Farm worker David Parnell recalls his years as an artillery gunner on the banks of the Tamar.
Written by Robert Jobson, from the Western Morning News 17th of May 2000, Transcribed by Norman David Green (Grandson of David Parnell)
Instead of savoring wedded bliss in the heart of Cornwall after marrying his beloved Josephine at St. Mawgan-in-Pydar, David Parnell found himself caught up in the Plymouth Blitz. With the Germans poised for a major bombing offensive on the Devon city across the Tamar, he ceased being a farm worker at Talskiddy, near St Columb Major, and joined the Royal Artillery.
His regiment was the 56th Heavy Artillery which consisted of Cornish-men armed with sixteen 3.7 inch guns set up on either side of the Tamar to defend Plymouth as best they could. David recalled: "Two of our batteries were on the Plymouth side, at Billacombe and Down Thomas, and the other two were at Rame Head and Carkeel where I was stationed."
"When the bombing was at its heaviest our site was hit by a 500 pound bomb which just missed a store containing 2,000 rounds of artillery shells. Thankfully no-one was killed or hurt in this incident. If our ammunition store had exploded it would have been a very different story and I don't expect I would be here today able to talk about it."
"I used to be able to go back to see my wife Josephine on short spells off duty at St Columb but for most of those first years of our marriage I was manning an artillery gun at Carkeel on the Tamar."
"What amazes me is that not more of us got killed or wounded because we had to endure an awful lot out in the open. Many people in Plymouth were able to go into their air raid shelters when the sirens sounded but there was no way we could go looking for shelter. We had to do our duty and hope for the best."
"The most terrifying thing was not the German bombs but the falling shrapnel from our own artillery guns in the area. "We could hear this shrapnel whistling down all around us. All we could do, when we were not firing ourselves at the enemy planes above, was to duck. The German bombers would fly up and down the Tamar, crossing over to try and hit oil installations at Torpoint."
David completed his time at Carkeel in 1942 and found himself being posted overseas with the Royal Artillery which meant that he saw even less of his Josephine for the remainder of the war. To her relief he eventually returned to Cornwall where he did a variety of jobs over the next 40 years, including building and working for the National Health Service as an NHS nursing care assistant at St. Columb's Retreat Hospital. David, soon to be 82 and married to Josephine for 61 years said: "I feel very proud to think I was one of many that helped to defend Plymouth in the Blitz years."
UPDATE: Sadly, on the 2nd of October 2009 my Granny and David's wife of nearly 70 years Josephine (commonly known as Lily) passed away at the grand age of 88 years. At the burial ceremony Grandad, now 92 and suffering with alzheimer's, looked into the grave and was heard to say -in his own style- "I'm not ready to go in there yet!"
UPDATE 2: Sadly, on the 30th of January 2012 my Grandad, David Parnell, passed away peacefully at The Hollies care home. I like to think he has gone to be with Gran again, as they loved each other beyond comprehension. Love you Gran and Gramps xxx