visitors to come into the museum each time it opens will be swallowed-up by the business rate demand.

Roderick Martin, manager of the Tavistock Museum stated 'The museum has become an enquiry centre for local tourism since the Borough Council pulled-the-plug three years ago on the Tourist Information Office in Tavistock. Every day we give information to tourists and hand out leaflets about accommodation, places-to-eat, walks and attractions. The only benefit we have ever had from the Borough Council was the discretionary grant so it is particularly galling to find that half of that has now gone. Its not going to change our policy in helping tourists but I will be very disappointed if our WDBC councillors representing the Tavistock wards do not support us by getting our full grant restored.'

Meetings have been requested with West Devon Borough councillors and Geoffrey Cox (our MP). It is understood that the Museum of Dartmoor Life, Okehampton, and the Robey Trust are similarly affected by the reduced grant support.


Press Release -March 2017

Tavistock Museum Exhibitions 2017

The Tavistock Museum re-opens on Saturday 25th March 2017 and will be open 11.00 am to 3.00 pm daily until the 31st October. Our exhibitions this year are:

The Bicentenary of the Tavistock Canal which was formally opened on Tuesday 24th June 1817, fourteen years after construction work had begun. On that memorable day about three hundred or so invited guests embarked in nine wrought iron boats at the canal wharf in Tavistock, and were waved off by cheering crowds. It was all very jolly as they glided through shady woodlands towards Crowndale Farm and then across the Lumburn Aquaduct, but when they reached the entrance to the canal tunnel under Morwell Down even the stoutest hearts must have been apprehensive.

Into the dark unknown of the canal tunnel they went with only the light of the lanterns to guide them. This part of their journey was not for the faint hearted for they were to spent the next two hours in the drabness and coldness of the jagged canal tunnel while the boats were slowly poled through. Fortunately spirits were kept alive by a band playing and various solo entertainments. Once out of the tunnel into the light the much relieved passengers were able to walk down into Morwellham Quay to claim some well-deserved refreshments. It is not recorded if there were any volunteers wanting to take the return canal trip back to Tavistock.

The exhibition concentrates on the exciting archaeological researches by Robert Waterhouse for a new publication on the canal, and will also show some remarkable photographs of the inside of the canal tunnel taken by photographer, James Bird. The photographs presented on nine large boards are a revelation. Any ideas that the canal boats could be leisurely walked through the tunnel by boatman lying on their backs are completely dispelled when you see the jagged profile of the rock faces. The boatman poled the boats against the tunnel wall using long, iron-shod poles with a double spike on one end. This would have involved a huge physical effort.

The WW2 Liberator Crash on Plaster Down which has been arranged by Robert Jones. On 30th October 1942 Consolidated Liberator, serial number FK242, was operating with 224 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command and had the call sign K 'King'. Fitted with radically new radar, it had taken off from RAF Beaulieu in Hampshire to escort ships crossing the Bay of Biscay as part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. After ten hours on patrol the Liberator was returning to Beaulieu when it hit a barrage balloon cable as it passed over Plymouth. The aircraft was badly damaged and the crew tried to make an emergency landing at RAF Harrowbeer, Yelverton. It was dark and with no runway lights to guide it, the Liberator crashed at Fullamoor Farm by Plaster Down. Six of the crew died and another was seriously injured. In early April a new plaque to commemorate the lives of the airman will be unveiled in the car park at Plaster Down.

This year the museum has a new attraction: some reproduction stocks which visitors will be challenged to try. Stocks were wooden or metal devices with foot holes used as punishment from medieval times until the mid-nineteenth century. The convicted individual was seated and had their feet and ankles locked into the device so that their legs were held straight out. Most communities had their set of stocks which were usually kept at a prominent location such as a town centre, village green, outside the gateway into the parish church or near the entrance to the police station. Generally stocks were used in cases of punishment for minor offences such as drunkenness and rowdy behaviour. The objective being to humiliate the offender so as to discourage them from re-offending. For good measure they could get rotten food and other objects thrown at them. Stocks varied in size being for one, two, three or occasionally four miscreants.

