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Machine-Gunned on Swanage Beach

by Pamela Lee (née Heath)

Contributed by 
Pamela Lee (née Heath)
People in story: 
Jack and Nielia Heath and children, Cyril, Pam and David. Margery Pinch and children, Valerie and Geoffrey. Marjory Grout and children, John and Betty, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of El Alamein ("Monty").
Location of story: 
Swanage
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3526562
Contributed on: 
15 January 2005

This must be my most vivid memory of the whole war.

The beaches at Bournemouth were all blocked off with concrete pillar boxes, barbed wire, and railings in the sea, and I think, mines, so we couldn’t swim there. Instead we went to Swanage, beyond Poole Harbour and Studland Bay and over the headland to the west. Mummy spent hours kneeling in front of a huge brown trunk, filling it with our clothes and everything we needed for six weeks, and then it went “Luggage in Advance” on the railway and we followed on the train a few days later. My father came at the weekends. I think the trunk was then delivered by Carter Paterson to our holiday home.

We stayed a little outside Swanage towards Ballard Down in what had been an Army Camp. But now the wooden spider huts were all privately owned and had spacious gardens. Ours was called Sweetlands, and we rented it. It was a lovely place to be, and in the fateful August of 1942 that all Swanage people remember we shared part of this holiday with my mother’s great friend Margery and her 2 children, Valerie and Geoffrey, who were about the same ages as Cyril and David.

In the daytime we went to the beach and in the evenings played on the penny slot machines on the waterfront by a great big concrete building that stuck out into the sea which had PLAYLAND painted on its flat top in huge letters. Sometimes we lay down on the promenade to peer into the sea and watch, amazed, as beautiful anemones opened up and showed us their pink insides waving with the movement of the water. There was, of course, no TV for us to watch the wonders of nature. Often at the end of the day we children ran up what we called the cowboy trail that led to the top of the cliffs above Old Harry Rocks. There were rabbits up there, and short springy turf and little blue butterflies — this was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five country.

On Mondays Mummy used to go to the Westminster Bank in Swanage at about 11 am to draw her housekeeping for the week. On Monday 17th August 1942 it was such a beautiful day that she either went earlier than usual or came straight to the beach with us instead of going to the Bank.

THE GERMAN PLANES ATTACK
Cyril was a great plane spotter — we all used to make models from balsa wood kits — and he knew everything there was to know about their size and shape and fire power. Just before 11 am he looked up and saw two or possibly three planes flying very low about 50 feet above the water, and almost immediately they disappeared behind the headland above Old Harry Rocks. He couldn’t think why they were so low, but as he watched they came over the top of the headland and roared down across the beach, machine gunning as they went.

I heard them coming and fell flat on my face with my hands over the back of my neck as I had been taught. So did Cyril and David. But I felt extraordinarily vulnerable, wearing nothing but a bathing costume, and cross, because I had squashed the sandcastle I had taken ages making. As soon as they had passed over us, Cyril looked up to identify the planes, and he thought that they were Messerschmitt 109Fs with rounded wingtips which were very rarely seen, rather than the more usual 109Es with square wingtips. Although the local newspaper ("The Evening Echo") reported that they were Messerschmitt 109Es, a lot of evidence later indicated that they were most probably Focke-Wulf 190s.

Then Cyril saw one of them release a bomb and he sensibly buried his head in the sand again. I must have looked up a fraction later as I saw an enormous splash in the sea like a bomb quite close to us, and we heard more explosions further away. One of these we heard later, was a direct hit on the Bank and the Manager and his wife had been killed.

Valerie and Geoffrey were not so well trained as we were and Geoffrey ran screaming up on to the promenade and his mother Margery ran after him. Up on the promenade people were being hit and killed. I suppose he was about 6 years old, and his mother managed to catch him and bring him back to us, but she hurt herself badly on the railings. We were all very shocked and we decided to go back to Sweetlands, but on the way, as we passed a little Post Office and Stores my mother told me that the owner ran out to say that Daddy was on the telephone. Daddy, of course, had heard immediately that the Swanage Branch of the Bank had been hit and he knew my mother should have been there at that time. He must have been desperate — we had no phone at Sweetlands, but he knew we were well known in this little shop.

I remember it was a very emotional phone call and he was very relieved to hear us, and asked to speak to each of us, to hear our voices for himself. But when the phone was passed to me, delayed shock finally took its toll and my nose bled mightily all over the heavy black receiver. Confusion and muffled gurgles were all he heard. My brothers were disgusted at the mess, and my poor mother had to clean up the phone, apologise to the shopkeeper and reassure my father that, yes, we were all quite all right really. Later we heard that 8 people had been killed and 39 wounded that day — many of those were on the promenade. We also heard that people thought the Germans were trying to hit the concrete building called PLAYLAND because they suspected it of being a submarine base.

