Old Harry Rocks
Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
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The Little Girl’s Secret The wind had blown sand off the beach onto the promenade at Bournemouth, a coastal town on the south coast of England. It was a clear summer day in 1943, when ten-year old Sylvia and her four-year brother were playing in the sand. They didn’t often get to play along the seafront and when they did, it was usually a Sunday just after Church. On this Sunday, it was at lunchtime, and they were the only ones on the promenade. The two lived on Tregonwell Road, a ten-minute walk from home to the sea front. The people of Bournemouth were used to air-raid sirens, loss of sleep, and the queuing for food. Since the outbreak of war, the town’s air raid sirens had sounded some 847 times, bombs had been dropped, civilians killed, homes and businesses destroyed and damaged. RAF Station Bournemouth had welcomed thousands of aircrew and was home to the No 3 Personnel Reception Centre for Dominion aircrew and No 11 Australian Personnel Dispatch and Receiving Centre. As the two children played in the sand, Sylvia heard a single plane flying in low. She knew the plane was not Allied, but German, as she saw yellow paint. The aircraft turned around and came back firing its guns. “I rushed my brother in behind a concrete pillar, under the bathing station and hid my brother and myself. The sound was very loud, as the pilot emptied his guns into the pillar. We stayed hidden until the firing stopped.” Sylvia looked out with care and watched the plane fly out over the sea and when it passed Old Harry Rocks, she and her brother came out from behind the pillar. Shell casings were all over the promenade, but the two went back to playing in the sand. Like so many in England during World War II, they “kept calm and carried on”. She didn’t want to tell anyone what happened that Sunday morning in Bournemouth. “I thought we would get into trouble. I was not really brave, but smart, that day in 1943. I knew the sound of planes. I never thought my story was important. Now at the age of 88, I thought it may be of interest.” After Sylvia was married, her husband would tell her that she would hold her breath when she was asleep and heard a plane. After they were married, Sylvia and her husband immigrated to Canada from England. The story was shared by Sylvia (Ellam) Murrayford August 2021
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The Little Girl’s Secret Bournemouth, England - 1943