The third part of a series about "The Secret War", published in "The Western Morning News" in 1999, is presented here by kind permission of the author, Colin Bradley. This part reveals how residents of the South Devon village of Kingswear had no idea what was going on in their midst.

Residents in Kingswear are determined that the vital role played by a secret wartime unit which operated from the tiny riverside village will ncver be forgotten.

The four high-speed gunboats of the 15th flotilla which waged a clandestine war against the German: in occupied France during 1943 and 1944, made over 100 "hush-hush" missions to ferry In agents gathering essential military intelligence and to bring back escaping downed Allied airmen who had been kept in safe houses by the French Resistance.

They were helped by the breaking of the top secret German Enigma coding machine - shown in the following photographs.

Photographs of the German Enigma Code Machine taken at Bletchley Park
(where the code was finally broken). Click on the above link to read the full story.

This enabled the gunboats to be given vital enemy recognition signals in case they were spotted at sea, the 30 knot craft would lay up offshore from Brittany beaches while specially- made surfboats would silently row in to drop off their human charges and pick up waiting escapees. The flotilla was one of five, including a Free French motor torpedo boat unit, to operate from the Dart village, but security surrounding the night-time activities of the special gunboat group was so tight that locals never knew what the Royal Navy sailors were up to.

Seven years ago former parish council chairman Dick Parkes, who had spent the war fighting in Burma, stumbled across the covert link between Kingswear and the gunboats while on holiday in Brittany where he found a memorial paying tribute to the flotilla which had mounted a series of missions to Plouha, Beg-an-Fry and L'Aber Vrac'h.

He returned home determined to find out more and soon after, by co-incidence, an Australian veteran of the group got in touch by making a request to site a memorial alongside the River Dart.

Today a plaque stands proudly at the entrance to the ferry landing at Kingswear and a Friends of the 15th Association, comprising veterans of the unit together with villagers in Brittany and South Devon, has just been formed.

Its aim is to safeguard the memory of the extraordinary deeds of the secret unit, to organise the maintenance of the flotilla's memorials at Kingswear, Plouha and Beg-an-Fry and to place poppy wreaths on the memorials every November.

' There are also plans to set up a link between local children at Kingswear Primary School and a primary school in Plouha through an exchange of letters.

"It's important that our young people are made aware of what happened in Kingswear during the war," said Mr Parkes, who is the association's secretary. "We want to perpetuate the memory of what happened on both sides of the English Channel at the time and we are very lucky that the 13th Torbay Sea Scouts, which are based at Galmpton and Kingswear, have offered to maintain our memorial here."

Earlier this month - exactly 54 years after the Allies celebrated ; VE Day - the secret links were remembered at a special reunion, when over 20 flotilla veterans, met up with former French Resistance members who had travelled across from Brittany.

A parade took place through the village to the parish church where local vicar, the Rev Robert Horner, gave a blessing both in French and in English, before the Brixham Royal British Legion Band played La Maraeillaise and the National Anthem.

Over 100 officers and men served on the 15th Flotilla at Kingswear and over half of them went to Buckingham Palace later to receive medals. The group was the most highly decorated unit in the Navy during the war.

The agents they brought back carried vital information about German defences in the run-up to the D-Day Normandy landings and plans of bunkers near Calais which contained the German V2 rocket sites.

But their night-time activities passed unknown to local villagers, one of whom is Reg Little, who was a teenage Civil Defence first-aider in Kingswear at the time.

"We knew about the Free French flotilla, but nothing about the 15th flotilla and what it got up to because we thought it was all part and parcel of the same thing," he said. "The 15th operated from the old paddle steamer westward Ho which was their depot ship.

"We used to hear the boats going in and out at night when they started up their engines, but we thought they were just doing normal patrols.

"My father-in-law Ted Willing used to keep the bar at the Royal Dart Hotel and I only found out recently that one of the chaps from the flotilla used to be given a cider bottle with gin which he sipped before going out on a mission.

"But everything about the flotilla was kept very hush-hush, even long after the war. We only found out what they had got up to about five years ago."

The crews used to spend most of their time in their gunboats as they were moored alongside the paddle-steamer, but they did go into local pubs to let their hair down - with strict orders not to discuss their secret activities.

Teignmouth's Frank Jones, a petty officer motor mechanic who carried out seven missions on MGB 502, said: "We slept on the boat with four of us sleeping to a cabin. The boats had crews of just over 30 men. The agents just looked like ordinary people and they would stay at local hotels and come on board about an hour before we set off. We were never allowed to talk to them.

: The RoyaI Dart Hotel, built by Brunel on the Kingswear quayside when the railway arrived in 1864, had been used as the local headquarters for coastal forces during the war when it operated as HMS Cicala. Its upstairs rooms were out-of-bounds to outsiders, but the bar remained open to public use.

Today only a photograph of one of the 15th Flotilla gunboats -presented by veterans last year - hangs in the bar to commemorate its link with the secret minions.

However, there is also a plaque for all to see on the wall of the Kingswear Lower Ferry Slipway, and dedicated in November, 1997, that commemorates the heroic exploits of the flotilla.

Go to Frank's memories,