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Remembered Today:

Cornwall’s early response to the war

Melanie James

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As the nation prepares to commemorate the Armistice centenary on 11 November 2018, the Institute of Cornish Studies is about to publish a volume wholly dedicated to Cornwall during the First World War.

An abridged version of my MA dissertation which focused on the early Cornish response to the declaration of war in August 1914 will appear as the first chapter. 

An enthusiastic nationwide response to the early call to arms has passed into the nation’s collective memory, popularly labelled as overwhelming patriotism. Whilst there is continuing debate as to whether such enthusiasm really was so widespread, it was reported at the time that recruitment was not high in Cornwall where there may even have been a general sense of indifference to the declaration of war.  

My work explores the Cornish response and seeks to provide new understanding of the county’s contribution, overturning its poor reputation.

I consulted a rich repository of material including letters, diaries, parish magazines, newspapers, school logs, and text books, held in the British Library, the Cornish Studies Library, the Cornish Record Office, the DCLI Museum, and Cornish school archives, all of which were invaluable. Cornish enlistment figures held at The National Archives were also studied, highlighting several questions for further study and analysis. 

That Cornwall was accused of apathy is surprising given the huge numbers already in the Navy and Naval Reserve when war was declared and the newspaper reports detailing the great response when the Navy called for more. 

The official recruitment returns dated 12 November 1914 were unable to include Naval enlistment figures because the Admiralty had not sent them in time and no account had been taken of recruiting before the outbreak of war. Similarly, The Statistics of the British Military Effort only provide figures for the Army and Royal Flying Corps. No mention is made of enlistment figures for the Navy.

Any enlistment figures that do exist for the Navy do not denote the recruit’s place of origin, but rather his place of enlistment. Given the high proportion of Cornishmen who had emigrated in the decades leading up to the war, it is highly probable that a good proportion of recruits from the dominions and the USA who enlisted in both the Army and Navy were originally from Cornwall.

My research makes a credible case in Cornwall’s defence, overturning its poor reputation and holding it up as a fine example of loyalty and kinship, a fitting testament to the Cornish motto: ‘One and All’.

Perhaps a quotation from a DCLI volunteer’s diary illustrates the general Cornish sentiment. As the diarist’s battalion passed another DCLI battalion in the Suez Canal, the men ‘gave those lads a good old West Country cheer, and our band struck up Trelawney’ for ‘Cornishmen are clannish, be their meeting place the Land of Pasties, Pilchards, and Cream or the Waters of the Suez Canal.’

Look out for the forthcoming ICS volume on Cornwall during the First World War.


Look out for the forthcoming ICS volume on Cornwall during the war.


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Thanks, Melanie.

Looking forward to the book.

If I may quote from my website:

"Throughout Cornwall there was a relentless drive for volunteers from the authorities and those who held positions of authority . The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry marched through the county and held rallies. Harangues in newspapers  accused  young men of cowardice for not enlisting and fathers with more than one son at home were targeted. One Cornish response was: “We are not all fools down here to join up and fight!”

But men did come forward – not just the young who were appealed to, but their fathers also." 

There was a spirited series of letters in the press accusing and defending the Cornish enlistment record.



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Kath, yes indeed, I have read much of the contemporary press. Whilst there were those that didn’t want to enlist, this was not a purely Cornish problem. My work looks at the Cornish response in particular and finds many valid reasons for the Cornish ‘reluctance’ but perhaps more importantly, learning that naval records were poorly kept means that the Cornish volunteer numbers were just not accurately reported. The book will be a valuable addition to the Cornish historiography and hopefully my chapter will be well received. 


What is your website Kath?

I’d be interested to see it.


