It is hard to imagine the impact that 200 plus fit young men with their strange accents had on the close-knit, war-weary folk of Bridport Harbour, but there are still a number of people, children during the Second World War, who remember the time the GIs were billeted in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944.
Arthur Watson’s family moved to West Bay in 1939. ‘Got-any-gum, chum?’ on Wednesday 8th May at 7.30pm at the Salt House, is an opportunity to hear some of his childhood memories of life in war-time West Bay; including living alongside the GIs. The audience are invited to ask questions and share their own memories and stories. Tickets are just £3, available from the Discovery Centre, the Tourist Information Office or on the door.
On the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, our special exhibition, ‘Warm Beer and Cabbages’, is running until the last week of June and tells the story of the American Servicemen in the area and the first day on Omaha beach.
Sandy Hashimi our West Bay Discovery Centre Manager has been invited to produce some guest blog posts for Bridport Cottages . Some of which we have reproduced below.
One of the great things about working at the West Bay Discovery Centre, is the number of photographs that folk bring in to show us. Whether it’s a picture of the harbour taken 50 years ago or a cherished family snap on the beach, we encourage visitors to share their memories with us, all of which adds to the story of life in West Bay.
With a good number of photographs to hand, we were thinking about unwitting testimony; learning something from an object or picture that is unintended. As an example, I took this photo on my ‘phone recently when we had a very low tide. The focus was really the fishing boat and the wee rowing boat, but later I noticed three men at the far end working on the bottom of the harbour.
The Pier Terrace
The picture of Pier Terrace was taken specifically to record the fire in 1929, but we see that there was some sort of balcony around number 10. The photograph wasn’t intended to provide information about the building – other than it was on fire – but nonetheless it did. It started us on a search through old photographs of Pier Terrace to try to pinpoint when this balcony appeared, as it certainly wasn’t on those dated 1910 and earlier.
Clearly, the concept of unintended evidence has fed into novels and films – the traveller taking a picture of his companion, only to find later that in the far distance a shady figure has its hands fixed around the neck of a slender form. (It goes without saying here that if you do notice anything of this nature in one of your pictures, you should perhaps let the authorities know!)
What Else Do Pictures Tell Us?
Have you ever tried to figure out what time of day a photograph was taken? The picture doesn’t exist to tell you, but quite often you can work it out by the length and direction of shadows or the people around go about their daily life. Obviously, a photo of West Bay which includes St John’s Church clock really helps!
What If …
And how brilliant are photos anyway? When you look at them, you could wonder how different the image might be if the shutter was opened a few seconds earlier or later or the picture taken from a couple of inches to the right or the left. Perhaps the sun would have gone behind a cloud, that girl might turn away, the dog lay down, the wind calm and the flag fall flat. A photograph is a recording of a split second of time, and something, somewhere in that picture will be different in the blink of an eye.
So next time you check the pictures on your ‘phone, look carefully – you never know what you might have caught on camera.
Captain John G. W. Finke was the Commander of F Company, who were based in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944, when they left Castletown, Portland for Omaha beach on the Normandy coast.
We were sent this picture of Captain Finke by the 16th Infantry Regiment Association in the USA – and it was great to finally put a face to the name. Whilst still in England in the marshalling area in June 1944, Finke had badly sprained his left ankle, which on the day of the landings was heavily taped. Instead of a rifle, he was clutching a cane. Heading towards the Omaha beach, his landing craft (LCVP) had gone 1,100 yards off course. The plan was that all F Company’s six LCVPs would arrive at the same time, thus providing the enemy more targets than they could deal with, but each was up to 1,100 yards off target and strung out in both position and time. They were supposed to take advantage of dead spots in the German fields of fire, but instead three of the boats were right in the kill zone between German defence nests, WN-62 and WN-61.
When he finally left the landing craft, the water was nearly over Captain Finke’s head and he struggled with his injury to shore. Exhausted, seasick from a two-hour ride and with heavy enemy fire destroying any semblance of an organised assault, the troops were trying to take cover anywhere they could, often behind the defensive obstacles which had teller mines attached to them.
