Sunday, 6 June 2004


Myth and local legend

While most of the British press today is concentrating on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, there are those who will tell you that the Second World War almost took a very different course four years earlier. And they'll talk in whispered tones about my local beach, Shingle Street.

[Coastguard Cottages at Shingle Street]

I first heard the rumours just a few days after I moved here six years ago. Everyone locally adds their own embellishment. Fuelled by conflicting accounts, mysterious sights and secret reports, the rumours refuse to die.

The story goes like this.

In the summer of 1940 the hamlet of Shingle Street was evacuated almost overnight. Some time later, reports came in of bodies being washed up on the beach, all badly burnt. These bodies, it is claimed, were the remnants of a failed German invasion of the Suffolk coast, thwarted by a wall of fire that met the flotilla just off Shingle Street. Churchill himself is said to have instructed that news of these events should never leak out.

The story seems unlikely to be entirely true. But the coast here is peppered with fortifications, from the Napoleonic Martello Towers to modern pill-boxes. Even the original radar array at Bawdsey Manor has only just been demolished.

These defensive structures, some abandoned, some maintained, can be found on almost any walk round the coastline of Britain. They remind me of the vastness of war, of the severity of the task, the potential consequences.

My opinions on war are formed by a stroll along the beach and tales overheard in pubs. (I'm hardly an authority.) But my opinions are strong and unshaken in recent years.

I'm grateful to those who landed in France in '44. And the quivering voices that talk of the horror of Shingle Street make real the risk that was faced.

I'd just rather no-one have to do it again.

Posted by pab at 14:42 | Comments will be back later in the year. Please email me instead!