Best wishes, Melanie

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  I have experience of this problem from the other end-that of local casualties here in the north-east of London, killed with DCLI but with no known connection to Cornwall at a time when the choices of volunteers were supposed to prevail (if possible).  I enclose a biog. of a local casualty which may tell the tale from the London end. Everard Wyrall was quite good at what had happened, in the "regimental", without the technicalities  of central recruiting figures and problems. That both Regular battalions were out of the Duchy must have played a part in local recruiting. , leaving only the Territorial Association to do the business.. And without the 2nd Bn for quite a while, it meant there was a lack of "Regular" officers and men to draw down upon for finding officers and NCOs for new battalions. There may be some pattern  in the raising of the Service and New Armies battalions by where the regular battalions were at the beginning of the war. For instance, I have another local casualty who was a Regular with 2nd Royal Fusiliers, the garrison battalion at Jubbulpore in the Central Provinces, which was not brought back until late January 1915- ostensibly it had to wait for a Territorial battalion to take it's place. But the contrast is there-there was no hurry to bring back 2 RF, as the Metropolis was well stocked with both officers and men, while DCLI was a problem as it's peacetime locations hindered the raising of new battalions.

    I suspect there may be a pattern amongst WHERE the imperial garrison battalions were at the outbreak of war, what potential recruitng was like in the areas they came from and which were prioritised for return.

     I look forward to the ICS volume- Do you have the publishing details (University of Exeter Press perchance??)  My father's family were resolutely Cornish and  his forebears do show up some of the complications of DCLI and it's recruiting in wartime., such as:

1)  The effects of the collapse of the mining industry and the levels of emigration from the Duchy before the war (The old saying that you can go anywhere in the world and  if there is a hole in the ground, there will be a Cornishman at the bottom of it rings true-but does show that "Cousin Jacks" were more numerous (or were they?) than many other areas (including Ireland.) It would be interesting to know if many Kernewicks came back to volunteer. eg I hope there is some mention,say, of the the Cornishmen serving with the Anzacs, which can be plotting on the Anzac sites quite easily.

2)  The effects of the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Dockyard at Devonport.  One suspects (or at least I do) that a fair few Cornishmen, perhaps more so from East Cornwall did turns in the Royal Navy in the peacetime years. Certainly, that is the experience of my own family (from the Rame Peninsula, Cawsand and Kingsand)- who had  done navy service when young and come home to some maritime occupation (fishing or coastguard) since before the Napoleonic Wars.

3) The Dockyard drew a large number of workers from East Cornwall as it expanded,especially during the Naval Race- the construction of the Keyham Yard for example and the building of "Royal Oak" and "Warspite". Many would be resident on the other side of the Tamar- Saltash, Torpoint, etc. As these men were "spoken for" in terms of the war effort and recruiting, there must be some stuff out there on how this slewed recruiting, especially the expansion for war purposes  and competing for labour (ie-men of military age). In 1939, the Admiralty banned new workers in the Dockyard with effect from Monday 4th September 1939 (much to the mirth of the dockyardies). Would there have been any statistical evidence of this presumed slew- both in pulling men into the Dockyard-and also into the Royal Navy. At a time of volunteering, then choice of service as well as choice of regiment is an important concept.

4)  The effects of the need for armed trawlers and auxilaries of all sorts- Royal Naval Reserve, etc.  This must have been quite a strong demand on Cornish manpower.


     It's just a speculation that  some of the problems  of DCLI recruiting  must have answers lying in the records of the Royal Navy and the Dockyard, rather than just pure military records. After all, East Cornwall does exist-its not all Rick Stein/Padstwow, Newquay/surfing and 'Obby 'Oss"   I would suggest that the Torpoint Ferry was a powerful factor in what happened to recruiting in the Duchy-at least for its eastern end.



Private 15713,   2nd Bn. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry

Killed in action  at the Second Battle of Ypres, 23rd April 1915 aged 22 or 23

      Thomas Richard Place, known to his family as “Tom”, was born in Wanstead in the April/June  registration quarter of 1892.  He was the eldest child of  Richard Place and his wife Sarah, nee Reed.   His parents were East Anglian- Richard from West Row, just outside Mildenhall in Suffolk and she from nearby Isleham in Cambridgeshire. Their family backgrounds were those of agricultural labourers and related employment upon the land. Like many   young folk from the agricultural counties, the poverty of rural life helped to drive them off the land, while the pull of the Metropolis drew them towards London. Richard was a domestic gardener- in the burgeoning wealthy suburb of Wanstead, the large new houses of places such as Grosvenor Road and Hermon Hill had their gardens maintained by itinerant but locally based gardeners. These were long term relationships with the larger households, where there was not sufficient work to maintain a full-time gardener. A domestic gardener catered not only for the Victorian boom in exotic  flowers of all kinds but would also maintain a vegetable patch, often being allowed a small share of the produce for himself. Women such as Sarah came into London as domestic servants, which usually ceased on marriage.

