Monday, 29 April 2013
The study in my little Minster bungalow not only looks across to the Minster Shingle Bank and Southend, the other side of the Thames Estuary, but also across part of the Scrapsgate and Sheerness marshes across the road. The view across the marshes is unfortunately not an uninterrupted one, I two houses between my place and the edge of the marshes that break up a complete view but I can still see a large chunk and all the way across to Sheerness.
Anyway, sitting there very early this morning, waiting for the sun to rise and break up the grey skies and the paper shop to open (no man should start the day without reading the paper first), a thought suddenly struck me, something from my past actually hadn't changed. The view and the habitat that I was looking at, was pretty much exactly as it was 55 years ago when I was a 10 yr old boy wandering around there. Despite the huge new housing estates that are now creeping across rural Sheppey, in most directions and covering most things green, there like some unspoilt green oasis still exists the marshes that I wandered across as a child, capturing, as Dylan Thomas put it........
"a springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened"
I took the photograph above about five years ago, which only shows about half of the marshes between Sheerness and Halfway and if I stood by the canal bank now and took a black and white photograph up the Halfway Road, apart from the holiday camp, the view wouldn't be unlike how I remember it as a child.
Also on the subject of childhood back in the 1950's, I was discussing it the other day with a couple of bird watching friends at the Harty Raptor Viewing Mound. As you do, we were reminiscing over all the things that children don't do, or aren't allowed to do, these days, such as scrumping, climbing trees, going out in the morning and not returning to tea-time, making your own entertainment by wandering in the countryside (when it was bigger than a simple Country Park), getting dirty, eating dirt and generally being very healthy - and the subject of food came up. Getting crackling with your fish 'n chips, suet pudding with your roast dinner and also with jam or syrup for "afters", bread and dripping (imagine offering that to a child today), and my favourite, boiled pig's trotters. On returning from the pub at night, my father would regularly have left out for his supper, a couple of cold pig's trotters and as a young child I often helped him eat one. I'm not sure that I could gnaw round their feet, toes and toe nails these days but at the time, I recall they were quite tasty.
On a similar theme of how it used to be, the photograph above shows the old farm cottages that once stood at Elmley, where the current RSPB car park now is. The cottages were demolished in the early 1970's and are no more and this week, the RSPB themselves, end their long association with managing the bird reserve at Elmley as they move on to other sites in the area. The now, ex- RSPB Elmley reserve, will still remain open to visitors but will become part of the National Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Elmley Conservation Trust, which covers the whole of Elmley.
Also in my files, I have this aerial photograph of the old RAF Eastchurch airfield taken in 1924. The site is now completely covered by the Eastchurch prisons complex but in this old photograph it shows how it had developed from it's original conception in 1910 as a simple Aero Club landing ground. Several hangars stand on one side of the landing area and on the other, at the foot of Stamford Hill, are the clusters of accommodation huts. The white square to the right was the old Parade Ground which was just inside the main gate and the slim white line running away from it to the right, was the road leading back up to Eastchurch village.
When the Aero Club and Shorts Bros. areoplane factory moved to Eastchurch in 1910 they left behind the old landing ground at Leysdown airfield but it was retained by the RAF and used mainly as an emergency landing strip and practise bombing and gunning range for visiting aircraft in WW2. The photo below, taken c.1939-40 shows a prototype armoured car and guard there at the start of the war. The sea wall and open sea was only a few yards away and given that we narrowly avoided a German invasion in 1940 it is tempting to think that we might of been lucky if this is what was defending our side of the sea wall.