The Tavistock stocks were for three miscreants. They are believed to have once stood near the north archway at the parish church but later relocated to outside the police station. Thomas Vanstone recalled their use in the 1840s for a number of local delinquents convicted of drinking offences. Several hours in the stocks served as a substitute for the drunkard's fine and costs. In 1986 the stocks were removed from the cells at the police station to the Tavistock Museum. Unfortunately they are now not in very good condition.

Roderick Martin, Museum Secretary, said 'Our thanks to our volunteers and contributors for the excellent new exhibitions again this year. The photographs inside the canal tunnel are amazing and we are most grateful to James Bird who has made them available to show in our exhibition.'


Press Release - 19th September 2016

Donation of Research Information to Tavistock Museum by Joseph Toland

On Wednesday 14th September 2016 Joseph Toland, a lifelong inventor, who now lives in Horrabridge, presented to Tom Young, Chairman of the Tavistock Museum Trust, documents on disk relating to his researches. Mr. Toland, a former Tavistock Grammar School pupil, has recently been nominated for a prestigious environmental award, the Zayed Future Energy Prize, for his work in developing the 'Jetstream Wall' design for tidal lagoons. This efficiently harnesses the power of the tides to produce electrical energy.

Right - Joseph Toland (left) presents documents to Tom Young (right), with Tavistock Mayor Mandy Ewings (centre)

Tom Young stated he was delighted to accept the disk on behalf of the museum. He remarked that museums are places which store the past but in this case the museum will be storing the future. He urged the Government to think twice about the nuclear option currently being promoted by foreign interests, and suggested instead they look closer to home at the green energy technology becoming available as a
result of the work of Mr. Toland and other British inventors.


Press Release - 9th March 2016

Tavistock Museum Looks Forward To A New Season

The town museum will re-open on Saturday 26th March 2016 with two new exhibitions. There will also be a display of military vehicles outside the museum on the opening day.

'Commemorating 75 Years Since the Opening of Harrowbeer RAF Station, Yelverton' is an exhibition about the WW2 airfield which was opened in August 1941. Located near Yelverton the airfield was called 'Harrowbeer' to distinguish it from the similarly sounding RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. It was operational as a fighter station for the rest of the war under the control of 10 Group Fighter Command which was responsible for the South West of England. It was also headquarters to the First Air Sea Rescue Squadron and reported to be a staging point for secret operations in Europe.

The airfield had three tarmac runways, the foundations for these, and some of the buildings, being rubble from Plymouth after the 'blitz' of March / April 1941. RAF Harrowbeer played a vital role during the war by providing air cover for merchant shipping in the English Channel watching for enemy E-boats and U-boats, operational sorties in the Cherbourg area, and later escort duties to bombers flying on their mission to and from targets in Europe. It was closed as an operational airfield at the end of July 1945. The museum is grateful to Mike Hayes who has put together an impressive exhibition of model aircraft, photographs and memorabilia .

'Weddings in the Past' is a history of marriage. Before 1753 there was no legal requirement to take part in a formal ceremony for a marriage and many couples lived together without doing so. After 1753 marriage became a legal contract and the ceremony had to take place in the Church of England, only Jews and Quakers were exempt. In 1873 the law was changed and all marriages had to be registered wherever the couple married. In the exhibition there are examples of marriage certificates including one from America for William Henry Bolt, a local man who emigrated but later returned to Tavistock after his wife died.

The museum is grateful to the many local people who have contributed to the exhibition by loaning wedding dresses, family artefacts and lots of photographs of the 'big day'. Of particular interest are 'flapper' style dresses from the 1930s.

Roderick Martin, Museum Secretary, stated our town museum has received over 7,000 visitors annually since the opening of its extended premises three years ago. It has no paid staff and is run entirely by volunteers who are willing to give a day each week or fortnight to help with the many and varied museum activities. We very much welcome anyone who is interested in helping in our wide range of museum activities.

The museum will be open daily 11.00 am to 3.00pm until the end of October.


Press Release - 1st December 2015

New External Sign For Tavistock Museum

In 2013 the museum extended into the adjoining cottage and acquired a ground level access leading from the Guildhall Square. Since that time the museum has received 7,000 plus visitors annually.

Our visitor surveys confirm that the majority of visitors come into the museum as the result of seeing our signs when passing; therefore improving our external signage became a priority in our business plan. The Museum Trust were adamant that our main sign should be located above the entrance since it needed to be visible above the level of any parked vehicles in the Guildhall car park. Approval for a sign took two years of negotiation with the local authorities, and since it is fixed to a listed building it also required a Listed Building Consent.

