Monday, 17 November 2014

Camborne's World War One contribution: a summary

This article from The Western Morning News is worth reproducing in its entirety.
7th July 1921


Underneath the Camborne Parish Church war memorial, which will be unveiled and dedicated this month, a record has been placed of events in Camborne between 1914 and 1919. Written on parchment, at the request of the committee, by Mr. Francis J.Stephens of Reskadinnick, Camborne, it has been built into the base of the cross. If it should survive the ravages of time, some future age may thus read what Camborne went through in these trying years. The record is as follows:


"In this short account of the doings in Camborne in The Great War necessarily cursory, I have decided to use no names at all, as to do so would be invidious. Suffice it to say that a fairly high percentage of the inhabitants of the parish served in some capacity or other during the war - a percentage only rivalled or exceeded by a few other places in the West of England .

"Of these many made the last supreme sacrifice, a few were selected for well-deserved honours, and all, as far as painstaking research has discovered, served their King and country with zeal and to the upmost of their ability.

"I have troubled to search the records of previous wars, and find that the great Napoleonic struggles which ended in the battle of Waterloo were also largely supported from Camborne parish. No less than 18 were in the fight at Waterloo, and at Trafalgar there were 45 seamen from Camborne alone - a very creditable performance for those days, and doubtless having much to do with the patriotism and influence of two great Cornishmen, General Sir Richard Hussey Vivian and Admiral Boscawen.

"Early in 1914 Camborne was in the throes of a small mining excitement. The Suffragette disorders had hardly caused comment, the Irish troubles had affected it not at all, but after the dispute at East Pool Mine as to the alteration of a pay-day and the rash utterances of the Mayor of Truro as to the alleged high percentage of tin going down the Red River has caused a great deal of commotion.

"The effect of the declaration of war was indeed, throughout the country stunning. At one ticketing, sale prices had ruled as high as £168 a ton, and things generally were allowed to be, even by the Camborne miners, quite prosperous. At the next ticketing all was consternation, Government had seized not only all the tin stocks but had prohibited the sale of tin outside the country, except under rigorous control. Then the mines themselves came under control.

"The populace generally, as, indeed, in all the West, remained for long uncertain and semi-paralysed. All the bolder and more reckless spirits, including many young and ardent (the School of Mines at Camborne practically "en masse"), rapidly found their way into the services. The average recruiting for the Navy we find more than trebled. This was to be expected in a maritime county. The call for the land services was, however, for a long time but feebly responded to. War was a strange and unknown adventure.

"Recruiting marches through the county, with meagre results, ended largely in abuse and recriminations, in which many were unfairly held up to obloquy by people who entirely failed to understand the Cornishman and how to deal with him.

"As the war went on and the public indignation grew, the miners, like other people, became inflamed and, by the summer of 1915, Camborne had sent a large proportion of her young men into training. The Territorials had long gone. At one time, the proportion was 4 to 1 in comparison with all the other Western towns, excepting Falmouth which, with its close connection with the Navy and large garrison, was naturally a leading unit.

"A Miners' Battalion was formed as the enthusiasm grew, and the men from Camborne and districts about can well claim the honour of being pioneers in the new branch of modern warfare - deep mining and tunnelling in advance of the trenches.

"By the end of 1915, at least 1000 men from the parish were enlisted. Of these 250 came from Dolcoath Mine.

"As in other towns, Camborne became a training centre for a small portion of Kitchener's or the New Army.

"The great demand for shells and explosives was met by Camborne in an extraordinary fashion. The district is equipped with at least three large factories and several smaller ones, all well equipped with fine machinery - foundries and factories containing some of the most elaborate gear in the West of England. All these centres were speedily converted from making rock drills and saftey fuse to war time usages and were about the first to be turning out material for the Ministry of Munitions.

"Camborne produced not only machines and munition worker,s but provided chemists, one at least an extraordinary genius, whose devotion to his duty probably hastened his decease. It is indeed remarkable how readily Cornwall helped in these particular matters.

"With an unusual number of explosive works in existence and large foundries, it was one of the first counties to begin relieving the harassed Government, and the work turned out was really of very high class.

"If Camborne helped with explosives and shells, a large factory nearby was also supplying the Government with exquisitely fine steel, flexible cordage for aeroplanes in quantity from the earliest start of air warfare.

"Of individual happenings, there is no space for comment here. Several of Camborne's inhabitants won decorations and honours, more strove mightily for the cause in obscure and utterly unaccustomed positions as interpreters and even as detectives and spy-watchers. Of their adventures, some are outspoken enough, others have been reticent and will remain so.

"Now with the war over and Government control removed, the district is passing through another crisis - one threatening the very life and future of all its industries. These are grave times; not a single mine of over 300 a century ago remains at work, but it may be remarked that, often when hope seems dead and life all but extinct, some rallying instinct prevails and recovery is rapid and permanent. Let us hope, therefore, that the mining industry and it's satellite industries may again see a recovery and that the roar of crushing stamps and the rattle and bang of industrial machinery may once again be heard in the land."

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