National Geographic : 1946 Feb
A City That Refused to Die BY HARVEY KLEMMER With Illustrations by Staff Photographer B. Anthony Stewart CITIES, like nations, have stories to tell. Few cities can boast a more inspiring record than that of Britain's Plymouth. The history of Plymouth goes back many centuries and it is filled with the bold deeds of valorous men.* Few deeds of the past can surpass the achievement of this community in staying alive-in refusing to die-during the war. The German enemy decided to obliterate certain British cities. Plymouth was one of them. But Plymouth refused to be obliterated. The citizens rose up in their collective might. Notwithstanding some of the ghastliest pun ishment of the war, they did not fail or falter. They stood fast. They made of their city a citadel which the enemy, try as he might, was not able to destroy. The story of Plymouth in World War II is not a pleasant one. Yet it is a story which should be told. It should be told because it shows what urban civilization will be up against if we fail to remove the menace of modern, scientific warfare from the affairs of men. It should be told also as an example of the courage and ingenuity with which com mon people are able to act in the face of dan ger, and of the sacrifices which they are willing to make in behalf of freedom. Now It Can Be Told Much of the Plymouth epic could not be told while the war was on. Victory in Europe canceled the necessity for security restrictions. This article-based on personal observation, conversations with many persons, and a so journ in the ruins-is an attempt to tell the full story of the travail and the triumph of the "city that refused to die." The story of Plymouth is of particular in terest to Americans. No city in Britain, few cities anywhere, are more intimately con cerned with our own development than this interesting old town. Generations of Americans have landed at Plymouth or have sailed from there (p. 215). As every American school child knows, the Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth. In the old harbor, on a quay known as the Barbican (Plate V), there is a stone bearing the simple inscription, "Mayflower, 1620." It was fitting that the Rock upon which these Founding Fathers landed should have been named for the city which bade them god speed. A few miles northeast of Plymouth, at Princetown, is the Church of St. Michael, begun by French prisoners and completed by Americans taken prisoner in the War of 1812. Two Americans, killed in the War of 1812, are buried in the churchyard of historic St. Andrew's in Plymouth. The Daughters of 1812 have restored a doorway leading to the churchyard from the Prysten (Priests) House. The door, known as the "Door of Unity," is the scene of an annual ceremony in which people from both countries join (Plate III and pages 214, 216, 234). The NC-4, first airplane to span the Atlantic, landed in Plymouth Sound, after flying via Newfoundland, the Azores, and Portugal. St. Andrew's was burned out in the early days of the blitz. An American sailor came to Plymouth and asked to see the ruins. He looked at the devastated shell a long time, then said slowly: "I saw a movie of this back home. I de cided to join the Navy and help punish the people who did it." Then, more slowly still, "Here I am." U. S. Troops Stationed There American troops were stationed in and around Plymouth during most of the Euro pean war. We also maintained a sizable naval establishment there (page 212). The war began early for the people of Plymouth. Survivors of bombed and torpedoed ships started to arrive in the Sound soon after the outbreak of hostilities. Thousands of Allied troops-tired, wounded, beaten-came into Plymouth at the time of the fall of France. These men, like the sur vivors of sunken vessels, were given the best that the people had to offer. This included not only food and drink and cigarettes; one group, sorely tried, was taken to a local club where members removed the men's boots and socks and washed their feet. The first stick of bombs was dropped on Plymouth in June, 1940. There were inter mittent raids through the rest of the year and into 1941. The concentrated attack, which was to give Plymouth one of the hardest poundings of * For an interesting contrast of life in this famous city just before the war, see, in the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE for July, 1938, "Pilgrims Still Stop at Plymouth," by Maynard Owen Williams.