Every July, news items and tweets appear around the seventh day of the month, usually referring to the 7/7 London Tube bombings of 2005 in which 52 civilians were killed. However, there was a prior 7/7 event which few people know about.
July 7 1940, Penhale Army Camp, Perranporth, Cornwall. It was a sunny, Sunday afternoon.
Only a few memories are left; army documents and old letters. In all, 22 dead, among the first military personnel of WW2 to be killed on British soil.
Death notices appeared in local newspapers mourning the loss of the Penhale 22 but no details were given about how or where they died, just that they were killed as a result of ‘enemy action, somewhere in England’.
My Grandfather, Private Stanley Tyrer of the Royal Army Ordinance Corps was a driver. After 90 days training, he had disembarked from Southampton on March 19, arriving in France the next day to start his service as ‘batman’ - or soldier-servant - to a senior officer. Stanley, only 23, was privileged:
Batman was usually seen as a desirable position. In WW2 only senior officers of the Army and Royal Air Force were officially assigned their own batmen. The soldier was exempted from more onerous duties and often got better rations and other favours from his officer. Senior officers’ batmen usually received fast promotion to lance-corporal rank, with many becoming corporals and even sergeants. The position was generally phased out after the war. Officers of the Household Division still have orderlies. (Link).
In a letter to my Grandmother sent just before disembarkation to France, Stanley wrote.
I have got a lovely job dear and please do not be afraid for I will come back to you. My job is a batman to an officer and to drive him about. So… I shall soon be alright for I have to look after him. It came as a great shock today when he told me but there it is.
He is a very nice officer too. I have to clean his buttons and boots every day and look after the car. I have to drive him about too so I shall have enough work to do without fighting.
Other letters speak of his escape from Dunkirk; going without food for 48 hours, sleeping in barns and under bridges before finding the docks and passage back to Harwich.
Before being transferred to Penhale, my Grandfather had been sent to Chisledon Camp near Swindon which was used as a collection point for men returning from the evacuation of Dunkirk. There is very little information about why he was sent to Penhale and what he was doing there.
On that gloriously sunny afternoon in July, 1940, there was apparently a poker match going on in the mess. It was Stanley’s 200th day of service. The men had no time to hear the engines of the low-flying Luftwaffe bomber’s engines as it released four bombs, three exploding immediately, killing 19 men on the spot. Three others died from their wounds within the next two or three days.
At least one next of kin wasn’t informed in enough time to request the body of their loved one to be sent home. In fact, the 19 men who were killed at the camp were all buried in the churchyard at the local Norman parish church of Perranzabuloe, St Piran’s, within just four days on July 11.
The news was hushed up for reasons of safeguarding national morale. There were no photos, no radio reports, no national news stories, no statement by the War Office. Today, this would be unthinkable and entirely impossible.
A week after the attack, a secret meeting took place in Whitehall and special intelligence Auxiliary Units were set up by Churchill’s War Cabinet to counter the threat of a Nazi invasion, including at Cligga Head, close to Penhale Camp:
Churchill’s secret army operated in small, localised cells and recruited members to carry out guerrilla resistance measures in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain.
There were approximately 250 men from Cornwall drafted in to the unit as the Cornish coast was considered a prime location for Hitler’s troops to launch an attack.
The Battle of Britain started on July 10 and King George signed the charter for the newly formed Intelligence Corps on July 15.
But what was my grandfather doing at Penhale? In one of his letters from France, he speaks of starting classes to learn ____. What ever it was he was learning had to be blanked for censorship reasons.
Who was the senior officer of the British Expeditionary Forces my grandfather had been assigned to and for what special reasons had he been chosen?
His death notices tells us that he was a regional snooker and billiards champion. He also played football. My Grandmother never really spoke to us about Stanley, although over the years she and the rest of our family have made regular visits to his graveside in Perranzabuloe.
The town of Perranporth held its annual Perranporth Veterans’ Day until 2010, 70th anniversary of the bombing. The Penhale 22 were honoured every year, but most of the relatives remained unaware of the ceremony until recently. It was thanks to a survivor’s son, Stuart Gray, that most of the relatives were able to attend the final reunion organised in 2010.
Penhale Camp was sold off by the last Labour government and is now in the process of being turned into some kind of semi-residential development project linked to local conservation area policy. In anticipation of the camp memorial being completely removed, a new plaque with the victims’ names has now been erected at St Piran’s church.
Have the names of my grandfather and his dead comrades been read out in the House of Commons by any British government since 1945? Has their sacrifice ever been officially recognised? Is The Sun newspaper going to start a petition calling for a permanent monument to the Penhale22 at the site of the bombing?
Despite the memory of victims seemingly having been brushed under the carpet somewhat by the authorities, relatives and the people of Perranporth gathered together last Saturday in a special remembrance service for the Penhale22 and pay their respects to the newly raised plaque. It was ITV West Country’s leading story on Saturday evening - thanks to the football not going into extra time.
The news clip includes interviews with both my parents.
Earlier today, there were reports that the 7/7 London bombing monument has been vandalised. Yet there were no reports about the Penhale Camp memorial which seems doomed to be removed from the camp: a site where 22 men lost their lives in an event which no doubt swayed Churchill’s decisions regards the British Resistance Movement and the introduction of British military Intelligence Corps.
On 7/7 the Penhale 22 should also be remembered.
The European War Graves Commission recently provided a grant for improvements of the Penhale19 war graves at St Piran’s, Perranzabuloe.