In early November 2015 a permanent sign was fixed above the main entrance. The stainless steel sign was supplied and installed by Parc Signs, St Austell. It was the subject of our successful application, for a grant of £750 to the Small Grant Big Improvement scheme, part of the South West Development Programme, funded by Arts Council England. Other costs were covered by the museum's own fundraising.

Roderick Martin, Museum Secretary, stated that the Trust is very pleased with the new sign, and optimistic that it will help to increase our visitor numbers and raise local awareness of the museum.

Press Release - 17th September 2015

Tavistock Museum Receives Tales From TASS Books

Trevor Kerswill of Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust received the books from Val Vines of Tavistock Area Support ServicesThree books of Tales From TASS were recently presented by Val Vines, Life Story Project Co-ordinator and Chair of Tavistock Area Support Services (TASS) Board of Trustees, to Trevor Kerswill, a trustee of Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust.

A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014 has enabled the Life Story Project at TASS to buy recording equipment and train a team of volunteers to record the memories of older people living in Tavistock and surrounding villages. These recordings were then transcribed and extracts from the transcripts have now been published in three books of Tales from TASS; Childhood Memories, Memories of WW2 and Memories of Working Lives.

Trevor Kerswell stated that he was pleased to accept copies of the three books on behalf of the museum. He believes that the memories recorded will give future generations a valuable insight into the lives of older local people, many of whom lived through WW2 and experienced the enormous social changes which have followed.

Val Vines stated that she was pleased to know that the museum wished to have a set of these books for their town records. The Life Story Project is still building on its archive. Anyone who would like to record their memories or join the project team of recorders should contact TASS Befriending Service on 01822-601942. The Project Worker, Virginia Wigham, is currently preparing a book of Christmas Memories. Memories of Rural Life and Memories of Life in the Armed Forces are future projects.

Copies of books in the TASS Memories series will be available for a small donation at the Tavistock Museum, the Anchorage Centre (next to the Bus Station), and the TASS Charity Shop.

Press Release - 16th March 2015

Tavistock Museum Displays 2015Tavistock Museum Looks Forward To A Challenging Year

'The Challenging Roads To Peace Since World War 1' is the exciting subject of the main exhibition at Tavistock Museum when it re-opens on Saturday 28th March 2015. It was clearly 'not the war to end all wars' as so many had hoped. In fact peace has still proved to be elusive in many parts of the world. The exhibition arranged by Tavistock Peace Group traces the rise of the peace movement whose prominent campaigners have included several local people.

The supporting exhibition is 'The Traders of Tavistock'. This exhibition arranged by local shopping expert, Linda Elliott, shows by use of now-and-then photographs the changes to some of the best known shopping premises in the town. There are also some interesting items shopping memorabilia on display including a 1905 Grafton and Scott grocery book, listing the weekly shopping account for a prominent Tavistock family.

Since it was extended three years ago over 7,500 visitors annually have visited the Tavistock Museum. Besides being a town and community museum it is in its own right an area centre for the Cornwall and West Devon Mining World Heritage Site. The museum promotes a regional concept for the mining heritage by showing on its audio-visual system short films of all ten mining areas from the Tamar Valley to West Cornwall.

Roderick Martin, Secretary to the Museum Trustees, said 'Tavistock Museum at its Court Gate premises has now, after a decade of work by its volunteers and the financial support of its two principal funders, proved itself to be a sustainable asset to the town and local tourism. However we still require more volunteers to assist in a worthwhile range of museum activities which includes stewarding, digitising photographs and researching local history, so if anyone is interested please contact us'.

The museum will be open 11.00 am to 3.00 pm daily from the 28th March - 31st October 2015

Press Release - June 2014

American WW2 Veteran's Visit to Tavistock

WW2 US veteran Don McCarthy visiting Tavistock Museum in 2014'Seventy years later I am back in Tavistock' were the first words said by Don McCarthy, a cheery United States WW2 veteran now ninety years old, when he arrived at Abbotsfield Hall, now Abbotsfield Nursing Home, on Sunday morning. Don served with the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division during WW2. Accompanying Don on his trip to England and later to the D-Day commemorative events in Normandy were his cousin, Father William O'Shea, and Charlotte Juergens, a great-grand-daughter of another veteran. Charlotte from Yale University is compiling a film and photographic record of this remarkable trip by one of the last of the surviving American WW2 veterans.

