Honouring youngest Civil Defence messenger killed in Torbay

Torbay Weekly

Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Clifford Reginald Redcliffe Cooksley

This was an interesting and unique blue plaque installed as it honoured a 16-year-old boy helping the Civil Defence Movement (CDM) who was killed on returning to his home Princess Street, Babbacombe, during World War Two.

Clifford Reginald Redcliffe Cooksley was the only child of Charles and Kate Cooksley and a volunteer with the (CDM) while living at 22 Princess Street, Babbacombe, when bombed by the Luftwaffe on Sunday May 30, 1943.

We later learned the German pilots had dropped 22 high explosive (HE) bombs on Barton, Hele, Petitor, St Marychurch and Babbacombe to create huge devastation as they were returning from a Midlands raid, on the way back their homeland - Germany.

It was on that same day 21 children were killed after one bomb struck the parish church of St Marychurch instantly killing children assembled for Sunday school.

Being very aware English Heritage had absolute control over the 'who, why and where' of establishing blue plaques in London, their rules stated they only honoured individuals who had died over 20 years ago or more.

Fortunately, the institution had no power over any local authority area unless a listed building was involved.

So having researched the short history of Clifford, who at 16 was indeed killed on returning home, he now would never know his parents had to be dug out of the rubble of the house yet fortunately survived, although were too unwell in hospital to attend his funeral some days later.

In deciding to endorse this blue plaque to honour the young man, we then found one of our members was a distant relative and through him, found that two nieces of Clifford still lived in Torquay.

So with the wording of the plaque more poignant and now proofed by the family, the sponsorship came through the help of the Turning Point Heritage Trust, the Rotary Club of Babbacombe and St Marychurch and Hanbury's Fish Restaurant in Princes Street.

A pamphlet which always accompanies every blue plaque, was written by Nick Pannell and myself with the help of Peter Foreman of Turning Point Heritage Trust and entitled 'Clifford Cooksley - Civil Defence Messenger'.

Finally, a decision was made to place the plaque on the wall of Hanbury's business, being a few houses away from today's public car park which was where the Cooksley house, and others, originally stood.

Clifford who had volunteered to be a 'warden messenger' after school involved him in carrying messages from various street wardens to the group headquarters' room at St Anne's Hall on Babbacombe Road.

The upper room of the hall actually housed the RAF and later, when the Americans moved in, this further established the strategic importance of the hall to this part of the war effort in Torquay.

The town was ultimately bombed 19 times by the Luftwaffe and, sadly, Babbacombe was a special target probably because the pilots knew the Palace Hotel was being used as an RAF hospital and that various hotels were being used by the RAF for training purposes.

In fact, in St Marychurch some small factories even manufactured small arms for the war effort.

On Saturday, May 30, 2009 - the anniversary of the German raid - Torbay Civic Society members and members of the public plus Babbacombe History Society and Probus members all came together in Princess Street at 10am to witness the official unveiling of the plaque by chairman of Torbay Council Matthew Phillips and his escort Nicole Amil.

The nieces - Shirley Palmer and Elizabeth Quintrell - also attended.

We were all given refreshments at Hanbury's while some of the family history was then related.

Today, the Princess Street car park remains a permanent open area as a memorial to the homes lost in that part of the terrace.

The pamphlet 'Clifford Cooley - Civil Defence Messenger' can be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.