Battle of Goodwin Sands: Fury over plan to dredge sandbank where remains of RAF heroes have laid for 76 years
- Goodwin Sands could be dredged for cheap building material like gravel
- BFG star Mark Rylance is among those behind campaign to save sandbank
- Sands is resting place for scores of RAF heroes who died in the Battle of Britain and developers are being urged to respect the graves
For 76 years it has been the resting place of scores of RAF heroes who gave their lives defending the nation in the Battle of Britain.
Now their remains face destruction – as giant dredgers prepare to move on to the Channel sandbank where they crashed to dig out cheap building material.
More than 10,000 people have signed a petition to stop the Dover Harbour Board dredging Goodwin Sands for gravel to expand cargo facilities and build a marina at Dover port.
Ghostly: Sonar image of the Dornier on the sandbank. This is the only surviving German Second World War Dornier Do 17 bomber in the sands
Actor Mark Rylance, star of hit film Big Friendly Giant and Wolf Hall, is among those behind the SOS (Save Our Sands) campaign.
Last night he urged developers to ‘respect the graves’ and asked: ‘Would they dredge an ancient graveyard or battlefield?’
The wreck of the German World War II Dornier Do-17 plane being raised to the surface of a ship at Goodwin Sands, Kent, at the mouth of the English Channel, on June 10, 2013
The beach and seafront in Deal, Kent. Campaigners include Mark Rylance and Miriam Margoyles
Rylance is joined by Miriam Margolyes, whose home on top of the white cliffs of Dover overlooks the Goodwins.
The Harry Potter actress said: ‘Battle of Britain planes and pilots could be disturbed and war graves desecrated. I am profoundly disgusted at this plan.’
The Goodwin Sands is a notorious ten-mile stretch of shifting sandbanks off the Kent coast, near Deal. During the bitter aerial combat of 1940, at least 60 British and German aircraft plummeted into the sandbank from the skies.
The Goodwins has also seen more than 2,000 shipwrecks – in the Great Storm of 1703, on one night alone 1,200 men were lost on its banks.
SOS campaigners warn that the plan to remove 2.5 million cubic metres of sand and gravel will not only disturb the wrecks but will cause coastal erosion, endanger delicate ecosystems and wildlife, including a large seal colony.
But it is the threat to the graves of RAF pilots that has caused most anger. David Brocklehurst MBE, curator of the Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge, spent two months searching war records to identify the locations of aircraft that came down over the Goodwins.
He said: ‘I can tell you with my hand on my heart that there are missing airmen out on the Goodwins. We must commemorate and protect the last resting place of our heroes.’
His list of 60 lost planes and their crews includes Spitfires and Hurricanes, as well as German Messerschmitts, Dornier Do 17s and Junkers Ju 88s, all shot down and never recovered between May 29 and November 14, 1940.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb AB910 Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
SOS director Laura Evers Johns said yesterday: ‘The Goodwins contain a staggering number of wrecks and the graves of many thousands of servicemen, mariners and fishermen. The plan to dredge them is immoral and unscrupulous and would result in the desecration of countless graves. It’s displaying a total disregard for the law and lack of respect for the servicemen who gave their lives for this country.’
The petition will be presented in Parliament by Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who says: ‘It is critical to ensure that no war graves are disturbed and that no ecology is damaged.’
The body deciding the fate of the Goodwins graveyard is the Marine Management Organisation, which has until October 13 to make up its mind whether to grant a dredging licence. SOS is hoping that the Ministry of Defence’s department responsible for human remains, the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, will back its campaign.
THE PICTURE POST HERO LOST OVER THE SANDS AGED JUST 19
This Picture Post magazine, published at the height of the Battle of Britain, features Pilot Officer Keith Gillman of 32 Squadron
One of the most famous Battle of Britain pilots lost over Goodwin Sands was 19-year-old Keith Gillman.
His portrait appeared on the cover of Picture Post magazine, left, in 1940. But unknown to readers at the time, his Hurricane of 32 Squadron had been shot down on August 25 – the week before the magazine was published – within sight of his Dover home, plummeting on to the sandbank.
Neither he nor his aircraft were recovered. His great-niece Amanda Lomas, 47, of River, near Dover, said: ‘Our family has always been immensely proud of Keith and kept his memory alive over the years.
‘I’ve been out to the Goodwin Sands by boat at low tide and it’s a magical place. It makes me very uncomfortable to think that war graves there could be disturbed.
‘Those pilots, like my great-uncle, were heroes. They deserve to be treated with respect.’
The Goodwin Sands is owned by the Crown Estates, which in 2013 produced an environmental report which stated: ‘Military air crash sites are automatically subject to legal protection through the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.’
It added: ‘No [dredging] licence will be allowed if there are human remains present, the intention being that such remains be left in peace where they lie.’
Dover Harbour Board denies its plans could cause problems, saying that no known military wrecks or aircraft crash sites are within the proposed dredge area.
Port of Dover spokesman Chris Talbot said: ‘Experts have surveyed the dredge areas and identified exclusion zones for known archaeological sites.’
In 2013 a German Dornier Do 17 emerged from the sands for the first time since it was shot down with its three crew on August 26, 1940.
The well-preserved twin-engine aircraft was recovered for restoration and eventual display at the RAF Museum in Hendon, North London.