At Abbotsfield Hall they were met by Rose and Bill Clark, and Trevor Minett from the Devon and Cornwall Military Vehicle Club, Shirley Rose (daughter of a 29th Infantry Division serviceman) and Roderick Martin from the Tavistock Museum, and Sheila Jeffery, housekeeper at Abbotsfield Nursing Home. Trevor Minett brought along Vixen Tor ii, a replica of the control jeep used by Major General Gerhardt, commander of the 29th Infantry Division who had his Divisional Headquarters were at Abbotsfield Hall.

Don said that his previous visit to Abbotsfield Hall was a very brief one seventy years ago when he was only twenty years old. He recalled that in January 1944 on arrival in England he found himself in a truck travelling west from Chard with eighteen other US servicemen who were dropped off at various locations to which they had been assigned. Don had been assigned to the 116th Regiment's Headquarters at Ivybridge but instead was dropped off with his kit at the Divisional Headquarters of the 29th Infantry Division, Abbotsfield Hall in Tavistock. So his arrival was unexpected, and worse still, no spare sleeping accommodation was available for him. It was eventually decided that as Major General Norman Cota, the second-in-command of the Division, was away Don should sleep in the general's room that night.

As one may guess in the middle of the night Major General Cota returned to Abbotsfield Hall and wanted to know what Don was doing in his bed. Fortunately the general, on realising what had happened, took it all in good part insisting that Don stayed in the bed that night, and the next morning took him into the officer's mess for coffee and toast. As both the general and Don were from the Boston area they had much to talk about and got on rather well. Later that morning the mix-up was sorted out and Don was driven to the 116th Regiment's camp at Ivybridge.

While at Abbeyfield Hall Don asked to visit the room where a meeting between the allied generals Eisenhower, Montgomery and Gerhardt was held which destined that the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division would spearhead the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Don recalled that in the early summer of 1944 he was aware the assault on Europe was imminent but nobody knew when and where it was to take place. Don was in the first waves of American troops on Omaha Beach, an experience one could simply not ask him about. There are accounts on the internet.

WW2 US veteran Don McCarthy visiting Tavistock Museum in 2014After the visit to Abbotsfield Hall Don got into the jeep Vixen Tor ii for the short journey down to Guildhall Square. Here Don paid his respects in front of the plaque to the officers and men of the 29th Infantry Division who lost their lives during WW2, and later visited Tavistock Museum where there is currently an exhibition commemorating the departure of the American forces from Tavistock for D-Day.

Inside the museum there was a surprise in store. Don met for the first time in seventy years Noel Blackler from Plympton. In 1944 Noel was the nine year old paperboy who delivered newspapers to the American camp at Ivybridge where Don was based. Noel said that the American's favourite newspaper was the Daily Mirror in which the cartoon heroine Jane invariably ended up in a state of undress. On leaving the museum Don and others were presented by the stewards with museum mugs which have the 'Blues and Greys' insignia of the 29th Infantry Division.

Roderick Martin, Secretary to the Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust stated 'Don McCarthy was delighted with the very warm welcome given to him, and has asked me to thank everyone at Abbotsfield Hall Nursing Home and Tavistock Museum. All who met him were impressed by his cheerfulness, energy and presence on an emotional occasion which sadly will be one of the last times an American WW2 veteran re-visits Tavistock. We wish Don and his party safe journey to the D-Day commemorative events in Normandy.

Press Release - May 2014

Tavistock Museum Shares In Cornish Mining Triumph

Displaying short films about nineteenth century mining activities at Tavistock Museum.An independent evaluation report into the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site's inspiring Discover the Extraordinary project confirms that it has given the region a big tourism boost. The report based on recent visitor surveys contains a list of impressive findings including one that 15% of our visitors now say that they are drawn to Cornwall and west Devon because of its World Heritage Site status. Visitors attach importance to the mining history of the area, to the mining attractions to visit, and to the many opportunities to cycle and walk tramway, moorland, forest and canal paths, often beside spectacular mining scenery.

