Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shells on the beach

A blow for tourism?

BBC reports: MP calls for Dorset mine sweep after 50s blast deaths

An MP who narrowly escaped death in an explosion that killed five friends has called for parts of Dorset's coast to be swept for mines. Robert Key told the Commons how he had a lucky escape in 1955 as a 10-year-old when he and some friends discovered an unexploded mine on a beach at Swanage. It blew up killing his friends who were trying to open what they thought was a tin of Spam, the MP for Salisbury said. Mr Keys told the story during a debate on a Bill to ban cluster bombs.
The Conservative MP, who served as a minister under John Major and is standing down at the election, said that at the time he and another friend were just metres away from the bomb when it exploded.
He told the Commons on Wednesday that the sea around Swanage beach could be used as a training ground for Royal Navy minehunters to detect 58 mines left unaccounted for following a clearance operation after World War II. "The issue of mine clearance, whether it is cluster bombs or cluster munitions, whether it is mines of any kind, the impact is the same on a child of 10 playing whether it is in Beirut or Swanage," he said."Now we have the technology, I would like to see minehunters - the Sandown class or equivalent - brought in, because now we can detect these things. "Perhaps in training, to sweep Swanage beach and the coast right around Bournemouth." Mr Key, 64, told MPs that about 20 children were playing on Swanage beach on Friday May 13, 1955, when one found a tin between some rocks. Thinking it was a can of Spam or "something really exotic", the boys began trying to open it. Mr Key said he and a friend "got bored", turned round and walked about 10 metres away. "We were blown into the sea and lived, five of my friends died," he added.
"Five British children, blown up by a British mine, on a British beach, within living memory - it was an extraordinary thing." When he later became a minister at the now-defunct Department of National Heritage, Mr Key asked the Imperial War Museum if they had any information about what had happened. Mr Key received a box of official papers about the tragedy They sent him a box of papers, which included the coroner's report from an inquest into the deaths. According to the documents, the beach had been cleared three times before being granted a clearance certificate in 1950, and the de-mining officer told the inquest he thought the mine had probably been washed ashore in a gale.
Insisting nobody was to blame, the officer had said: "As an expert I would have allowed boys to walk across the beach." But Mr Key said he had been "horrified" to discover that while 117 mines had originally been laid, just five were lifted in clearance. There was evidence that a further 54 had existed, but the remaining 58 were still unaccounted for. Describing himself and the other friend who escaped death as the "luckiest people alive", he called for the area off the coast to be searched again.

Posted by Anonymous to swanageview at 10:44 AM

[In case you're interested, I found this at Kimmeridge a few years ago. I reported it, was told it was probably a land mine that had fallen from the top. When I enquired later, I was told that it had been cordoned off, but by the time people came to dispose of it, it had gone. So if you see someone using a door stop that looks like this, watch out...! Mike ]


Anonymous said...

A sad incident, but I don't see why it should effect tourism. A 900lb bomb was found and blown up only last year.

If memory serves didn't a lad blow himself up in the early/mid '70's as well?

Anonymous said...

Isnt this darwin in action? Smashing something metalic on a beach isnt a good idea for someone with any common sense but then again one of them did go on to be a mp!

Anonymous said...

I think they were pupils at Forres school. If I remember correctly there was also a tragedy near the ferry when two children of one of the staff were killed by an explosion possibly in the 60s. That was a long time ago but when the dunes were swept again a couple of years ago quite a number of mines and shells were found with more expected to appear in the future as erosion continues. At least these old metal mines are easy to detect, unlike the modern plastic variety.

Anonymous said...

Luckily I'm too young to remember the '50s, but my parents remember it as Forres pupils as well.

Anonymous said...

I taught for a number of years at another school with the member of staff, formerly from Forres, who may have been in charge of those boys at the time of that unspeakable tragedy. He was at that time a very junior member of staff. Although he never talked about it, I know it deeply affected him for the rest of his life. He was a kindly, empathetic and much loved teacher to the end and positively influenced several generations of school children. He was also a wonderful friend.

He passed away a year or so ago.

I think this was not the only such tragedy or such incident at Studland, and I believe I have heard a story of another such incident where no one was killed or injured. One of the awful legacies of war, akin to today's landmines.