- Contributed by
- Isle of Wight Libraries
- People in story:
- Jack Hooper; Edith Hooper; Nellie Smart; Goff Burton
- Location of story:
- Sandown, Isle of Wight
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 December 2005
Jack Hooper (centre) with his mother, Edith (right), and Auntie Nellie (left), at the pill box in Pier Street
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bernie Hawkins and has been added to the website on behalf of Jack Hooper with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
When the war started I was 14 and had been an apprentice boat-builder with Woodnutts Boatyard in St. Helens since April 1939. During the war we built MTBs, motor gun boats, motor launch patrol boats and, later, airborne lifeboats to Uffa Fox’s design.
My family were fishermen and longshoremen at the fishing village between the inshore lifeboat station and the end of the Esplanade. My father, who had served with the Royal Engineers in Mesopotamia in the First World War, also joined the Observer Corps and was based in Battery Gardens. He was allowed to continue fishing provided he could make his boat available to aid the war effort whenever requested.
Throughout the war I lived at 7 Pier Street in Sandown. The Pier area was never bombed — apparently it was too good a landmark to aid a potential German landing. I do, however, remember bombs falling elsewhere in the town. There was one at Ferncliffe, at Beachfield Road, close to where my Auntie lived — I was in the Rivoli Cinema watching a film at the time. On the same night, beach huts near the fishing village were destroyed by incendiaries. The town close by was covered in sand from the bomb crater in my aunt’s garden.
Prior to D-Day, there was a heavy bombing in Sandown Bay. The area around the Canoe Lake was saturated with bombs. My father was also Chairman of the Canoe Lake Company. Many of the buildings around the lake and Browns Golf Course were destroyed or badly damaged, including one where they made ice cream. The Germans were hoping to damage the Pluto pipeline, but the pipeline wasn’t put down until after D-Day. (It was rumoured then that the pumps were not powerful enough to pump the oil through at the required flow, and also that the oil was contaminated with seawater.)
Also in the run-up to D-Day, Commandos trained to climb up cliffs at Redcliff and Culver Cliff, and on one occasion an RAF Gloster Gladiator crashed when taking part in one of the exercises and the pilot was killed. The Army called upon my father and his fishing partner to bring the pilot’s body back to Sandown as they knew the only way through the anti-invasion defences because they were auxiliary coastguards. When they arrived back at the fishing village I helped their boat ashore.
I also remember a Hawker Hurricane crashing at Littlestairs. It came down between low and high water and, as everyone did at the time when a plane came down, I went to have a look. When I looked in the cockpit I saw a pith helmet and a bottle of Chianti! I guessed that the pilot must have served in North Africa and these were a memento and something for emergency use. Several planes crashed on the Island during the war. I remember seeing one on Bembridge Down and a V1 in Heath Gardens, Lake.
Before D-Day the Royal Pier Hotel in Pier Street was full of American soldiers. They paraded on the front every morning. The photograph shows the pill-box at Pier View (the café extension is on the site now). I’m in the centre with my mum on the right and my Aunt Nellie on the left. After the Americans left for D-Day, the pill box was used as an air raid shelter. People preferred it to the basement of the Royal Pier Hotel — they didn’t want to have too much brickwork overhead when the bombs came! The photo was taken by my cousin, Goff Burton, who was a mechanic in the Canadian Air Force. He had brought his mother, my Aunt Nellie, over from where she lived in Tottenham to see my mum. The photo is unusual because the taking of photos by civilians during the War was not allowed.
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