Dunkirk survivor died days later

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William_Hamilton-wA HELENSBURGH man was one of 22 World War Two soldiers who survived the Dunkirk evacuation days earlier but died when their camp in north Cornwall was bombed. 

Gunner William T.Hamilton (right) was just 21 when he perished with his comrades at the Penhale camp on the cliffs near Perranporth, following a strike by a lone German bomber on July 7 1940.

They were the first military personnel to be killed in Cornwall during the war when four high-explosive bombs were dropped by a Junkers bomber on the rest and recuperation centre for soldiers who had survived Dunkirk.

The soldiers, who were believed to have been playing cards at the time, were members of the mainly Scottish 58th Light Anti Aircraft Regiment, which ceased to exist after this tragedy, the very few remaining men being dispersed to other units.

A 91 year-old survivor, William Moffatt, recalled: "A lone German bomber, who we believe was looking for RAF St Eval, stumbled across Penhale Camp and dropped its four bombs.

"Twenty-two soldiers were killed and a number of others were seriously injured.

"One of my colleagues, said that 'plane is pretty close', and as he said that 'bang, bang, bang' and that was it. We all dived out to see what damage had been done, or if any of the lads had been killed, and they had.

"The following weeks we all slept out on the beach and on the sand dunes because everybody got scared stiff."

Of those who died, 19 were buried in a military funeral at Perranzabuloe Cemetery in Perranporth on July 11, but many of their families were unable to attend their funerals because they were in Scotland, Wales and the north of England.

Robert_Hamilton-wGunner Hamilton’s home was in East King Street, and he had attended Clyde Street Primary School and Hermitage School. His brother Robert (left) was also killed in the war, but their two other brothers survived.

Their descendants were not aware of the circumstances of his death until 2009 when they were contacted by a Clydebank man, Stuart Gray, whose father survived the attack.

His nephew, Gordon Hamilton, said: “It came as a shock to us all. We didn’t know William was one of those in the camp, as it was never spoken about in the family.”

Mr Gray launched a search for relatives of the victims because a very special remembrance service was planned for July 17 2010 to mark the 70th anniversary.

He said: “Every year since the bombing, the local Perranporth community commemorated the event in some way, but it was decided that the 70th anniversary would be the last such service.

"I managed to find relatives of 19 of the 22 who were killed, and 13 of the families came along."

Cornwall’s Royal British Legion events co-ordinator Commander Ian Inkskip said that the annual commemoration was ending because in future it would be merged with Armed Forces Day celebrations.

A veterans' committee organised the event after it was started in the 1990s by Frank Tyrer, who served as a Spitfire mechanic at RAF Perranporth during the war. But the closure of Penhale Camp has meant that the financial support from the Army has come to an end.

Penhale-MonumentThe final parade, which included serving personnel, newly-qualified recruits from HMS Raleigh, veterans and standards, cadets, the emergency services, civilian organisations such as the RNLI, and local schoolchildren, was led by the RNAS Culdrose Volunteer Band and the St Agnes Band.

Lady Mary Holborow, the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, gave an address and a service was conducted by the Rev Jeremy Andrew, vicar at Perranzabuloe Church.

He said: "It is very important to remember those who have offered their lives in service and those who are still serving. It has been a very moving event."

It also marked the end of the Royal British Legion Perranporth branch, and it was the final time that its standard was on parade. It was laid up at Perranzabuloe Church at a service the next day which included the laying of wreaths at the graves of those killed in the bombing.

Gordon’s brother Ian represented the Hamilton family, and said that many emotional stories were told. One Perranporth lady said that no-one ever played cards again in her home because of what happened.


The graves at Perranzabuloe Cemetery in Perranporth.