Seventy-five years ago, this year Herne Bay was at the centre of preparations for one of the most dramatic operations of WWII. The first hint came on 11th April 1943, when the coast from Margate to Herne Bay was declared a restricted area and sealed off by police. Only those authorised by the Director of Boom Defence were allowed in of which two were a comparatively unknown aircraft designer, Barnes Wallis, and a much decorated bomber pilot Wing Commander Guy Gibson.
Sharp-eyed and sharp-eared local residents would have been aware of some new sounds and unfamiliar shaped aircraft flying from Manston and repeatedly making runs at low level out at sea from Minis Bay to Reculver. These were the converted mosquito, Wellington and Lancaster bombers that were taking part in the final trials of the remarkable weapon, which came to be known as the ‘Bouncing Bomb’.
As the prospect of the Second World War loomed, the British Air Ministry had identified the dams of Germany’s heavily industrialised Ruhr Valley as key strategic targets supplying drinking water, hydro-electric power and water for steel-making and the canal transport system. No aircraft of the time was capable of carrying a bomb big enough to destroy a major dam but a smaller explosive charge might work if it could be exploded directly against the dam wall below the surface of the water.
The challenge was that the major German dams were protected by heavy torpedo nets stretched across the reservoirs to prevent just such an attack. Barnes Wallis came up with a plan to overcome the obstacle of the nets with a drum-shaped bomb spinning backwards and dropped at exactly the right low altitude, at the correct speed and release point which would bounce across the surface of the water and over the nets before reaching the dam wall. The spin would run the bomb down the side of the dam to its underwater base where a specially designed fuse would explode it.
Few of the top brass in the Air Ministry had any confidence that Wallis’s idea would work but he persevered and finally won approval for the trials of his ‘Bouncing Bomb’ that took place just along the coast from Herne Bay. The trials lasted from April 9th 1943 until the final trial with the only ‘live’ bomb to be dropped in the trials on May 13th 1943 and a safety drop of an unfused one on May 15th. These two tests were 5 miles off Broadstairs. All the others were off Reculver and were of inert concrete filled ‘bombs’. The trials were a resounding success and, on May 16th, Squadron 617, the famous and courageous DamBusters, took off on their history-making raid that breached the Mohne and Eder dams and damaged the Sorpe dam causing considerable damage to Germany’s war-making capacity but from which many were not to return.
To commemorate the anniversary of these events, and to chronicle a story of ingenuity, of overcoming difficulties in a very short time and the courage of those who pressed home an attack with the realisation that many of them would not return, the SEASIDE MUSEUM, Herne Bay, is putting on a DamBusters exhibition. In addition to many pictures and videos, visitors will be greeted with the unmistakable roar of those mighty Merlin engines that we have heard at so many flypasts in Herne Bay. There will be examples of the ingenious bomb-sights and the height adjustment lights that people will be able to try out and test how they would have done if they had been the pilots or bomb-aimers.
There will also be two evening talks. The first will be on April 23rd, by Peter Rix from the Barnes Wallis Foundation who will show some little seen film and tell us of the work of that engineering genius, Barnes Wallis, who designed far more than the Bouncing Bomb. The second on May 14th, will be given by one of the museum volunteer team who put the exhibition together and which will fill in more detail than the exhibition has room for. It will cover local connections and the bravery of those concerned in Operation Chastise, as the Dam Busters Raid was officially known.
The exhibition opens on March 24th and ends on May 19th 2018. The museum is open Tuesday- Sunday 11.00 am to 4.00 pm. There is ample parking along the Sea Front and in nearby carparks.
It’s all change at the museum again this week as the photography exhibition is taken down and the Dambusters exhibition is set up. The volunteers work hard behind the scenes to keep the museum running smoothly. Why not join the team?
The new exhibition is now open – a photographic display of Leisure and Pleasure in Herne Bay. There’s a great selection of photos, four of which will be available as postcards, and we’re asking you to vote for your top three from the rest. The most popular eight photos will join the volunteers’ choices in next year’s calendar.
Please note that next year’s exhibition will be something along the lines of “Natural Herne Bay”, so start taking photos for it now!
There’s also the chance to see the entries for the children’s Deco Dress Design competition.
The museum is closed today, but that doesn’t mean it’s all stop. Yesterday was the last chance to view the Deco Dress exhibition, so this week everything related to that exhibition will be taken down, including the window display. The photos submitted for our Leisure and Pleasure in Herne Bay are being sorted and framed, and will be hung in the gallery this week ready for the start of the exhibition next Saturday. Volunteers are choosing their favourites to be made into postcards, and voting slips are being prepared for you to choose your favourites to join them in the 2019 calendar. The new window display is being prepared.
And there’s still all the other work that goes on in a museum and gift shop – checking stock, organising the rota, working on the rest of the exhibitions that are scheduled for the year, developing the outreach programme to involve families in the community, developing marketing and publicity, and carrying out building maintenance, to name just a few of the jobs.
During the next week, the rest of the museum is open as normal, but there will be no access to the front exhibition room. And of course our gift shop is open, with a wide selection of gifts and other items, many locally sourced.
From Saturday, we’re looking forward to revealing the entries for the photo exhibition and competition. Please come and vote!
The museum celebrated the launch of the new exhibition on Friday evening with a private viewing. Beer Brothers kindly sponsored refreshments, and there was a chance to chat to Sara Tomlin, whose discovery of the drawings sparked off the whole exhibition, and Marian Heath, who created the Elsa dress from the original drawing.
Marian will be holding a talk on the making of the 1920s Elsa dress on Sunday 7th January at the museum.
The exhibition provides a fascinating look into clothes and fashion in the 1920s, from regular wear to party wear. Themed activities include talks for adults and opportunities for children to try out their own design skills, including a competition to design party clothes inspired by the exhibition.
The exhibition is open until 21st January 2018. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday 11-3 and weekends 11-4.
Our next exhibition, Delving into Deco Dress, is currently being set up, and will be open to the public from Saturday 18th November.
There are a number of events planned to tie in with this exhibition, including:
27th November From the Edwardians to Thirties: the Development of Dress (7 for 7.30) Judith Dore Kent Costume Trust
9th January 2018 Glitz and Glamour: Decorations on 1920s costume (7 for 7.30) Judith Dore Kent Costume Trust
Sunday 7th January 2018 Making of the 1920s Elsa Dress Marian Heath Kent Costume Trust talk/workshop (4-6)
Saturday 18th November Launch of our children’s competition: Design your own party clothes inspired by the 1920s.
Children are asked to design party clothes inspired by the Delving into Deco Dress and Design exhibition using any medium – crayons, glitter, material, paint etc. Prizes for the best designs. Competition closes Sunday 14 January 2018.
Saturday 25th November Children’s workshop Makea1920s party headband for Christmas
The exhibition is in conjunction with the Kent Costume Trust.