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Last Updated 31st August 2001
Articles (Publications List at End)
Buckland1 Hampshire Parsons in Devon
Buckland2 The Battle of Loos
Buckland3 St Peter's Church
Buckland4 Notes on Parish Registers
Buckland5 Notes on Parochial Records
Buckland6 Notes on Manorial Records
Buckland7 Some Notes on the Main Buckland Families
Buckland8 Ruddycleave Farm
Buckland9 Buckland Manor Mills
Buckland10 1851 Census Placename Corrections
Buckland11 1663 Lease of Challamoor (Help Desk Web Page)
Buckland12 Extracts from the C17th Churchwardens' Accounts (Help Desk Web Page)
Buckland13 Whitley Memorials at Buckland
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Hampshire Parsons in Devon
Notes on the Abstract of Title to Higher Pudsham
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The 1816 Abstract of Title of Edmund Pollexfen Bastard Esq, Lord of the Manor of Buckland in the Moor, Devon, to Higher Pudsham Farm in that Parish, reveals some background info
about a branch of the Parsons family of Gosport. Brief details are enumerated below, which I trust will be of interest to those researching the family. And even for those not directly interested in the Parsons, the notes will at least serve to demonstrate the point, if it needs to be made, that potentially useful sources of info often survive in some rather unexpected out-of-county archive collections - actually tracking these elusive items down is the problem which most researchers face!

There is hardly room here to get involved in expansive commentaries about the Devonian maternal ancestry of the Parsons, but some brief particulars about the Tapper & Mead(e) families should be provided by way of introduction - their relevance to the Parsons will become clear in the notes on the Abstract which follow.

The Tappers, formerly yeoman farmers of some substance, hailed from North Bovey, Devon, where they must have been closely connected to the Mead(e) family of that Parish. The precise
relationship(s) between them, however, remain elusive. The latter family of wealthy yeomen formerly owned properties in widely scattered Parishes around the fringes of High Dartmoor, and sometime between 1691 and 1703 William Meade bought (inherited?) Higher Pudsham, Buckland in the Moor (less than ten miles from North Bovey), from the last of the Chrispin line - whose ultimate ancestry, through an earlier marriage into the Bakers of Pudsham, can be traced way back into the Medieval period (the earliest documented reference to the Bakers of what was then called Puttekesham is in a late C13th grant). His kinsman John Mead (the exact relationship between the two as yet unclear) in turn sold the property to George Tapper in 1755.

It is the latter's son who is named in the opening entry of the 1816 Abstract of Title.This entry recites the will of "Richard Tapper of the Parish of Coffinswell in the Coounty of Devon Yeoman", dated 27th Jan 1766. To his wife Margaret he gave what was therein named as Putson [Higher Pudsham] in Buckland in the Moor, and Kendon in North Bovey, subject to various provisos. Also named were Robert Tapper of North Bovey, and William Nosworthy of Mainton [Manaton], brother and brother-in-law of the testator, who were to be trustees for the testator's daughter Mary Tapper until the latter became 21 years of age. Letters of Administration &c were granted to the trustees by the Bishop of Exeter on 21st Feb 1766.The next short entry reveals the Parsons connection - "The sd Mary Tapper the dau of the sd Richd Tapper after her Fathers Death intermarried with Richd Parsons of Gosport in the Coounty of Southampton Gent since decd & she departed this life on or about the 8th Nov 1786 intestate leaving Richd Tapper Parsons her eldest Son & heir at Law".

