Nazi 'invasion' story that won't go away

By Keith Newbery

Friday, May 25, 2012

 

THIS ISLAND LIFEWHENEVER you have a chat with someone about the last war, you can be sure one memory, rumour or vague recollection will lead to another.

It is the most vigorously self-perpetuating of topics because, fortunately, we are still at a time when those who served — or at the very least the relatives and friends of those who did so — are still around.

It’s the same, I’m pleased to say, whenever the subject is mentioned in this column.

Last month I published Grumpy Greening’s yarn about the mock German invasion, staged on the Island in 1941 to prepare Island defence volunteers for the real one, the prospect of which was considered inevitable at the time.

Peter Bailey, of Wootton, wrote to say he witnessed part of the exercise.

He said: "There was much military movement, especially up Wootton High Street, with troops, Bren-gun carriers and other transports.

"What impressed me most, however, was a Lysander aircraft, which kept flying up and down the street, just above the telephone wires."

Peter also recalled a mortar being mounted by the Home Guard unit at Lakeside.

However, they used bolts rather than live rounds during practice, when a target was set up on the wall of the causeway section of Wootton Bridge — with inevitable consequences.

The seat on the bridge was hit and soon afterwards the local bobby arrived to collect the kindling.

George Chastney also got in touch to say he had been reminded of a rumour he had followed up (as a reporter working for the Southampton Echo) of the German raiding party strongly suspected of having landed at St Lawrence one night.

They were said to have overwhelmed radar personnel and taken some top-secret equipment back across The Channel.

However, he was unable to uncover any solid evidence of such an incursion, though facts later emerged of British commandos carrying out such an exercise in preparation for a similar attack on a German installation in France.

George says the rumour of the German raid will not go away and is included in the autobiography of former Daily Mail sports writer Brian Scovell, who began his career as a journalist on the old Ventnor Mercury and Shanklin Guardian.

However, the man most likely to provide the definitive version is writer Adrian Searle, the foremost authority on the Island’s role during the Second World War.

He has carried out exhaustive investigations and intends to write a book on the subject — which he promises will contain exciting revelations.

In the meantime, I can recommend his latest publication, The Spy Beside the Sea (The History Press) which will be on sale from next month.

For years, the story of Dorothy O’Grady, the Sandown landlady convicted of spying during the last war, has been the subject of much speculation and rumour.

A woman who was sentenced to hang actually ended her days in a nursing home at Lake, blithely protesting her innocence and insisting it had all been a big misunderstanding.

Adrian, as ever, has got to the bottom of this intriguing tale and if his book is not made into a film or television drama, I will finally lose what little faith I have left in those responsible for this nation’s creative output.

'Good old days’ went from bad to the workhouse

Ike Sheath
WHILE we’re on the subject of Grumpy Greening, he gave another of his fascinating talks about the old Island at Newclose recently and the name of Ike Sheath (pictured) was mentioned.

This unfortunate man’s life story makes you wonder where the phrase 'the good old days’ actually came from.

He was the son of a farm labourer in Chale and, for the last 30 years of his life, lived in what was little more than a mud hut he had built into a bank on waste ground in the village.

What was described as 'his limited mental capacity’ resulted in his being thrown out of the family home and when his mother died he took up residence in the shack, where he became a familiar figure to passers-by and visitors, who often gave him a few pennies.

The local yobs of the time were given to putting turves down his chimney and throwing stones at him but the local rector and his wife ensured he had a supply of coal during the winter.

Some locals boarded up the inside of his shack for greater insulation — but over the years, Ike took down all their good work and used it as firewood.

Eventually, the local authorities considered his presence an unnecessary embarrassment and in 1911 condemned his home as unfit for human habitation.

Rather than let them pull it down, the old boy set fire to it on the day of his planned eviction.

He was taken to live in St Mary’s workhouse, where he died a year later, at the age of 77.

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