THE LATER YEARS OF THE WAR
Shortly after this we bought a large house on the west side of Bournemouth and rented out the 2 top floors as self contained flats. We all changed schools and if we left our gas masks behind we were sent home for them, which for me was a trip of about 5 miles on 2 different buses to Southbourne. I only remember forgetting it once and luckily I hadn’t gone too far. After a year I went to the Bournemouth School for Girls which was much closer to home. But we had lots of daytime air raids and the youngest girls were on the top floor of the school, so every time we heard the siren we had to run down 15 flights of stairs — 3 flights for each floor which went round a large central square stairwell. Then, of course, we had to climb up again.

I don’t know how we had time for lessons. I remember one girl was allowed to bring a banana to school to eat in the playground. I couldn’t remember what bananas tasted like and longed to know, so when she threw the skin in the rubbish basket I waited until no-one was about and took it out and sniffed and licked it. It tasted horrible.

In this new house we had no air raid shelter, but we did have two cupboards under the stairs — one indoors, and one outdoors under the stairs to the first floor flat. This latter had been a coal house but we cleaned it out and used it because the steps above were concrete and therefore very strong. Unfortunately, the quickest way to reach it was through the long sash window in our downstairs bathroom. But the loo was right in front of this window and my poor father used to take refuge in there for some peace and quiet with his pipe and his newspaper. The minute the siren went he would be knocked off his perch and left grabbing at his trousers by a stampede of children, and he couldn’t really complain because we were only obeying our training!

Then the doodlebugs started in London. We had cousins in London, so they came to stay — Daddy’s sister, Marjory, and her two children John and Betty. Mummy didn’t find it easy to share her kitchen, and with only two large bedrooms and a converted larder which was my bedroom, I don’t know where we all slept. One by one we went down with chickenpox. My room was used as a sort of isolation area but it didn’t stem the spread of infection. It must have been a nightmare time for the two sisters-in-law, but I suppose it was better than suffering the doodlebugs.

Two young women lived in the first floor flat and I used to sit on the steps above our air raid cupboard in the sunshine and listen to their tales of the American GI’s and they showed me the glass stockings they gave them, and later, nylon stockings. These seemed like miracles as my clothing coupons only stretched to school uniform and white ankle socks. We used to swap our tea coupons with them for sugar coupons and they taught me to sing along with them ‘Mareseatoats andoeseatoats anlittlelambseativy, kidslleativytoo wouldntyou?’

THE END OF THE WAR
What rejoicing when we reached VE Day! There was a piece of spare ground opposite our house where we used to play. It seemed to have foundations dug in it for a house that was never built. We gathered anything that would burn and made a huge bonfire and stuffed some old clothes to make a guy to look like Hitler and set fire to it. My father had hidden some Home Guard thunder flashes away for just this occasion, and, true to his character, organised us all with regard to safety rules. He made us crouch in one of the dug out foundations well away from the bonfire and then set off his arsenal. They were DEAFENING, much louder than any fireworks I have heard since. He enjoyed himself hugely — and he deserved that — but I think a few neighbours were heard to complain and say that they were frightened by them.

One of the last things I remember is the amazing excitement caused by a visit from Monty whom we had seen many times on the newsreels at the cinema, conferring with the great Churchill, cigar in one hand, V sign with the other hand etc, etc. Monty's entourage was due to drive down OUR road and we waited and waited for him to come. He was our hero, and when his car drove past he looked exactly as we expected — beret, battledress, big smile. He was real, he was alive, he had won the war, and we had been near enough to touch him!

NOTE: For my WWII experiences prior to the Swanage attack, please see "Bournemouth, Bombs, and My Two Brothers."

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 15 January 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Pamela

I found your story of great interest, vividly bringing back how it felt in those exciting days.

However, the attack on Swanage on 17 August 1942 was not made by Messerschmitts.

This type of raid was known as 'Tip and Run'. Fighters were adapted to carry a 250Lb bomb on these raids. Initially Messerschmitts were used, but the 250Lb bombs affected both their manoeuvrability and speed. In May 1942 Messerschmitts were withdrawn and nearly all Tip and Run raids from then on were made by the faster and more robust Focke-Wulf 190s.