Tavistock Museum was one of eleven mining attractions in Cornwall and west Devon which received funding from the £2.4m project to boost their visitor footfall. The museum was awarded £57,500 which has been spent on a variety of ways to improve the museum and promote the World Heritage Site. This has included the first stage of the recent museum development, the .purchase of five new cabinets for community exhibitions, and the making of a short film on the Bedford Cottages in Tavistock. The museum made a contribution of £6,000 towards this funding from its own fundraising activities.

Map of mines in the Tamar Valley and Tavistock area, on display with the local mineral collection at Tavistock Museum.This season Tavistock Museum uses its new ground-floor visitor area to promote the World Heritage Site by showing visitors short films about the nineteenth century mining activities and how the mining landscapes look today. A real hit with visitors has been a mining map of the Tamar Valley and Tavistock Area which shows the location of the principal mine sites, above a cabinet with an impressive display of minerals from some of these mines. Last year the museum which is open daily from Easter until the end of October received over 7,500 visitors, almost double the visitors before the museum was extended.

Roderick Martin, Secretary to the Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust, said 'The partnership between the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site and Tavistock Museum has successfully created a first rate visitor centre for Tavistock which will be to the long term benefit of our town and regional tourism.'

The Discover the Extraordinary project was funded and supported by the EU/DEFRA Rural Development Programme for England, Cornwall Council, Devon County Council, West Devon Borough Council, CoaST, and UNESCO which inscribed the WHS in 2006.


Press Release - March 2014

Tavistock Museum Looks Forward To A Busy Season

When Tavistock Museum re-opens on Saturday 29th March 2014 there will be a display of military WW2 vehicles in the Guildhall Square including a replica of 'Vixen Tor' the control jeep used by Major General Gerhardt, commander of the 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. (The original "Vixen Tor" - carrying Gen. Eisenhower - is pictured below.) It is also reported that Group Captain Bigglesworth will make an appearance with his Ford Prefect RAF staff car.

The main exhibition in the museum will again be on the popular theme of the United States Army in Tavistock during WW2. This exhibition will concentrate on the departure of the Americans for D-Day seventy years ago and the role played by the 115th Field Hospital on Plaister Down which treated casualties brought back to Tavistock after the landing. Other exhibitions will include the story of the Abbotsfield Artists, and Marie Grace Pearce, a miniaturist who had a studio in the town.

On the ground floor of the museum there is an interpretation room for the mining world heritage site. Here the new HD promotional films of all ten mining areas in Cornwall and West Devon which go to make up the world heritage site may be seen. In the main museum there is an amazing map showing all the significant mines in the Tamar Valley and Tavistock Area, together with an interesting collection of mineral specimens from some of these mines.

Roderick Martin, secretary to the Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust said "The Museum Trust looks forward to another busy but challenging season. Last year the museum had over 7,500 visitors but we will be trying to do even better this year. We are to re-open earlier than previous years and we believe that this season the museum will have an important role in supporting local tourism."

The museum will be open daily 11.00am to 3.00pm until the end of October.

Press Release - October 2013

Locality Grant Awarded to Tavistock Museum

Debo Sellis and Linda Elliott holding cheque and, behind,
left to right: Dick Eberlie, Shirley Rose, Ann Pulsford,
Trevor Kerswill, Paul Croucher and Barbara Watson.

Tavistock Museum has received a locality grant from Devon County Council which will be put towards the cost of new kitchen facilities for use by the museum volunteers.

Last Thursday (31st October) Cllr Debo Sellis presented a cheque for £3000 to museum trustee Linda Elliott. She said 'I am very happy to support Tavistock Museum. I believe this is an excellent use of the County Councillor's locality budget as the museum is of interest to our community and our visitors, and a real asset to our World Heritage Site. Well done and a big thank you to the wonderful team of volunteers.'

Linda Elliott said 'I am delighted that the museum has received this grant and we are very grateful to Mrs. Sellis for her support. Our stewards and photographic team are all volunteers who work long hours and do an absolutely brilliant job in running the museum. The new kitchen facilities have been a real boon for them.'

This year the Tavistock Museum has been a very busy one for the museum which has recorded 7,500 visitors since Easter. Its season has now closed but it will remain open 11.00 am to 3.00 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays up until Christmas.

