On Sunday the 25th August, 2013, a plaque was unveiled in the museum to commemorate Cpl Bill Sparks D.C.M., by local dignitaries including the Mayor of Castle Point. Many local councillors were in attendance.
Bill Sparks was one of two survivors, alongside Major ‘Blondie’ Hasler, amongst ten men who embarked on ‘Operation Frankton’. These commandos set out with collapsible canoes to plant mines on German ships in Bordeaux, canoeing through miles of water, in the black of the night, to the dock. Many canoes capsized, leaving the men to swim as a death sentence, whilst others were caught and executed by Germans. Only one canoe reached the target containing the two survivors. However, the men were only told what this suicide entailed after they had embarked on the HMS Tuna with the canoes on board.
Bill Sparks retired to Canvey Island in 1971, during his later life, because it was near the sea so he could practice canoeing, which had become a hobby of his. He lived initially in a council estate down Maple Way.
Training in the waters around Canvey for his re-enactment in 1983
(courtesy of CanveyIsland.org)
From Sunday 12th of August onwards, BeyondthePoint.co.uk (creators of this website, who research and explore local historical remnants) are displaying an exhibition on Canvey’s history, through time. However, it focuses on what’s left of our history, and what you can go and see yourself. Covering everything from Upper Horse Island – a Roman Fort, to nuclear and wartime bunkers, even covering the illusive history of Canvey’s oil refinery which could have been, covering one fith of the Island’s land-mass. Featuring archeological finds, intricate models, and plenty of information and images, this new look on your island is an unmissable exhibition. The Museum is open every Sunday, with the display located to the left of the upstairs balcony door, so come and see it for yourself.
A plaque has been placed in the museum to remember the extraordinary and daring pilot Norman Lees, who served with some very important feats. He died in a spitfire crash at the Goodwood festival twelve years ago. Below is an image of the plaque to the left of the museum entrance, and an image of the Castle Point Mayor Jackie Govier unveiling it. A display of memorabilia dedicated to him can be seen in the museum for a short time too.
The Bay Museum was a Cold War defense building, planned and built from 1962-1963, as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost concluded with a nuclear missile exchange between NATO (USA, Britian, Canada, and other European countries) and the Soviet Union, today Russia and the surrounding part of Eastern Europe. With this incredibly close call, many nuclear defences were reinforced, and many more were added, such as Canvey Degaussing Range Station.
The DG Station would have sent out a wire loop out to the middle of the Thames, which still remains somewhere on the seabed to this day. A piece of the wire is on display in the museum itself. There would have been two of these loops, which would have ended at the Station wired up to surveillance equipment. These loops would have been used to pick up electrical signals caused by magnetism from passing ships. In the Second World War, magnetically-detonated mines were placed around the English shoreline (especially the Thames and other docks) by the Germans, which would detonate if a ship passed over one, interrupting its magnetic field, causing it to be set-off, creating devastating underwater shock-waves for ships. The DG Station, or ‘Canvey Loop’ as sometimes known, would have monitored to see if passing ships had a device (electrified wire loop) wrapped around them to demagnetize the ships and therefore make them immune to magnetic underwater mines. The ships co-ordinates would be measured from a range-finder on the balcony, plus other equipment inside, and marked for needing a ‘de-mag’ device to be fitted. As the Cold War never turned hot and no magnetic mines were emplaced by the Soviets, the station was never used, although still fully kitted out and put on standby by the MOD.
A German magnetic mine
In the Cold War, both magnetic mines left over from WW2, and ‘to be deployed’ magnetic mines by Communist states/Soviet Russia, were a threat. Therefore the Degaussing Stations were constructed – not that many exist in the UK, and still just a few exist in the USA. The Bay Museum is undoubtedly the most suspicious and suitably-fashioned station in the country, with others simply being maybe an old house. One other can be seen in the walls of Coalhouse Fort, in Tilbury – a fort which saw dominant fortification in WW2.
The DG Station at Coalhouse Fort
The old website, http://www.the-bay-museum.co.uk, is soon to be replaced by this new site which will feature regular updates and new content, from past and upcoming events, to pictures and videos, and even historical information. As soon as the old website is taken offline, this current one at thebaymuseum.wordpress.com will take on the previous http://www.the-bay-museum.co.uk web address.