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Operation Neptune--Lest We Forget

Operation Neptune was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Better known as D-Day, the Normandy landings and associated airborne operations occurred on 6th June, 1944. The Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overload during WWII begun the liberation of France and, later, the rest of Europe. It laid the foundations for the Allied victory on the Western Front.

Planning for operations commenced the previous year. Leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted substantial military deception they codenamed Operation Bodyguard, which mislead Germany with regards to the date and location of the main Allied landings.

Operations were delayed 24hrs due to non-ideal weather conditions. The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault. Allied infantry a d armoured fivisions begun landing on the French coast at 06:30. The men, swwpt by heavy winds landed off course and were met with heavy fire from gun placements overlooking the beaches and shores—which were also obstructed with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, barbed wire and mines.

Clearing the beaches was difficult and dangerous.

Casualties were high on both sides, it’s documented the Allies' casualties were at least 10,000 with 4,000 deaths.

Lest We Forget.


By Donna Siggers and David Last 
(Picture credit: Google)

Slaying the Dragon

Private Harold Stanley Glynn

(1895-1917)

 

Alfred the Great, in his will, refers to a stone over the door of a Dorset Church (Fordinton) where there is a stone above the south door recording St George leading crusaders into battle.  Church attendance became mandatory (and work prohibited) on this day during the rule of Edward III (1327-1377) when the Order of the Garter (founded c.1348) under the banner of St George, that is still the foremost order of knighthood in England and St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle that was built by Edward IV and Henry VII in honour of the order.

The badge of the Order shows St George on horseback slaying the dragon. St George became the battle cry until the union between England and Scotland at the end of the 18th century but is, again building popularity.

Anniversaries often hold deeper meaning within families.

Born in Edmonton, Middlesex Harold Stanley Glynn moved, with his parents and younger brother to Wickham Bishops, Essex and at sixteen was working in the family restaurant as an Assistant in Business. Later in life his brother would become Donna’s great grandfather.

Military records reveal that Private Harold Stanley Glynn of the London Regiment 10th Battalion (formerly 94, Royal Fusiliers) died in action at France and Flanders in the Western European Theatre during the Battle of Arras (also known as the Second Battle of Arras) on 23rd April 2017 (St George’s Day). Lasting from 9th April – 16th May 1917 this was a costly offensive, resulting in a loss of 100,000 British men.


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Private Harold Stanley Glynn, Donna’s second great-uncle rests at Arras, Department du Pas-deCalais, France.

 

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.


Donna Siggers and David Last


Southend-on-Sea Pier

Used for pleasure and as the RNLI lifeboat station, Southend Pier is the longest in the world. Designed by James Brunlees, this 2,2158m construction consists of hardwood decking upon iron piles and was opened in 1830. The original construction, however, was first opened in 1830 after receiving Royal Assent the previous year and was of complete wooden structure. Southend was the first pier to operate a railway in Britain, which opened in the early 1890’s.


West Beach and Pier Pavilion, Southend on Sea (1900s)

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Southend Pier played a part in both World Wars. During WWI three ships were moored off the pierhead, one held German soldiers captured in France and the other two held civilians. Remarkedly, the pier remained open for recreation.

During WWII the pier was taken over by the Navy, renamed HMS Leigh and was closed to the public. In November 1939 a ninety-minute air raid was deferred by the pier’s defenders. 84,000 ships passed Southend in total, with only one casualty—SS Richard Montgomery and we have blogged about this ship already [here].

Post war, the pier flourished for several years but in 1959 a fire destroyed the pavilion which was located at the shore end. Five-hundred people were trapped and in need of rescue, which happened by boat. The pavilion was replaced by a ten-pin bowling alley and holidaying to Southend reached was reaching its heyday.

As holidaymakers turned to package holidays abroad, Southend like many other British seaside towns begun to decline and the pier run into disrepair. Several fires later and by 1980, the council announced its plans to close the pier. Protesters battled to keep it open.

