Two World War Two ping pong balls, from Penryn Campus Archives, have been shortlisted for Object of the Year in the Cornwall Heritage Awards.
The competition is judged by the public so the Archives team is hoping everyone will support the entry by clicking this link to vote: https://www.cornwallmuseumspartnership.org.uk/cornwall-heritage-awards/object-of-the-year/
Sarah Jane is Archivist and Special Collections Officer at Penryn Campus, which is shared by Falmouth University and the University of Exeter. She explained that the ping pong balls, stamped with the initials USA, were originally brought to the campus - then Tremough Convent School - by American GIs who were stationed around Falmouth during World War Two.
She said : “Archives don’t often contain objects, but now and then something really special sneaks in. In this case, a pair of special objects has bounced its way into our collection, and our hearts. We’re really excited that they’ve been shortlisted and hope that their story will inspire everyone to vote for us for this award.”
The balls were donated to the Archive by a member of the religious order Les Filles de la Croix – the nuns that ran the Convent School. The American troops would visit the school and play ping pong with the pupils.
Thousands of American troops passed through Cornwall during at this time, in what is often known as the ‘friendly invasion’. Many of these were stationed around Truro and Falmouth ahead of D Day in June 1944.
The GIs that visited Tremough were also involved in the construction of a religious grotto and star shaped pool, still visible on campus, where their names are commemorated in a granite memorial stone. It seems likely that these were the same men that played ping pong with the Convent School girls.
It was long thought that the men took part in the D Day landings and may have perished amongst the troops killed on the beaches of Normandy. However, recent research by University of Exeter History students discovered that the men were part of an advanced amphibious base and returned safely to America.
It is hoped that the next stage of research may be able to trace the men’s descendants – families with a connection to Tremough although thousands of miles away.
It is well documented that the Americans based in Cornwall were friendly and outgoing; many local girls entered into romances with the glamourous visitors.
Voting closes on 23 February and the winners will be announced at the Cornwall Heritage Awards ceremony, at the Royal Cornwall Showground Pavilion Centre, on 26 March.
Click here for more detail about the awards, which are organised by Cornwall Museums Partnership and SW Museum Development.