As heavy as the enemy fire was, and as vulnerable as men would be on the move, Finke realised it was worse for them to stay put as stationary targets in the shadow of those teller mines. He therefore walked around whacking people until they moved. John McManus reports in his excellent book, The Dead and Those Dying, “Several times he rapped prone forms to discover they were dead. Other times, he smacked men with is cane several times, got no reaction, and assumed they were dead, only to see their petrified faces, and understand they were too frightened to move.
“Come on, get up, go on!” he yelled, without wielding his cane – then each man could pretend he was talking to someone else. But if he hit a man personally with his cane, there could be no ambiguity – get moving or else – and he was right.”
In this way, he got many of them up and running the several hundred yards to the comparative safety of the shingle bank. By the time he made it there himself he had lost 25 per cent of his command.
In the course of that awful day, Captain Finke would be badly wounded; a compound fracture of the elbow and a broken left tibia. However, with little thought for his own safety, rifle-less and limping on his sprained ankle, he saved many of his men and would, ultimately, survive the war.
Our exhibition entitled, Warm Beer and Cabbages, remembers the time the American Servicemen lived among us in the run-up to D-Day and starts on Good Friday, 19th April to Sunday 23rd June. It commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
80,000 US troops stayed in Dorset, training for the D-Day landings. 75 years on, our exhibition will remember the time when American soldiers lived among us in West Bay and the day they disappeared. (Friday 19th April to Sunday 23rd June, 2019).
Sergeant Phil Streczyk was billeted in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944 en route to the Normandy beaches. He was 25 years old and was in the first wave to be dropped 200 yards out from Omaha beach at 6.30am on 6th June. When rifleman Stanley Dzierga slipped under the water, he pulled the man back to the surface, and when Edwin Piasecki’s 80lb backpack pulled him beneath the waves, he hung on to him and saved him from drowning. On the beach under constant fire, he was described as fearless, “I never saw a man like that in my life. He wasn’t that big of a guy. He just went, did everything and it just seems he was immune to the fire.” Said Dzierga who he had saved from the sea. He went ahead, he pulled and cajoled his men along, taking the risks on their behalf.
Captain Wozenski wrote of the courageous New Jersey native, “If he did not earn a Congressional Medal of Honor, no one did.”
The 25-year-old sergeant did become one of the most decorated NCOs of World War II and it is safe to say that no single individual contributed more to the 1st Division’s success on D-Day that Streczyk did. He continued to fight after D-Day, through Normandy, through the Mons pocket, Aachen and then into the brutal Hurtgen Forest, leading by example every step of the way. In all, he logged 440 days of frontline combat duty and survived many wounds. In one instance a pistol bullet hit him in the base of the neck, yet he refused medical evacuation. Somehow the wound healed, but it left a deep scar. Montgomery pinned the UK Military Medal on his chest on the 7th July 1944 (see picture).
He was evacuated from the front lines with combat fatigue – a grim reminder that even the bravest souls have their limits. He became a builder in Florida, married and had four children, but he missed his men and could not leave the war and D-Day behind. Streczyk was in persistent pain from his physical wounds and at night he was tormented with traumatic battle dreams. In 1957, after years of emotional and physical pain, he took his own life.
As we reach almost twelve months since work started on the Chapel its a good time to look back and see what has been achieved. It’s difficult to remember that the Methodist Chapel looked like this time last year – abandoned and in need of a restoration.
The builders started work in mid-February and the interior looked even worse for a while as the early work stripped back existing wall and ceiling coverings.
The floor boards were removed so that repairs could be carried out to the timber joists underneath and then relaid. The ceiling panels were also removed , the roof insulated and new panels were fitted.
In April the walls were re-plastered and the windows refurbished and the ceiling was refitted.
In May a new mezzanine level was completed using oak and pine.
The completed building prior to fitting out. Our builders, R & C Building Conservation, led by Cristian Nicoara, did a great job ! The basis for this was the design work of Angel Architecture’s Kim Sankey, who has had a long association with the building. Daryl Chamber’s tenacious project management skills meant that everything was delivered to plan.
The outside was repainted creating a very different look to its appearance in January 2018. Although the seagulls didn’t take long to christen it!
The fitting of interpretation and displays by our designers Smith & Jones begins – it takes three days – it was strange to see everything in reality after having worked on the concept and content for so many months beforehand.
Our Discovery manager Sandy Hashimi welcomes our volunteers and gives them a final briefing.