Fire has destroyed parts of the pier several times, and in October 2005 it caused significant damage to the old pierhead and surrounding structures. By 1st December of the same year, it had reopened to the public once again and by 2007 had won pier of the year.

Southend seafront has seen considerable investment and regeneration over the past few years, and in our opinion is worthy of a visit!


by Donna Siggers and David Last
Postcard image credit, Elizabeth Ponder

Coalhouse Jetty, Fort & A Queen's Speech

One of the places we like to take a walk is Tilbury as it en-route between our two homes. The history of the place is truly  and every time we visit, there are new discoveries to be made and we thought you’d like a taster of what we found out from our last visit.

Interestingly, the first defences in Tilbury were built during the late Middle Ages to defend against a French attack and there has been a timber jetty at this location since this time, often being destroyed and then rebuilt. The defences consisted of towers and earthworks. Under the reign of Henry VIII, a blockhouse was built which formed part of our costal defence scheme. This stood near the site of a radar tower that served our coast during WWII—incidentally, the radar tower still stands and was marked on maps of the time as a ‘water tower’ to distract the purpose of its use. Built in 1540, the blockhouse would have held fifteen cannons, which were updated to twenty-seven guns just seven years and had guns a range of one mile.

During the Victorian Era, a jetty was built on the same site, allowing barges to unload supplies and armaments. As you can see from the images we took, some of the wooden structures still stand from what was the railway link.


Remains of the jetty at Coalhouse

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Tilbury has an interesting history—once an important gateway to the capital for temporary visitors on liners it also received one of its most important ones back on 9th August 1588. Queen Elizabeth I sailed from London to review her forces who were in preparation to repel the Spanish Armada. Stepping ashore at Tilbury Fort, a short distance from this site, the original building of which her father—Henry VIII—had built as a defence against the French and Spanish, and that had been extended during her reign, our monarch (due to the marshy terrain) travelled up the hill to what is now the modern village of West Tilbury. Local historians have identified the location of Queen Elizabeth’s speech as having taken place in a field next door to the parish church of Chadwell St Mary.

Famously, the speech she made at this location included these words, “…I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king…”

Tilbury Fort bears little resemblance now to the structure Elizabeth I would have seen. Aware of the threat of a Dutch invasion of the capital, Charles II ordered a review of the coastal defences, and the fort was remodeled into its present pentagonal shape, with a double moat. Ironically, given the threat from the Netherlands, the architect was a Dutchman. Other forts were constructed on this vital stretch of the Thames, where the river makes two 90-degree turns. If the artillery from one failed to deter an invader, there were other opportunities to repel the attack.

Four miles along the riverbank, still on the Essex side and near the village of East Tilbury, the Victorians built Coalhouse Fort. Although by the time it was completed the threat of invasion was over, its construction was overseen by a Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon, a job he found less to his taste than his later role in Khartoum. Coalhouse Fort was extended during the First World War, and again in the Second. Extra layers were added to the structure, and large searchlights were installed upon the roof.


Coalhouse Fort WWII Tower


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After years of economic decline there are signs of regeneration, and a growing pride in the area and its heritage. A path, part historical and part wildlife trail is also being developed. When this is finalised the ‘Two Forts Way’ will provide a four-mile walk between the forts: or for those less interested in history, between the pubs next to each.

Coalhouse Fort holds open days, and if a lottery bid succeeds, there will be major renovations. There are no plans as yet to open the grand old Tilbury cruise terminal to the public, but the restaurant is being refurbished and will soon reopen as Tilbury Riverside, a local arts activity center, so there is a lot happening for the future regeneration of this wonderful place.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

The Flying Dutchman

Stepping aboard a large houseboat, as an ex-sailor, my eyebrows are raised as Dave announces, "welcome aboard the Flying Dutchman". Glancing through the windows, there's no glimmering golden mirage emerging in the distance of a ghostly ship unable to reach its harbour, nor is there a brewing storm. Instead, we’ve stepped aboard an impressive German vessel of magnificent proportions and decor. Given the history of this ship's name, we asked the owner and his daughter, Mr Smith and Michelle if we could feature The Flying Dutchman on our blog. With huge gratitude, and our utmost respect, we cannot thank them enough for agreeing.