Left to right: Debo Sellis, Dick Eberlie, Shirley Rose,
Ann Pulsford, Linda Elliott and Paul Croucher.

Press Release - March 2013

Tavistock Museum Re-Opens With a New Extension

The Tavistock Museum Charitable Trust is pleased to announce that the town museum will re-open on Easter Saturday 30th March 2013. Visitors will for the first time enter from its new extension which has a ground level entrance from the Guildhall Square leading into a welcome area and interpretation rooms. There are also new kitchen facilities for the museum stewards, and a small shop area.

The former librarian's cottage next to the main museum was completely refurbished last year with £50k funding support from Biffa Award. The new interpretation facilities will through displays and a new audio-visual system tell visitors more about the town, what they can see during their visit, and where they can walk or cycle. It will enable them to get much more out of their visit and hopefully encourage them to spend more time in our town to the benefit of local businesses. Particular attention is paid to explaining the role Tavistock now has as the eastern gateway to the West Devon and Cornwall Mining World Heritage site, and how the town came to have its fine public buildings, imposing villas and domestic model cottages, all built by the Bedford Estate from their vast mining royalties.

The new kitchen will be a very welcome facility for the museum stewards. This has been funded by Devon County Council through the support of Mrs. Debo Sellis, our county councillor. Also Messrs. Fairway kindly gave a kitchen sink and base unit to the museum.

Roderick Martin who is the Secretary to the Museum Charitable Trust said that the re-opening of the museum with a new ground-level entrance is a very big step forward for the museum. The Trust are most grateful for the support they have received from the Tavistock Town Council, from our main funder Biffa Award, and from Devon County Council, and for the contributions made to the success of the project made by many local builders, tradesmen and suppliers from the local area. The extended museum with its marvelous new interpretation facilities will enhance visitor experience and be a very big plus for tourism in the town.

This year the museum has a major exhibition Commemorating the Arrival in Tavistock of the 29th Infantry Division of the US Army Seventy Years Ago which has been arranged by Pater Gallie. It will complement plans to hold military vehicle parades and re-enactment activities in the town during the last weekend in May 2013.



For the 2013 season the museum has an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia to commemorate the arrival of 29th Infantry Division of the US Army in Tavistock seventy years ago.
The exhibition is being organised by Peter Gallie.

For a brief period from about May 1943 until early June 1944 the American soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division of the US Army were based and trained in Devon and Cornwall prior to the invasion of mainland Europe. During their stay many of the soldiers made friends with local people and are fondly remembered by many older residents who were children at the time.

The 29th Infantry Division was constituted on paper in the US Army National Guard on the 18th July 1917, and first organised at Camp McClellan, Alabama. It was an infantry division which was largely recruited from the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and rapidly became known as the 'Blue and Gray Division'. This reflected that it was comprised of soldiers from states which had been on opposing sides during the American Civil War; the 'Blue' associate with the blue uniforms of the Union soldiers, and the 'Gray' associated with the grey uniforms of the Confederate soldiers. The shoulder patch is a half-blue and a half grey circle with a green (formerly black) outer band. The Division's motto is '29 Lets Go', this was taken from a speech General Eisenhower made to the Division before D-Day.

During WW1 the 29th Infantry Division was deployed on the Western Front in France and was involved in heavy fighting during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. After WW1 it was disbanded at Camp Dix, New Jersey but remained a National Guard unit. The Division was reformed when America entered WW2, and on the 5th October 1942 about 10,000 men from the division embarked for England on RMS Queen Mary which had been converted to a troop ship. With a maximum speed of 30 knots the unescorted troopship steamed on a zig-zag course across the Atlantic. It moved too fast for enemy submarine attack, but was considered to be vulnerable to an enemy air attack as it got closer to the English coast. For the last part of its journey the troop ship was escorted by a light cruiser HMS Curacao (D41) which was armed with batteries of anti-aircraft guns. The escort was a slower vessel and in order to keep up with the zig-zagging of the troopship needed to steer virtually a straight course. About 60 km north of Ireland tragedy occurred when the liner bore down on the unfortunate escort vessel. Since the RMS Queen Mary was 81,235 tons and HMS Curacao was only 4,190 tons the cruiser was sliced into two pieces and sank in a few minutes. Many on the troopship felt only a slight shudder. The troopship could not stop to rescue survivors because of the threat from enemy submarines. Of the ships compliment of 338 on HMS Curacao .probably less than 30 men were rescued. This was one of the worst cases of accidental loss during WW2 and the sinking of the ship was not made public until after the war.

