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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous storyNext story >>  │

Edmund Forte - Wartime Exeter

Edmund's family came to Exeter from Italy in the 1890's and started an ice cream factory in Preston Street (between South Street and the inner bypass). Edmund and his twin sister Teresa were born in 1938. In May 1942, the family also owned a restaurant at the top of South Street, where the entrance to Cathedral Yard is situated. After the war, Edmund's father opened a fish and chip shop at the top of North Street, opposite the Cornish's building. This account is taken, with permission, from his website - for a fascinating history of a family in 20th century Exeter, see Ed Forte's website.

"Queues were the normal thing. Everything was rationed, this was supposed to ensure that everybody got an equal share of whatever was available. Ration books were issued to all, Man woman and Child. Without a ration book you would starve, but then, there was the Black Market. We queued for everything. if a queue had formed you joined it, even if you didn't know what the queue was for. Everyone kept on the good side of the butcher. We thought if he liked us he might find an extra little something or other. And a little something or other would 'do very nicely thank you'.

Family intelligence of what was happening on the streets, or in the shops was very important. You didn't want to miss a bargain after all!. So, much time was spent exchanging information on what was happening and where and who knew a man who could get something (for a price).

The family as a whole depended upon their shops in South Street and the ice-cream sales for an income. This was needed to support all the various Brothers and Sisters and their ever-growing families.

One night, during a particularly heavy air raid, some incendiary bombs fell on shops in South Street and they were set on fire. Being opposite to our family’s restaurants, above which we had previously lived. The fires weakened these shops and they collapsed, and fell across the street onto our shops and destroyed them all completely.

This is the site upon which once stood our Family shops No's 2 3 & 4 South Street, Exeter. Shops across the road were hit by incendiaries and collapsed across the road setting our shops on fire. After the War the government offered £7,500 War reparation compensation for property and land that today is worth millions.

Another source of much public concern was the prominence of Haldon Belvedere. a magnificent white tower which had been erected on the highest ground overlooking Exeter. There was talk of how the German Bombers used it to zero in on Exeter, so they wanted it demolished, which would have been a shame.

One night, during a raid, a house, about half way up Dunsford hill was hit by a bomb and reduced to rubble. All the grown ups went out to see what had happened and to see if they could help. They were gone for ages. When they returned they said some people had been killed. The bomb hit house and completely knocked it down but the houses either side had not suffered any damage at all.

Sometimes during the daytime I would see dogfights between aircraft taking place high above us. I could see as I looked up, there! a mass of white streaks. These streaks moved and changed shape. They weaved and made pretty patterns. It looked as if they had been scratched on the pale blue of the sky, all mingled and "higgledy-piggledy".

The Forte Cafe The Forte Restaurant at the top of South Street The interior of Forte's The interior of the Forte Restaurant - both photos courtesy of Ed Forte

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