Upon researching it became apparent there have been several boats blessed with the same name, one an international sailing champion, no less. Even a champion race and stud horse, back in the eighteen-hundreds was blessed with this name. The Flying Dutchman has featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and even in the children’s TV series, SpongeBob SquarePants. Notoriously, it’s also an opera by Wagner (1843) adapted from an episode in Heinrich Heine's satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski) (1833), in which a character attends a theatrical performance of The Flying Dutchman in Amsterdam.

This particular boat however was built back in 1957 at the German Naval shipyard, in Suellberg, along the Elbe River in Hamberg. A steel motor yacht, the Flying Dutchman was used by German customs as a patrol vessel during the Cold War, a time that nuclear threats dominated international affairs and that tension remained between East and West Germany after WWII.

The East German border was guarded by the Border Troops, (Pogranichnyie Voiska) of the Soviet NKVD (later the KGB). In 1946, the Soviets established a locally recruited paramilitary force, the German Border Police (Deutsche Grenzpolizei or DGP), under the administration of the Interior Ministry for Security of the State Frontier (Innenministerium zum Schutz der Staatsgrenze). Both the Soviet troops and the DGP shared responsibility for patrolling the border and crossing points. By 1956, the Soviets had handed border control over to the East Germans.

West German state organisations were responsible for policing the western side of the border, they included the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS, Federal Border Protection), the Bayerische Grenzpolizei (Bavarian Border Police) and the Bundeszollverwaltung (Federal Customs Administration). Additionally, the British Army, the British Frontier Service, the United States Constabulary, and the United States Army carried out patrols and provided backup in their respective sectors of the border. The vessel we’d stepped upon was a German customs patrol boat and given the time she had been built would have been a part of this, securing West German coast. 

At some point, possibly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she became a house boat and no cost was spared when she was converted. Still splendid today, it has been our great pleasure to have been aboard The Flying Dutchman and to have discovered her history. Thank you.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Abandoned Addictions

Abandoned buildings became a healthy addiction approximately five years ago, seeing me trawl google earth at every given opportunity. A visit to the Isle of Anglesey, gave me the perfect opportunity to visit some relics in the North East but nothing as interesting what I would stumble across.

After an hour’s map search this, find wasn’t an if but a when. Luckily, I found information that assisted me on google regarding a visit from a fellow explorer—he’d been chased from the park by a member of the Bulkeley family who lives nearby. From here I learnt the Baron Hill Estate had been owned by and had been the family seat to the influential Bulkeley family, explained his annoyance as the family lost their fortunes to death duties.

Undeterred, I arrive in Beaumaris and given on-line reports of former angry encounters left a digital footprint of my whereabouts before setting out on my adventure towards the gate house. I have to admit, adrenaline was pumping but there was no alternative but to volt a four foot wall in order for me to be out of view—I’m not sure who was more startled, myself or the pheasant I disturbed!

Making my way I was in awe at the view of the south of the island and the Beaumaris Castle coming into view, an amazing sight, but I was soon bought back into reality as a tractor came towards me. On high alert once more, I quickened my pace and made my way back into the wooded area for coverage. After all, I was trespassing.

After a few more steps through undergrowth I stumbled upon what I was looking for—an incredible sight, decaying among the trees that was difficult to photograph. The true scale of the building impossible to capture due to the density of the plants growing around and withing it. Floors had given way, and stairways were impassable, but it was still possible to gauge the enormity and grandeur existence.


Baron Hill Mansion: Abandoned After Polish Soldiers moved out in WWII

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HISTORY

The Baron Hill Estate was stablished in 1618 with the original mansion being built the same year by Sir Richard Bulkeley. During the English Civil War, Richard Bulkeley’s successor Colonel Thomas Bulkeley was said to invite King Charles I to take possession of the house in order to set up his court there. In the early eighteenth century the house was the seat of Richard Bulkeley 4th Viscount Bulkeley who maintained Jacobite sympathies.


