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North Devon in 100 Objects: 7. The Seekers’ Photograph Album

a photo album with brown pages and a selection of photos attached, along with a short bit of (unreadable) text. One the left page the is a photo looking out to sea and on the right page are three photos of individuals at the beach.

This little photo album records the North Devon walking holiday of an unknown couple during the early part of the Second World War in 1940, at the time of the evacuation from Dunkirk.

The album opens with a delicately painted map of their route, and their accounts of each rain-sodden day of their hike from Blue Anchor Bay to Clovelly are delightfully illustrated with cartoons, picture postcards and mementoes.  These include business cards of B&Bs (no need to book in 1940) including those of the ‘toothless’ Mrs D. Gooding in Lynmouth, and Mrs I. Challacombe opposite Combe Martin’s Post Office: ‘can she cook – or can she?’

After passing through Lynton and Lynmouth (which they didn’t like ‘one little bit’), and the Valley of the Rocks – ‘a path as delightful and exhilarating as any we met’ – they find a copy of the Daily Express carrying the ominous headline ‘Allied Army Cut in Half’.  Marooned by bad weather in Ilfracombe two days later they report that: ‘the 9 o’clock news is grim. The channel ports have fallen. Invasion is (imminent). Coast towns are being evacuated’.

Travelling to Instow by bus before walking along the estuary to Barnstaple, they observe that ‘Sign posts on the way are disappearing. Sh’.  The nation’s signposts – removed in order to confuse low flying enemy airmen and German parachutists – would remain absent until the end of the war.

Discovered in an Essex charity shop, the album gives us an intriguing glimpse of North Devon tourism at a deeply difficult time.

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