A history of cornwall online - through its objects


The spoils of battle

  • Bone Ship Model

    Bone Ship Model

    The Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s had a great impact on Cornwall and French prisoners of war were held at Lawrence House in Launceston. To pass the time and to earn a little money, the men often made items from animal bone, such as this very detailed ship model.

    Visit Lawrence House Museum, Launceston

  • John French's Diaries

    John French's Diaries

    John French, Redruth-born miner, joined the First World War in France in 1915 as a 'sapper'. His job was to tunnel underneath the German defences. His diaries record life in the trenches.

    Visit Redruth Old Cornwall Society Museum

  • Wartime Cartoon

    Wartime Cartoon

    Cornwall played a significant part in the Second World War. In 1942 a successful major assault was launched from Falmouth to destroy the German-occupied French harbour of St Nazaire. This collection of wartime cartoons by George Butterworth is now housed at Pendennis.

    Visit Pendennis Castle

  • D Day Mascot Uniform

    D Day Mascot Uniform

    Cornwall was one of the main training grounds for the 1944 D-Day landings. This uniform belonged to Jacqueline Fewins, the 3 year-old mascot of the 224th Battalion 29th Division of the 9th Army of the United States, based at Perranporth.

    Visit Perranzabuloe Museum, Perranporth

  • Cradle and Patchwork Quilt

    Cradle and Patchwork Quilt

    In 1857, during the Indian Rebellion, the 32nd Cornwall Regiment of Foot defended 510 women and children trapped for five months inside a British Compound. During this 'Siege of Lucknow', it is reputed that damage to this cradle occurred and the quilt is said to be made from the uniforms of fallen soldiers.

    Visit Bodmin Keep: Cornwall’s Army Museum

  • Bevil Grenville

    Bevil Grenville

    During the English Civil War, Bevil Grenville was Cornwall's best-loved Royalist leader. He was killed in 1643 near Bath after remarkable Cornish successes at the battles of Braddock Down and Stratton. The portrait came to Prideaux Place from the Grencille family home in North Cornwall.

  • Civil War Helmet

    Civil War Helmet

    This helmet belonged to Major Thomas Johnson, a Parliamentarian soldier who fought at the battle of Braddock Down in 1643. The helmet is unusual because the cloth camouflage, which prevented the light reflecting off the metal, has survived. The padding, which made it more comfortable to wear, is also still in place.

    Visit Liskeard and District Museum

  • Armbands


    The Women's Land Army, also know as 'Land Girls', worked in farming to replace the men who had gone to war. Women from cities worked alongside Cornishwomen on farms in Cornwall during both World Wars. A brightly coloured armband was awarded for time served - one diamond per year.

Cornwall has not seen active combat since the English Civil War but the poignant testimony of those who experienced war can be found in our monuments, documents and objects.

During the worst period of the Civil Wars between 1642-46 two major battles were fought on Cornish soil, at Braddock Down and Stratton in January and May of 1643. Bevil Grenville was an MP and later a soldier who helped the Royalists to victory at both these battles. The heavy defeat of the Parliamentarian force at Braddock Down in mid Cornwall resulted in 1200 soldiers fleeing to Lostwithiel, where they were later captured.

Cornwall has been home to a number of military regiments who served abroad. The 32nd Cornwall Regiment of Foot, an infantry regiment, was involved in defending people trapped in the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

The greatest testimony to Cornish involvement in war came during the two world wars. Reflecting the impact of the First World War (1914-18) across Europe, the loss of life decimated entire hamlets and villages in Cornwall. The skills of miners such as John French were in demand to dig trenches and tunnels used in First World War defences.

The strategic importance of Cornish ports saw several Royal Navy assaults launched from our coasts in the Second World War (1939-45), particularly from Falmouth. The St Nazaire Raid on 28 March 1942 saw three destroyers and 16 boats depart its docks in a three-lane convoy for the German-occupied Normandy port. The north coast also provided important training grounds for Allied troops preparing for the D-Day landings in 1944.

Women in Cornwall played a major role on the home front during both world wars. The Women’s Land Army in Cornwall staffed farms, produced food and transported people and goods, supervised prisoners of war—just as they had done during the Napoleonic wars in the previous century.