The next entry contains a recital of a Lease & Release (part of a Marriage Settlement) executed on 12th & 13th Aug 1807 between "the sd Richd Tapper Parsons (by the description of Richd Tapper Parsons a 1st Leiut in His Majestys Corps of Royal Marines) of the 1st part...Thos. Row of Shaldon in the parish of St Nicholas...Devon Merchant of the 2nd part Mary Row Spinster Dau of the sd Thos. Row of the 3rd part...Thos. Row & Joseph Parsons of Gosport...Gent (since decd) of the 4th part". As ever with Marriage Settlements, this one contains a great superfluity of words, conveying the property concerned in trust to the representatives of the two families, then giving it to "the use of" the married couple, and then entailing it to the "heirs male", and so forth, most of which is transcribed in the Abstract of Title. But for the present purposes it will be sufficient to record the essential particulars, that the Release stated that a marriage "had been agreed upon between the sd Richard Tapper Parsons & Mary Row", and that the couple were to receive the reversion of the fee simple of "a Messuage & Tenement called Puttisham otherwise Higher Puttisham".

The date of the marriage is not recorded in the Abstract, but the next three short clauses record the dates of other events -

"1808 8th April The sd Richd Parsons departed this life"
"1810 Janry The sd Margt Tapper the wife of the sd Richd Tapper departed this life"
"1813 16th June the sd Joseph Parsons departed this life"

Next comes mention of another Lease & Release, executed on 4th & 5th Jan 1814, the parties in which were "the sd Richd Tapper Parsons described as being of the Parish of Stokenteignhead in the sd County of Devon Esqr Eldest Son of Richd Parsons then late of Gosport in the sd County of Southampton Gent & Mary his wife formerly Mary Tapper & also Heir at Law of the sd Mary Tapper, Mary the wife of the sd  Richd  Tapper of the 1st part the sd Thos. Row of the 2nd part Saml. Anstice of the Inner Temple London Gent of the 3rd part & Solomon Tozer of Ashburton...Devon Gent of the 4th part". This is an immensely complex recital, for other parts of the farmstead were included - for the Meade-Tapper-Parsons line had only held one of the tenements, plus the associated fields &c - and various entails also had to be debarred by Recoveries &c. The recital does not in fact record any essential genealogical information which had not been revealed in previous clauses, although it does mention that Robert Mead & William Wreford had been tenants of Richard Tapper Parsons at Higher Pudsham - and the pair were in fact still sitting tenants at the time of the sale of the property to the Manor (see below).

This is an important point, for it proves absolutely, if any doubt remained, that the Parsons' did not actually reside on their Buckland property. That one of the lessees was a Mead is interesting, perpetuating the earlier Tapper-Mead(e) connections, and this person must have the Robert Mead who then owned neighbouring Beara. He was in fact the last of the North Bovey Mead(e) clan to reside in Buckland, selling Beara to the Manor in 1832, after which he moved to Moreton - his headstone in fact stands in the graveyard there, one of the few Mead(e) headstones which has survived anywhere in the Eastern Dartmoor Parishes.

Back with the Abstract of Title, after the long-winded recital of the previous deeds, comes another long entry which essentially repeats everything which had taken place before! This is dated 22nd & 23rd June 1814, the Lease & Release to which it refers being the final sale deeds of Higher Pudsham to John Pollexfen Bastard, then Lord of the Manor, for £1400. This ended the Parsons' own connection with the property although, as noted above, a member of the Mead family was one of the sitting tenants, the Release itself mentioning this fact in one of the exclusion clauses.

The Battle of Loos
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The only modern memorial in the little church at Buckland is a small brass plaque which commemorates -

Henry Jeffery Perkins
Private 8th Devon Regt
Killed in Action at Loos in France
24th September 1915

The main battle for Loos actually took place on the 25th September so Pte Perkins must have been killed during the opening exchanges. Aside from the Devons, there were other famous names there, amongst them many from the other end of the nation, including the Black Watch and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, to name but two of the more familiar Scottish Battalions, and two others, the 6th Gordon Highlanders and the 2nd Borderers, were assigned to support the 8th Devons.

