Highampton Local History Group

2017: January to June


Our speaker for the first meeting of the new year was local historian Dennis Bater.

Dennis gave us an informative and interesting illustrated talk about famous graves and monuments, ranging from memorials to the fallen in both world wars, graves of politicians and those of stars of stage and screen, even Compo’s wellies and the large aluminium statue of Marilyn Monroe which is currently doing a tour of the world.

He started taking photographs of gravestones when he was on a trip to Paris where he took a photo of the grave of Oscar Wilde and that of Edith Piaf, the French singer known as the little sparrow.  Since then wherever he has travelled he has added to his extensive collection and has also researched some of the stories relating to those whose memorials he has photographed.  Dennis finished the talk with several photos of graves and memorials to local ”heroes” such as James Revilious, Olive Bennett, Lady Nelson, and Captain William Morris who rode in the charge of the Light Brigade and whose memorial stands on Hatherleigh Moor.

The evening closed with the usual refreshments.


For our February meeting, we were entertained with a talk by Elizabeth Vooght’s son, Roger, based on his mother’s memories of life as a young child in Germany in WW2, after which Elizabeth was happy to answer questions from the group.

She lived on the family farm SE of Hanover.  Wheat and sugar beet were grown, not much livestock just cows kept in the barn all year round and a pig which had to go to the State.  They did keep an extra pig which they were not really supposed to do but it gave food for the family.  Her father also kept bees so the family was fortunate to have honey, they had sugar from the beet grown on the farm and also collected herbs from the hedgerows for flavouring and for medicines.  They made bread with maize.  This was yellow and not very pleasant but whatever was given had to be eaten.

Elizabeth was one of several children, two from her father’s first marriage and then five more from his second marriage.  Two of her brothers ended up as POWs, one being in Italy and the other here in Birmingham.  They had volunteered for the navy at the age of 17.  Elizabeth attended the local school starting at 8.00 a.m. until 1.00 p.m. and also had to belong to Hitler Youth.  Part of this she enjoyed as it was games and exercises but part was Hitler Ideology.  Children could only be excused from this if there were tasks that they had to do at home.  They also had to attend the Catholic Church but the priest was not popular because he would report to the SS on the children.

Her family had three acres that needed to be weeded by hand and at harvest time the sugar beet had to be lifted and topped.  It was a tough life but better than living in a city.

Her father kept silkworms which provided silk to be made into parachutes and the silk from used parachutes was used to make clothes.  They had to give part of their home up to house refugees from further east in Germany and at the end of the war Elizabeth’s family had to move to the next village when the Americans came as they requisitioned the whole house.  Elizabeth buried her father’s pistol in the garden when the Americans came as she was afraid of repercussions.  Being out in the country there was no bombing where they lived until very near the end of the war although they saw the bombers going over.  At such times the refugees hid in the fields while the family took refuge in the cellar.  

Three years after the end of the war Elizabeth crossed over from the Hook of Holland to Harwich with a group of young women to work here.  No one from her family came with her and she eventually married an Englishman.  She worked at farming in Cambridge for a time and then moved down to Newton Abbott.  She moved to Petrockstowe 56 years ago and has lived in this country for 67 years in total.

There followed a very interesting question and answer session followed by the usual refreshments.


For our March meeting, Charles introduced our speaker, Dr. Samuel Walls from South West Archaeology which was established in 2003 and is based in South Molton.

Dr Walls gave us a very interesting illustrated talk.  He explained how the need to preserve and record our heritage is now all on a commercial basis, some 8-9% being undertaken by volunteers and the rest by Universities and organisations like South-West Archaeology.  It is now established that any archaeology required on a proposed development site is paid for by the developer.  This followed several high profile badly coordinated and poorly recorded archaeology, including the Rose Theatre in London, in 1989.  South-West Archaeology have been involved on several rescue archaeology sites in Barnstaple and Exeter, including the excavations of the Roman Baths at Cathedral Green in Exeter.

The talk gave an interesting overview of the important work carried out by South-West Archaeology in preserving and recording our heritage.  

