Wartime Torquay’s ‘funk hole’ myth as place for idle rich escaping bombings

Torquay author David Scott

Torquay author David Scott - Credit: Archant

The incredible story of how Torquay was vilified as a shirkers' paradise during World War Two is told for the first time in a new book published this week.

The Funk Hole Myth by David Scott

The Funk Hole Myth by David Scott - Credit: Archant

The Funk Hole Myth written by author and former regional newspaper editor David Scott is a comprehensive account of what life was like in the town between 1939 and 1945.

A vicious campaign was waged by several national newspapers which earned Torquay a reputation as a 'funk hole' where people came to hide from the war, where the residents refused to do their duty, failed to contribute enough money for the war effort and lived a cushy life.

It started when one councillor made some ill-judged comments at a chamber of trade meeting. The Daily Mirror's sister paper the Sunday Pictorial sent a reporter who produced in March 1941 two of the most damning pages ever written about Torquay.

From then on the Mirror, Daily Herald and other national newspapers waged a four-year war which left the rest of the country in no doubt that Torquay was a funk hole for all and sundry.

'I realised this was a story that needed telling and correcting,' said David. 'Just prior to the 75th anniversary celebrations of VE Day next month seemed a good time to launch the book.'

'Even today London-based journalists believe Torquay is mainly populated by the upper classes and that as such is a good target for some newspapers with a political agenda.'

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The word 'funk' is hardly used today but a funk hole was a derogatory term used in both world wars to describe a safe retreat from any sort of duties and where the 'idle rich' with money in their pockets could escape the bombings and privations suffered by those in the big cities.

Some hotels in did accommodate a few mainly very elderly people who had enough money to leave a heavily bombed city and spend six years in relative safety compared with what was happening back home, but the bald fact that more than 11,400 claims were made in respect of war damage to property shows that from 1941 onwards Torquay was no funk hole - repeated air raid warnings and civilian casualties made life both dangerous and difficult.

'The old adage 'if you throw enough mud some of it will stick' applied in Torquay's case. By calling the town a funk hole national newspapers included everyone and everything in their critical columns, which if more journalistic research and care had been undertaken would have told a different story,' says David.

The accusations peaked in the summers of 1941 and 1942. There was also a major and ill-informed row involving the amount of money sent by Torquay to the Lord Mayor of London's fund supporting bombed cities.

The book reveals that for the first three years of the war there was the very real threat of invasion along the Devon coast. If the Americans found Slapton and other beaches ideal for their preparations for D-Day in 1944, then the reverse applies and the Nazis in 1939 could have thought the same, come ashore and captured a working harbour in Torquay.

After the debacle at Dunkirk and the fall of France in May 1940 the town suffered 642 air raid alerts and 21 major raids over the next four years. One hundred and sixty eight people were killed, 158 people seriously wounded and 392 others also wounded. One hundred and thirty seven buildings were totally destroyed.

It was nothing like what Plymouth and Exeter suffered and even though some of the raids were the result of the Luftwaffe jettisoning their bombs after attacks on those two cities, they were just as frightening.

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.