At Zero Hour, 6.30am on the 24th, the attack began, with the 8th Devons in the van, the 9th in the rear, assaulting the enemy positions along a sector known as the Breslau Trench. Within 15 minutes all but three officers of the 8th had been killed or wounded. Undaunted, the attacking force pressed on, and by 8am the next line of the enemy defences, known as Gun Trench, had been taken, and the attack got as far as the Hulloch Crossroads, just north of Loos, on the road between Lens and La Bassee. Here it faltered, for not only were the troops ahead of schedule and in danger of running into a timed artillery barrage, but reinforcements which had been earmarked for their sector had beeen diverted elsewhere to plug gaps in the line where the fighting had been more intense. So the 8th were left with no option but to dig in and to try and consolidate their gains.

And what were these gains? Reading the foregoing account without the benefit of any map it appears that the 8th Devons and their supporting units had breached two enemy lines of defence and had made some considerable advances into enemy territory. The reality of trench warfare, however, was rather different. It had not the sweeping power of the cavalry charges of yesteryear, nor the cut and thrust of the armoured brigades and forward momentum of the small but highly mobile infantry units of later decades. It was static warfare on a grand scale. The Devons had, it is true, punched through the enemy positions and gained some ground, but the distance from the Breslau Trench to the Hulloch Crossroads was barely 150 yards - they had "won" just this much mud in three hours of bitter fighting! And they did not hold onto these paltry gains for long. For on the 25th a counter-attack dislodged the remnants of the 8th and after fierce fighting forced them back on Gun Trench.

What was later to become known as the Battle of Loos was in fact a failure and, as ever, the cost in casualties in the overall offensive that autumn was horrific - 50,000+ - and all that was achieved (by the end of October, and after a further series of battles) was a small dent in the enemy line 4 miles long and 2 miles deep. The 8th suffered casualties of 19 officers and 620 men killed at Breslau, amongst whom was Pte H J Perkins from the tiny Parish of Buckland on the edge of Dartmoor. He, along with most of the other in-line infantrymen, was a raw recruit - the 8th was one of  Kitchener's "New Armies", and had been in France less than two months before the men were sent in against the Breslau positions.

But they had fought gallantly and, as a 2nd Lt Windle recorded in a letter written to his family back home, they had played "an infinitessimal part in Armageddon". For the part played by the 8th & 9th Service Battalions, the Devons were awarded the Battle Honour "Loos" to be borne on the King's Colours.

To one Buckland family this probably provided little comfort, for no amount of awards or honours could ever replace the son which they had lost.

St Peter's Church
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The little church and churchyard at Buckland in the Moor has only 147 monumental inscriptions. The interior has only five memorials (4 ledgers, 1 wall tablet). One of the ledgers is to Raphe Woodleigh, d 1593, who had bought the Manor from Thomas Carew in 1568. His grandson, also Raphe (or Ralph) sold the Manor to William Bastard of Gerston in 1614, but it was to be more than two centuries before any of the Bastards took up permanent residence at Buckland Court - they first lived at Gerston, near Kingsbridge, later transferring their seat to Kitley, Yealmpton, inherited from the Pollexfens in 1710. There is only one Bastard Lord of the Manor buried at Buckland, William Pollexfen Bastard, d 1915. He is commemorated by a tall cross in the churchyard, which also marks the final resting places of his wife, five daughters, and a son-in-law. The Manor was sold to the Whitleys of Welstor in 1926, and there are a couple of memorials to members of that family in the graveyard, including one to the two eldest sons of the family, both killed in WW2, one killed in a bombing raid over Cologne, the other killed in Normandy shortly after D-Day. The Manor was sold off piecemeal in the 1950s, and today all of the farms are in private ownership. Back inside the church, another of the floor ledgers commemorates the deaths of three consecutive generations of Smerdons, all named Thomas, d 1715, d 1745, d 1756. This surname also dominates the graveyard memorials. Second to them, Hext is the next most common surname on the headstones, followed by Mann.

Buckland Parish Registers
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The surviving Registers do not begin until c1710, and only four pages of the earlier Bishops' Transcripts have survived, the earliest of which is c1620. Buckland in the Moor is not on the IGI.

There are 1,068 Buckland in the Moor entries on the Dartmoor & West Devon Genealogy Index (DGI) a surname search service from which is available from Dartmoor Press.

