Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Operation Starfish

I have been very busy and very excited. One of my favourite things is research and I’ve been doing a lot of it for two reasons. One is my Mavis’s Shoe event for schools at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, and the other is the sequel to Mavis’s Shoe, known to me as Mavis’s Other Shoe or Mavis 2 or even M2. This activity has taken me all over the central belt in cars, vans, trains and boats and has had me stumbling across a variety of fascinating facts and national secrets. Perhaps they are not actual secrets any more but are simply forgotten and undocumented.

This otherwise very boring picture, for instance, is Auchenreoch Decoy, part of Operation Starfish. It doesn’t look much but that perfectly circular pond in the lower right is in fact an old bomb crater. If you follow this link and scroll down you will find a zoomable map and if you zoom into the top orange marker you will find lines of bomb craters tracing the path of the Luftwaffe. Auchenreoch is near Dumbarton and the reason the Germans bombed the wide open countryside near Dumbarton is because Auchenreoch was actually a decoy model of Dumbarton made of wood and complete with street lights etc. And when the Germans came over there were also some very brave souls in an underground bunker (down at the bottom orange marker) setting light to their own model so that the Germans would think their raid was successful and carry on bombing there instead of going to where the real conurbations were. This seems to be the most dangerous job of them all, being the bait.

I have been told there was a similar model of Clydebank but I’m not sure where. I believe there may have been another near Greenock and more across the Central Belt and perhaps beyond. Fortunately we have no current use for such things, but still it seems strange just how undocumented this is. Perhaps, during the war, things just got done and with the prospect of invasion so real, documentation was worth avoiding.

If you’re as nosy as I am you might also want to look at the National Library of Scotland map website which has all sorts of maps of Scotland, both current and historic, all available online. But their best, for my purposes anyway, is the zoomable mosaic of photos of Scotland taken from the air between 1944 and 1950. It is in no way complete but shows a pre-motorway world with umpteen train lines criss-crossing our world, or beating a path under the hills as in the Greenock/Port Glasgow/Gourock area. I begin to see and feel what it might have been like for Lenny, heroine of Mavis’s Shoe, to arrive in Greenock from across the water.