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Whitstable at War - World War II

The Aftermath

     

Legacies of War....

   

When the war ended, the massive clearing up operation commenced. This lovely story has been forwarded by Glennis Harwig...

 

Cleaning Up

  

My father got a contract to clean up a lot of the war defences around Whitstable. He got rid of a lot of the tank traps, (rows of concrete pyramids along the beaches) that prevented landing craft etc. from coming inland. He also cut up some derelict landing craft around the beaches and used explosives to demolish some of the bombed buildings around. 

He had presented a bill to the Council and needed to be paid. They put him off and put him off and he was getting really frustrated.

He took a loaded dump truck full of cut up landing craft metal and backed it into the main doorway at the Castle (then the Council offices). He went in and asked for his cheque and was again put off by some Council clerk. He went out and signalled to his driver to start the dumping mechanism. 

The back of the truck went up to quite an angle. Then , my dad went back in and told them that, if he didn't get his cheque, they were getting the truck load of metal (down the steps, blocking the door). He kept signalling to the driver to raise the back up higher and higher and just  waited.

Eventually, a council clerk came running out waving a cheque. My father signalled to the driver and the truck back was put down. But....my father said, to his dying day, that he had no idea in hell how that load of cut-up metal stayed on the truck. It must have been snagged and should have let go long before the back of the truck reached its highest point.

There are more stories about this "clean-up" era and the nonsense that went on. I don't recall them too well (I was born in 1944) but they have passed down like legends......The Bill Crooks Stories.

  

Glennis Harwig
Amonte
Ontario
Canada

   

Glennis's story of the landing craft delivery to Whitstable Urban District Council ties in with a message received at Simply Whitstable some time ago. It came from John Harman in response to a query by Jean Clarke....

 

Hazards and Uses of War Equipment

 

Jean Clarke mentioned playing on a wreck in front of Marine Terrace. The wreck she was referring to was, I believe that of a war time  Landing Craft. 

In 1946 three of them were anchored off shore, awaiting to go to Jean's uncle's shipyard - RJ Perkins. During a gale, all three broke loose.  One came ashore at Marine Terrace and was severely damaged on the breakwater, another floundered off of the Horse Bridge and the third came ashore at the Long Beach, close to my Dad's store. 

Below is a photo of the frozen sea - taken in 1947 by my friend  Donald Matthews. In that shot, can be seen the wreck that Jean has mentioned.  

 

 

One day when out in my boat, I was sculling with one oar over the stern.  I had forgotten about the submerged landing barge off of the Horse Bridge,  and went over it, When my oar hit it,  I almost went over the side.  

I did salvage some mahogany from the other two wrecks, and the double skinned mahogany planking from the one at the Long Beach became my work shop

John Harman
Sidney
British Columbia
Canada

  

John has also mentioned that a couple of MFVs (Motor Fishing Vessels) commissioned by the navy were still in the process of being built at the Anderson, Rigden and Perkins yard when hostilities ceased. They were subsequently broken up.

Glennis's story has opened up a new line of enquiry for our feature..... the clearing up process and the impact on life in the aftermath of war. This will also enable us to "recruit" a whole host of extra contributors.... the members of the post war baby boom who grew up during those austere years. That includes me... so, maybe I should provide a few ideas....

 

The Personal Aftermath

 

Being born in 1949, I was one of the lucky ones to miss the war... but we grew up with the remnants, reminders and after effects.

Some of it comprised the physical manifestations of  conflict. There were tank traps surrounding the old railway station just south of the harbour's east gate, pillboxes in the countryside and gaps in the housing of the town centre created by bombs.

Much of the wartime defences had been removed from the beaches but some of the concrete remained in chunks after it had been broken up. The Horsebridge pier was simply littered with this debris and much of it remained on the shingle until sea defences were eventually upgraded.

Occasionally, more dangerous remnants turned up and were reported in the local press. These included live shells discovered around the army training areas at West Beach and sea mines or bombs caught in the nets of local fishermen. 

There was even some new phraseology. The one I remember most was the term "bomb site". It was used to describe any derelict location. Some were indeed bomb sites but many were just natural signs of decay.

Play often revolved around the war. We played "Germans and English" with a whole range of weapons supplied by toy shops or made by our skilled relatives. I was even given a "home-made" Tommy Gun for Christmas (made from wood and painted bright red) along with plastic WWII soldiers and Dinky Toy tanks! Every comic had a war hero.

As a youngster, I made no attempt to distinguish between "German" and "Nazi". To me, they were synonymous and it was some years before I learned that German people had also suffered at the hands of Hitler and his henchmen.

Whilst many adults did make the distinction and regretted the loss of life on both sides, some attitudes were hardened by the loss of loved ones and the years of fear. One expression I recall being used by some of my seniors was "The only good German is a dead one"

As a child it was impossible to escape this prejudice and it would take many years for the feelings to subside and for logic to gain an upper hand over emotion.

War stories were abundant and they were spread by circumstance. There was no TV and no central heating! Thus, an evening was normally spent with the family congregated around the fire of the "living room". That was when the questions and answers arose.... "Dad what did you do in the war?

Even our teachers were a source of first hand information. Many had served in the armed forces.... including my Mr. Hake of Class 2A, Oxford Street Boys School!

The WWII stories and the remnants around me, provided me with a very precise and frightening definition of war.... and it was quite different from anything that gad gone before. 

War was not just about attacks on military personnel and on battle grounds. It constituted assaults on civilians of all ages and on small harmless towns like Whitstable. Thus, I remember being horrified when I learned of the Suez conflict in the early 1950s and saw newspaper photos of troops being moblised. I asked my mum when the bombs would start to land on us!

Another frightening feel was created by the fact that two world wars had occurred in quick succession. Thus granddad outlined his World War I stories while dad provided his World War II accounts. Thus, I accepted that everyone would fight in a war at some stage in their lives and I just hoped that my turn would come later rather than sooner. 

Fear was another thing that would take time to disappear... and it wasn't helped by another 1950s phenomenon. Having been caught with an inadequate number of troops in the lead in to two recent World Wars, Britain operated a system of compulsory National Service in the military throughout the decade. As kids, we just accepted that our older brothers and cousins would disappear for a couple of years... and come home occasionally... in uniform and short haircut.

I also accepted that my turn to be conscripted would also come one day... but, of course, it didn't as National Service ended in the early 1960s.

We also accepted that The Yanks were at Manston airfield and that they would occasionally swoop in to marry a sister or a cousin.

We all knew a family with no dad. In fact, one of my uncles died during service with the Royal Navy.

Rationing of some products remained into the 1950s and so did the coupon books. It would be many years before normality returned. But there again, we didn't know about any of that. To us, this was normality.   

Dave Taylor
Whitstable

   

Immediately after the war, Whitstable was hit by the elements with several hard winters to add to its problems. This culminated in the massive sea flood of 1953. Here, I'll pose a question. Would our sea defences have been so inadequate if war had not prevented proper maintenance or upgrade. Did the flood have some of its roots in World War II?

 


  

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