Buckland Parochial Records
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Churchwardens’ Accounts 1632-1692 + 1754-1836, Waywardens’ Accounts 1769-1837, Overseers’ Accounts 1778-1836, Replies to Bishops’ Queries 1779 (all held at the Devon RO, Exeter). There may be further Parish archives at the DRO, which I have not examined.

Buckland Manorial Records
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The principal Manorial collection is held at the Plymouth & West Devon RO, Plymouth, as part of the Kitley Estate archives. In the absence of any pre-1710 Buckland Registers, the very  large number of Leases, in particular, form a valuable part of the collection, and have permitted the C17th genealogy of the main families to be compiled with a high degree of accuracy - Three Life Leases of the period named relatives of the tenants as Lives on terms. The Manor Court Rolls, recording deaths of tenants, and Manor Surveys & Rentals also assist, not only with the actual genealogy, but also to work out the tenancy history of the Manorial properties. Essentially, these records cover the period of Bastard ownership of the Manor, 1614-1926, but a number of earlier deeds also survive amongst the collection, dating back to 1568. They also include some rather more unusual types of records, such as Plantation Accounts, Household Accounts, Traders’ Accounts, Auctions & Bill Posters for Timber Sales, and a whole host of miscellany of all descriptions. There is also a large collection of Deeds held at the Devon RO, Exeter, which cover a number of the freehold properties up to the period when they were purchased by the Manor.

Some Notes on the Main Buckland Families
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Throughout most of the period of Bastard ownership of the Manor, the Parish was almost totally dominated by members of the Smerdon family, who rose to such prominence that at certain periods they held almost all of the principal leasehold properties in the Parish. The first of the family to arrive in Buckland from neighbouring Widecombe was Richard Smerdon, who c1638 married Christian Cater of Elliotts Hill. From them rose the dynasty of Smerdons who were to dominate the community for nearly 250 years. The family were tenants at Elliotts Hill for eleven consecutive generations. The very first Smerdons in Buckland, they were also the last - James Smerdon, d 1886, a direct descendant of Richard & Christian Smerdon, was the last Smerdon farmer in Buckland. Later members of this branch of the family moved to Ashburton, and others moved to South Brent, Ugborough, and Manaton, from whence they have scattered far and wide. A branch of the Smerdon clan from Ashburton also took up residence in Buckland in the late C17th, and tenanted Buckland Court & Woodleys Tenement in Southbrook for four generations - the three Thomas Smerdons mentioned in the notes under the church belong to this line. Southbrook was later tenanted by descendants of the Elliotts Hill Smerdons, and another branch also tenanted Bowden.

But the principal tenant farmers at the latter were the Burnells, who held the leasehold on the principal Bowden tenement from 1648-1804, through five generations. They also farmed at Challamoor. In fact, they had probably been living at Bowden continuously since at least the 1590s, for it is thought that the first of the Burnell lessees under the Bastards was the son of a sitting tenant at the property - Burnells are known to have been at Bowden in 1595, when it was owned by the Reynell family, but it is not know if they were in continuous occupation through to 1648. In this same year an Endacott was living at the other main Bowden tenement, later tenanted by Windiatts, Laymans, and Smerdons.

The Laymans, or Leamans, were smallholders, and many members of the family were charcoal burners, or colliers, in the late C17th/early C18th. A number of them rented the Church House from the Parish. Windiatts and Bounds were also colliers during this period. There was also a yeoman branch of the Windiatts, or Windeats, in the Parish at this time, who owned the freehold on Beara. The family purchased this farm from John Phelyppe in 1601, and remained as owners until they sold out to the Mead(e) family of North Bovey in 1704.