    Tom Place’s parents married in Suffolk on 7th August 1891. By then, Richard Place was already living in Wanstead, being a lodger with the Higgins family at Rose Cottage, George Lane, Wanstead. His cousin, Eliza Higgins (born 1862) had married a local man, John Higgins-from Woodford-in 1870. He was a domestic gardener and it is highly probable that this family link brought Richard Place to Wanstead, as work expanded with the growing suburbanization of Wanstead. Richard and Sarah Place had  6 children in all, although one died as a babe.  Tom Place had  two younger brothers  George William Place born about 1896 but he is not known to have served in the war and  Robert Herbert Place ,a latecomer, born in 1910. He was close in age to his sister , Ellen Maud, born in 1893 and  another latecomer, Florence May  born in 1901. In the 1901 Census, the family were living at Clarke’s Cottages, George Lane, which was described as a long row of cottages with straggling gardens.  Of Tom Place’s schooling nothing is  known, though presumed to be Wanstead Church School as he was a member of the Church Lads Club run from Christ Church. By 1911 he was working as a blind maker.

       Tom Place  enlisted in the army at  Stratford on 30th December 1914, having, like many  spent a last Christmas at home. Over 30, 000 volunteered for the army in the first week of January 1915.  Although the family had no known connection with Cornwall, Tom Place was assigned to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and sent down to it’s main depot at Bodmin for training. The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was a typical 2 battalion county regiment of the Regular Army, the 1st Battalion being at The Curragh, Dublin  as the “home” battalion in August 1914, with the 2nd Bn. away as the garrison battalion at Hong Kong. Thus, both battalions were away from Cornwall, which meant there was no nucleus for the formation of new battalions in Cornwall itself, other than the 3rd Bn which was Territorial. In response to the calls for volunteers under Lord Kitchener’s first two appeals for volunteers in August and September 1914, 4 “Service” battalions were authorized, all based at Bodmin. In addition, the 1st Battalion needed bringing up to full strength as the home battalion of a county regiment was routinely understrength, having the new recruits and the sick that would go to both Regular battalions. Cornwall itself was not big enough to sustain all these new battalions so was supplemented with drafts from the big cities, mostly London.

     All of the DCLI service battalions were trained together at Bodmin and used a common numbering system, so it is not possible to identify Tom Place’s progression in the army accurately. By the Autumn of 1914 Bodmin was  choc a bloc with new recruits and every public building and space was full-some new recruits had to be housed as far away as Dublin. There was a general shortage of instructors, as there was only one battalion to draw on for experienced officers and NCOs. At one point, the DCLI asked for the services of 6 sergeants seconded from the Metropolitan Police to help with basic training.  Tom Place received the basic 3 months of training considered the minimum necessary in 1914-1915 and when the 3 months were up he was posted to the British Expeditionary Force in France  and the 2nd Bn Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in particular.  Tom Place arrived in France on 1st April 1915.

     The 2nd Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry had an adventurous start to the war which delayed it’s return to the United Kingdom. In August 1914, German possessions in the Pacific had to be occupied. The 2nd DCLI was asked to volunteer for a force to occupy the German colony at Tsingtao in north China-the battalion volunteered to a man. In addition, it lost 50 men who were trained to supplement the Royal Marines in Hong Kong. The battalion arrived back in the United Kingdom in early November 1914, lucky not to have been one of the many battalions of the BEF destroyed by the German advance. Returning regular battalions from the imperial garrisons were grouped together , 2nd DCLI being in the 82nd Infantry Brigade of the 27th Division-unusual in being an “all Regular” division when it formed up at Winchester. 2nd DCLI landed at Le Havre on 21st November 1914. The key point in the British line was the town of Ypres and it was anticipated that the Germans would try to break the British line there and push the BEF back to the English Channel. Thus, through the winter of 1914-1915, 2nd DCLI was in the line either in Ypres itself or a day’s march or so away when at the front.

