On the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War I joined the Royal British Legion in Truro for the dedication of a floral display in Victoria Gardens to the memory of the local men who lost their lives. It was a deeply moving event, and as the candles that we all lit were snuffed out, while the bugler played ‘Sunset’ in the fading evening light, the sacrifices of a hundred years ago seemed very close indeed.
Like every other community of Great Britain, Truro and Falmouth, along with surrounding villages, sent their share of men to fight over the Channel. Mid-Cornwall had its own ‘Pals battalion’, a group of civilians from the same community who joined up and served together in a specially created unit. The 10th Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was raised in March 1915 by the Mayor of Truro and attracted hundreds of recruits from the City, from Penryn, Falmouth, Perranporth and nearby villages. After just over a year’s training the men were sent to France in June 1916 and served in the trenches throughout the war, participating in the dreadful battles of the Somme, and the Third Ypres. One hundred years on the regimental descendant of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, the Rifles, are still in Truro. I continue to fight to keep a base for D Company 6 Rifles at the Moresk Road Reserves Centre so that these links between City and Regiment continue into the future.
Of course Cornish men didn’t only serve on land, our maritime traditions meant that many joined the Navy. Falmouth became a naval headquarters during the Great War, a base from which minesweepers and submarine hunters, many crewed by Cornish fishermen, patrolled to keep merchant shipping safe. These patrols were co-ordinated from Pendennis Castle, which also served as a training ground for artillerymen waiting to cross over to France. It is good to see this Great War heritage being commemorated at Pendennis this summer though a new ‘Fortress Falmouth’ exhibition. In Penryn too where the museum commemorates the contribution of Penryn Engineers, from building a hospital to bridges in France.
One of the most moving aspects of Cornwall’s Great War experience was the response of thousands of ‘Cousin Jacks’ to the outbreak of war. These Cornishmen crossed oceans to enlist at home or served in the Commonwealth contingents that fought in France and in the Mediterranean. The Commonwealth countries made a remarkable contribution to the war, with Canada and Australia between them sending over a million men to fight, many Cornishmen among them.
There can hardly be a family in Cornwall whose male or female ancestors were not affected by the Great War. Whatever your views are about the war, what is indisputable is that, when called on by their community, thousands of Cornish people voluntarily left their families, their friends and their workplaces to risk their lives for what was understood to be the common good. That is remarkable, and a sacrifice we should never forget.