The last of the Meads of Buckland, Robert Mead, sold Beara to the Manor in 1832, and a branch of the Manns of Widecombe farmed there for a short period, in conjunction with neighbouring Challamoor, which latter had been recently vacated by the last of the Burnells. The Mead(e)s also owned the freehold on on of the Higher Pudsham tenements from 1691-1754, when it passed to the Tapper family, also from North Bovey. Through marriage this tenement, known variously as Mead’s or Taper’s Pudsham in contemporary documents, passed to the Parsons family of Gosport (Hampshire), and was sold to the Manor in 1814. Perhaps one of the most remarkable lineages in Buckland is that which was associated with the other Higher Pudsham property, the main farm, Higher Pudsham “proper”. This was also sold to the Manor at about the same time, in 1808, by one Thomas Ellis. I am perfectly certain that his immediate ancestors had owned Higher Pudsham for nigh on five centuries - moreover, I am sure that the pedigree can also be demonstrated to stretch back this far! This story begins way back in the late C13th, when the property was granted by the Lord of the Manor, William de Boclonde, to Robert de Puttekesham, son of Edwarde de Puttekesham. I am certain that he is one and the same person - or perhaps the father - as Robert Bakere, who is known to have owned the farm in 1331. A direct descent from Robert Bakere to the Bakers who owned what was then called Puttisham in the C16th cannot be proven absolutely, for want of  complete documentary evidence, but the recurrence of the personal names Robert and John, in a number of generations of Bakers who are known from scattered sources to have lived at Pudsham, convinces me that the suggested link is sound. The last of the male line, John Baker, d 1661, but his widow Katherine Baker (nee Woodley) held the property until 1691. By marriage the property then passed briefly to the Chrispin line, and from them, through another marriages, to the Ellis family, the last freeholders of Higher Pudsham.

Rather less is know of the early history of Lower Pudsham, although it can be established from some sources that the Bakers of Buckland also held an interest in this farm in the early C17th - and had perhaps owned it from earlier times. But the documented history does not really begin until it was bought by the Andrews family in 1675. They retained ownership of the farm until 1809, when it was sold to the Manor following the death of Elias Andrews. Hexts became tenants of the Andrews at some now undefined date in the late C18th - and were sitting tenants at the farm when it was sold - and Hexts remained at the farm for a number of further generations. They also later tenanted the ex-Smerdon holding at Southbrook. The Andrews family also owned Stone, the most valuable property in the Parish (aside from Buckland Court itself). Under the will of Elias Andrews this was bequeathed to his son-in-law William Norrish in 1808. This was very much a “mixed blessing”, for the Andrews family were then deep in debt - some decades earlier the family had sold Hurston in Chagford in order to settle some of the capital and interest on a debt which had been growing for decades -  and the financial crisis led ultimately to the collapse of the Norrish family. Following the death of James Norrish in 1876, a notice was issued calling in the mortgage debt on Stone. So it came to pass that the last freehold property in the Parish, which had managed to retain its independence since the Conquest, came under the clutches of the Manor, and Stone was sold the following year.

Which is also an apposite place to end these notes, with the same family with which they began - for widow Nancy Stockman Norrish, the last owner of Stone who had to sell the farm to the Manor, was herself a Smerdon by birth (but a member of one of the Widecombe branches).

A personal name index (and notes) with 2,500+ entries "Dartmoor Family History Index: Buckland in the Moor" is available on a CD-ROM from Dartmoor Press.

Ruddycleave Farm
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Ruddycleave Farm held a rather curious, and unique, position in Buckland. The story is greatly confused, but essentially, in the aftermath of the upheavals caused by the Dissolution, Ruddycleave emerged as an outlying appendage of Wolborough Manor  - much of Buckland had formerly, by the way, been granted to Torre Abbey, which is why the Dissolution of the Monasteries has a role to play in its C16th history, and why the story of Buckland is somewhat perplexing during this particular period.  However, the property was actually held by Buckland Parish - it was effectively owned by the Church of St Peters - having been granted to the Parish at some now undefined date lost in the mists of time. It was the Churchwardens, in their capacity as Trustees, who had to pay an annual fealty to Wolborough Manor.  These payments are recorded in the Churchwarden’s Accounts, and were still being made at least as late as mid-Victorian times - a few papers of the period, entitled “Ruddycleave Accounts”, recently came to light. The profits on Ruddycleave went towards maintaining the church, and an interesting series of entries in the Churchwardens’ Accounts of 1760 record the costs of almost entirely rebuilding the farmhouse and its outbuildings. Consecutive generations of Smerdons were tenants there between 1762-1870.

