Lighthouse During WW2

Harbour Entrance 1940This was taken at the beginning of the war, early in 1940. The boat on the other side of the harbour near the Mousetrap is the `Industry´,  I remember her very well, always starting up at 8 a.m. and clanking away most of the day she was a Mud Dredger!

Note the first building in the middle ground . Vettese's Ice Cream Parlour, next to this is tiny sweet shop owned by a Mr Andrews, the next property used to be Yallops, the Photographers. Just before the war it was Pownalls Fishing Tackle. I remember my father buying me a bakalite fishing reel here ! Next the light house, note the camouflage paint, a bit difficult to hide a Lighthouse, but these were desperate times !

Next to this is the Rangers Volunteer Lifeboat Company, I used to go up in the lookout as a small boy, as my father was a member of The Rangers crew. Attached to this is Billy Gates The Newsagent , followed by an Amusement Arcade owned before the war by Billie Ghigi, after the war he had the Majestic Arcade on Yarmouth seafront. Next to this and nearly out of the photo was Pedlar Palmers Restaurant followed by The Bellevue Tavern.

The next property passed the Bellevue belonged to the Port & Haven Commisioners. Captain Sutton was the Harbour Master & lived on the premises around that time. I used to play with his children in their garden. He had a little daughter named Smokey & a son named Toby. This would have been around 1937.

Last but not least was the home and business of Whimsical Walker, the famous Clown. He was a good friend of the Landlord of The Bellevue, Wilfred Burgess. Philip Burgess, Wifreds son, who lives here on The Gold Coast, knew him well as a child. The last building was the Storm Company Lifeboat Premises, these were not in use and in fact my father rented the property before the war as winter storage for his 200 tents and 700 Deckchairs which he used on his beach site in the 1930's I spent many a happy hour up on the first floor. I well remember the soft red bricks were so old that most of their middles lie in little dusty heaps upon the wooden warehouse floor. The rank of cottages in the foreground were the Coastgaurd Cottages .


Storm Damage to the Dutch Pier 1962

cosies 2This photo was taken in 1962.  A section of the South, or Dutch Pier, damaged by storms. To the best of my Knowledge this was never repaired. Work on the new pier, meant that the pier was closed to the public. This photo was given to me by the site manager who was in charge of the construction of the present South pier.

John the Manager, told me that during the dismantling of the old pier, they uncovered the hull of an old sailing vessel dating from the seventeenth century, on the seaward side of the pier between the old pilot house, seen here with the dark roof in the middle foreground and the Lighthouse on the end of the pier.

One can only speculate as to how she got there. Possibly driven into the Ham in a storm and then jammed into the pier, becoming a total loss, then left in between the piles to play her part as extra defence against the relentless sea .

Cosies.G00030During this period Harry Eastick, his sons Ernie & Len, and myself dropped an anchor in the Ham from Harrys boat `The Smiling Autumn´, this was to the right of this photo. This was connected by rope to a buoy on the surface with a pulley system, whereby we could pull on the rope and haul nets out to the Buoy from the pier. We averaged a couple of boxes of herring per night , checking the nets at daybreak, our best catch was a cran in one night. But this proved to be unpopular with the local longshoremen and I can´t blame them for that. So we discontinued the practice, I can´t help feeling it would have been a different outcome in the time of my grandfather and his mates. It did prove that it was possible to catch herrings from the old pier without putting to sea.
Just thought you would like to see this Arthur, how many of these visited the Anchor and Hope.

The cosies were very popular, as a boy I can remember watching porpoise swimming just off them. You could spend a day just relaxing with a bit of string and some worms, can´t remember catching much but the smell, salt and tar. On a really hot day the tar got tacky and stained the backside, this was followed by a clip round the ear from mum when I got home.

What about going back to a quiet afternoon and reminiscing in them, I like mine don´t fancy yours much though.



Skating on the South Pier

Ice on the dutch Pier 13-09-2000When I was a little lad just prior to the second world war I discovered an old pair of ice skate’s in our old garden shed. My father explained to me they were the skates he had used as a young man whilst skating on Gorleston Pier. It appears that in extremely cold conditions in the early part of the twentieth century it was possible to do just that! I didn’t give it much credence until the winter of 1962 when we all became aware of what effect extreme conditions can have on everyday situations, with black ice covering roads, pavements and hedgerows from November through to the following March. It would certainly have been possible to skate on the Gorleston pier that winter! Ice on the dutch Pier 13-09-2000To give you some idea as to how cold it became during this winter, The construction gang working on the end of the South pier were under the impression that they were immune to the conditions, but soon found out to their cost when three of the gang were rushed off to the hospital suffering from exposure! During this period one afternoon in storm conditions, large ice floes broken down to the size of tabletops on striking the beach, acted as shovels, cutting the sand out at around seven to eight feet exposing coins, rings, even gold & silver Fob watches! Valuable’s that had been lost and covered by the sand for over fifty years, every beachcomber was down on the beach that afternoon all doing very nicely, every time the waves receded they would jump down, snatch what coins etc. Were exposed, then scramble back up to safe ground! Beachcombing can be a fascinating game, rich or poor, something for nothing grabs us all. As darkness drew its cloak over the scene, and even though the tide had a couple of hours before high water, they were forced to give up. I went home, and with the aid of my wife Carol, plus a Tilley lamp, returned to the beach and with Carol holding up the Lamp I could spot the coins easily. During the next hour we half filled a plastic bucket with silver & copper coins. It was great fun but extremely cold and we didn’t realize our mistake until later in the evening. It appears it was so cold that unknown to us, our tear ducts started to freeze! By the following morning our eyelids were so swollen we were having difficulty in seeing clearly Fortunately this cleared up quickly. It was reported on the radio the next day that skaters on the dykes in Holland were suffering from Iced eyes which can cause temporary blindness which can last up too two weeks! So I guess we were lucky.