West Bay Discovery Centre is officially opened by the Deputy Mayor of Bridport, Martin Ray. The Trustees of Bridport Area Development Trust and the Management Group of West Bay Discovery Centre join him to mark this important milestone.
Washed Ashore– our first exhibition highlighted the issue of plastics being washed up on the beach.
Our collection of nurdles/biobeads collected from West Bay Beach Clean sessions by the public.
World War 1 Exhibition – most of the artifacts were lent by local people. We discovered the life stories of the six men who never returned to West Bay and are recorded on the memorial in St John’s Church.
Model Boat exhibition – a wonderful selection of model boats produced by members of the local model group
It has been wonderful to have welcomed over 9,000 visitors into the building since August. The numbers having well exceeded our expectations. We still have many exciting plans and ideas to fulfill in 2019. So do please follow our progress and come in and see us when we reopen in mid-February for the 2019 season.
What an amazing month we have had since we opened! We welcomed 3,880 visitors through the doors which exceeded our expectations. We have also received some very positive feedback verbally and in our visitors book!
We thought we would share some of these comments with you.
“Fabulous exhibition , fun, informative. Great stuff brilliant, great for young and old.”
” Brilliant use if this space very interesting and informative.”
“Fantastic display , wonderful idea loved that there is lots to play with.”
“Wonderful to see the old building put to such good use. Imaginative and informative. Loved the historic pictures of West Bay and the videos.”
“Very interesting history of West Bay and West Dorset. They have done a good job. well done!”
“What an amazing place to enjoy as children and adults. Well thought out, thank you.”
“Very interesting and great ‘hands on’ for children. Amazing stories from residents of the area too,very enjoyable.”
“Good interactive display for children. Really interesting and informative, brilliantly laid out.”
“Lovely centre of local interest and good to see chapel put to such good use.”
“Amazing look at the past, staff very welcoming and friendly.”
“This all wouldn’t have been made possible without our excellent part time manager and the volunteers who have so generously given up their time to help us.”
If you haven’t had a chance to visit us yet do come and see us!
We are now in the process of planning future exhibitions and content more details soon…
One of the challenges in the Discovery Centre will be the limited information we can share in a small space. We are hoping that we will give visitors hints and advice to look at West Bay in a different way and make their own discoveries…..
Wildlife is one area we will be covering, and we just had to share with you the amazing display of oxeye daisies and red valerian alongside the path on West Cliff at the moment. The numbers of flowers just seem to increase each year!
It feels as if time is moving too fast at the moment, as we head closer to our opening day later in the summer. The building work is almost complete and so are plans for the interior. We are pleased to announce that we have now appointed Sandy Hashimi as our Discovery Manager.
We are now looking for Discovery volunteers to join us to engage with visitors and guide them in the exploration of the Discovery Centre and through it West Bay.
If you share our passion for West Bay and have a few hours to spare, we would love to hear from you.
Initially our greatest need will be for stewards but there are other opportunities, as can be seen on our dedicated Volunteer pages on this website.
For further information please contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
“A treasure trove of West Bay stories and information and a base for exploration and adventure”… Have you got what it takes to breathe life into our vision for the brand new West Bay Discovery Centre?
We’re looking for a well-organised, creative and enthusiastic person to join us to run the new West Bay Discovery Centre. While experience in a similar role could be an advantage, what we’re really looking for is a person with strong and confident management skills, experience of nurturing and motivating volunteers and the ability to communicate exceptionally well with all different sorts of people.
Friendly and engaging, you will be confident at problem-solving and happy being hands-on. You’ll have a good grasp of marketing and fundraising and be able to demonstrate an aptitude for planning our events and activities programme, drawing upon the talents and passion of those around you. Computer skills will be important, as well as basics like health and safety and cash handling.
No two days will be the same and that’s when your time management skills will come into play, as well as your ability to focus on what matters and to manage you and your volunteer team’s, energy and motivation.
Above all, you will share our passion for West Bay and will be as excited as we are about the enormous potential of the Discovery Centre.
This role is for an initial four month fixed-term period, pending funding confirmation, subject to which, we expect it to become permanent.
26 hours per week, which may include weekend and bank holiday working. pro-rata to £20,000 per annum. Based in West Bay but with an expectation of some travel locally, so use of your own car would be an advantage.