     That Tom Place was  drafted to a Regular battalion to bring up numbers is indicative that he was already considered a trained and efficient recruit and up to the standards of the Regular Army. He arrived as the battalion was on the move. On 2nd April 1915, it was ordered from Dickebusch to Sanctuary Wood, at 8.30 at night-arriving at 1.am. on the 3rd April ,having marched through Ypres itself. The battalion took over well-prepared trenches constructed by a French battalion that it relieved. During the day, elements of the battalion moved forward to Cam Grove, taking over trenches from a battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. A very basic problem was that Ypres was overlooked by the Germans and consequently the British line was subject to more frequent and heavier artillery bombardment as the Germans could easily identify targets. On 19th April, the battalion marched back into Ypres and was billeted in casemates in the old fortifications of the town. An encampment in a field outside Ypres was too easy a target for German artillery, so all crowded into the safer casemates of the town. Time out of the line was supposed to be spent in training, resting and cleaning and the 22nd April 1915 was spent mostly in taking baths. However, late on that day, one of the seminal changes in warfare of the Great War started that altered the whole balance of the war.

     During 22nd April 1915, the British line around Ypres was under heavy German artillery bombardment, the DCLI position in Ypres being subject to very heavy German 17” shells. Air spotters reported that large numbers of German infantry were massing along roads behind the line, trying to stay hidden-an obvious sign of an impending German offensive. At about 5pm 2nd DCLI were subject to a heavy German artillery bombardment but elsewhere air spotters reported 2 large greenish clouds rolling forward from the German lines which could not be identified. This was, in fact, the first use of poison gas by the Germans, the tanks having been put in their trench line early in April, protected by camouflage-and some 60 tons of chlorine was now released. The opposing Allied front line troops were a division of French Zouaves, who broke and ran under the terror of this new asphyxiating gas. By the end of the day there was a 4 mile gap in the Allied front line and only a depleted Canadian division to hold it. Thus, in the evening of 22nd April all available British troops were ordered into the line and to prepare for a counter-attack to stop the Germans digging in.

    The 2nd DCLI were ordered forward at 2.30 a.m. on the morning of 23rd April 1915, marching through the Menin Gate on their way out of Ypres and arriving at in the front line at about 4.30 a.m., dug in along a line of hedges. Having secured the line, the battalion was ordered to attack at about 2.30 pm that afternoon, along with all other British battalions plugging the gap in the line. It was an unequal contest: the Germans had some 42 battalions covering that sector, with a 5:1 superiority in artillery. The historian of the regiment, Everard Wyrall put a gloss of gallantry on what happened next:

     “No sooner had the leading lines of the attacking troops risen from the ground than they were met by a withering machine gun and rifle fire. Yet on they went. The sight was magnificent. That a thin line of troops in skirmishing order should dare to advance against a hidden position, literally crammed with hostile troops whose rifle and machine gun fire swept the battlefield like a maelstrom was extraordinary. But soon dust, and the smoke of battle hid the advancing lines from observers and also from the enemy”

     The reality was that the advance was rapidly cut down and DCLI was unable to hold it’s gains. It was forced to retreat to a line between 2 farms, digging in to the front of farm buildings. Tom Place was killed by shot or shell in this skirmishing advance.  Some 57 men were killed, with a further 216 wounded and 6 missing. Also killed was one brave French Zouave straggler who asked to join the attack and was issued with rifle and bandolier. Some 48 men were never identified and are remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial. It was known that Tom Place had been killed, for he was never reported as either wounded or missing. It is likely that his body was lost to the Germans as it was exhumed from the battlefield in 1920. Most of those found with him were “Unknown British  Soldiers” but the Grave Registration Unit found identification with his remains –it is not known what but it was returned to his family. Tom Place is buried in New Irish Farm Cemetery, just north-east of Ypres.  He is remembered on the Wanstead War Memorial and on that at the Wanstead United Reformed Church. His mother had become a member of the congregation in 1913 and his sister and brother joined after the war but it is not known that Tom Place was formally a member. His family added the inscription to his tombstone at New Irish Cemetery: “Day by Day We Miss Him More”

  Maggie Brown: “Our Fifteen”,  War Diary, 2nd Bn. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry WO95/2266/2, TNA; Everard Wyrall: “The History of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry 1914-1919” (London,1932)



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Thanks for all your responses.

