Former Packet journalist Robert Jobson looks back at the life and times of a Falmouth pub landlord and historian who survived the First World War

Bob Dunstan counted himself as one of the fortunate few who came through the horrors of the First World War to live another 60 years.

Born in 1897 at Ponsanooth, he joined the Royal Marines in 1916 and fought on the battlefields of the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Cambrai before being wounded and captured in 1918.

A newspaper man, he left Cornwall in the 1920s to work for The Statesman in India and came home in the mid-1930s to run the King's Head pub at Falmouth.

His military service was not over. In 1939, on the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Security Service in MI5 counter-espionage, where his speciality was unmasking German spies.

Having been a news editor in India, he later became a sub-editor for the West Briton and a historian whose 'Book of Falmouth & Penryn' was published in 1975, three years before his death.

Thanks to the skills of Bob, his wife and co-author Ruth and their daughter Esther, who later brought out a second edition, a local record of the1914-18 period survives.

Shortly before war was declared the Band of the Coldstream Guards had been in Falmouth on tour, but the imminence of war had been heralded by the Falmouth Packet report of "a test mobilisation of the Fleet at Spithead".

On the declaration of war on August 4, the new Bishop of Truro, a high churchman from Birmingham named Winfrid Burrows, cancelled his planned visit to Canada and wrote to the Packet to urge its readers: "Pray devoutly, hammer away stoutly."

There was immediate drama in Falmouth harbour where two large German liners, with around 500 passengers, dropped anchor. Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, who had pitched camp at Dracaena Fields, were put on board these ships.

All horses in the area were commandeered and all sea trips aboard the Princess Victoria, Queen of the Fal and other local steamers, were cancelled.

Bob's researches reveal that spy mania was rife. Falmouth Ship's chandler Johannes Engel, formerly a sailor in the German Navy, was arrested and remanded in custody. No evidence was offered.

He left court to the cries of 'Judas' and 'Traitor', only to be seized by his long beard by a young Mr BC Lowry, of Smithick Hill, as both men grappled and fell to the ground.

While Mr Lowry was arrested and later released, Mr Engel was taken away by taxi to the relative safety of Penryn, where he was re-arrested, sent to Bodmin Prison and deported.

A geology student at Perranwell soon found himself under suspicion when he was discovered with a map, a German textbook and suspected of tapping telephone wires.

Further inquiries revealed he was a respectable London schoolmaster on holiday.

With Falmouth Docks having been taken over by the Admiralty and reinforced by a large number of workers from London, two USA battle cruisers arrived with 10 million dollars on board for the relief of Americans stranded in Europe.

Count Mensdorff, Austro-Hungarian ambassador to England, was brought down to Falmouth with his embassy officials and more refugees, to be sent on their way.

The Packet was severely restricted and vetted in wartime on what it could publish. However on November 6,1914, under the headline 'Local War News', it was able to reveal that a Royal Fusilier stationed at Falmouth "had expired during a slight operation" for the removal of a toenail.

There was a military garrison at Pendennis Castle and other troops were encamped at Dracaena Fields, but Falmouth's main role was to repair warships and other vessels damaged by German submarines who posed a lethal threat off the Cornish coast.

Years later a number of these German submarines, which had been surrendered but came adrift in a storm while under tow, were swept ashore under Pendennis Headland where they became "a grim tourist attraction."

In the latter days of the war, when food in Falmouth and Penryn was running short and rationing had to be introduced, the potential of Falmouth was belatedly realised.

Bob wrote: "The P & O Steamship line, taking an interest in Falmouth Docks, pointed out in June 1918 that had they been capable of handling cargoes, quantities of foodstuffs might have been saved to the nation which in fact had perished en route to London.

"Later that month the Medical Officer of Health told the Falmouth and Truro Port Sanitary Authority that "in regard to supervising the landing of frozen meats from a steamer he had to condemn 80,000 carcasses as unfit for human consumption.

"These might have been saved had storage sheds been available."

The long-awaited end of the Great War began to loom in September 1918 when community leaders started discussions about a local memorial.

Finally, on November 15, the Falmouth Packet was able to report: "At 9.10am on Monday November 11.....sirens and hooters of the minesweepers and other steamers in the harbour all joined in announcing the glad tidings......electric works siren and the Docks hooter.

"Falmouth heard the good news quite two hours earlier than most towns in the country.

"On Wednesday, two days later, there was a monster torchlight procession which included the Falmouth FANY, a weapon devised at Falmouth and modelled on the Stokes mortar.

"Falmouth's mystery ship, the Mary B Mitchell, Q9, a three masted schooner converted as a decoy vessel,was the subject of much interest before her reconversion."