Extracts from B Millar, Tales of Old North Berwick (1998)

The Observer Corps (later Royal Observer Corps) had a local formation for the reporting of aircraft seen in the vicinity. They had an observation post and dug-out on top of the Castle Hill and did much valuable work from this eminently suitable vantage point, checking friendly as well as enemy aircraft. The personnel from this corps were mainly drawn from the businessmen of the town.

At this time there was a full time Coastguard Station in North Berwick, standing watches in the look-out hut on Platcock Rocks. As in the case of the Police, this group was strengthened by the recruitment of ‘Auxiliary Coastguards’, whose duties included watch-keeping and beach patrols to either side of the town.

The Hampden incident. An eyewitness recounted: “We heard the approach of heavy aircraft and out of the gloom saw a group of twin-engined, twin-tailed planes. Arguments started among us as to their type – most favouring Dornier DO17s. Seconds later, this appeared to be confirmed when Spitfires started swooping on them and firing into the group and almost immediately two of the bombers were seen to fall out of formation towards the sea. Great was our joy to see ‘our Spitfires’ victorious but slightly puzzled as to why the enemy bombers were firing Very lights. All thoughts of school forgotten, everyone ran down to the harbour to see the ‘Germans’ brought ashore. Those taking a short cut across the beach arrived first but those running down Victoria Road collected a bonus in the dozens of spent brass cartridge cases strewn around, still warm from the fighters’ guns.

At the harbour the inevitable crowd had gathered as if by magic, in time to see local fishing boats bring the ‘enemy’ ashore. Great was the consternation and disbelief when the four survivors squelching up from the jetty not only spoke English but were dressed in RAF uniforms. We learnt that these men were the crew of an RAF Hampden bomber downed near the Craig whilst another had ditched west of Fidra. The ‘Craig’ Hapden subsequently broke up in the winter storms providing many souvenirs as pieces of aluminium were washed ashore.

To the west of the [golf] course, large minefields were sown all the way to Yellowcraig Wood and thence northwards. The whole area, including the dunes, was liberally festooned with concertina barbed wire, vestigial traces of which can still be seen today.

For the many servicemen in the area, off-duty hours were precious, although local facilities for enjoyment were limited. The pubs did brisk trade, some being favoured by individual groups. The Royal Hotel cocktail bar was the fighter pilot’s ‘howff’. The Harbour Pavilion, freed from barracks usage, held twice-weekly dances and ‘go as you please’ concerts but for dances and romances, the ‘Sweat Box’ was the ‘in’ place. The ‘Sweat Box’, self-explanatory one would imagine, was the sobriquet accorded what is now the Scout Hall in St Baldred’s Road. Here, several times a week, an accordion band served up Tin Pan Alley to capacity crowds.

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