Defaced stone a silent reminder of Nazi threat of invasion
- Credit: PEGGOTTY
Regular emails keep urging me to buy a new sat-nav because mine is no longer being updated.
But as I seldom drive beyond familiar territory nowadays, replacing it is unnecessary and anyway, Mrs Peggotty’s mobile phone can do the job if required.
If I am ever unaccompanied when venturing into pastures new and do not know which way to turn, I will have to rely on traditional methods - like trusty sign-posts, or stopping to seek directions from someone who looks like a local.
Regular correspondent Trevor Nicholls has touched on this “Where am I?” scenario, harking back to the dark days of the 1939-45 war. He was prompted by a brief hold-up during a bus journey into Gorleston High Street on the upper deck, giving him the opportunity to view the stone plaque on the wall of the one-time Fishermen’s Institute on the corner of Ice-House Hill.
“It was erected by the Royal National Mission to mark the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria,” he writes. “Such a useful project must have reflected well on those responsible, far better than a statue.”
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As it dates from 1897, it would have qualified for inclusion in my recent column about events in years ending in “7”, Trevor notes.
“Looking at that sandstone plaque with its handsome classical pediment, what was the word that has been crudely hacked out, and why was it removed? Do any of the thousands who pass it, and see it, wonder?
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“A long while ago, somebody who remembered the town long before I was born told me the word removed by order of the Government was ‘Gorleston’.
“After the fall of France, when Britain stood alone against a continent dominated by Nazi Germany, invasion was feared. Pillboxes were constructed, many of which remain in this area to this day, a tangible reminder of that time. So too is the chiselling out of that one word on the stone set in the wall of the old institute.
“Sign-posts and railway station place-name boards were removed, milestones buried lest they aid German paratroops in establishing where they were. Somebody probably came along from the Town Hall and ordered the word ‘Gorleston’ to be obliterated. But why not just remove and hide the stone, or cover it with an innocuous advertising hoarding, for instance?
“Of course, it is reasonable to assume that German intelligence knew every inch of Yarmouth Harbour, but the defacing of that stone is a silent reminder of a threat which could not be over-estimated but which is now slipping from living memory.”
Trevor concludes: “One thing is certain, though. Had a division of the Wehrmacht halted opposite that degraded memorial to the last Kaiser’s grandmother, vainly hoping to get their bearings, the predicament of this nation would have been desperate indeed and the outlook for the freedom of the world commensurately bleak!”
Yes, it was “Gorleston” that was gouged out in 1940.
It is popularly supposed that the removal of place names, direction signs and anything which might help an invader to get bearings was by official decree, but my on-line search failed to produce specific evidence of it, only that generalisation. Surely no highly trained invader would be disorientated for more than moments by their absence or the obliteration of wording.
Today that building is in residential use, but was erected by Ebenezer Mather as the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen headquarters as he strove to improve the conditions and eliminate the hardships and deprivations endured by British trawler crews in the southern North Sea.
In particular, he was determined to curb the so-called copers - mainly Dutch vessels selling inferior tobacco and alcohol to a thousand English fishermen at extortionate rates. He succeeded, and eventually Mission ships supplied crews with their comforts and support.
After the Mission left the building post-war its uses included underwear factory and social club before conversion into flats.