Brixham boy became winner of first Fastnet Race - and major player in D-Day landings

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Commander Evelyn George Martin OBE, RNVR

The parents of Evelyn George Martin were connected to the old Martin's Bank prior to it being part of Barclays Bank.

Being abroad often, they left George, as he was known, to be fostered by the Hogg family residing at Berry Head House and now any commemorative plaque to him would rightly need to be placed on today's Berry Head Hotel.

It was the current ancestors of George who contacted Torbay Civic Society during February 2012 to outline the amazing story of Commander Martin and suggest the idea of a blue plaque to him.

It was soon a no-brainer and yet on contacting Brixham Town Council to get clearance for Berry Head, a listed building, it was surprising to learn the town council wanted no part in financially supporting the idea.

One councillor even stated: "I've lived in Brixham all my life and have never heard of him before." And so it was not too surprising the council voted against support.

Fortunately, the listing was no problem as the hotel already had a plaque to the famous Rev Henry Lyte.

George, when living at what was the Berry Head House, also had a boathouse at Battery Beach which was where he learned from local trawlermen about the sea and gained shipwright skills.

Later, he became a skilled yachtsman and even won the Royal Cruising Club's Challenge Trophy in 1907 and 1908 when sailing from Torbay to Gibraltar and then the Baltic.

After organising rescue tugs during the First World War, he was awarded an OBE and later having bought the legendary cutter 'Julie Brize', became the shipwright who fitted her out in Teignmouth.

Amazingly, between the First and Second World Wars, Commander Martin founded the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and donated the Challenge Cup having won the first Fastnet Race in the French updated cutter 'Julie Brise'.

Eventually, he even sailed her across the Atlantic to America.

Torbay Civic Society's first contact with the family came when Claire McComb, great niece of George, had learned the town council would not support the commemorative plaque idea but then contacted Brixham's Bob Curtis for help, she was soon in touch with us.

With sponsorship assured and having met Sylvia Spice, George's 97-year-old niece, and other members of the family, I visited the Brixham Trawler Agents, the hotel and also arranged for author Ben Hoogewerf to write a biography pamphlet.

Now all that was required was timings and the date of unveiling, agreed as May 23 the following year.

It was always apparent this unveiling was going to attract exceptionally high numbers of the community, as the dignitory list alone ran to more than 40.

We all hoped for a fine day as the plaque was affixed to the building in advance, adjacent to the Rev Lye. The ceremony would be held outside.

Meanwhile, having discovered during the Second World War, the commander was brought out of retirement by the Admiralty, he was asked to establish a rescue tug training base on the Kintyre Peninsular to train thousands of tugmen - including Brixham men - who would take part in the D-Day landings.

They would have a safeguard patrolling role.

Eventually George formally retired to Hadleigh Suffolk where this man of Torbay died in 1945.

The unveiling day saw the weather against us, it was wet and cold and soon we had to move inside to the reserved hotel 'Mulberry Room' where most of the official welcomes occurred.

Over 150 people attended and all were served refreshments before formal presentations ensued.

Finally, Commodore of the Royal Western Yachting Club presented a special print of 'Jolie Brise' to the chairman of Torbay Council and with 50 family members, the skipper and crew of the Julie Brise and numerous naval personnel and yachting historians watching, the family had brought out the commander's extraordinary life extremely well.

The pamphlet by Ben Hoogewerf can be obtained by sending two second class stamps and a stamped addressed envelopes to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.