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The dangers lurking underneath wartime beaches along the East Coast

PUBLISHED: 21:22 05 May 2018 | UPDATED: 21:22 05 May 2018

German PoWs dismantling scaffold pole defences on the North Denes in 1946. Picture: Mercury Archive

German PoWs dismantling scaffold pole defences on the North Denes in 1946. Picture: Mercury Archive

Archant

Executed by firing squad at dawn. Incarcerated long-term in prison as a traitor. Lynched by an enraged mob, some of whom were once friends and neighbours.

Flashback: the postcard of a pre-war Gorleston beach scene, wrongly captioned by Peggotty as taken in 1945. Victory in Europe was in May that year. Picture: Mercury ArchiveFlashback: the postcard of a pre-war Gorleston beach scene, wrongly captioned by Peggotty as taken in 1945. Victory in Europe was in May that year. Picture: Mercury Archive

Those were three extreme possibilities during the war if someone had gone to the sea-ront at Great Yarmouth or Gorleston and photographed the then inaccessible golden sands, covered in barbed wire, barricades and other measures hastily put in place at the outbreak of hostilities to hamper, discourage or prevent invading Germans landing on our shores.

Also, landmines lurked in the sand.

Photography there would have been gross stupidity with dire consequences, however innocent the intention.

That speculation was sparked recently after I published an old postcard of Gorleston beach and its rows of wooden huts, and dated it 1945.

Where are the mines? German prisoners-of-war searching for British mines on the North Denes at Great Yarmouth in 1946, sewn as an anti-invasion measure. Picture: Mercury ArchiveWhere are the mines? German prisoners-of-war searching for British mines on the North Denes at Great Yarmouth in 1946, sewn as an anti-invasion measure. Picture: Mercury Archive

That brought messages challenging the date, pointing out that it was unlikely the sands had been cleared of the anti-invasion obstructions by that summer (the European war did not end until May), and the picture was probably taken before hostilities began.

I had to agree, although the postmark was August 30 1945 (when it was posted to a Norwich addressee reporting: “We have had a lovely holiday despite the weather. It’s lovely to be near the sea again, isn’t it.”)

First to question the 1945 date was history enthusiast Les Cockrill who, anxious to resolve the issue, told me: “We had a brief memory test about Gorleston beach circa 1945, 1946 and 1947 at the Gorleston Heritage Group.

“They definitely confirmed my memory of all the barbed wire entanglements and defences, perhaps mines even, but we were unsure whether it was cleared by 1946 or not until 1947.

Where are the mines? German prisoners-of-war searching for British mines on the North Denes at Great Yarmouth in 1946, sewn as an anti-invasion measure. Picture: Mercury ArchiveWhere are the mines? German prisoners-of-war searching for British mines on the North Denes at Great Yarmouth in 1946, sewn as an anti-invasion measure. Picture: Mercury Archive

“We doubt any photos exist because of the prohibition on taking photos of defences and because film was almost unobtainable.”

From Brenda Thompson (née Cadmore), who has received the Mercury by post since leaving here in 1955, came a similar observation: “In the edition of March 31 there was a photo of Gorleston beach, captioned ‘A view from the cliffs in 1945’.

“I cannot believe there were so many huts and tents on the beach so very soon after the end of the war. The clothes do not look like the 1940s, either.

“Since I was only eight, I cannot really remember. As so often, I wish my Mum and Dad were still alive to discuss it! I suspect the postcard was on sale in 1945 with the photo having been taken pre-war.”

Flashback: the postcard of a pre-war Gorleston beach scene, wrongly captioned by Peggotty as taken in 1945. Victory in Europe was in May that year. Picture: Mercury ArchiveFlashback: the postcard of a pre-war Gorleston beach scene, wrongly captioned by Peggotty as taken in 1945. Victory in Europe was in May that year. Picture: Mercury Archive

As I was only ten in that 1945 summer, I can offer no first-hand observation to help solve the dilemma.

Despite the threat of high treason, I am sure some bold souls, perhaps innocently oblivious of the ultimate sanction that could be taken against them, might have sneakily taken a Box Brownie camera on to Gorleston cliffs 
and snapped a quick couple of shots.

The results, perhaps developed the printed years later, would not only solve our minor mystery but also depict an important scene we all believed had gone unrecorded on film.

So, does any Mercury reader possess any wartime snapshots of Gorleston seafront necessarily despoiled by measures to 
hamper and slow up enemy invaders?

German PoWs dismantling scaffold pole defences on the North Denes in 1946. Picture: Mercury ArchiveGerman PoWs dismantling scaffold pole defences on the North Denes in 1946. Picture: Mercury Archive

Certainly I would welcome the opportunity to see and publish them, and Gorleston Heritage’s Les Cockrill and his fellow members, and reader Brenda Thompson share that wish.

If you can help, my e-mail address is at the head of this column. Or you can drop them into the Mercury office in King Street, Yarmouth. Or text me on 07568462705. Or call Les Cockrill on 667709.

There were fatalities hereabouts caused by the beach mines.

Two youngsters were killed venturing on to the still-mined North Denes in 1945 in the May week that Germany surrendered, their youthful enthusiasm overcoming the fact their parents and teachers had drummed into them for years that danger was lurking beneath the sands and dunes.

Three other victims were soldiers who were laying mines there during the early years of the war, 1939-40.

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