The point here is that regardless of Cornish recruitment figures, they simply do not reflect the vast numbers which preferred to enter the navy.

I do examine the figures and find gross anomalies but the focus is the complete lack of appreciation of the Cornish represented in the navy during the early months of the war.

My work focuses on whether imperial propaganda was successful in the years leading up to the war in encouraging a 'Britishness' and even 'Englishness' in the Cornish to ensure their ready participation to defend their country should war become a reality. It looks at the ways that could be achieved from c1870 to the outbreak of war itself until the recruitment marches throughout Cornwall in early 1915.


From my work:

Cornwall’s low population, resulting from decades of emigration,[1] meant that there were relatively few men in the necessary age bracket available for voluntary military service; that agricultural work and mining, as reserved occupations, kept many potential volunteers from enlisting; and that the Navy seemed a more attractive option for those Cornishmen who did come forward, given Cornwall’s sea-faring history and sea-girt status.


And later,


... it is evident that a naval war was expected and, in that regard, it was believed Britain was well prepared.[1]  The newspapers recorded the mobilisation of Cornishmen in the Navy and Reserve in such numbers that it was feared the removal of so many men from fishing ports would have ‘a retarding effect on the fisheries.’[2] The Cornish felt the war was ‘a matter for the Navy,’[3] they were accustomed to sending their men to the Navy and Reserve in huge numbers,[4] and felt they contributed handsomely.  There was no indication of the trench warfare to come.


Moreover, it must not be overlooked that Cornwall was a Methodist stronghold. Once the true nature of the war became apparent, and the Church encouraged enlistment, recruitment figures increased:


Appeals for recruits appeared regularly in the local press.  However, the Cornish had been taught by church and chapel to regard war as anti-Christian, so recruitment in 1914 was a delicate task.  The challenge was to awaken the sense of private duty towards the endangered nation and contend with conscience.  Some letters attest to a strong abhorrence of war,[1] but once it became clear that the church encouraged enlistment believing the cause to be just, the collective conscience was cleared.


[1] Correspondence of John Sturge Stephens, 1903-1914, CRO ST341/1


[1] RCG, 6 August 1914

[2] RCG, 6 August 1914

[3] Quirrell-Couch, Nicky-Nan, p. vi

[4] It was estimated that men from Cornwall and Devon at one time made up two-thirds of the Royal Navy’s total manpower.  See Dalley, Response in Cornwall, p. 87.  Major Bawden, DCLI, said ‘there was no county which in proportion to its numbers sent more men to serve in the forces.  To the Navy, Cornwall sent eight men for one in any other county.’   See volume of newspaper cuttings, 1914-1915, B1706, DCLI Museum, Bodmin and Quirrell-Couch, Nicky-Nan, p. v-vi, which states that ‘shore-dwellers were used to the sight of small naval craft in flotillas or great battleships at speed-trial or gun-practice ... The Army seldom came within their ken, almost never within range of their domestic concern.’


[1]As a result of the catastrophic collapse of the copper mining industry in Cornwall in the 1860s.  See A. Guthrie, Cornwall in the Age of Steam, (Cornwall, UK: Tabb House, 1994), G. B. Dickason, Cornish Immigrants to South Africa, (Cape Town, South Africa: A. A. Balkema, 1978), R. Woods, The Population of Britain in the Nineteenth Century, (Hong Kong, Macmillan Education Ltd, 1992), and D. Baines, Migration in a mature economy, Emigration and Internal Migration in England and Wales, 1861-1900, (Bath, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985)

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You have a typo in footnote [3] and [4] - Quiller Couch or "Q", not Quirrell-Couch. 


Incidentally Quiller-Couch was instrumental in raising the 10th (Service) Bn DCLI (Cornwall Pioneers)

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Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch or ‘Q’ added the hyphen. His father Thomas Quiller Couch did not have a hyphen.

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Perhaps an analysis from the other end of the war- the Absent Voters List for 1918 might help illustrate how many men were away in navy and auxilary jobs?????   The AV lists seem pretty good for all the odds and sods doing some sort of work, particularly home based.