The troopship docked at Greenock, near Glasgow and the 29th Infantry Division initially trained around Oxford. In May 1943 they were relocated to Devon and Cornwall with bases at Exeter, Okehampton, Tavistock. Plymouth, Bodmin and Perranporth. From July 1943 the Division was commanded by Major General Charles H. Gerhard and his headquarters were at Abbotsfield Hall (now Abbotsfield Hall nursing home) in Tavistock. They were part of V Corps United Sates 1st Army under Lt. General Omar Bradley and were earmarked for the invasion of Europe. In the build-up of military resources for the invasion there was soon an impressive array of tents and military vehicles on Whitchurch Down, even a field hospital and a landing strip.

During the brief period that the Americans were in and around Tavistock they were everywhere at all times. They played baseball in the Meadows, and there was a social club for them in West Street. In Duke Street there used at be a large garage, Matthew's Garage, where a lot of work was done on US military vehicles by their own mechanics. Local hostelries did a roaring trade, a particular favourite being the White Hart in Brook Street. The Americans were always courteous and friendly. They loved children and often surprised them with small gifts of chocolate or bubble-gum. Christmas 1943 was a particularly memorable time: the Americans took over for a day the two cinemas in the town and invited all the local children, and generously distributed gifts. They attracted the girls too, and as a result of these liaisons about forty local girls later became 'GI Brides'.

In early 1944 there were a number of high-rank visits. In February the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower inspected 'H' company of the 29th Infantry Division at Tavistock followed in March by the Commander of 1st Army Lt. General Omar Bradley who addressed officers of the Division. The Americans then became involved in more intensive training including the ill-feted 'Exercise Tiger' on Slapton Sands where the initial landings were rehearsed with live ammunition. Finally, in April, there was a meeting between Eisenhower and the Overall Land Commander, Lt General Sir Bernard Montgomery at Abbotsfield Hall: there is today a plaque above the fireplace recording the meeting in the room they used.

Eisenhower inspecting troops before D-day
Eisenhower inspecting troops before D-Day

One day in late May 1944 the 29th Infantry Division left Tavistock. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, four abreast, marched silently down from the Whitchurch Road, crossed the Abbey Bridge, wheeled left into the Plymouth Road, then down the Plymouth Road passed the Drake Statue, and beyond. They wore steel helmets, and carried packs and rifles. A large crowd gathered to watch but there was no cheering nor flag waving, no bands played, just the tramp tramp of their boots and the occasional sobs of a local girl. Everyone knew something 'big' was about to happen.

Two American Army Divisions, the 29th Infantry Division and the 1st Division (Regular Army Division) were landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord on the 6th June 1944 to re-capture mainland Europe from German occupation. The 29th Infantry Division's 116th Infantry Regiment made up one of the two initial assault forces. Very little went as planned. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of the landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. They encountered opposition from well-entrenched German forces and in the early stages of the landing the Americans were pinned down on the beach by heavy German mortar and machine-gun fire which caused horrific casualties (around 3,000 plus) in a short time. Finally, after bloody fighting, the beachhead was secured, and in the second wave the 29th Infantry Division's 115th Infantry Regiment landed, later the entire division came ashore.

Once inland the 29th Infantry Division was involved in bitter fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy. It helped capture St. Lo in a fierce and devastating battle, moved on to take Brest in the Brittany Peninsula, and by the end of the war had fought their way across Western Europe into Germany. After VE Day they were on duty with the occupational force in Germany until the end of 1945, and returned to the United States in January 1946. They were demobilised on the 17th January 1946 at Camp Kilner, New Jersey.

The 29th Infantry Division was one of the most illustrious US Army outfits of the Second World War. It was in combat almost continuously for eleven months from D-Day to VE-Day, and during this period suffered 20,111 battle casualties including 3,720 killed. It gained four campaign ribbons for service in the European Theatre and was awarded the prestigious 'Croix de Guerre Avec Palme' by the French government for its exemplary service at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Today the 29th Division exists as a reserve division made up of National Guard troops.