Holidays

I have been thinking a little more about holidays. I have said in previous posts about my holiday memories, I detailed my lovely round the world cruise but I haven’t said too much about when I was quite young. As a lad I went with my parents on holidays to North Devon and we got quite used to travelling the route from Peterborough. We had a few regular stopping places, although in those days there were no such things as fast-food places like McDonalds or anything. But there was a park in Northampton where we used the public toilets, we would have a few sandwiches and tea from a flask, then carry on to our next regular ‘service areas’. Except for one time at Northampton when Dad and I were quietly drinking tea as we watched a few squirrels leaping up trees, when Mum returned, looking a bit flustered. It seemed that the Ladies toilet was locked – so Dad and I ’stood guard’ in order for Mum to use the Gents. It was quite early in the morning, but we felt it prudent to be prepared! The only real travel problems occurred when the bypasses and motorways were being constructed and on one occasion we had to stop and ask a policeman, as we found we were on the wrong road. He asked us, in his broad local accent, if we really wanted to go to Chippenham! We had missed an earlier turning at a roundabout which had recently been constructed, so we turned around and were soon on our way again. Holidays to North Devon became an annual event, at first our stays were in a caravan on a farmer’s field and it was there that one time I had to be kept isolated in the caravan as I had gone down with mumps! In later years we stayed in a chalet on a caravan site that was in Westward Ho!. We were never a family for sitting on the beach all day, we liked to explore, so we did day trips to various places in the area. At first our wanderings were done locally, to Bucks Cross where there was the post office and shop. Back then we had to walk along the side of the main road or on the grass verge, as there were no pavements leading from the farm. Then we went on a bit further, like to Clovelly, Hartland and Bude as well as an odd shopping trip to Bideford. We had a couple of relatives in Plymouth, so we did day trips to see them too. To me our holidays seemed to involve very little forward planning, although knowing my dad they most probably were, but to me they were lovely that way. Mum and Dad must have arranged visits with the folks in Plymouth so they knew we were calling, but otherwise things were, or they seemed to me at least, spur of the moment. So our days varied, we might have one day in Bude, another with a morning in Clovelly, back to the chalet for lunch and the afternoon I could have to myself, walking along the beach or the Kipling Tors, where I would sit quietly watching the world pass by. On the Westward Ho! sea front there was a fish & chip shop which served fish freshly caught in the bay. Then the year after my grandmother had passed away, my grandfather, or ‘Pop’ as I knew him, came along and he stayed with us in a static caravan on the same site as the chalet we had used before. On the site was an amusement arcade for youngsters to play on slot machines, a penny arcade you might call it, but it was also licensed so Pop and my dad went down there some nights for a drink or two. The caravan was a six-berth, with one double bed, two single beds in the small bedroom and a fold-down double bed-settee which was in the main room. So to begin with I shared the room with Pop, except one night he came back from the bar and fell fast asleep really quickly. Sadly his snoring was so loud I simply couldn’t sleep (sorry Pop!) so I rolled my bedclothes and pillows up and made up the bed in the main room. I was so embarrassed the following morning, but it was all I could do. Sadly Pop decided not to accompany us on holidays again, instead he went off when he wished from his bungalow in Whittlesey, visiting our relatives in London. We continued to take our holidays to the West Country, it was really relaxing and included a few fun times too. One day we had spent most of the day in Westward Ho! but as it was a fine evening we decided to journey the fifteen or so miles to Hartland Quay, to see the sunset. We drove there and parked the car on the cliff-top, but we were accosted by a very fine-looking gentleman who spoke to us in quite a haughty tone, berating us for parking quite where we had. It turned out that this was in fact a gentleman quite well-known in the area, it being Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin, the owner at that time of the nearby Portledge Manor. Situated in the parish of Alwington, south-west of Bideford, Devon, it and the surrounding area belonged to the Coffins, a noble family of Norman origin, for almost a thousand years. The Coffin family is said to have acquired the manor of Alwington soon after the Conquest, but the written record begins with a grant of free warren to Richard Coffin in 1254. What I have found interesting is that a free warren, often simply a warren, was a type of franchise or privilege conveyed by a sovereign in medieval England to an English subject, promising to hold them harmless for killing game of certain species within a stipulated area, usually a wood or small forest. The family boasted a number of famous soldiers, including this Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin who was the last member of the family to own its seat at Portledge. Sadly the sale of the estate was forced by taxation in 1998. The place had a distinguished ancestry and this included Sir William Coffin (d. 1538) who was Master of the Horse to Queen Jane, Sir Edward Pine-Coffin (1784-1862), a Commissary General in the Army, along with John Edward and Tristram James Pine-Coffin (both d. 1919) who fought with distinction in the Second Boer War and the Great War respectively. The family also served as sheriffs, justices, clergymen, and aldermen in Devon, though no member became seriously involved in any national politics. They are therefore an unusual example of a substantial family, armigerous (bearing or entitled to use a coat of arms) but not titled, which farmed in the same area and served their county for 900 years, thus leaving extensive records. Their library at Portledge, collected in the 17th century and sold in 1800, was famous throughout North Devon, and records of it tell us much about the reading habits of the Devon gentry.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (5694091a) Wedding Of Miss Susan Bennett, daughter Of Colonel A. D. Bennett Of Plymouth to Mr John Trenchard Pine-Coffin Of Bideford at Buckfast Abbey.

