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Sennen donkey

Animal war casualty

‘Halt! Who goes there?’ said the transatlantic cable guard when he heard footsteps on the shingle. After the third warning he shot… the fisherman’s donkey. Uproar followed and Captain Basil Bond, once buried in ‘no-man’s land up to his neck’, was sent to Sennen to sort things out; while there he met his future wife.

Credit: Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Tony Pawlyn and Polly Attwood of Hypatia Trust, Penzance

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In 1914 a regiment of Scots Guards were sent to Sennen Cove to guard the beach where the transatlantic cables came ashore.  This was, unfortunately, also the location from which the Sennen fishermen launched their boats.  The Scotsmen could have been from a different planet as far as the locals were concerned. Not only did they seem unintelligible,  they also interfered with the fishing community’s livelihoods.

One night, the guard on duty heard footsteps approaching across the shingle.

 ‘Halt! Who goes there?’ He called, in time-honoured fashion.  No reply, but the footsteps kept coming.

Alarmed now, the guard called again, ‘Halt, or I fire!’

As the steps continued he shouted, ‘Halt, or I fire!’ and he fired.

And killed the fisherman’s donkey (the means by which the daily catch was taken to market)!

This roused the Sennen community to such an extent that the authorities hastily removed the Scots and replaced them with members of a Devon regiment, under the command of Captain Basil Fitzgerald Bond.

Captain Bond, Devon born and bred, might still have been a ‘foreigner’, but was not quite as alien as the poor Scots. He managed to appease the fishermen, and settled down to prevent non-existent saboteurs from harming the precious cables.  He had been transferred to the home duty after being buried in no-man’s land for 3 days in northern France, as he said ‘up to his neck in muck and bullets’ while the Allies and the enemy fought back and forth over his head before he was rescued.  During his time in Sennen, he met and married his wife, Barbara Halford Thompson. After the war, he was advised by his doctors to seek outdoor employment because of his lingering shell-shock symptoms, and ended up working  for a marine salvage firm. 

Credit: Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Tony Pawlyn donkey image and story and other images Polly Attwood of Hypatia Trust

After leaving their employ in 1921, he and his wife started a flower farm in Newlyn: Rough Lee Flower Farm. Their fields overlooked Mounts Bay, with sorting and packing sheds at Stable Hobba, taking over the old Genatosen works (Genatosen was a  German firm which closed at the start of the war. They had produced a fortified wine, and their business was eventually taken over and the wine was sold as Sanatogen).

The Flower Farm succumbed to bankruptcy in 1929 in the general economic decline. In his post-war incarnation as an Anglican priest, Basil returned to Sennen as his final parish. He died in 1961, and both he and his wife are buried in Sennen churchyard. 

Credit: Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Tony Pawlyn (detail of photo of Newlyn fisherman's donkey) and story and other photos from Polly Attwood of Hypatia Trust, Penzance