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When the bombs were cleared from Great Yarmouth’s beaches

PUBLISHED: 08:32 17 July 2018

Powerwashing for mines in 1946

Powerwashing for mines in 1946

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Fingers crossed! Knock on wood three times. Put your clothes on inside out. Sneeze thrice before breakfast.

Bus brit in 1945Bus brit in 1945

These are among the so-called old wives’ tales reckoned to help superstitious folk to ward off calamities on this unluckiest of days: Friday the 13th!

That is today’s date, and I vainly sought to find a four-leafed clover to protect myself against misfortune.

Recently we recalled beaches at Great Yarmouth and Gorleston being cleared of defences and mines used as anti-invasion measures throughout the 1939-45 war.

Then, by chance last week, I was browsing through the 1934-1953 volume of Terry Barker’s highly-detailed Transport in Great Yarmouth trilogy when I came across this snippet about plans to improve bus services for the summer of 1945 to help holiday areas and sea-front amenities after the wartime problems and restrictions.

Seafront central in 1955Seafront central in 1955

“The Central Beach at Yarmouth was opened to the public at 5pm on Friday, July 13th” - a statement prompting the author to note, wryly: “One wonders if superstitious people waited until the next day...”

Unlucky for some, joyful for others, and significant for Yarmouth.

So it is exactly 73 years ago today that the public and beach traders were allowed back on to Yarmouth’s main stretch of sands - probably, at first, the reopening of only the stretch between the Britannia Pier and the Jetty, but it was better than nothing and a move giving optimism and cheer to the townsfolk.

Presumably the council’s transport committee which ran our blue buses noted Friday the 13th of July in its minutes because it could plan sea-front services for the rest of the summer.

However, farther up the Norfolk coast, not everywhere was as fortunate.

The year the war in Europe ended - although the Far East conflict continued - and Yarmouth’s main beach was reopened to the public, but villagers of Sidestrand were still banned from theirs.

The shoreline in that area had been heavily mined when war broke out, and the task of clearing the deadly deterrents continued for years after Germany surrendered.

A special unit of bomb disposal personnel was based close by, soldiers scouring the sands with their detector equipment but hindered because the shoreline was constantly shifting and changing through winds and tides, and any original records of mine locations had long become outdated and useless.

Villagers - especially those with holiday and tourism interests - were anxious to be able to resume their businesses but the authorities were adamant, refusing to declare the shore as safe for public use.

In 1965, two decades after the European war had ended, a photographer colleague and I were in a small party on a tour of inspection led by North Norfolk MP Bert Hazell, trudging along the wintry windswept beach at Sidestrand, accompanied by bomb disposal officers who assured us that at long last, it was now safe to return to public use.

The plan was that two days later the MP would formally rise in the House of Commons to ask the War Minister a question about the situation at Sidestrand beach.

“When might the military consider it was safe for it to reopen to the public?” he intended to inquire.

Mr Hazell was well aware that the War Minister would formally thank him for his inquiry, then reply by informing the House that he was happy to assure the residents of Sidestrand that it was now safe for the beach and shore to be reopened to the public.

But that was not to be.

In the intervening couple of days between the MP’s tour of inspection there and his intended Parliamentary question, the worst scenario had happened.

I telephoned Mr Hazell in Parliament just before he was due to ask about the situation at Sidestrand beach, advising him to withdraw his question - because I had just been informed that another mine had been unearthed there!

So beach-combing for mines resumed.

Have you got a nostalgic tale for Peggotty? Email peggottyporthole@gmail.com

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