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The Mysterious and Macabre Story of Shingle Street

You may well wonder: what is Shingle Street? To understand the strange and enduring story, we must take a trip back to the Second World War. Arguably, it has become a legend; a most grim and grisly one, too. It concerns a small village in Suffolk, England called Shingle Street. As the Guardian newspaper says: “Shingle Street itself has been the subject of fevered speculation ever since it was evacuated in 1940. Conspiracies include rumors of a German landing and a shoreline littered with burning bodies, schemes to protect the coastline with an impenetrable barrage of flames and the testing of experimental chemical bombs. Four dead German airmen were certainly washed up on the beach, and weapons testing did result in the Lifeboat Inn being blown up. As for the rest, the conspiracy theories rumble on.”

The BBC, too, has addressed the matter of what did, or what didn’t, happen at Shingle Street all those decades ago: “A World War II mystery over a ‘failed Nazi invasion’ at a remote beach in Suffolk may have been manufactured by Britain’s head of propaganda, a BBC documentary suggests. The BBC East Inside Out team investigated the events of 1940 at Shingle Street. The program suggested that Sefton Delmer, a former Daily Express journalist who – during the Second World War – organized Britain’s ‘black’ propaganda unit, could have spread rumors of a failed Nazi invasion to boost morale. The rumors may have even been used to cover up the loss of lives on a British naval destroyer. Since 1940 there have been continuing rumors of a sea on fire and a failed invasion attempt at Shingle Street, near Woodbridge, Suffolk [the site of the 1980 famous, alleged UFO landing, of course]. Mike Paintin said that his father, a soldier during World War II, told how he was called out to pick up dead bodies from Shingle Street. “My father and the rest of his colleagues were called out to pull bodies from the sea,” he said. “The common link was that they were all in German uniforms and were all badly burned.”

Steve Russell, at the Ipswich Star newspaper said of this controversy demonstrated that the story may not be all that it seems to be. He says: “It’s the rumour that never dies: the story about the North Sea being set ablaze in the autumn of 1940 and corpses of German troops washing up on the beach. It’s said the authorities hushed it up. Historian James Hayward debunked the theory more than 20 years ago and today, after a fresh look and more research, is still convinced there’s nothing to it…

“Some dead Nazis were washed up on beaches (but only a few of them, and not here) and there were officially-spread reports of major German invasions being thwarted (but those were lies − propaganda sown by the British authorities to galvanise American support for the allied cause). And James does publicise – for, essentially, the first time – details of Britain’s initial military experiments involving setting fire to the sea, which took place at Orford. But that was during the First World War, not the second – a few weeks before Christmas, 1914. You can see how these intriguing but unconnected happenings, if mashed together and left to ferment over time, could conceivably fuel myriad conspiracy theories.”

Of course, it’s all but inevitable that the story of Shingle Street (or the non-story, depending on your perspective) will continue to thrive, as just about all conspiracies do. The story may not have become as famous as the Roswell “UFO crash” of 1947, the question of who Jack the Ripper really was, and the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, but it has not gone away. Indeed, it’s likely to stay with us for a very long time.


Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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