Tavistock Museum News
Press Release - 12th September 2013
Painting Exhibition - October 2017
The 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.
Dick 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
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
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
Press Release - 12th September 2016
Surprise Birthday Party for Graham
Above: Graham with Subscription Library members and Museum volunteers
Members of the Tavistock Subscription Library and volunteers at Tavistock Museum sprang a surprise birthday party on Graham Kirkpatrick when he opened the door of the museum on Sunday morning 11th September 2016 to begin his stewarding duties. On entering the museum he found the welcome area decorated with balloons and bunting, music playing, a wide range of food and drink on the tables, and lots of people.
Graham who has been a stalwart supporter of both organisations was congratulated by his many friends on achieving the age of ninety (less one day since his birthday was on the following day Monday 12th September), and thanked for his long and loyal service to both organisations. Graham said that the party had been a complete surprise to him, but nevertheless a pleasant surprise, and he thanked everyone for coming. Also his special thanks to Sarah Smith, the museum's youngest volunteer, who organised the party.
Right: The oldest and youngest museum
volunteers - Graham Kirkpatrick and Sarah Smith
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
Three 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
Press Release - 16th March 2015
Tavistock 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
'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.
After 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
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.
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.'
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
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.
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.
PRESS RELEASE - JANUARY 2013
29th INFANTRY DIVISION OF THE US ARMY
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.
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.
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.