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Heart of the South Hams, Devon

HISTORY GROUP MEETINGS 2018

DELVING INTO THE PAST -- Graham Collyer

At our March meeting, we were delighted to welcome back Graham Collyer, who talked about his Gazette column “Delving IntoThe Past” and showed us some wonderful images of local views and characters. There was a fair amount of audience participation as locations and names were debated and Graham has left us with a couple of interesting Malborough photos that need a bit more research.  In due course, we will be asking for help with identification. 

A HOMELAND DENIED: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A POLISH POW -- Irena Clarke

At our April meeting, the History Group welcomed Malborough resident Irena Clarke (née Kossakowski) to tell us about the extraordinary life of her father, Waclaw, as portrayed in her moving book “A Homeland Denied: In the Footsteps of a Polish POW”.

Waclaw Kossakowski was a young Warsaw University student whose peaceful life was changed dramatically and with far-reaching consequences when Germany and Russia attacked Poland in September 1939.  As a Russian prisoner of war, he soon found himself a slave, working in excruciating conditions.   From imprisonment in the notorious Kozelsk prison, he was sent to a forced labour camp in the Siberian Arctic Circle, where the inmates were forced to dig runways in temperatures as low as -50°C while under constant threat from sadistic guards. 

Fate intervened and the icy wasteland was replaced by the blistering heat and dry deserts of the Middle East when, under a deal between Russia and the UK, the Polish prisoners were released to the Eighth Army.  Waclaw then fought in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna.

After the war, rather than return to Poland, which was then under Russian control, he settled in England and married an English girl.  Irena is one of a set of identical triplets – a story in itself!

Irena’s talk was illustrated by evocative photos and documents and she was proud to show us her father’s medals.  It is a fascinating and poignant story and the book is a worthy tribute to Waclaw and the many unrecognised Poles whose stories should not be forgotten.  It is well worth a read and is available on Amazon and at the Harbour Bookshop in Kingsbridge.

GUIDED TOUR OF BRITANNIA ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE, DARTMOUTH

Do you know the origins of the phrases “a square meal” or “on the fiddle”?  No?  Neither did the majority of people in the 27-strong group from Malborough History Group who visited the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth recently.  But these were two of the anecdotes that peppered our guide Nicola’s excellent commentary.  One theory is that the first saying comes from the Navy serving their main meals to the sailors on square wooden plates.  In addition, these plates had a raised edge and, if your food spilled over the edge, you were suspected of having underhand dealings with the ship’s cook or staff to get an extra helping!

Along with humorous stories and asides, Nicola’s tour was full of interesting facts about the intriguing history of the college spanning over 150 years.  Since 1863, Dartmouth and the River Dart have been the home of initial Naval Officer training in the UK.  Today, it is the only remaining Naval College in the country, fulfilling a vital role in training Naval cadets not only from Britain but those from the Commonwealth and all over the world.

The iconic architecture is a spectacle in itself and the interiors are stunning.  We were taken into the heart of the College, from the elegant Chapel, through to areas including the Quarterdeck, Parade Ground and the Britannia Heritage Museum. The “Senior Gun Room”, where the senior cadets have their meals, is a wonderful hall with a beautiful vaulted ceiling.  Apparently, the junior cadets’ dining room is, as Nicola put it, “more like a transport caff”! 

While we were outside, admiring the fabulous view of the river, Nicola pointed out the shape of the main college building, designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1905.  You will no doubt have noticed it sitting up on its hill when visiting Dartmouth. It is very long and has a tall central clock tower.  Later in the visit, Nicola showed us a model of the nuclear submarine “Vanguard”.  By coincidence, it is the same length as the college building, and the conning tower is the same height as the clock tower!  We had no idea that submarines were so large!

The group really enjoyed their visit and we can thoroughly recommend the 2¼ hour tour.  The Britannia Association arranges public tours as well.  You can find all the details on their website.

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