to Isle of Wight History Centre Archive of Monthly News Items
As previously featured in the History Centre

January - March 2016

January 2016
In May 2003 we carried an item on the alleged German commando raid on St Lawrence radar station. At the time it looked as if the incident had been substantiated and a book on the subject was imminent. In fact nothing materialised and the matter seemed to die. The story is now doing the rounds again, apparently with more supporting evidence. However, since the matter was last raised, evidence casting doubt on the story has also emerged.
  It might seem reasonable to assume the Germans would have tested British defences with the occasional attempted landing. Whilst there are a number of alleged instances, nothing has ever been conceded by the authorities. Probably the most famous story is the controversial Shingle Street incident in Suffolk, where residents claim they saw the sea on fire and subsequent German bodies on the beach. The MoD claim they have no record of the incident.
  The story of the Island raid is different to others in that the source was a German veteran who claimed he was part of the landing, while there has never been any mention of it from local residents around at the time. It also differs from most in that it was said to be a successful raid. The story is of a commando raid on an Island radar station. The description of the operation suggests it was most likely to be the low level station at St Lawrence. It is claimed there was a brief fire fight, after which the Germans captured part of the radar equipment and left with two prisoners. It was assumed the original German source would be able to elaborate on the incident but he seems to have been less than forthcoming and has now passed away.
  Following our original article on the subject, a number of factors have come to light which perhaps throw some doubt on the story. It emerged that a few years earlier there had been a reunion of the WAAFs who worked at the St Lawrence station, held at the nearby Old Park Hotel. The story of the raid was not widely known at the time, so they were not questioned on the subject. It is nevertheless strange that none of them made mention of it, particularly as it would have been a major event in their wartime experience. When the hotel owner became aware of the claims, he contacted Lady Barclay who, as a young WAAF, had been responsible for the radar equipment at St Lawrence, from 1941. He put the story to her. She was adamant there had never been any such raid during her time there. Even if it had happened while she was on leave, she would have known if her equipment had been replaced. Of course, the WAAFs could have been subject to the Official Secrets Act and may still feel bound by it.
  There are other enquiries which have failed to support the story. The raid was said to come from German occupied Alderney. It is true Alderney had a commando training base but Alderney historians have no record of any raid out of the island. For a few years, the IW Industrial Archaeology Society ran a notice in German on their website inviting contact from anybody who had knowledge of the subject. Nothing was forthcoming.
  This still leaves the overriding question of how a German veteran could arrive at such an elaborate tale without some knowledge of an actual event. One answer might lie in wartime activities on the tiny Channel Island of Herm. The Germans never bothered to station troops there but occasionally used it to practice invasion landings. On one occasion they staged a commando raid and filmed it for a propaganda movie called The Invasion of the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately the movie does not appear to have been traced. It seems likely Herm was used to film the landing, perhaps scaling the cliffs, while other locations could have been used to concoct any number of scenarios. Presumably the movie's target audience would have assumed it was a real event. It is just possible that one individual decided to place himself in an event he believed had actually taken place.
  It may still be that stronger evidence will emerge to support the story. Even if it's true, the MoD are unlikely to confirm it. The wartime claim that no German troops ever landed on British soil might be a myth but it's one they may wish to sustain indefinitely.
The island of Herm, where the Germans filmed 'The Invasion of the Isle of Wight'

February 2016
The development of LIDAR technology has benefited a number of disciplines, not least archaeology. The Island is fortunate that its County Archaeology Service has embraced the processes necessary to take full advantage of Isle of Wight coverage.
   Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is an airborne mapping technique which accurately measures the height of the terrain and surface objects on the ground, through the use of a scanning laser taking many thousands of measurements per second. The system allows highly detailed terrain models to be generated. It can identify features that aerial photography cannot show, in particular through its ability to read the surface under woodland. Until now, the only option to view archaeology overgrown by woodland was through ground surveys, where it is inherently difficult to create a composite plan of features.
   The information generated is supplied as numeric data and it is left to the user to manipulate the data into an image, using the Geographic Information System (GIS). LIDAR was introduced to the UK by the Environment Agency to assess flood risk and monitor coastal erosion. Initially there was limited access to the data but as they expanded their surveys it was opened up for public use. Most of the UK now has coverage and the Island's mapping is complete. Island archaeology has already used LIDAR as an aid to analysis of areas like Wootton-Quarr and Newtown Estuary. Ultimately, non-invasive archaeology requires a combination of processes to achieve best results.
  The LIDAR image below shows part of Brighstone Forest, effectively stripped of its woodland. The forest began to be extensively planted from the 1930s. Prior to that, much of the area was open chalkland. The image shows field systems, burial mounds and other features identifying periods of occupation. While many of these features have previously been recorded in ground surveys, LIDAR enables them to be viewed within the context of their original landscape.

March 2016
Implementation of the hammerhead crane's Urgent Works Notice was delayed in February 2015 because a pair of nesting ravens took a liking to the crane. Work couldn't start until the birds abandoned their nest in mid-summer. Now, with the work in progress, the ravens have returned.
  Urgent repairs were proposed in 2008 after the crane had been designated 'at risk'. What followed was a long running dispute between the council, the site owners and English Heritage. It wasn't until the beginning of 2015 that the works were finally approved, only for them to be delayed by the arrival of the dreaded crows. It's not clear whether the work is threatened by the ravens' return. It could be argued the situation is now different because they have started nesting in full knowledge that work is in progress, thus compromising their right to object, although crows are notoriously litigious. On the other hand, anyone who has strolled along the coast within a few metres of ravens might conclude their indifference to human activity is complete.
  Although the Urgent Works Notice had general requirements, it wasn't until the scaffolding was up that the detailed nature of the work required could be assessed, so it was some time before actual repairs got underway. At this stage, it is estimated the project is around 50% complete.
  The repair work will still be in progress while the long term future of the crane comes under scrutiny within the proposed Medina Yard Regeneration development. It is assumed the planning application will include complete renovation of the crane in phase one of the development. The site architects have said the application will be presented by Easter, so it is presumably imminent. The proposed development may well prove controversial and its acceptance is not a foregone conclusion. If it fails, the crane's fortunes will be back to square one.
Photos at left and centre show some of the repairs needed, requiring new steel plates, welding and replacing rusted rivets. Photo at right suggests shrapnel damage, discovered during the repairs survey. It probably arose during the notorious air raids on Cowes in May 1942.