The evening closed with the usual refreshments.


In April, the group’s Annual General Meeting was held in the village hall. The vice chairman, Charles Dumpleton, gave the annual report on behalf of Maurice Thomas.  

“It is again an enormous pleasure to report another successful year. We have enjoyed some very interesting talks as well as one outside visit to Downes House, Crediton.  Our speakers over the past twelve months have included Paul Rendell, Pamela Vass, Geoffrey Cleverdon, Mike and Eleanor Paddock, George Copp, Simon Dell, Dennis Bater, Elizabeth Vooght (together with her son Roger) and Dr Samuel Walls. At Christmas we joined up with the Highampton Community Group for a social buffet at the Golden Inn.

Photographs and other items of local interest continue to be handed in for inclusion in our ever expanding archives, and we are extremely grateful to the donors for their kind generosity. In November we were able to open up our new Archive Room to view recently deposited maps and other items of interest, which was much appreciated,

On a personal note, I was saddened to have missed a number of meetings due to illness but I am extremely grateful to our vice-chairman Charles Dumpleton for holding the fort during my absence.

Again, I could not have done my job as Chairman without the immense help of Charles and our able officers, Maureen Morel and Jane Bridges, and I thank them all for their dedication and hard work over the past twelve months.  I would also like to say a special thank you to Carole Ward for kindly providing us with the very welcome refreshment at the end of each meeting, and for keeping us on the map by updating our website on a regular basis - a job well done!  I would also like to thank her for stepping in at short notice to take the minutes when Mo is unavoidably away.   

Finally, I would like to thank you all for your huge help and support over the past twelve months.

Maurice Thomas


All officers were later re-elected ‘en bloc’ for the coming months.

The AGM was followed by a fascinating, entertaining and informative talk by Monica Jones about the First World War project she is currently running in Hatherleigh.   An immense amount of research has been undertaken, by Monica, in tracing and researching the men who fought and fell in the Great War and the impact the war had on Hatherleigh and its surrounding villages.

The meeting closed with the usual refreshments.


In May our Vice Chairman, Charles Dumpleton, introduced Mike Ritzon who updated the group on the progress of rebuilding work being undertaken in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes of a couple of years ago in Nepal.

Mike explained how the money he has raised, (over £40,000), has been used to rebuild the village Temple and many other much needed infrastructure projects. A very interesting and informative illustrated talk. We wish him good luck when he returns once again to Nepal in November.

The meeting closed with the usual refreshments.

Copyright © site designed by the late Simon Ward and managed by his wife Carole


Our June meeting saw the welcome return of Simon Dell who gave a most interesting illustrated talk based on his latest book The Dartmoor ‘Conchies’.

In his introduction, he told the group that Dartmoor Prison is one of the most famous penal establishments in the country – having opened its gates to the French and, later, American prisoners of war in 1809.  He went on to explain, in his absorbing way, that from 1850 it housed convicts but in 1917 it emptied itself of criminals and until 1919 became the Princetown Work Settlement for Conscientious Objectors.

This proved to be a most insightful, humbling and thought provoking talk on the ‘Conchies of Dartmoor’, specifically concentrating on the First World War and on how these men were viewed by the British public and how the media of the time depicted them as cowards and unpatriotic for holding on to their beliefs and refusing to take up arms. Many of these men were Quakers and pacifists who refused to wear a uniform or fight, many chose to work in the medical corps as stretcher bearers and medical orderlies and were subjected to intense and dangerous situations and many were killed. Those who refused were sent to prison and were subjected to abuse and intimidation and put to work (hard labour).  Many died but those that survived stayed true to their beliefs. A fascinating, informative look at the issues surrounding the group of men known as ‘Conchies’.

From the talk we learnt that there were approximately 16,000 men on record as conscientious objectors, and also the significance of the ‘white feather’.  All in all, this was a most fascinating talk that took in part of Simon’s own personal family history.

Simon will be returning in January next year with a talk on Dartmoor Archaeology.  

The evening closed with the usual refreshments.

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