Buckland Manor Mills
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

One of the more interesting of the smaller properties in Buckland was the Manor Corn Mills. These were in a very ruinous state in the early C18th - perhaps because of the aftermath of a fire which is known to have swept through the little hamlet sometime in the 1690s, which entirely destroyed the Tucking Mill and damaged a number of the cottages and houses nearby. The Mills were entirely rebuilt by George Coneybeare in 1741, who went to “great expense” in doing so (as the Lease records) - total costs of the work were about £30! The work included not only renovating the buildings, including the adjacent cottage, the actual dwelling-house of the miller, but also cutting a new leat (water channel), erecting a new water wheel, and installing new millstones &c. George Coneybeare’s accounts for the work survive, written in a rather shakey hand, and include two receipts for work done by a local millwright and a carpenter/builder, the former very scratchily written, with some delightful examples of phonetic spelling. Interestingly, later research established that this George Coneybeare was the forebear of the person of the same name who farmed at Stenlake in Walkhampton and at Axtown in Buckland Monachorum, both in Parishes on the opposite side of Dartmoor, some way removed from Buckland in the Moor. Four consecutive generations of George Coneybeares have been traced - from Buckland to Buckland via Widecombe and Walkhampton! - and, to add something to their family history, headstones to various members of the different generations also survive, two in the graveyard at Widecombe, and four at Buckland Monachorum.

It is also an interesting illustration of the immense value of Manorial records for family history researchers - which are greatly neglected by the majority of these types of researchers, many of whom spend most of their time poring over Parish Registers, just in order to get names and dates &c, and concern themselves with trying to find out when such-and-such a person died, without trying to discover what they did when they were alive! As I  always try to emphasise, true family history is about trying to find out something about the lives of ancestors - not just about compiling a lot of names and dates. In the case of the Coneybeares, without the wealth of documents held in the Manorial collections of  the two Bucklands, and of  Walkhampton, little would be known about them.

The value of  monumental inscriptions is also highlighted by this particular line of research - and the example emphasises the point that not only should researchers note the inscriptions on headstones, but should also take care to extract all of the information which any memorial conveys. In this case, a valuable clue to the ancestry of the Walkhampton Coneybeares was provided on the Widecombe headstone of John Coneybeare, but not in the inscription as such, nor any of the personal names, but the trademark cut discreetly at the foot of the stone - it was supplied by William Shillibeer of Walkhampton.

1851 Census Placename Corrections
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Most researchers will, of course, be aware of the fact that they will have to check numerous early  spelling variants when searching for placenames in any old records - comments which apply similarly to personal names. Unfortunately, the original 1851 census returns for the majority of the Dartmoor parishes were transcribed by persons who did not have the remotest clue about the placenames (or surnames) of the districts, and so did not know what badly handwritten entries were supposed to represent. Many weird and wonderful names have therefore been invented! Their presence can seriously lead researchers astray and, most especially now that the 1851 CD-ROM is in widespread use, lead them to overlook whole households and even large chunks of entire villages by using the search facility which the CD-ROM provides (which, of course, only recognises "as spelt" entries). The following are the pure mistranscriptions and entirely fictional property names which appear in the 1851 census for Buckland in the Moor, which researchers will need to be aware of, together with their correct names (note that spelling variants which were correctly used, of which there are of course very many examples, and 'authentic' misspellings which appear in the originals, are not included in this list) -

Bura = Beara; Pulsham = Pudsham

There appear to be no suspect surname spellings.

