Sunday, 25 September 2016

Summer holiday - Day eight and nine

July 30 – Pickering

On Saturday we did not go out but rested and walked around Pickering doing some shopping and very little else.

The old School House in Pickering

July  31 - Eden Camp

On Sunday we went to visit  Eden Camp, a World War II museum near Malton,

This is in the grounds of what was once a prisoner of war camp. At the end of the war the camp was used for storage by the MOD, but was eventually abandoned and allowed to become derelict. Much later, after a considerable amount of work clearing the grounds and restoring the original huts that had housed the prisoners, it was turned into a museum.  Each hut has a different theme and there are thirteen huts altogether. Visitors are guided around the site via path that leads you through each hut in turn. I was keen to see the museum, having been told it was very good and it turned out to be just that.
There was actually much more than you could take in on a single visit and we were somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer mass of detail.

In the building dedicated to the Dunkirk retreat across the channel, one exhibit was a rifle which had been washed up on Dunkirk beach many years after the war finished. This must have been abandoned by one of the British soldiers during the retreat.

I once worked with an older colleague called Charley Featherstone, who had actually been one of the men trapped on Dunkirk beach and he had told me of his experience. Apparently his regiment had been part of the rearguard left behind to slow the German advance and give the retreating troops time to be taken off the beach. His unit were concealed in a bunker with a hatch that allowed one man to keep watch. One morning, when it had become pretty obvious that they were going to be overwhelmed and their captain was on watch, his sergeant said to him that their newly appointed captain had not confided with him what the plan was should the Germans break through. He said he hoped their officer was not killed because he would not know what he should order the men to do. The words had hardly left his lips when a German sniper took out their captain who fell dead at their feet. The sergeant then told the men to dig a way out of the back of the bunker and all make their own way to the beach.
Charley made it to the beach but had to swim to the nearest boat and so dumped his rifle, pack, helmet and boots in order to stay afloat. He was most indignant about the whole affair, because when he re-joined his regiment back in England, he was charged for the loss of his equipment.

A lot of weapons were left behind, but this pile was recovered by the German army
Seeing the rusty rifle brought this all back to me and it occurred to me that it would be ironic if that rifle was the actual one abandoned by Charley. Of course the chances of that being the case would be millions to one against, and anyway, should it have been Charley’s rifle, there is no way I could ever know.

Some of the exhibits were a bit too realistic and in one which was simulating experiencing air raids, I felt quite disturbed presumably dragging up some distant memory of living through that time as a child. I was three when the war ended and so they must have been very deep memories, but disturbing enough to make me rather hurry to be out of that particular hut.  What surprised me was that I was affected so strongly by the simulation. You never know what is lurking in your subconscious that can jump out and bite you under the right circumstances.

I wandered around the outside the exhibits after that and found a number of interesting things to look at, including an atomic bomb, which said ‘training’ on the side and so presumably would not suddenly blow Malton off the face of the Earth if the little pin holding the detonator rusted through.

A replica of one of the feared buzz bombs was displayed outside.  These were more effective as a terror weapon than as a tactical weapon.  They only landed after the engine cut out, which was timed to happen over its target area.   The engine made a distinctive buzzing sound whilst they were flying and anyone hearing one coming and then hearing it cut out, never knew how far it would glide before hitting the ground. As a result, people would be left terrified until they heard the bang.  

As a return present, this one is one of ours and has a message for the recipient.  Unfortunately they would not have time to read the message before it arrived and so this kind of defiance went unnoticed by the Nazis.

One of the exhibits is a Soviet Russian Tank which has the motto 'Forward to Berlin' on each side in red and another on the turret, which my Russian is not good enough to translate. They certainly got to Berlin and it took a long time for the aftermath of that to return to normal.

There was also an old 1930s/40s Austin Seven which was painted the wrong colour. These cars were ten a penny post war and you could buy one for about £5 in the early 50s. They were all, without exception, black, and I recall very clearly as a child, seeing a car that was not black for the first time and being surprised. My father had at least two of these Ford models at different times during the 50s and 60s and we drove all over the country, never exceeding 40mph because that was about as much as they could manage with all of us inside.

This post seems to be becoming more of my recollections than a visit to a museum, but in this picture, there are two more things from my past.

On the right, the glass objects are accumulators, that is a  lead acid rechargeable battery, the same technology as a car battery, but just a single cell, not the six which make up a 12 volt car battery. They were used in old radios as what was called the low tension, or LT battery. These batteries give out two volts exactly and the old valve heater filaments were designed to run off this voltage in very old, allegedly portable, radios from the 1920s up to the late 1950s. I say allegedly because they were heavy. The high tension, or HT battery also needed for valves was a huge block of 80 1.5V torch batteries sealed in a branded cardboard case and provided the 120 volts the valves needed to operate. I used to play with such things as a pre-teenager and I had an ancient radio that I had been given, which needed an accumulator.  I used it to listen to radio Luxembourg, the only radio station that played rock and roll and pop music.  The BBC did not stoop so low at that time.   As well as this, my father's garage had a charging bay which always had a number of these accumulators bubbling away that his customers brought in to be charged up for their ancient radios.

The other green painted object on the left is an anti-personnel bomb and it is just like the one I found when I was a child whilst we were on holiday in Tankerton in Kent.

 Long after the war ended, the beaches around the coast were full of unexploded ordinance and in the early years post war, often parts of the beaches were fenced off with barbed wire because a UXB had been spotted but not yet cleared. We played around these and thought nothing of it, but we had been given strict instructions not to touch any bombs we found on the beach.

Whilst playing on the beach with a bunch of other boys I had met, we found a bomb just like the one in the picture. Knowing we must not touch it, and believing in a vague sort of way that it would only explode if it came into contact with human flesh, we carefully tied some string we had found around it and started to carry it off the beach. We walked up the bumpy path with the bomb swinging between us hanging on the string.  The detonator only inches from the uneven ground as we took it up to the caravan site to show our parents.
My father was already on his way down to the beach to call me in for lunch and on seeing us with the bomb, behaved much like a cat that has just seen a very large dog heading towards it with murder in mind. Crouching in a strange posture I shall always remember, he shouted very sternly, ‘PUT IT DOWN VERY CAREFULLY AND COME HERE.’ We obeyed puzzled by his behavior and having herded us safely away from the vicinity of the bomb, he phoned the police and later a bomb squad came to defuse it. We were all ticked off very sternly both by our parents and the police and asked why on earth we had picked it up when we had been told not to touch anything like it and I said in all innocence, we did not ever touch it, we used string to hold it. I really did not understand.
So lots of memories for someone as ancient as me in this museum.

Nothing really changes, just the location.  In my day it was Europe, but now it is the Middle East and children are still subject to all the horrors my generation were subjected to, Perhaps one day the human race may grow up, but it will be a long time yet I fear.

Meanwhile back in Yorkshire, having seen more than we could reasonably take in and so suffering from various degrees of data overload we gathered in the retro cafe or NAFFI, as it was called, to be in tune with the military theme and after a coffee, we returned to our house in Pickering.

1 comment:

  1. A rather sobering blog post this time. I recently read through my mother's diaries written in the early- mod 40s. Apart from entries like, "Bought Michael new nappies," there were frequent references to air raids, buzz bombs etc. I can't imagine what it must have been like to live through those years, never mind being a soldier in the war. We can complain a lot about our lot in life, but we really have no idea of the trauma of war, do we? I hope we never get to experience it.