The raid on Swanage on 17 August 1942 is recorded at page 312 of "Luftwaffe Fighter-Bombers Over Britain - The Tip and Run Campaign, 1942-43" by Chris Goss and Bernd Rauchbach (Crécy Publishing Ltd, 2003). There the two (not three) aircraft taking part in the Swanage raid are positively identified as Focke-Wulfs 190s from German records.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 15 January 2005 by Pamela Lee (née Heath)

Dear Peter,
This is David Heath, Pam's younger brother. I am replying to your message about the Swanage story on her behalf because I set up her identity and posted her stories this morning. (I am more comfortable working with computers and websites than she is, so she asked me to do it for her.) Thank you very much for your message. I have forwarded it to Pam and also to my brother Cyril, who is mentioned in the story as identifying the aircraft.

I am very surprised by what you say, because Cyril (who was 11 at the time) spent most of his spare time studying every minute detail of the allied and German planes, with the help of photos, drawings and specifications, and he watched them fly very low over us -- probably no more than 40 or 50 feet. I also tried to be as knowledgeable as he was, but of course I was only 6 at that time. As you know, the ME109 looked very different from the Focke-Wulf 190, making it hard to mistake one for the other. I'll be in touch about this after I hear from Pam and Cyril.
Regards,
David

 

Message 3 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 15 January 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear David

Here is an extract fro the book I mentioned regarding the switch in May 1942 from Me-109s to FW-190s. It regards the interrogation of Josef Fröschl in April 1942, a captured pilot of 2/JG 2:

"More worringly, Fröschl revealed that JG 2 was re-equipping with the Focke-Wulf 190 but because the 'Jabostaffel' [fighter squadron] operated close to the British mainland and in order to therefore minimise the chances of a Focke-Wulf landing on British soil, 10 Staffel would continue to operate with the Messerschmitt 109 for the time being but the intention was that they too would be one of the last 'Staffeln' to receive what would be a very potent fighter-bomber.

This was of very great concern for the British. The Folcke-Wulf 190 was superior in all flight parameters, except turning radius, to the best Allied fighter at the time.

... In mid-June 1942, both 'Jabostaffeln' were withdrawn piecemeal to Le Bourget near Paris where they began re-equipping with the Focke-Wulf 190. ... Nevertheless, 10/JG 2 was able to fly its first attack with the Folcke-Wulf 190 on 7 July 1942. ... The future for southern Britain now appeared bleaker than ever. ... Aptly named the Würger or Butcher Bird, the Folcke-Wulf 190 quickly proved itself a potent weapon in the hands of 10/JG 2 and 10/JG 26's pilots."

If anything, this makes your story even more interesting and exciting. It is absolutely no disgrace for a young boy of eleven, no matter how keen, not to have knowledge of what was then an unknown aircraft. It was only later in WW2 that the FW-190 became better known to plane identifiers, young and old.

Best wishes,

Peter

 

Message 4 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 17 January 2005 by David Heath

Dear Peter,
Thank you very much for the extremely detailed information. I have now heard from Cyril, who said this:

"The 'Evening Echo' said it was an ME 109E, but I saw rounded wing tips which suggested 109F. I do not think it ever occurred to me that it might have been a Focke Wolfe 190, which actually appears to have a radial engine. The amount of time available for recognition was obviously very limited.

Your researcher appears to be very sure of his facts & I do not feel that I could possibly refute it from my limited memory."

Pam and I will change the story to say that the planes were probabably Focke Wulf 190's (based on the information you provided) but I think that it's also worth mentioning that the local newspaper reported them as Messerschmitt 109E's. That was definitely not correct because the 109E had square wingtips and the aircraft that flew over us definitely had square wingtips, like the 109F and the Focke Wulf 190.

Thank you so much for all the information. It's amazing to have completely new perspective on this memorable event after 62 years!
Best regards,
David

 

Message 5 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 05 February 2005 by Pamela Lee (née Heath)