I had just started my apprenticeship in 1962. For the first year I had to go out with a aerial rigger. During this winter blocks of thick ice formed across the harbour near the Haven Bridge and the sea froze on the beach. In the rows where the pipes had burst, the water had frozen as it had gushed out causing curious shapes. I walked over to Southtown to find Peter Rainer, the aerial rigger, as he was late, and found him under his van with a blowtorch, unfreezing his petrol tank, a hasty retreat was made. Eighteen degrees of frost were common during the day, it was very cold but nature made one aware of its natural beauty.



Paddle Tug

Fishing Smacks being towed across the bar 22-09-2000This shows the paddle tug Tom Perry , towing fishing smacks out of the harbour Circa 1910.





There is a piece on Babbing under - Memories of WW2

Please click here to go to it


The Gorleston Whale

Whilst I was living in Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand for eleven years, it was, and still is now, I am sorry to say, a common occurrence for pods of whales to become stranded on Farewell Spit in Golden bay. Great efforts are always made by local volunteers and emergency rescue services to refloat these lovely creatures.

Their efforts often running into several days, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. This is rather a remote area, and the stranding of the pods are not always spotted immediately, especially if it should happen during the hours of darkness. 

This was not the case, when on Monday 8th June 1891. A whale, later identified as a lesser Rorqual, 35 feet in length, became stranded near the Mousetrap, finishing up on the Spending beach on the Yarmouth side of the harbour. (I can remember as a child taking a great deal of interest in a framed certificate which hung in the rear window of the Rocket apparatus station near Gorleston beach, showing the whale beached on the Yarmouth side of the harbour and the lifeboat Elizabeth Simpson attempting to haul it clear.)

 I have no way of knowing this, but I hope that this certificate is now in the Gt.Yarmouth Maritime Museum.  

The lifeboatmen eventually killed the whale, and then proceeded to tow it across the harbour into the volunteer lifeboat shed, where it was exhibited for a short while. One can imagine the smell coming from this denizen of the deep during the month of June. So something had to be done very quickly. Mr. Shipley the local veterinarian was called in to dissect it. Not the sort of job one would relish after a heavy lunch! The outcome was that a local entrepreneur, Mr. Wright.* Could see money in the venture, and so, to cut a long story short, the carcase was eventually scraped clean, the skin pickled, framed, and as can be seen in the accompanying photo, appeared to look remarkably realistic! The story as told to me by my family was it was taken by rail to London, where it was exhibited, and eventually returned to Gorleston, where it was again exhibited for approximately five years until its useby date ran out!  It was stored in what was to become the Monkey House on (Boundary Road.) Later renamed Pavilion Road, opposite the harbour entrance. I remember the Monkey House very well, as we lived next door to it.

It housed not only monkeys, but also the usual darts stall, coconut shy and penny pinball machines, Whilst outside on what was previously Pops Meadow, bumper cars and a large water tank containing bumper boats  which appeared to connect from the boats ,through a pole with a metal strip on it, to an electrified wire mesh above ones head ! I was only seven at the time, so I hope I am correct about this.

But if I am, one can imagine an electric fault developing late on a balmy summer evening, and the would be boaties hair standing on end, and their eyes lighting up in the gloom! I remember the arcade was run prior to the Second World War by a German Jew and his two sons. At the outbreak of war they disappeared. What ever happened to them , one thing is certain. They were better off in the U.K. than they would have been at that time in Germany.Photo of Gorleston Whale 09-01-2001

This photo was given to me in 1947 by Shoots Parker, who was an old friend of my father, both men serving in the R.N. L .I for many years.

I can only assume it was taken just prior to the trip to London. From the left.

Sam Woods, Edward Bensley, unknown, Luffy Lamb, Sidney (Sparks) Harris,

Charlie (Sappy) Chilvers, unknown, Sam Parker, Crimo Crisp, (The crewman holding the grappling hook and chain, also unknown, but one would guess this was the hook which secured the whale when it was towed to the Lifeboat shed.

Last in line Mr. Wright *

This was not the last time a whale made an appearance in the harbour .

