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2,000 years of war memories

PUBLISHED: 14:44 26 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:45 03 March 2010

FOR nearly 2,000 years, Felixstowe has had a key role to play in the defence of the nation - called to play a part in virtually every major conflict. It was a defence post for the Romans, a setting out point for Edward III, saw the last attempted invasion of England, and was part of the coastal defence barricade set up to deter Napoleon.

FOR nearly 2,000 years, Felixstowe has had a key role to play in the defence of the nation – called to play a part in virtually every major conflict.

It was a defence post for the Romans, a setting out point for Edward III, saw the last attempted invasion of England, and was part of the coastal defence barricade set up to deter Napoleon.

In the last century, it was an air base and home to 30,000 soldiers during the First World War and in the Second World War was the launchpad for the top secret Operation Outward, as well as being a vital naval and military base.

Concrete barges were built in Felixstowe and floated out to join forces in the D-Day battle, and boats from the River Deben were also involved in the retreat from Dunkirk.

But today, little remains of the signs of a war-time town.

Its importance as a base is captured in the street name Garrison Lane, memorials to those killed stand in churches and on the seafront, a couple of pill-boxes, Martello Towers, a hangar or two from the old air base remain.

Gun bases and massive anti-tank landing blocks still stand on Landguard Nature Reserve, a haunting reminder of dark days gone by.

Landguard Fort – now being restored gradually to its former glory – is the one great remnant of the town's amazingly interesting war history.

Life in the town during the days of war are recalled in a new book called Felixstowe at War, set to be published on November 3.

The 2,500-copy limited edition 192-page book has been written by Phil Hadwen, John Smith, Peter White and Neil Wylie, and features around 350 photographs and pictures of Felixstowe through 2,000 years of conflict.

It's the first in a new series of books by the authors, who are best known for what are called Felixstowe's "postcard books".

Their books, using many of the Emeny collection of photos, have charted the history of the town in amazing detail, each concentrating on a different aspect of town life, leisure, work, businesses, the port, Walton, the Ferry.

They had planned that Felixstowe at War, being a new start, would be a different format and size – but when they saw what it would like, they discovered that the smaller size book would not do the photographs justice.

So the new book is also A4, like their previous ones.

It examines Felixstowe's role in war since the Romans first built a shore fort, roughly where The Dip is in Cliff Road today. Its seaweed-topped remains can be seen protruding from the waves at extreme low tide.

"We have tried to cover as many aspects as possible and it is interesting just how many wars and conflicts have touched Felixstowe," said John Smith.

"Most of the pictures will never have been seen before and the majority have been lent to us by people for inclusion in the book.

"There is also twice as much information in this book than any of our previous ones. When we look back to the first books, they were just postcards with one line beneath – now we take time to research and write as much as we can to bring it alive."

Felixstowe is well-served by history books – Mr Smith reckons for the size of town its history is probably recorded in book form better than any other – but there is still a great desire for more.

The book, targeted for the Christmas gift season and published a week before Remembrance, is expected to sell-out.

"We still all enjoy putting the books together and there are still a lot of topics which we want to cover. This is not the last – there are many more we want to do," added Mr Smith.

Among the topics covered in the book are Landguard Fort, with a date-line history, the Martello Towers, both world wars, peace celebrations, the sinking of HMS Gypsy, the bomb damage to the town, the war effort, HMS Beehive, the seaplanes station, and the Roughs Tower, now Sealand.

The hectic and confusing nature of war-time brings the stories of the children who were evacuated to the seaside town as a safe haven – only to find themselves and all the local youngsters evacuated again a few months later when it became a military garrison.

The book also has astonishing pictures and details of Felixstowe's secret role in WW2 when it was used for Operation Outward, the launching of hydrogen-filled balloons trailing wires and bombs.

Marines and Wrens had the dangerous task of launching the balloons which floated over to Germany and Italy – the wires clattering into electricity cables to short-circuit them and cause blackouts; the incendiary devices starting fires to keep the enemy occupied.

Also in the book are Felixstowe's role in the Falklands War when two of its passenger ferries were taken as part of the taskforce.

It also recalls recent events such as the work by historian Joe Potter to uncover the identity of the unknown German soldier buried in the cemetery, and to secure a memorial to the brave crew of a stricken bomber which crashed into the sea and not the town.

Do you have any memories of Operation Outward, when Wrens launched hydrogen-filled balloons trailing bombs and long metal wires from the golf course at Felixstowe Ferry?

Write to Your Letters, the Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN.

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