Both are still available on catch up, and both cover some of the great places we love to visit in South Devon including what happened at Torcross in 1943 and Hallsands in 1917.
Torcross and Exercise Tiger
About 15 minutes’ drive from Pitt Farm is Slapton Sands at Torcross (TQ7 2TQ). This was the site of Exercise Tiger, a fateful WWII operation involving huge loss of life. It was one of a series of large rehearsals for the D-Day landings in Normandy and took place in April 1944 at the beach at Slapton and Torcross following the evacuation of a number of South Hams villages in 1943.
A number of problems resulted in friendly fire deaths during the exercise, and an Allied convoy positioning itself for the landing was attacked by E-boats of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine. More than 749 servicemen died in the exercise. The disaster had to be kept secret at the time (to avoid the enemy learning of the planned Normandy invasion) and very little of it was known.
Local resident Ken Small made it his mission to commemorate the event, after discovering evidence of the aftermath washed up on the shore while walking in the 1970s. In 1974, he bought the rights to a submerged tank that was discovered by local fishermen. The tank was raised in 1984 which now stands in the village of Torcross as a memorial to the incident.
Torcross is on the South West Coast Path and a great place to start a walk along the coast to Beesands, Hallsands and Start Point. There is plenty of parking, a pub (the Start Bay Inn), a great fish and chip shop (Torcross Boathouse takeaway and the Start Bay Inn), a café and public toilets as well as Slapton Ley nature reserve. We love the walk to Beesands along the coast path just over a mile away (which also has a great pub, fish restaurant & takeaway and more public toilets).
The destruction of Hallsands
The Devon weather is usually fantastic but we are prone to the occasional storm and the coastal villages bear the brunt of the wind and waves. On 26 January 1917, the village of Hallsands collapsed into the sea. The village had always been at the mercy of the forces of nature, but this was not the cause of the collapse. It was human interference that led to the destruction of the village.
The story begins in the 1890s when a decision was made to expand the naval dockyard at Plymouth around 30 miles away. The contract was awarded to Sir John Jackson Limited, one of the country’s biggest engineering companies of the time. The Government gave Jackson permission to dredge shingle from along the coast for the large amounts of concrete needed to build the new dockyard. The villagers weren’t consulted and protested to their local MP, Frank Mildmay, as soon as the dredgers appeared at Hallsands.
Following pressure from Mildmay, the Board of Trade agreed to an enquiry. This eventually led to an agreement whereby Jackson paid £125 per year to the villagers of Hallsands. The payments were intended to compensate for the interference with fishing, not for any damage to the shoreline. Fears about the long-term impact of dredging abated, and life returned to normal.
Three years later, storms battered the coastline again and swept away part of the sea wall. Studies showed that the beach had fallen by up to 12 feet. In 1902, the dredging licence was cancelled but the damage was already done.
The angle, shape and level of the beach had been completely altered by the dredging and the village could not withstand the fierce storms of January 1917. Dozens of families lost their homes when Hallsands disappeared. Amazingly, no-one died but many families lost everything. The villagers of the time never got to see the findings of a government enquiry (as the report was withheld) as it concluded that the tragedy was unequivocally caused by the dredging.
The old village of Hallsands is now an eerie sight; all that remains intact is the ruin of the chapel which perches on the edge of the cliff top. There is a viewing platform from which you can see the remains of the ruined houses; a good place to contemplate climate change and man’s impact on the planet.
There is limited parking at North Hallsands (parking is free). Otherwise you can walk there in around an hour from Start Point (head north) or in around 30 minutes from Beesands (head south) along the South West Coast Path.
We love the Cricket Inn at Beesands (a child friendly pub with a fantastic menu and great service) and Brittania at the Beach (booking essential for indoor dining – but dine outside with the takeaway menu which includes exceptional local fish and their (ought to be) famous Thai monkfish curry).