During 1943 a whale was sighted near the bend as it made its way up river. It appeared to be sick and had probably been in collision with a vessel. The sad thing was that a few soldiers on the gun platform opposite the Belle View Tavern started taking potshots at it with their 303 rifles. It eventually disappeared and I understand it was washed up somewhere on the North Beach.

As a footnote.   There was another identical gun platform at the top of Ferry hill.

These platforms were around 30ft in height, and held a Twin Lewis machine gun plus a Bofor Anti aircraft gun.

Arthur .E. Bensley


The Old Dutch Pier 1944

Throughout out the Second World War, all beaches on the coast of England facing Europe were heavily defended against the threat of invasion.

Necessity is the mother of invention. What today is easily recognizable as tubular scaffolding was erected in double rows, with uprights, plus braces and covered with coils of barbed wire, these were placed just above the low water mark. Thousands of land mines covered most of the exposed beaches, as far down as Dorset and Devon. (A wise precaution, as it turned out Lyme Bay was one of the intended spearheads, had Hitler’s Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of England, not been cancelled.)                                                                              Before, and until quite some time after the war, wooden poles tied with hemp ropes were used throughout Gt. Britain as scaffolding on all building sites. Suddenly those metal tubes used to defend our shores, appeared on all building sites, and are still with us as scaffolding today.

The Old Dutch Pier which was built by the Dutch engineer Johnson during the reign of Elizabeth 1st (November 17th1558 –March 24th1603). Was for the first time in its history, closed to the public during the 1939-45 war. It so happened, the commanding officer in charge of coastal defenses in the Gorleston area was stationed with his staff and some of his troops in the Pier Hotel, commandeered by the government at the outbreak of hostilities. I remember him, as he, like us lads, was very keen on fishing for cod. He was a regular crewmember in Shoots Parker’s skiff and also used the Belle View Tavern for his liquid lunch. (I might add, it was not unusual for public houses in our area, to completely run out of beer during the war.)

Wilfred Burgess landlord of the above tavern. Approached the C.O. on behalf of Philip his son, and myself, being related, with the view of obtaining permission to fish on the Dutch Pier. The C.O. agreed to this arrangement, and so the following day Philip and Arthur had to climb the stairs to his administration office, which was situated on the first floor of, would you believe it? Ernie Hills Restaurant, opposite the Gorleston swimming pool, where I had as a child, enjoyed those ices in silver goblets. (Mentioned in Personal Reflections 1935-39.) The outcome? Philip and I were the first to receive a permit, which we had to present to the guard in his sentry box, situated approximately 50 yards East of the Port and Haven commissioners’ slipway. Local anglers would try very hard to obtain the prime fishing spots on the quay, and as close as possible to the pier head was one of them. We must have held those permits for a couple of months before the pier was officially opened to the public. We didn’t flaunt the fact, and always fished in the Cosies on the seaward side where we could not be seen. As this area was not accessible to local anglers, virtually unfished, it was not unusual for us to take home several good codling. (It could be said, we were the first anglers in Norfolk to have been given a permit to fish in the North Sea.)

Rowland Fishers Dutch Pier-2

by Rowland Fisher


I have attached a photocopy of an oil painting in my possession by local marine artist Rowland Fisher. (The tug Gleaner bringing in a Norwegian brigantine, showing the Old Dutch Pier head, the lighthouse keeper hauling up the red flag, indicating high tide. Circa 1900.

Rowland did tell me it was a custom during this period, to lower the flag in salute, should a vessel of note enter the harbour.

I cannot confirm, or dispute this statement, but it sounds like a respectful gesture, now lost in the midst of time.

A. E. Bensley


A Curious Vessel at Great Yarmouth

From 1937 until 1959 apart from the war years. I lived on the bend of the river opposite the harbour’s mouth at Gorleston–on–sea. During this period many interesting vessels crossed the bar to head up river to berth on the South Quay at Great Yarmouth. One of these I found interesting was a German U-Boat at the end of W.W.2   there was however a vessel long before my time, indeed long before my Grandfathers time which we would all have been interested in viewing. This was the Horse Packet, which was one of a kind; causing great interest on entering the port in the year of 1818. I am sure she would cause a stir even today. She was an experimental vessel, which fell by the wayside, whereas another oddball, the early automobile known as The Stanley Steamer, was fortunately retained.

The “Horse Packet” 60 ft in length with an 18 ft beam, had a principal cabin and ladies room in the forward end, with a common cabin aft. Her means of propulsion was worked by four horses in a file which moved in a circle of 18 ft diameter.

Eyewitnesses at the time reported the area too confining, thereby wasting half the horsepower necessary to propel the vessel. The driving shaft had two bevelled wheels, one at each end, by which the horsepower is communicated from the animals to the axle of the paddle wheels; these were seven ft. in diameter.

The boat travelled at around six miles per hour. The proprietor claimed he found this as cheap a means of propulsion as the steam engine available at that time.

However the animals plus the driver were not protected from the weather.

The driver sometimes rode bare back, but was always in the circle with his horses.

She had a crew of four men. It must have been an interesting sight as she made her way up river.

Arthur. E. Bensley




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