This week marks 75 years since the last shell fell on Dover in the Second World War. I paid my respects at a special memorial service at St Mary’s Church on Saturday.
September 26th, 1944 should have been a day of celebration in Dover – a time when the nightmare of Hellfire Corner would finally come to an end. However the German naval gunners were determined to end not with a whimper but a bang. Using up their last remaining stocks of ammunition, they rained more than 50 shells on Dover. These killed a soldier in a bungalow at Broadlees Road, a sailor in a pub in Snargate Street, an airman in Frith Road and several others.
Yet surely the most astonishing was the unfortunate Patience Ransley. Patience had sensibly taken refuge from the bombardment in the Snargate Street deep shelter. It was lined with reinforced concrete, beneath 38 feet of chalk. Incredibly a one-ton armour piercing shell stuck, boring all the way through the chalk and concrete to explode and instantly kill poor Patience.
Just a few hours later, the gun batteries finally fell silent as nearly 30,000 Germans surrendered in the Pas de Calais area. At last, Dover was free from almost daily shelling that had devastated the town.
This sad tale serves as a reminder of the challenges Dover still faces today. A beautiful regency town was lost to the shelling. Many great buildings were destroyed by the German onslaught. Those that replaced them have not always been the greatest feats of architecture.
That’s why I have been fighting for investment to put this right. We got Burlington House and the old multi-storey car park torn down. A £50 million shopping and cinema complex has risen in their place. The tatty Townwall Street leisure centre has closed. A new £26 million state-of-the-art facility opened at Whitfield earlier this year.
I also held talks with Government ministers recently about two more projects. They have agreed to give us £2.4 million to renew the Market Square area with lights, a decent fountain, new seating an extended pedestrian zone. They have also shortlisted a bid for up to £25 million for a pedestrian bridge over the A20, linking the town centre to the seafront. Dover District Council will receive £150,000 to draw up a full business case.
This is hugely important – because we must build on recent success. We need a better link to our seafront, which is itself undergoing a £250 million transformation. As well as expanded cargo facilities, the marina is being moved to the harbour front. This is a great opportunity to boost the area with shops, bars, restaurants and live music. I am urging the Port of Dover to maximise their investment as they build it out next year.
We have come a long way in Dover – yet there is much more to do. The town has faced many challenges over many years. We have overcome them all. We must keep fighting to build our brighter future – because our best days are yet to come.