Brixham slipways played part in world history - and declared national monuments

Torbay Weekly

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay’s Blue Plaques was chosen. This week: Brixham World War Two slipways and hard

Having received a letter from an 'old soldier' written on Christmas Day 2012, Robbie Robinson of Brixham strode into my life.

Known for his sterling work in establishing the Brixham Heritage Group in 1999, that group would later establish and open to the public a World War Two military museum at Battery Gardens in Brixham.

Just three months before his letter to me, Robbie received permission from Torbay Harbour Authority to put a public Information board on Brixham's slipway, which had apparently just received a Grade II listing from English Heritage to be a permanent monument.

Robbie had immediately approached Brixham Town Council to see if there was a possibility of having a blue plaque placed somewhere near his notice board and they gave him my contact details.

Having immediately contacted Brixham town clerk Mrs Ki Barnes, as early as April 2013 Brixham councillors were voting unanimously for a plaque which they would fully sponsor and now, with literature provided by the society and with the words all agreed, 'Brixham - World War II Slipways and hard constructed during 1943 for the D-Day landings' blue plaque was full steam ahead.

The Brixham slipways were built by the British Army Royal Engineers in May 1943, in preparation for men of the United States Army to use in the invasion of France in what was later to be called Operation Overlord, likely to take place at that time sometime in June, 1944.

We now know, of course, that 28 Sherman amphibious tanks followed by men of the American 8th Regiment Combat Team successfully landed at Utah beach on June 6, 1944 - D-Day.

The men were well prepared due to the special training received at Slapton Beach some six weeks previous.

Brixham's hard and slipways played a vital role in the preparations for this part of the British war effort which is why in 2009, they and the hard became listed as a national monument.

With the wording for the plaque all agreed, a delighted Robbie sat down and wrote the history for our pamphlet which was checked and agreed by the town clerk, Mrs Barnes, even before the plaque was ordered from the foundry in August, 2013.

With the unveiling date now agreed by all concerned, this would occur on Saturday, November 9, 2013 immediately prior to Remembrance Sunday.

Knowing it was likely to be a well-attended event, you can guess we were pleased to have arranged for hot refreshments to be available at Breakwater Bistro because on the day the weather was absolutely appalling and being outside was no good idea.

Nevertheless, the unveiling ceremony had to be carried out by the chairman of Brixham Council, Brian Harland, and Robbie Robinson.

With just a few words of welcome at the slipway, I then led everyone to the bistro for formal speeches to take place there.

Robbie, as a military historian and past member of the Royal Army Educational Corps, undertook the main presentation covering Exercise Tiger and Operation Overlord.

It seems the Slapton Sands debacle involved various Sherman tanks being lost and many men killed by what was called 'friendly fire' during the formal exercises on the beach between April 26 and 29, 1944.

On the other hand, Operation Overlord in France - involving 30,000 men in two convoys using amphibious duplex drive (Donald Duck) Sherman tanks for the first time - was highly successful.

With 2,500 infantry men of the US Army and 32 tanks sent from Brixham, our slipways and hards today are rightly remembered as worthy monuments.

Finally, with thanks given to all, at this time I was unaware that within two more years the society would come back to Brixham to support Robbie again, this time to honour the World War Two coast and harbour defence battery museum with another blue plaque.

The Brixham World War Two slipways' pamphlet is still obtainable by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA