09:47 30 January 2013
The Arthur Dimond story.
To many, he is Mr Honiton. Born at The Homestead, in Monkton Road, on April 4, 1924, Arthur Dimond went on to serve his town as a councillor, mayor, chairman of the chamber of commerce and was one of the most prominent businessmen in the district for decades. He was, of course, owner of Honiton’s longest-established firm, A Dimond and Co. Now 88 and retired, this is his life story...
Arthur Dimond’s earliest memory of Honiton is of horses pulling timber wagons up Langford Avenue before stopping outside his home, in Monkton Road, for a rest. He was just five years old and full of fun and hope for the future.
Born the second son of Archie and Bessie Dimond, he grew up in a close-knit, loving family, with brother Edgar and sister Winifred.
The family firm, A Dimond and Co, was flourishing under the ownership of Arthur’s father and aunt, Annie.
Founded on June 26 in 1888, the printing office and stationery shop occupied one of the most commanding spots in High Street, facing the parish church. The first cash book survives to this day.
“The business was founded by my grandfather, Robert, but I never knew him,” said Arthur.
“He died quite young, leaving my grandmother, Eliza, and six children.
“My grandmother was an amazing woman. When she was widowed, she carried on running the printing office and shop, and brought up the children.
“When I was growing up, we used to meet as a family at Christmas in the kitchen at the back of the shop. We had our Christmas lunch there and, in the afternoon, we used to be allowed upstairs to see Grandma, one at a time and for no longer than 15 minutes.”
Arthur was educated at the former National School, in King Street, before joining one of the most prestigious private schools in the land, Allhallows; first in Honiton and then as a boarder when the school moved to Rousdon.
“I have never taken an exam in my life,” he admits.
“I was due to take my National Certificate at Allhallows when my father decided he needed me home to run the business.”
In fact, tragedy ended Arthur’s days among the elite scholars of a revered institution.
He was needed home because his beloved brother Edgar, a pilot in the RAF, had been reported missing in action.
It was the early part of World War Two and the Manchester craft he had been flying disappeared over the Frisian Islands, in the Netherlands.
His body was never found.
Arthur explains: “I started work for five shillings a week and did a paper round to boost my income.”
He joined the auxiliary fire service as a messenger boy in Honiton, later helping to swell the ranks of the then newly-formed 1064 Squadron of the Air Training Corps.
His former headmaster, Mr Griffiths, was the commanding officer.
“I volunteered for air crew in the RAF - just months after my brother was reported missing in action,” he said.
“I went in to train as a pilot. My mother wasn’t very happy about it.”
The RAF sent Arthur to Canada to undergo training.
When he got his ‘wings’, he returned to England and was based in Harrogate.
He says: “The RAF didn’t know what to do with us.
“They sent us out to various places, but said we would all be stationed close to home.
“For some reason, I was sent to Inverness! Apparently, I was an exception to the rule.
“While I was up there, in 1944, the Battle of Arnhem happened in Holland and it was a disaster. They lost so many glider pilots.
“The RAF put 1,500 pilots in the Glider Regiment, including me, and I was posted to Rivenhall in Essex, where I joined a squadron and prepared for Operation Varsity.”
The Anglo-American airborne operation involved 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft.
On March 24 in 1945, Arthur formed part of the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day.
He was at the controls of his glider with 30 members of the Devonshire Regiment on board.
They later gave him some cider.
They landed in Germany before 3,000 bombers dropped 8,500 tons of explosives on the River Rhine.
“In total, 400 gliders landed in Germany,” said Arthur. “The flight took three-and-a-half hours.
“We were away from the frontline and I had to look after prisoners of war and guard the divisional headquarters, which had been set up in a farmhouse.
“I have been back three times since the war and the Germans have treated me so well.
“During the war, an eight-year-old girl lived in that farmhouse and, 40 years later, when I went back, she still lived there.”
Arthur was released from the RAF at Christmas in 1945 on compassionate grounds – his father wanted to retire.
He returned to Honiton and joined the Royal Observer Corps, shortly afterwards meeting his future wife, Sylvia, at a 21st birthday party in The Red Cow.
A Londoner, she had travelled to Devon with the Land Army.
“It was pretty much love at first sight,” says Arthur.
The couple had one son, Anthony – “We keep the ‘A’ in the family,” says Arthur. “Even Anthony’s daughters are As, Amy and Anna!”
At the helm of the family empire, A Dimond and Co, Arthur oversaw many changes as modern inventions changed the way Honitonians lived.
“I can remember when ball point pens came out,” he said. “They were 55 shillings each, a small fortune, and we had orders for about 40-odd – before we had even got them.
“Other new items that came on the scene were Sellotape and Blu Tack. They were popular sellers.
“Eventually, I sold the printing business because I couldn’t get on with the unions.
“In 1963, the bottom of the town flooded after we’d had lying snow for six weeks.
“That’s when I gave up delivering newspapers.
“Because of the weather, they were arriving too late for the paperboys and I had to deliver them myself.”
Arthur has lived in Monkton Road, Sidmouth Road, New Street (above the TRIP office), in Ottery Moor Lane (in a house his father had built for him) and, for 28 years, in Pine Park Road.
He now lives above the business premises that his family has owned for more than 120 years.
As chairman of the chamber of commerce, Arthur travelled to Plymouth to appear on television – to speak in favour of the then proposed Honiton bypass.
“We thought it was an excellent idea,” he said.
“Around that time, Wrigleys chewing gum wanted to build a factory in Honiton, but the Government stopped it.
“They said unemployment in Plymouth was worse, so the factory went there.”
Arthur was an independent town councillor for 11 years, serving as mayor for one term in 1982.
He was the first mayor to be presented with a Honiton Lace jabot made by Pat Perryman and had the task of showing it off to a packed gathering of lacemakers at Honiton Community College.
Arthur has served as chairman of the Parochial Church Council, a trustee of the Allhallows and Honiton United Charities, was a governor and former chairman of governors at Littletown Primary School and has been a member of Honiton Bowling Club for 60 years. During that time, he has served as president, chairman, secretary and captain.
“The only thing I haven’t been is the treasurer!” he jokes.
Arthur is also a former president of the Devon County Bowling Association and has just stood down as chairman of Honiton Disabled Fellowship.
He noted the winds of change embracing Honiton “when Woolworths came and the army camp closed”.
“My son, who was a schoolmaster, and his wife came to live in Honiton and run the business when I told them I wanted to retire,” he said.
Arthur then found himself caught up in a whole new world – literally.
He discovered cruises.
He visited the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, listened to a band play The Birdie Song on the decks of The Balmoral off St Petersburg and, although most definitely not a fan of ballet, saw Swan Lake performed in the former Eastern Block.
Reflecting on his life in Honiton, as one of its most prominent citizens, he says: “What do I think of Honiton today?
“It’s not too bad.
“My biggest worry is the shutting of shops. The threat is going to get greater with everybody using the internet.
“Even my son uses it and I’ve moaned at him.
“I have enjoyed my life in Honiton.
“When I see Dumpdon Hill, I know I am nearly home.”