Noël Coward

(1899-1973) – War-time visitor

On 4 August 1914 Noël Coward was staying in Polperro with his boyfriend, artist Philip Streatfield. Having read the news in the papers, they saw three warships steaming by later the same day. This holiday was at an end, although Coward did visit Cornwall again later in the war.

Credit: Polperro Museum of Smuggling and Fishing

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On 4 August 1914 Noël Coward was staying in ‘a pleasant little house perched up on a cliff overlooking the harbour’ in Polperro.  He spent his days bathing, lying about on rocks (including posing as an artist’s model), wandering around Polperro’s narrow streets and talking to fishermen.  His host, and boyfriend, was the bohemian artist Philip Streatfield who admired the work of Henry Scott Tuke.   They and Sidney Lomer, a friend of Streatfield’s, had visited Cornwall earlier in the year in Lomer’s car and, on that occasion, Noël stopped off to visit his aunt at Charlestown.  As he wrote of the second 1914 holiday:

                  ‘We read in the papers that war had been declared, and later on in the day we saw three

warships steaming slowly  by, quite close to the shore.  They looked proud and invulnerable and almost smug as though they were secretly pleased.’

Noël was packed off back to London by train.  Later on he became an unofficial mascot of the Sherwood Foresters (Streatfield’s regiment) and may have given Streatfield tuberculosis.

Other visits to Cornwall by Noël are recorded in 1907 (Charlestown), 1916 when he stayed at Rame rectory (the rector’s son being an inseperable friend), and a rather disastrous trip to St Merryn in 1918 (after his ‘army service’).  Noel had been invited to stay by author G.B. Stern, of whose work he was a big fan.  Unfortunately, she had not fully cleared this beforehand with her hosts, the Dawson-Scotts, and they disliked theatrical types.  These were the years of struggle, when Coward was trying to establish himself as an actor and as a person.

When called up for army service in spring 1918, Noël suffered a breakdown and was put in a ward full of shellshock victims.  Later, he drew on the war experiences of others in an ironic way in plays such as Cavalcade.  

Credit: Polperro Museum of Smuggling and Fishing