Whitley Memorials at Buckland
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The following epitaph is written on a large stone in the little graveyard at Buckland -

Peter Percy Whitley
Pilot Officer RAF VB
Missing over Cologne Oct 15/16 1942
Husband of Primrose & Father of
Elizabeth & Clare aged 32

On the same stone is commemorated Edward N Whitley, of whom more below. He was wounded during the D-Day Landings in 1944, but the foregoing epitaph to Peter P Whitley is actually inscribed below that to his brother. Being out of sequence, as it were, in both chronology and line of succession to the Lordhip of the Manor, this makes me wonder whether the stone marks the actual grave of Capt E N Whitley. Could he have been brought back to his native land after being wounded in Normandy, only to die of his injuries some six weeks later? This is a question which I am unable to answer.

Regarding P/O Peter P Whitley, I have not been able to find any details of the raid on Cologne in which he was lost, one of very main raids on what had by then become one of the major targets for Allied bombers. But I am at least able to provide some historical background details, for Cologne was also the target for the very first of the thousand-bomber raids, made possible by Bomber Command summoning together all available reserves, of both planes and crews, plus all those who were engaged in training (and had reached basic standards of proficiency). It is nearly certain that the heir to the Lordship of the Manor of Buckland in the Moor would have taken part in that raid.

On the 30th May 1942 Air Marshal "Bomber" Harris managed to put up the unbelievable total of 1,046 bombers for the raid on Cologne, the largest force which had at that time been amassed in the history of aerial warfare. It was a bold decision, for the regular operational force was only around 400 bombers, and it meant committing not only the entire front-line strength, but every single reserve and training bomber which he could lay his hands on. All in a single operation! The consequences which would have befallen the nation if it had all gone terribly wrong do not bear
thinking about. But it was not just a impulsive decision, for a show of strength, made without weighing up all of the pros and cons, but the result of months of careful planning and consideration, and the raid had in fact been called off twice earlier that month (Hamburg had been the original target) because the atmospheric conditions were not quite suitable. The 30th was in fact almost the last chance, for after another couple of days or so many of the bombers would have been stood down, for they could not have been kept on standby indefinitely, with the attendant interruption to essential training and normal operational duties.

And the raid did pay off in the end, for the city centre of Cologne was almost entirely destroyed, and about a third of the outer city and its environs was severely damaged. The other main concern, of course, was the danger inherent in having so many planes airborne at one time, not only providing a big target for the enemy AA gunners, but also the possibility of planes being hit by "friendly" bombs, with so many being committed in each wave. Forty bombers failed to return that night, just under 4% of the force, which was actually a smaller loss rate than had been inflicted on many other sorties over Germany.

The heavy industries of the area were, in fact, not as affected by the raid as might have been hoped, but it was certainly an awesome demonstration of airborne firepower, coming only eighteen months or so after the country had been pushed to the absolute limit in the skies over Britain, and perhaps the propaganda which it generated at the time had a greater affect on morale (both at home and abroad, from opposing points of view), than the results it achieved on the ground.

It still appears to be the case that Bomber Command remains to a large extent one of the "forgotten" arms of the service, and the expediency and effectiveness of the massed raids over Germany, and the overall role it played in the European war, are still questioned. Although I somehow doubt whether the citizens of the East End of London, and those of Bristol, Plymouth and Coventry, amongst other places, would question the importance of the role it played, or the strategy of conducting nightly bombing raids over Germany.

The massive banner headlines which appeared on the front page of the Daily Telegraph the day after the all-night raid on Coventry on 16th November 1940 support my own interpretation of these events and, I suspect, more accurately reflect the mood of the nation (even today, perhaps, retrospectively) than the pronouncements and misgivings of the politicians -


The effect on morale, from different perspectives, has been remarked upon, and contemporary German reports bear this out, recording that the inhabitants of Cologne and other German cities complained bitterly that they were constantly on the receiving end of "payback" for the Luftwaffe raids on London and Coventry. As "Bomber" Harris himself observed just a fortnight or so after the thousand bomber raid on Cologne - "They sowed the wind. They will reap the whirlwind".

