The defeat of Germany in May, 1945, did not signal the end of World War Two. Hundreds of Torquay men were still fighting the Japanese in Burma and on ships in the Pacific. They could be forgiven for thinking they were the ‘Forgotten Army’.
But 75 years ago they too, at last, could celebrate.
Once the VE Day celebrations were concluded on May 8, 1945, thoughts turned to the impending General Election which was held over a two-week period from July 5 to allow servicemen to vote. The result was declared on July 27 and, much to many people’s surprise, saw Labour sweep to power in a landslide victory.
The Torquay declaration was made soon after midnight to a 500-strong crowd outside the town hall. The result was never in much doubt with Conservative Charles Williams easily retaining his seat with a near-12,000 majority. He said: “It was a real tragedy for Mr Churchill that the country has swung against him. Internationally, that must weaken us.”
Torquay Councillor H. T. Langdon was the Labour candidate in the Honiton constituency but was well beaten by 11,760 votes in a two-horse race.
The Sunday Mirror continued its war of words against the resort with yet another story which very much smacked of being staged for its benefit. Once again the attack was on the continuing perceived high cost of holidays in the town.
The bizarre setting for the stunt was Torre Abbey sands where a meeting was chaired by Mr Pat Denby, a Londoner, who sat in a deck chair and kept order by rapping a tea tray with a pebble. He wore shorts and sandals, which he said was the approved attire for such a meeting attended by 50 others.
After a fanfare on a warden’s whistle, Mr Denby bawled: “We are paying through the nose at hotels that ought to know better. I am paying 10 guineas a week at quite a modest medium-size hotel, though in the last town guide this was advertised at three guineas.”
Others spoke in a similar vein, after which it was decided to register an official protest. The meeting then broke up and everyone cooled off in the sea.
Once Hitler was defeated, the authorities decided football could make a welcome return, but not immediately given the millions of men who had to be demobilised. The game was to enjoy a post-war boom in attendances.
Torquay United, under the chairmanship of Colonel W. Rowland Ward, opted not to join the Southern League but to wait for the Football League’s Third Division (South) to start in August, 1946.
In the transitional period the club entered the Victory League and Victory Cup competitions. Former England international and ex-Bolton Wanderers player Billy Butler was appointed the new manager but the directors warned that at least £5,000 (£151,000) would be needed to see them through a full season.
A proposal to change the club’s name to Torbay United was left to a future date.
Optimists in the town dreamed of an airport near Torquay, and even discussed whether it should be a large one costing anything up to £800,000 (£24.2 million today) or a feeder costing £250,000 (£7.5 million). In what must have been a massive understatement, Wing Commander Measures, addressing the council’s publicity committee, said the costs might well deter local ratepayers! The council was asked to appoint an airport consultant, but the idea, if you will excuse the pun, never got off the ground.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the summer months were quieter than anticipated. The various peak periods were heralded in advance as going to be the greatest ever, only to fall rather flat when they actually arrived. Predictions that the summer of 1945 would establish new records in visitor numbers were not fulfilled, and were disappointing when compared with pre-war holiday seasons.
A variety of reasons were offered for this disappointment, including the ability of many south coast resorts to recover quickly from war-time restrictions and offer stiffer competition, the weather and a general feeling that after the VE Day celebrations people wanted to take stock and plan their futures on home turf.
One of the things most people wanted quickly resolved was street lighting. More than 1,000 street lamps – about half - were still unlit three months after victory over Germany. Residents and visitors alike complained that the main sea front looked gloomy compared with other resorts, and that an air of complacency was delaying the return of any sort of lighting on some roads. Councillors were warned this would be a major issue when elections were held in November.
Victory over Japan (VJ Day) was on August 15 when another two-day holiday was granted.
This time there was no parade on the actual day but the mayor visited various areas of the town and a thanksgiving service took place at the Pavilion.
Four days later the mayor, Alderman Denys Phillips, took the salute at the Norcliffe Hotel in Babbacombe Downs Road at the last official parade following a service at All Saints’ Church. Loudspeakers were set up so the estimated 200 people standing outside the church could follow the proceedings.
• The above are extracts from The Funk Hole Myth the story of Torquay in World War Two published in April on only available from David by emailing him at DScottTorq@aol.com