Blyth goes to war is an event that happens every May where Blyth travels back to the war years with re-enactments.
A couple of weeks ago we visited Blyth to find it had travelled back in time to the time of the war. Blyth is a town in Northumberland which is next to the sea. It is a busy port town which handles 1.5m tonnes of cargo each year as well as being home to a gorgeous beach.
You can easily spot Blyth as there are a number of large wind turbines in the harbour which help to provide electricity for the National Grid. Blyth grew rapidly as a port in the 18th Century when Newcastle and Northumberland were an industrial centre.
Coal mining and ship building were industries that were a big part of North East heritage and much of the coal came though Blyth port. The beach is well worth a visit with stretches of golden sand. There is also a chip shop, ice cream parlour and children’s playground near to the beach. You will also find the only beach huts in Northumberland at Blyth which make a bright and cheerful addition to the shore. Blyth is also very near to Seaton Delaval Hall, a National Trust property that is well worth a visit.
In 1916 Blyth battery was built at Blyth to help to defend the port and the submarine base that was there during the First World War. To celebrate the 100th birthday of Blyth battery Blyth went to war. There were soldiers from World War I and II and displays of weapons and military equipment. We had stumbled upon soldiers at Blyth beach last year completely accidentally and were looking forward to revisiting this year. The event was busy so it was hard to park in the main car park. A park and ride facility was available if you parked further down the coast which was very handy.
The first thing we noticed were the military vehicles. There were a range of these from the more modern vehicles that are still in use today, to the older vehicles from the war. One of the jeeps had a sign with Arabic writing on the front and a picture of a man holding his hand up. I imagine this is used in check points in conflict zones today. My son was taken with the World War II motorcycle. I can imagine that being ridden around the country taking important dispatches to where they were needed.
As well as the vehicles there were a number of soldiers recreating scenes from the first and second world war. Even though it was a lovely day and there was none of the noise of battle it gave a good indication of the conditions soldiers had to fight in during those wars. The hospital tent was a stark reminder of the casualties of war, at first we thought the wounded soldier was real. There were a range of regiments, we spotted the Gordon Highlanders and the Seventh Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. It was fascinating to see the differences between the uniforms of the different regiments and time periods. One lady was busy cooking rabbit stew over the fire, obviously the ration truck had not made it though the lines that day.
Whilst I have been to Blyth many times I have never gone inside Blyth battery. In fact I have walked past the buildings without really realising why they were there. Blyth battery was a coastal artillery battery. It had two gun emplacements and two searchlight emplacements which were in separate buildings. When it was in use the buildings were in a compound surrounded by a fence with temporary huts to hold the off duty personnel. Today it has mainly been absorbed into the beach, there are only a few buildings remaining. These are special as Blyth battery is the most intact coast defence battery on the North East and Yorkshire coast. Today Blyth battery is a Military and Local Heritage museum with many exhibits and several themed rooms.
We visited a couple of these, the WW1 Observation Post which contains a 1940’s home front living room complete with a picture of Winston Churchill and a radio. You can imagine a family sitting around the radio listening to the war news.
We also went into the Magazine, which is the main musuem area which has displays of ammunition and a look at the history of Blyth battery. The sign when we entered was a bit disturbing but we made it out safely. There are other sections to the museum which include the North Coastal Artillery Searchlight and the WW2 battery observation post which I will have to go back and explore.
Whilst we were looking around the event we got notification that a beach battle was about to take place. We headed down to the shore to find out what was going on. Against the backdrop of the golden sand and blue sky were a group of soldiers who were about to attack the coast. They needed to bring down the enemy radar tower. They had reached the coast by the means of their small canoes and needed to get up the shore to reach the radar tower. We watched as the battle took place with plenty of pyrotechnics. The display was based on the cockleshell heroes, who raided aided Nazi-occupied Bordeaux in December 1942 in Operation Frankton. The plan was for six teams of men in small canoes to enter the port and do as much damage as possible. Only two canoes made it to the harbour but they did a lot of damage, sinking one ship, damaging four and disrupting the port for months to come. Watching the beach battle was really interesting and made you realise how brave these soldiers wer.
We had a really interesting day at Blyth goes to war, learning a lot about the history of Blyth battery and seeing what it was like during the time of the war. I also got to hold a kestrel which was something I have always wanted to do.
Have you ever been to an event like this? What did you think? Let me know below.