The Free Cornish Army: Part Two

Photographs, Trouserware, and When Not to Blow Your Nose

Following on from last week’s post about my attempt to find the publicity stunt for charity to end all publicity stunts, here’s part two of five. It’s 1974, a more innocent age, and a group of Plymouth students are attempting to convince the British press that Cornwall is about to rise up and throw off the shackles of English rule. Warning: Do not try this at home.

So, following on from last week’s account – we’d set up the Free Cornish Army, sent out our first communiqué and the seeds of revolution, not to mention the torches of freedom, were respectively sown and alight.

But would anyone take notice? Probably not, which was why I had phase two prepared and ready to roll out. We’d announced our existence, now we needed pictures! Words could light a thousand torches but only a picture could launch the ships.

So a photo session was arranged. We’d gather together a half dozen or so burly students, dress them up as paramilitary freedom fighters and take pictures of us training for combat.

An excellent plan which started with an enthusiastic response. This was the 1970s and we all had our Che Guevara posters and, being men, loved to dress up. Volunteers had to be turned away. Only if we’d called for an army of transvestites – or possibly Glam Rockers (this was the 70s) – would we have had a more enthusiastic response.

A photographer was found and the next day we arranged to meet over the border – attention to detail again – for a day of yomping across the countryside and candid photos.

What to wear? My wardrobe was decidedly thin on olive green and khaki. I had a tie-dye suit in orange, yellow and purple – excellent camouflage for crawling through flower borders…

I decided to go for the green parka and accessorise with a black scarf to wrap around my face. And shouldn’t I have a weapon of some sort? This being England, weapons were not exactly thick on the ground in our student flat. So I improvised and decided the shiny metal extension tube of our vacuum cleaner looked just the kind of weapon a hardened freedom fighter might train with until his gun arrived.

I was young.

And queuing for the Cremyll Ferry with a length of metal pipe in my hand. What had seemed a good idea at the time appeared less so when a group of soldiers arrived at the ferry. Note to all revolutionary leaders – when planning the route to your training camps pay particular attention to the location of army bases. The Cremyll Ferry was right by the gates to the barracks of 42nd Para.

A second note to all revolutionary leaders – if you’re looking for a place to hide a long metal tube quickly don’t thrust the object down your trousers. It may seem a quick solution at the time – especially if you’re beset by a sudden and unexpected influx of soldiers – but there are consequences. Not the least being that it can draw unwanted attention.

We collected on the other side of the ferry. Eight stiff-legged freedom fighters. Our initial plan had been to arrive and depart unseen and unremarked upon. Instead we drew more than the occasional glance. What were eight stiff-legged men doing walking off into the bushes?

Training to liberate Cornwall from centuries of oppression was probably not the first thing that flew to people’s minds.

Out of sight, we divested our trousers of our mighty weapons and wrapped our faces in scarves and neckerchiefs. And then yomped, posed, crawled through the undergrowth, charged across fields, and nodded sagely as great wisdom was imparted to us by our ‘training instructors.’ The photographer snapped everything.

The next day we waited expectantly for the pictures. And were shocked.

Note number three to all prospective revolutionary leaders – ban white handkerchiefs from all photo shoots. I couldn’t believe it. There we were – running, crawling and being active all over Cornwall – and yet in every picture someone was stood to the side blowing his nose.

Fourth note to all prospective revolutionary leaders – you can’t look menacing while blowing your nose. The nose blower in question was my co Rag Chairman and housemate, Ceddie, who had asthma, hay fever and a cold – and probably a note from his mother. Now, maybe I should have realised that the name Cedric and ‘hardened freedom fighter’ do not often share the same sentence. But he was a friend.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the photographer we can cut him out. Which he did, selecting an excellent close-up of four burly freedom fighters charging across a field – not a handkerchief or nasal spray in sight. The freedom fighter in the foreground – a 6′ 2″ rugby forward called Big John – would be later dubbed by the media as ‘The Big Bugger.’

Next week: Part Three – The Sunday Bastard.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf .

Recently released from Book View Press: French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a  glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget  Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!

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The Free Cornish Army: Part Two — 3 Comments

  1. Wish I’d been there instead of changing diapers on a toddler! So where’s the picture?

  2. Sadly, in those inpecunious days, none of us could afford extra copies. All the ones we produced went to the papers.

    To make it even worse, I was raising money for the charities week selling Rag Mags along the South Coast the weekend the papers broke the story and no one thought to buy a copy for me. So I have very little memorabilia – a few pics, a Cornish passport (story to come later) and a copy of Punch which wrote up the story later.