Rare archive footage reveals heroes
RARE footage offering a glimpse at life on one of Cornwall's military bases during the Second World War has uncovered two unlikely heroes.
Following three years of extensive research Dr Harry Bennett, reader in history at the University of Plymouth, has been able to trace two Cornish-based servicemen depicted in a 20-minute "home video" donated to the South West Film and Television Archives (SWFTA).
The film was shot during the height of the war and was donated to the archives in November 2006 by the granddaughter of the man who owned the camera.
Military expert Dr Bennett then began the painstaking effort to identify two of the main characters in the footage – which, rarely for the time, was shot in full colour.
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The film, captured on 16mm tape, features two Frenchmen, Jacques Andrieux and Roland Le Blond, who escaped their homeland and became part of 130 Squadron at Perranporth.
Although in colour, the film contains no sound, subtitles or any other obvious clues as to the precise date and location of the footage, or those involved.
It therefore required extensive research by Dr Bennett in order to determine the story behind the film.
He said: "The footage probably relates to between February and May 1942. It is several decades old, and in colour, which makes this a real gem."
Dr Bennett said although the finer points of their stories are unclear, the two Frenchmen would have been tried as "military deserters" if their escape from France had been discovered.
He said one of the men, Jacques Andrieux, escaped from his homeland from under the noses of the Germans by pretending to leave Camaret-Sur-Mer in Brittany by boat destined for another part of France. Instead, he landed in Cornwall and became part of England's own military effort.
Further research showed the two men suffered contrasting fates. Andrieux returned to France after the war where he reached the rank of General. His compatriot, Le Blond, spent five years in hospital before living the rest of his life as a semi-invalid.
Others recorded in the footage include another Frenchman and a serviceman by the name of Williams.
Dr Bennett said the footage served to underline the role Cornwall played in the war effort.
He said: "Very often when we talk about Cornwall's history we talk about tin mining, for example.
"But this footage shows the role Perranporth, Portreath, St Mawgan and others played during the war, and helps tell the story of what happened in the county."
Jennie Constable, administrator for SWFTA, said many members of the public from as far afield as Canada had already shown an interest in watching the footage.
The footage is available for public view at SWFTA's offices in Royal William Yard, Plymouth.
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