I will admit to smiling when, as a young lad, I first heard his name but it is unusual so I recently decided to find out about this man and share what I have learned. Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin was born on June 12, 1921 in Kashmir and educated at Wellington. He had both a distinguished as well as an adventurous career in The King’s African Rifles and the Parachute Regiment. After Sandhurst, he was then commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment and served with the King’s African Rifles in East Africa, except his African-born sergeant was not best pleased when Pine-Coffin advised him not to wear medals that had been awarded to him by the Germans, but the sergeant quickly won the respect of his men without them. Pine-Coffin accompanied the King’s African Rifles to Burma. Stealth was often the key to his survival during this campaign and one night, whilst laying low in an attempt to conceal their presence from the Japanese, Pine-Coffin impressed on his African troops the real need for complete silence. They had, however, acquired a taste for tea and one of them, perhaps in his search for a superior brew, had placed their billy-can on a fire piled high with full ammunition boxes! On another occasion, when a strong Japanese patrol was preparing to attack his unit, his soldiers threw down their arms and disappeared into the darkness. Pine-Coffin and his brother officers had therefore resigned themselves to their fate when the men reappeared from the jungle with rather sheepish faces and said: “We like you too much to see you killed.” They collected their weapons, regrouped and helped to beat off the enemy assault. After the Japanese surrender, Pine-Coffin went to Pakistan to look for his father, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese since the fall of Singapore. He scoured the hospitals that were treating soldiers from PoW camps but was unsuccessful, however his father was repatriated to England. Pine-Coffin then joined the Parachute Regiment and was posted to the Middle East where he saw action during the Suez crisis. Following a move to Cyprus, he was involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Troodos mountains and when he came across a number of heavily bearded men hiding in a monastery, Pine-Coffin suspected that they were Eoka terrorists in disguise so asked his sergeant to give their beards a sharp tug. These all stayed firmly in place and he had to make a swift tactical withdrawal. During his twenty-eight years with the Parachute Regiment, Pine-Coffin served with all three battalions and in 1961 took command of 1st Parachute Battalion but his parachuting career was brought to a premature end when he landed in the dark on a tractor, broke several bones in his feet and as a result a series of staff appointments followed. In 1963 he was in Nassau when ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off. Upon coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans, so mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded. The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. Pine-Coffin attended the Joint Services Staff College and the Imperial Defence College before retiring from the Army in 1969, building up a large farming enterprise in Devon and establishing a 3-star country hotel, the Portledge Hotel. He was involved in many local charitable enterprises, including the British Red Cross and the RNLI. In 1974 he was appointed High Sheriff of Devon. In 1952 he married Susan Therese Bennett, the daughter of Colonel A. D. Bennett of Plymouth and they had a son and two daughters. Lieutenant-Colonel John Trenchard Pine-Coffin, O.B.E. passed away on August 22 2006, aged 85. I think that for me, his name will always be synonymous with my lovely holidays in Devon and Cornwall.

This reminded me…
A friend was doing an online DJ set for a Devon & Cornwall radio station, playing hits from the 60’s and 70’s but they couldn’t decide whether to put The Jam or Cream on first…

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