Holidays in Devon – and a German fighter attack

As a schoolboy I spent my summer holidays at my grandmother’s in Devon with my family, and have loved the area ever since.

It was a thrill to get on to the train at Bristol Temple Meads station for the journey, listening to the steam engine and the clickety-clack of the carriage wheels over rail joints, and watching the countryside as we dashed past.

Then there was the excitement as we neared the coasdine and saw the sea and sandy beaches for the first time. Some children were having donkey rides and others were watching the Punch and Judy show.

Then there were the ice creams, luscious dairy Devon ice cream. My mother used to say there was only one ice cream to beat it, and that was Cornish!

I loved the beautiful soft sand and gendy-shelving beach, and the reddish sandstone rocks so well known in South Devon. I enjoyed the shops, and often spent hours wandering round them, particularly bookshops as I was very fond of reading. Once, I even missed dinner because of it!
I loved staying in my grandmother’s house, because she had lots and lots of old 78 records, and a wonderful old wind-up record player, with one of those big HMV horns. She also had a tremendous variety of books, and a superb balcony you got out on to through one of the large windows in her lounge, which overlooked a small, though to me large, garden in which I could also play.

Granny loved entertaining, and would invite friends in to have tea in her garden. This was always a special occasion, and I was sometimes allowed to help. I also remember going to a fish shop full of all sorts of seafood, including crabs, prawns, winkles and other shellfish, mackerel, whitebait, cod and so on. Occasionally we were allowed crab as a luxury, and I can recall having fresh crab sandwiches for tea. My favourite, though, was to eat fish and chips from the newspaper they were wrapped in while sitting on the sea wall, or on a seat on the promenade.

What fun we used to have going on the pier and playing shove ha’penny, or trying
to ‘grab’ sweets or other items with those grab cranes. A ride on the dodgems was also great fun, and we were always sad when we had to come off.

During one of these holidays just after the start of the Second World War, on a beautiful sunny day, my grandmother had invited some special friends of hers to tea in the garden. It was a great success, and after they had left I went out into the garden with her to help bring in the tea things. Suddenly a German fighter plane swooped down with all guns firing, and just missed us. I felt the hot air over us as the bullets whizzed past, and the spent cartridges were found in the garden of the house next door the next day. Afterwards I was asked if I had been frightened, but I replied that it was over so quickly that there was no time for that. I was just angry, and would have liked to have taken a pot-shot at the pilot!

Apart from this incident, those holidays bring back some of the happiest memories of my childhood, recalled with great affection all these years later,

Basil Hellier