Historian Peter Christie takes a look back at the news of yesteryear in a new weekly feature: Local news was heavily censored during the Second World War but recently I was given a sheaf of papers which throw some light on what was happening around this area.

An illustration of the Trench mortar shell. Picture: contributedAn illustration of the Trench mortar shell. Picture: contributed

They are police reports on various incidents and include four for Bideford of which I will deal with three here.

The first concerns an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) exercise in November 1941 staged in Rope Walk which didn’t go well as the report shows.

The simulated ‘fire’ was staged on market day – when the crowded streets made tackling it difficult although as the writer noted rather laconically ‘we were informed that the enemy would not time his actions to suit the convenience of the ARP services.’

Apparently the head warden had to personally ‘call at the wardens’ houses in the hope of finding one in’ (!) and when he did he ‘was scarcely in a state of mind to concentrate on exercises’ – which leaves one wondering just what was going on.

Bideford author and historian Peter Christie.Bideford author and historian Peter Christie.

When the wardens did turn up, they stood about ‘aimlessly’ and even the First Aid Party ‘was definitely a disappointment’. The overall conclusion about the exercise was that it was a ‘very unsatisfactory exhibition’. Thank goodness Bideford hardly saw a bomb during the war.

The second case was routine and records how on May 15, 1942 a Lieutenant E Williams from the Royal Engineers in Bodmin called at Bideford police station to pick up various bombs ‘which were in the bomb cemetery at this station.’

Two of these were incendiaries dropped at Frithelstock and another was ‘sent to this station by Capt Morris of the National Fire Service, who took it from a fireman who brought it away from Exeter’ – presumably as a souvenir.

The third report is the oddest as it is headed ‘British Trench Mortar Bomb found in roof gutter of St Mary’s Church, Bideford 9.30am 13.9.42.’ The church verger Reginald Sluman found the bomb and took it to the police station where P.c.Hill ‘immediately placed it in the bomb cemetery in the gardens adjoining this station.’

The policeman then ‘made enquiries of Major Cudmore, 5th Bn (Bideford) Home Guard’ who denied all knowledge of it – but then remembered a street-fighting exercise held in Bideford in May 1942 when men from the Manchester Regiment ‘used such a bomb as a smoke bomb.’

There are many other reports on a whole variety of subjects – which I intend covering in other articles.