THE SECOND WORLD WAR
On September 3rd, 1939, war was declared against Germany.
HMS COURAGEOUS was sunk by a German submarine on September 17th and the survivors (66 officers and 525 ratings) came into RN Barracks on the 18th and 19th.
In 1940 air raids began in earnest and on September 9th an invasion scare brought the whole depot onto the parade ground in order to march away to their anti-invasion posts.
The disasters in France reached their climax with the evacuation of Dunkirk and on Sunday 31st May, 1940, DRAKE received a large contingent of French Army Officers and other ranks, who arrived in special trains from Dover.
Soon after this units of the French Fleet sailed from Brest to Portsmouth and Plymouth, and on July 3rd these vessels were taken over, in some cases by force, and their crews given the choice of fighting on with England or repatriation to France. Many hundreds chose to fight on.
In early 1941 Plymouth was heavily bombed and sailors from the Barracks were much involved in rescue work and providing temporary shelter. No sooner had Plymouth been cleared up than Devonport received the full weight of an attack. On the night of the 21st/22nd April at 2140, incendiaries were dropped on the Barracks, setting fire to a lorry on the parade ground and to the Gunnery School. By 2151 all fires in the Barracks were out.
Further attacks of high explosives and more incendiaries followed. By 2220 the roof of the Signal School was burning fiercely and the central reading room near the cinema had been hit. By 2225 the fire at the Signal School was under control but the Drill Shed was burning. This fire was brought under control by 2230. By then the Commodore’s House had been hit by incendiaries, one high explosive bomb had exploded at the back of the Wardroom and one on the Mechanical Training Establishment. Just after this Boscawen Block was hit by high explosives and an uncontrollable fire resulted. At 2308 the Block was abandoned and at 2324 the walls fell in. There were fires in the Dockyard and all over Plymouth, and at 0300 it was possible to read a newspaper in the Wardroom by the light of the fires. 113 lives were lost that night in the Barracks. By 1942 there was a serious overcrowding in the Barracks due to the large number of ratings under training. Overflow camps were opened at Yealmpton, Cornwood and Roborough, and the Signal School was moved to Glenholt. Air raids continued in Plymouth on a fairly serious scale but the RN Barracks escaped further damage. Peace came to Europe in 1945 and the Armada Dinner was held again on July 19th. The year saw the start of the Release Programme, which was to be a feature of Barrack life for a long time to come. On June 18th the first sailor exchanged his bell bottoms for his ‘demob suit’.