Friday, 21 April 2017

A little bit of Canada in Devon

For a long time I was intrigued by a sign to Wolford Chapel when joining or leaving the A30 at Honiton, especially as next to the name on the sign was a small Canadian flag. 'Ah,' I'd think, 'this must be where Canadian aircrew worshipped in the Second World War, when based at one of the airfields in the hills to the north. It'll now be a place of pilgrimage for a dwindling number of old-timers, and the younger generations who might come.' Apparently nothing to do with me. But all kinds of things arouse my curiosity, and I made a mental note to go and see the chapel one day. Service life during the War has always had a strange hold on my imagination. Besides, all of us in Britain owe so much to the efforts (and sacrifices) of the men who came over to this country, and ensured that the Allies would win. I saw no issue in seeking out the Chapel, even if I wasn't a Canadian, and respectfully having a look.

That day came on 23rd March, four weeks ago. The weather was dull, but at least it was dry. A good day for exploring country lanes.

The Chapel was off the Honiton-Dunkeswell road, a bit short of Dunkeswell itself, as can be seen from this location map. The Chapel is the small cross in the loop road for the Wolford Lodge residences:

It's a very peaceful spot. There is space for two or three parked cars, and space to turn round. But you couldn't take a coach down the track that leads to the Chapel. So it never has to cope with a crowd. The site is well looked after, and there must be an active local custodian who sees to it that all is kept neat and tidy, and that the Canadian flag outside flutters freely and proudly.

The notice board referred to John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Canada, a name I instantly recalled, for less than one year previously I had seen and photographed a marble memorial to him in Exeter Cathedral:

So the Chapel was on the former Simcoe Estate. And all around the outside base of the building were headstones for various members of the Simcoe family. This is where they had all once worshipped. What lay within? The door was unlocked.

An intimate space, somewhat sombre on this overcast day, but not damp or musty-smelling. Clearly one was meant to look around and study the memorials and pictures on the walls. There was a strong Canadian flavour to it all.

Here was The Man, with hair distinctly more dishevelled than in the marble memorial in the cathedral:

Even so, I'd say the marble memorial was based on this portrait. There were several things to read about his life, and the Chapel itself.

There was a 1966 photo of the Canadian Prime Minister accepting the gift of the Chapel to Canada, so that its site in Devon would forever be a part of Ontario.

All of them, naturally, men in suits and ties - with handkerchiefs in each breast pocket! (Well, it was fifty-one years ago)

The Visitors' Book revealed that there was, even in March, a steady stream of people coming to see the Chapel. I added myself.

I couldn't help feeling that the place deserved great solemnity, and the selfie above shows that I gave it. This was, after all, Canadian national territory. I was representing Britain, practically on a solo diplomatic mission by just standing there. I didn't want the local custodian catching me doing frivolous things.

So much, however, for my earlier notion that this was the place where former aircrew came back to, to remember their wartime comrades in arms! But the next post will deal with just such a place, a mile up the road at Dunkeswell.


  1. Just a small (very small) correction Lucy. Simcoe was Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. At that time, the area that is now the southern parts of Quebec and Ontario were called Lower and Upper Canada respectively. The Upper and Lower referred to the watershed of the Great Lakes Basin, flowing out through the St. Lawrence River.
    Thank you for telling us about this. Looking forward to reading about the place of worship for the aircrew.

  2. Thank you for taking me along on your journey via images and prose. From tattoos to chapels, what's next?

  3. Thanks for the correction, Halle! I did see the reference to 'Upper Canada' but thought it was just the old name for Ontario. The ignorance of the pure and innocent, I'm afraid.

    Kati, a purchasing event has intervened! But the bomber crews of the US Navy are next in line.



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