King Edward VII enjoying tea in the garden of Baron Hill Estate
(Seated fourth at table--with the Bulkeley family)

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In 1776 the house was reconstructed by architect Samuel Wyatt to a much similar design that is still evident in its ruined state today. In the nineteenth century the Bulkeleys remained the most dominant land owners on the island and other parts of Wales. During WWI the death duties had wiped the family’s fortunes and they were unable to maintain the estate. During the war Royal Engineers were stationed at the house. In 1939 when WWII broke out the mansion was taken over by the government and used as temporary housing for Polish soldiers, who in protest to the cold conditions, started a fire and destroyed much of the interior so they would be moved to new housing accommodation. The mansion was abandoned and still is to this day.

The park is a designated site of special scientific interest due to the large area that has been undisturbed for many years. I believe the building itself is now listed and there was a planning application in 2008 to restore and convert into flats.

by David Last

Ticking Time Bomb

SS Richard Montgomery, a US Liberty Ship, rests on a sandbank running east from the Isle of Grain approximately 250 metres north of the Medway Approach Channel in the Thames estuary and has done so since it ran aground on 20th August 1944.

 Its an eerie sight, even on the brightest of days.

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Built in 1943 by the St John’s River Shipbuilding Company, Jacksonville, she was one of in excess of 2,700 mass-produced vessels built for the WWII effort. Setting sail containing cargo of 7,000 tonnes of munitions she was directed to anchor in the Great Nore anchorage off Sheerness, to await formation of a convoy before heading to Cherbourg. Running aground in shallow waters just North of the Medway Approach Channel. Efforts to unload her cargo were intensive but a crack appeared in the hull by the next day and unfortunately the forward end begun to flood. Salvage continued until 25th September when she flooded completely and was abandoned. Remaining on the sandbank where she sank, her masts clearly visible above the water, there is something sinister about this ship.

Protected under Section Two of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, there is a no entry exclusion zone around her. Marked on the relevant Admiralty Charts and defined by coordinates—the physical site is marked by buoys in the water that act as a warning other ships in the area. There are also warning signs attached to the masts.


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Why so much protection?

Approximately 1,400 tonnes of explosives remain aboard the forward holds and although water is a good mitigator (allegedly) the issue is the actual wreck around the explosives is decaying. Experts believe the decaying vessel could cause enough energy to detonate the bombs and if this occurred Sheerness could be flattened. The wave and subsequent momentum that would occur from the explosion would, it’s thought, travel the Thames flattening buildings along the way. Of course, there is a lot of speculation of how these explosives may behave after being submerged for such a long time but who needs to be taking such huge chances? 

Another worry is the masts could be struck by a passing vessel and there have been many near misses over the years. Despite the exclusion zone being clearly marked, storms can be difficult to navigate and some of the larger ships, once set on their path are hugely difficult to turn. There are even internet photographs of a paddle boarder entering the exclusion zone and touching a mast. Those images are on google if you’re interested to view them—irresponsibility seems to be high on some people’s agenda. 

Responding to decay and potential danger the plan is to remove the masts from this incredible ghost that sits within our estuary. A silent ticking time-bomb that will be costing £5M in danger money to preserve live and land. Its an incredible story and we are glad we got to view the Montgomery together before her masts disappear. 

We were taken out from Southend-on-Sea by jetstreamtours.com who are based in Rochester, Kent. Their boat, Jacob Marley, has been kitted out in line within Covid-19 guidelines. Each table is divided with plastic divides and numbers are limited on each tour. Hand sanitiser is available and numbers are limited out on deck, with plenty of time for everyone to have their turn taking photographs at each of the sites visited. History of the area is shared by the captain who is very knowledgeable--not just on the sites you have paid to visit but on other hidden gems too. 

by Donna Siggers and David Last