My Uncle Richard Devine – Markham’s Chase School Teacher.
Richard was born in Whitechapel Infirmary in 1917 and moved from Bethnal Green to Laindon with his family in 1923. He attended Dunton School with his sister and brother which they reached by walking across the fields from their home ‘Pendennis’ in Alexandra Road. Richard married Kathleen Cheasley in 1939 and they made their home in a bungalow called ‘Devon’ in Noak Hill Road. Their daughter Marion was born in 1940.
Early in the war, Richard joined the territorials. During training he met Leslie Davis who became a close friend throughout the war. Richard’s movements in the war are sketchy but we know he was in France at the time of Dunkirk. In 1940 he was reported missing. In 1941 he was POW in France. In 1943, he was POW in Italy and in 1945 POW in Poland on the border with Czechoslovakia.
Before he left England, his father (Henry Richard Devine, Laindon Postman), gave him a watch. He explained that if Richard could manage to send the watch back home, then the family would know he was still alive.
Not all our troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, some stayed to hold back the German forces. Many of these were killed and others were captured. Richard was taken prisoner south of Dunkirk (San Valerie) and interred in Southern France under French guards. Richard escaped three times but was recaptured each time. On one occasion, he somehow swapped identification with an airman.
Later in the war, he was involved in the long march from Poland to Germany and was finally released by the Americans at the end of the war. Many war veterans were reluctant to speak about their experiences but Richard did have a few anecdotes to relate, particularly about the times he and others escaped.
Richard and Les were on the run together in France for what must have been quite a while. It’s unknown how an escape was made, or how they were recaptured. Certainly they were in the countryside of Provence, in Marseilles at one time and in Paris. They soon polished up their French.
Somehow they managed to obtain French papers and for a time masqueraded as peasants. While on the run in France, having discovered a patch of cabbages growing in a field they made the most of this Godsend on a number of visits. One day, they were surprised to find a French woman in her cabbage patch and listened sympathetically as she told them how someone had been stealing her crop. However, she explained, she didn’t mind them having one.
While on the run in Paris, a high ranking German Officer beckoned to them. They really thought they had been caught out and their time was up, but he produced a camera and asked them, in poor French, to take a photograph of him while he posed in front of the Arch De Triumph. They cautiously obliged and were able to walk away after handing the camera back to him.
They managed to build a raft with the intention of getting away by floating down the river and across the channel, but after all their hard work, when they attempted to launch the vessel, it sank!
Another story involved his wedding ring. During parades, the guards search the prisoners and removed anything of value. During these times, Richard would place his wedding ring under his tongue and when asked if he had any valuables, he would shake his head.
Richard had escaped three times and was told that, if he did so again, he’d be shot. It was towards the end of the war, by which time he was either in Poland or on the march, that he exchanged identities with an airman, presumably with a view to making another bid for freedom as someone other than Richard Devine! He never carried this out as they were liberated. The assumed identity was that of an airman and of course, as such was given priority in being among the first to be returned to England. At what point Richard admitted to his true ID isn’t known, but certainly not before he had landed!
A telegram was received by Richard’s wife and parents to say he was on his way. Then on Good Friday 1945, his wife looked through the window and saw a lone figure walking up Noak Hill Road. It was Richard.
Richard and Les went their own separate ways towards the end of their long captivity, but met up after the war and they remained very good friends for the rest of their lives. Quite late in life, they went back to Provence and tracked down some French people who had helped them. They never lost their thrill of gathering something to eat from the countryside, and mushrooming, blackberrying and rough shooting were favourite pastimes which they enjoyed doing together. They once shot a pheasant from below its holly tree roost at dusk and came home in a state of sheer delight – not exactly legal, but the owner knew what they sometimes got up to and turned a blind eye. They had respect for the law but it seems that the memories of starvation occasionally got the better of them. They both enjoyed their food enormously.
After the war, Richard and his wife had two more children, both sons. As a qualified teacher, he joined the staff of Markham’s Chase School where he would occasionally recall his experiences to his pupils, some of who still remember this popular teacher very well. In 1957 Richard moved his family to the Isle of Wight where he attained the position of Deputy Head although he was Acting Head at one school for some time. He returned to Laindon on several occasions and enjoyed many years of retirement on the I.O.W. until his death in 1993.
The story of the watch. This was handed over to a chap who it’s believed was intending to escape and whose home was somewhere near enough to Laindon for him to return it to Richard’s parents at ‘Pendennis’ – which he did. Sadly this man returned to active service in due course and was killed in North Africa
Today the watch is in the safe hands of his son John.
By Nina Humphrey and her cousin, John Devine.
|Royal Artillery (Field) Record Office, Foots Cray, Sidcup, Kent|
Record Office Number:
|Assumed identity of Eardley S. R.A.F.|