Hi Peter - thanks for your encouraging remarks about my story of machine gunning in Swanage. I discovered your background story - discover is the right word because a lot of this website stuff is a mystery to me, which is why my brother David did the tricky stuff. However, I was amazed to read how much of our lives have seemed to follow similar paths, tho' not the childhood bits. You may have gathered I'm 3 years younger than you but I haven't yet updated my personal paragraphs re my life so you won't know the following: I, too, joined the Army (WRAC) and in 1953 I think, just before my 21st birthday was posted to 46 Mixed Heavy AA Regiment in Lingfield as a very junior 2nd Lieut. I met Philip my future husband there doing his National Service, but it was another 8 years before we married partly because we were never on the same side of the world until then! After 6 months the Regiment split the girls from the boys and I went off to Catterick for Signals Training as I was more of a technical frame of mind. From there I was posted to Hong Kong in charge of all the Army telephone exchanges on the island and the mainland. Of course, I sailed in the Devonshire! Dec 1956, during the Suez crisis so we went the long way round Africa and after breaking down several times in the Indian Ocean arrived in Hong Kong 8 weeks later. I spent time in Singapore and the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia and sailed up to Japan for a holiday in their marvellous Inns, climbing up Mount Fujiyama (by bus and horse)and sitting out a typhoon in Kobe harbour. After that wonderful 2 years, crewing small boats in the HK Yacht Club races and enjoying the nightclubs I returned home by air on a tiny plane that took 5 days! I soon found the Army too dull and resigned my Commission in order to join the Foreign Office and see more of the world. Almost immediately I was summoned to an interview and asked if I would like to go to Baghad. I said 'Yes. Where is it?' in that order. I soon found out and spent 2 years there in the heat and dust, ending up as PA to the British Ambassador. I had an Arab stallion to ride in the desert but for some reason the government would never give me a permit to travel around the country. So I took off with the woman friend I was sharing a house with and we explored Iran instead, from the Caspian Sea to Shiraz, and Hamadan to Tehran by travelling on the local buses. An unforgettable experience.
When I returned home I was on my way to Moscow when Philip arrived from Canada I think, and said 'STOP, marry me', so I did. We managed to explore a lot of Europe camping with our 2 sons,including Lake Como and Bormio. We love holidaying in Gozo and in 2002 I finally managed to get to Moscow on a River Cruise from St Petersburg.
When the children were about 9 and 11 I managed to qualify as a teacher of Typewriting and Shorthand in Adult Education and taught for about 15 years. In the last few years I have studied Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. I now work in this area for the Church and am fascinated by the convergence of science and religion, including evolution and the writings of Teilhard de Chardin SJ. I do, however, find his books rather dense and often prefer to read other authors who try to simplify him.
This is a very long message, because of course, it's no problem for me to sit and type. But I do have limited time to indulge myself in this way and very limited expertise finding my way around websites. I just thought you might like to know how our lives have overlapped in rather unlikely ways. Pam

 

Message 6 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 07 February 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

My what an adventurous life! You did far more than I did Pam.

We certainly shared the Devonshire, although my mess table (with hammocks) was in the very depths, 4 Lower. Must have been quite unnerving breaking down in the Indian Ocean. I first saw a group of whales blowing there, and one day a giant manta ray surfaced alongside.

If you were in Hong Kong you probably know Happy Valley and Repulse Bay quite well. The only clubs I knew were the Cheero Club and the Fleet Club.

Years later when in the Immigration Service, I was seconded for three months to the Foreign Office and did a stint in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. I drove through the Thal Desert to Lahore. I spent as much time as I could on the North West Frontier in the Khyber Pass and drove up to Kabul. I also once flew down from Islamabad to Karachi, via Lahore, as Queen's Messenger. For that I had three 1st class seats in a row, one for me and the other two for the diplomatic bags - when I used the small toilet the bags went with me, in compensation I could have had three airline meals. At Lahore two F.O. Security chaps came on to watch the bags while I stretched my legs; not quite 007 stuff, but it was exciting. Driving up to Swat and seeing the majestic Himalaya chain was also memorable. Happy days!

Peter :)

 

Message 7 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 11 February 2005 by Pamela Lee (née Heath)

Thanks for replying - I do make the most of my adventures, I enjoy them more as time goes on and memories of the less good bits fades. Yes, of course I remember Repulse Bay,I used to ride my Lambretta there to swim, but my favourite Club was called The Blue Heaven. The entertainer there used to sing Nat King Cole songs, I was so naive I thought he was Nat King Cole! I didn't mind a bit being broken down in the Indian Ocean - I didn't have to mend the engines. I would love to have seen whales and mantas, but we did see lots of flying fish and that wonderful light that plays on the top of the waves - can't remember what it is called.
I've put my personal paras in but they've not gone in the 'About Me' but into 'Personal Space' by mistake. I shall have to enlist my brother David's help from America and see if he can move it for me.
You are lucky to have gone to the Khyber Pass, I've always wanted to go there, and Tibet and Addis Ababa.
Thanks for the emoticon, I haven't sussed those out yet.
Pam

 

Message 8 - Messerschmidt's attack us on Swanage beach

Posted on: 11 February 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Pam

For emoticons that work on this site, see my Message 2 here F1667054?thread=440825 Just remove the dot.

Peter <cheers>

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Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
End of War 1945 Category
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