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Waaaaaw. Thanks for that. I’ve referred to the dissertation. In the abridged version, it’s correct but thank you!

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And just as a little sideline-the map from "Discovering Our Anzacs" showing men of Cornish birth- the site is worth a visit.  With many thanks to the excellent Anzac site



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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Melanie I am really looking forward to your book any clue on release date yet?



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  • 4 weeks later...

Sorry Steve, I wasn't informed you'd asked anything. I'm only writing a chapter but the book is via the Institute of Cornish Studies. You can email to get more info: cornishstudies@exeter.ac.uk (Garry Tregidga is handling). Apologies for the tardy response.

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  • 1 month later...

I was interested to read of Cornwall’s response to the war in Mark Bostridge’s ‘Fateful Year - England 1914’ (2014). In which we are told that:


“ ... even during the last days of August and the beginning of September, when volunteers throughout the country were flocking to rerecruitment offices after the news from Mons, the county’s recruitment figures for that week recorded the enlistment of only seventy men. The reason for this, and the poor attendance at recruitment meetings, was revealed in the local press. Many Cornishmen were still smarting from the brutal methods used by the authorities to smash the clay miners’ strike the previous year. ‘We don’t forget’ was the shout at one meeting ...”


This had some resonance for me, as my great grandfather, David Moore, was one of the detachment of the Devonport Borough Police sent to help police this strike. The attached photograph is of that detachment - David Moore is the sergeant. He was a Cornishman, born in St Austell in 1868. 




Edited by Uncle George
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How did your great grandfather feel, Uncle George?


By the beginning if 1915 there was a lack of jobs in the clay works , due to the war.

Wages were reduced for those in employment and the unemployed applied for Relief.

Mr. T. Medland Stocker, the managing director of the West of England China Clay Company, encouraged many clay workers to join up. There was a good response - work in munitions was thought likely. 

I  reckon the war’ll be over soon, for another two hunderd men

Be gone abroad to ’list in London Town;

They’ve bid “Goodbye” to the Monagew Stone, an’ Tre an’ Pol an’ Pen,

To change their milky white for khaki brown.

At Carclaze Mine the streams’ll run, and whiten St. Austell Bay,

At Charlestown Port the boats be left to lie,

For another two hudred Cornish men have bid “Goodbye” to the clay,

An’ I reckon the Huns’ll know the reason why.

I’ve heard Lord Kitchener stepped along to meet’em by the train,

An’ sez “I’m plaised to see you’m lookin’ well,”

An’ wanted to have a bit of advice about the old campaign,

So marched ’em to the White Hall for a spell.

So I reckon the war’ll be over soon, with the men as Cornwall sends,

An’ Cornwall’s One an’ All will bless the day;

An’ when the turble fightin’ in a happy peacetime ends

You’ll count there’s somthin’ good in Cornish Clay.


(* A second two hundred Cornish Clayworkers enlisted in  body in London. – Daily Paper).



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Thanks for posting this poem Kath - I’d not been aware of it. Bernard Moore - I wonder if he’s a relation? 


My great grandfather died in 1917, but his involvement in this strike was a cause of quiet pride in his daughter, with whom I lived throughout my childhood. She was a staunch Labour supporter, so her sympathies would have been expected to fall with the strikers. When that Play for Today, ‘Stocker’s Copper’, which was about this strike, was broadcast in 1972 she was absolutely glued.


” ... l’m plaised to see you’m lookin’ well ... “ - she (my grandmother) would use this ‘you’m’ instead of ‘you’re’. ‘You am’, I suppose. I never hear it these days.

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Thanks for this. Indeed the clay miners were still smarting from the previous year's brutal suppression of a strike but my work does show they enlisted soon afterwards ("The following year, newspapers talk of the ‘recruiting boom in the clay area’ when 230 miners were recruited in two weeks".)


"You'm" is still very much in use ... my brother living in north Devon says it all the time.


Interesting poem posted by Kath, "gone abroad" referring to London and reinforcing the Cornish 'persistence of difference' status whereby anything over the Tamar was deemed "foreign".

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I guess you've already visited this site, but in any case... I found it when looking for info on Cora Cornish Ball, QMAAC, who died of the flu just after the armistice and is buried in sangatte:




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