Seventy five years ago this week the country was getting ready to celebrate the end of World War Two, but Torquay’s reputation was in tatters.

Union Street in Torquay during the warUnion Street in Torquay during the war

Seventy five years ago this week the country was getting ready to celebrate the end of World War Two, but Torquay’s reputation was in tatters.

A vindictive four-year campaign by several national newspapers had firmly lodged in the nation’s mind that the town was a shirkers’ paradise and victory had not been achieved by the sacrificial efforts of those living in South Devon.

This and other startling facts about life in Torquay are contained in a new book out this month, published by local author David Scott, titled The Funk Hole Myth – which tells the true story of what life was like in Torbay between 1939 and 1945.

Although beaches were now open to the public, there was a genuine fear that holidaymakers would turn their backs on Torquay and that the golden seasons of the mid to late 1930s would never return.

One man who tried to alert the town to the terrible damage done by people like popular Daily Mirror columnist Cassandra was chamber of trade chairman Neil Lake who was exasperated by the lack of local action.

He wasn’t a man to pull his punches and had already caused a major row after telling one chamber of trade meeting: “Everyone agrees that Torquay is capable of big things but is anyone confident that the town, as represented by our present council, shows any sign whatever of being able to live up to its future possibilities? Are we sure that we will reap our share of the harvest and make the most of our unrivalled assets?

“I believe that in the post-war years there will be a terrific race for supremacy among the south coast resorts. It is up to us to make sure Torquay is not among the also-rans. The time is long past when the town’s future policy should have been formulated. It is certainly pertinent to ask the council where are, and what are, their plans.”

He claimed that after the chamber of trade and the hoteliers’ association had been invited to join a co-ordinating committee to plan for the future, nothing had been done apart from the holding of a few meetings four months apart, each reporting back to another body but not making any decisions.

“Think for one moment about what is happening here in our town,” he added. “Think about the enemies in our midst – selfishness, jealousy, greed, apathy, complacency, graft to name but a few, which like rats are eating away our character and making a mockery of the sacrifice of the very best of our young manhood.”

The term ‘graft’ is not one we hear today; it was a colloquial term referring to the unlawful acquisition of public money through questionable and improper transactions by public officials. In simple terms: corruption and fraud.

Mr Lake, who was also a co-opted member of the council’s publicity committee, warned that the town could not live entirely on visitors unless it was content to return to the pre-war conditions of seasonal employment, winter misery and the creation of soup kitchens.

He urged the council to encourage light industry, engage in an advertising campaign in America and make an extensive effort to create a winter tourist season.

His fears about the lack of visitors seemed justified a few months later.

The key bank holiday weekends were quieter than usual and August was particularly disappointing.

Fortunately, this did not last, and by the summer of 1946 hotels were able to report bumper bookings – the ‘no vacancies’ signs came out of their moth balls.

A war-weary public decided Torquay’s coastline and attractions outweighed any negative propaganda they had been subjected to, but it was
many more years before the funk hole image was consigned to history.

The Funk Hole Myth – Torquay during World War Two is only available by emailing David at DScottTorq@aol.com or by leaving a message with details on 07802 786 684.