That burning summer overhead

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The sky is clear over Romney Marsh, but once a battle raged here which affected us all

Across Rye Bay the summer that year was noisy. Planes clashed in dogfights overhead and the beaches were knee deep in barbed wire – rather than sunbathers and kitesurfers. Invasion seemed likely and once again Rye was in the front line.

So Lydia Syson’s latest book “That Burning Summer” (available from Rye Bookshop in the High Street) may appeal if you are looking for some holiday reading. That year was 1940 and young Peggy was growing up on the family farm.

The Battle of Britain was under way and overhead, and it was not unknown for shot down aeroplanes to be swallowed up by the soft earth of the fields reclaimed from the sea – and some remain there still.

A parachute falling from the sky may be “one of our lads”, but could equally well  be a German pilot. Everyone was on edge. Government advice on what to do “if the invader comes” set out some basic rules. “Stay put” was the first and the second was “Do not believe rumours and do not spread them” – perhaps good advice even today !

But the man who walked into a Marsh pub very early one Sunday morning and tried to buy a drink was a German spy. His rowing boat was found nearby and he was sentenced to death.

Lydia’s book therefore touches on a very nervous time in Britain’s history and the marsh has often been a scary place. Her heroine Peggy sees a parachute coming down and this changes her life forever. But to say more would be to give away the plot and spoil your enjoyment in reading this gripping tale.

Lydia tells a detailed story of how life was here in 1940 (based on much research and talking to local people) which weaves together history, romance, courage and coming-of-age in a charming but engrossing way.

If you, as a visitor or recent newcomer, want to learn more about that time, the Rye Arts Festival from September 17 to October 1 includes “A walk through WWII Rye” on Sundays September 18 and 24. For more details visit the Rye Arts Festival website or call in at the box office which opened this week at Phillips and Stubbs in Cinque Ports Street (9.30am-12.30pm) Monday to Saturday or call 01797-224442

Alternatively you could join one of the walks around Rye’s history organised by former history teacher Mike Carver. These start from the Mermaid Inn in Mermaid Street at 11am and 2pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 11am only on Wednesdays and Sundays.

And yet another way to explore Rye’s history is to visit the Rye Castle Museum in East Street and the Ypres Tower at the top of the hill near St Mary’s church. The tower is open 10.30am-5.00pm April to October and 10.30am-3.30pm November to March. For more information visit their website

This year’s 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings at nearby Battle is a reminder that the local coastline, only a short distance from France, has been a front line for invasions from William the Conqueror to Napoleon and Hitler – and the sky in 1940 was only the most recent battleground.

Photo: library image

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