However this may be, amidst the mounting death toll, and the starkly impersonal overall statistics of numbers killed in such-and-such a campaign or another, there were of course personal, and purely private, tragedies being experienced by countless families right across the nation throughout these years. It did not matter how many times P/O Whitley might have flown over Cologne, or how many casualties or how much damage his bombs had inflicted upon the enemy during previous sorties, or whether this was sufficient, or even warranted, "payback" for the enemy bombing raids on Plymouth and elsewhere. What mattered to the mother and father was receiving the awful news which they must have feared night after night, informing them that their son had flown his last raid over Germany.

Two years later they might have received a similarly worded telegram. Although, as noted above, it may be that the stone at Buckland actually marks the final resting place of the other son of the Lord of the Manor, who is commemorated by the following words -

Edward Neil Whitley
Temporary Captain RAMC
Born July 29 1918
Husband of Eileen
Father of Michael Neil
Youngest son of
William & Elizabeth Whitley
Who Landed in Normandy on D Day
With the 6th Airborne Division
Was wounded by Mortar Fire on June 10
While succouring a foeman
Passing to Higher Service & Reward
August 29 1944
Aged 26

Whilst the memorial provides much detail, it actually omits one essential piece of information from the researcher's point of view, for it does not state whether Capt Edward N Whitley served with the 195th, 224th, or the 225th Parachute Field Ambulance Battalions of the RAMC. The 6th Airborne, of course, was involved in one of the better known of the smaller operations within the overall D Day Landings, dropping near Caen to take the bridges at Benouville and Ranville. These names may not, perhaps, be familiar ones to younger readers, but the crossing at Benouville is in fact one of the best known bridges of World War Two, probably second only to that at Arnhem. It is the famous Pegasus Bridge. Much of the on ground training for the operation was in fact conducted on and around the bridges at Countess Wear, near Exeter, and a short account of this, and the operation itself, was contributed by Col D J Wood, MBE, for the manuscript volume Devon's Testimony of War, available at the principal reference libraries throughout the county.

In the early hours of 6th June three gliders, carrying troops of the 6th Airlanding Brigade, landed on this target with pinpoint accuracy, as the now famous photos depict. The Pegasus Bridge, spanning the Caen Canal, and that at Ranville on the River Orne, were taken intact - the latter after the minor hiccup of one glider going astray - and the signal "Ham & Jam" was transmitted to Overlord HQ to record these successes. These units of the 6th Airborne Division were the first Allied troops to land in Occupied France on D Day, and at 5am that morning the sound of approaching aircraft heralded the arrival of the support battalions, the 3rd and 5th Parachute
Brigades, to secure the position and establish a bridgehead.

A major difficulty now arises in trying to identify where, precisely, and with what group, Capt Whitley might have been serving, for once the D Day Landings got underway, further drops of units of the 6th Airborne came thick and fast. The 7th, 12th & 13th Parachute Battalions came in to add further weight to the Ranville-Benouville bridgehead, 9th Para and the 1st Canadians dropped near Varaville and Petiville, and 8th Para went in near Toufreville. All the targets were again bridges but, east of the main drop zones, the ultimate objectives were very different than had been the case at Pegasus & Ranville. For these were seek and destroy missions, to prevent the enemy from bringing up reinforcements to the sector north east of Caen.

Following the successful completion of the initial objectives of each of the drops, the separate
units regrouped in Divisional formation and turned their attentions towards Caen. These events were spread over a period of a week or so from the 6th June onwards, and it was during one of the engagements which occurred during this period that Capt Whitley received his wounds. His subsequent death from these injuries is the more tragic for, as his epitaph records, he was actually tending a wounded soldier of the enemy forces at the time. For the servicemen of the Royal Army Medical Corps, as befits their calling, made no distinction between rank friend or foe, and in performing his duty towards an enemy Capt Whitley paid the ultimate price.

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