Diaries of Exmouth’s wartime become book

Accounts of war-torn Exmouth have made their way into print after an Exeter man spotted four wartime diaries at auction. Esther Rowley, of 3 Cranford Avenue, penned a regular account of life in Exmouth during World War Two.

Esther Rowley, of 3 Cranford Avenue, penned a regular account of life in Exmouth during World War Two.

John Folkes, of Nadderwater, Exeter, bought her diaries for �70 in 2003 - and after carrying out extensive research and editing the accounts, his book has made it into print.

The author will be in Exmouth’s WH Smith on October Saturday October 2, from 11-1pm, signing copies of Dogs, Goats, Bulbs and Bombs.

Mr Folkes, 78, said: “It was with some degree of excitement that I noticed in the catalogue of a local auctioneer the rather modest entry ‘World War Two diaries: four handwritten diaries 1941-48 by a local woman with detailed entries covering the blitz etc, with many local references.

“I was impressed by the neatness of the handwriting and the vividness of some of the descriptive passages.

“Fortunately my enthusiasm was not shared by many of the other bidders and I was able to purchase them.

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“The most difficult thing was the selection. The original diaries are considerably more then the book.

“I had to check who the people were. A lot of the research was considerable. I had to check the diaries against old copies of the Exmouth Journal to see how accurate they were.

“The spelling was awful. She was doing it, obviously, in wartime conditions. If you do a diary under pressure and you have a difficult word to spell, you put it down how you feel at the time – a lot of the spelling was phonetic.”

The author of the diaries, Miss Rowley, lived in the town from 1938 until 1945.

Her diaries – which spanned a period of eight years from Christmas 1940 to August 1948 - show she was a member of Exeter’s ATS before leaving in May 1941 to care for her elderly mother who had been traumatised by the frequent air raids and German bomber flyovers.

An early form of airmail, called an airgraph, tucked between the pages of the 1942 diary, identified the author as Miss Rowley.

In her diary of that year she described an air raid on January 18 which devastated a large area of Exmouth.

“I was woken up at about two o’clock in the morning by a very violent shaking. In the morning I was told the cause of it: three bombs dropped in Rolle Street and Chapel Street, killing several soldiers and about ten civilians….one family completely wiped out.

“I could not drive down Rolle Street at all. The REs had got a pile of ammunition in the middle.

“We parked the car opposite the remains of Walton’s shop. It was a heap of rubble and they were still getting the bodies out.

“Every window in Rolle Street was broken to pieces and every house in Market and Chapel Street ruined….the roofs were honeycombed with holes and windows blown in.”

• Dogs, Goats, Bulbs and Bombs, published by The History Press, is �14.99.