“… in the whole course of the war there was no story which gave me so much trouble as this one of the attempted German invasion, flaming oil on the water and 30,000 burned Germans.”[67
I went to Studland Bay once, by accident, a long time ago. We were working, it was late and far too far to drive back. It was late in the season, or maybe it was early – either way, there weren’t many people about. It had to be eighteen years ago now. I remember it well though.
We found a hotel perched out on a headland overlooking the Bay. After breakfast I took a walk in the soggy garden and wandered down to a spot where I could see the sweep of the beach. I stumbled over something, but I didn’t know how important it would become, then.
It was a concrete bunker, left over from the war. Unusually, this one was a long corridor of a shelter, painted in green camouflage. It’s probably still there. They’re hard to get rid of. I went inside. Fifty years before, a man with a camera had been there too. I didn’t know that then. He took the picture you can see at the top of this screen; a sea of flame. A barrage. A fougasse.
I don’t know why this story became so closely associated with Shingle Street, over 250 miles away from Studland, in Suffolk. Something happened there, although what, we’ll probably never know. Even the BBC only has the version not kept secret. But anything connected with military compulsory purchase is subject to a hundred-year rule, to protect people’s privacy. It could be that’s all it’s about.
I don’t know. I don’t even have a theory. I do know that as a child I was haunted by a deep fear that the sky would catch fire; a fear of nuclear war conflated with descriptions of sunsets. I think that’s the attraction of the Shingle Street story I’ve written a version of as a screenplay. We like to scare ourselves.