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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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'One of Our Aircraft is Missing - the Escape'
By Colin Turner

Tuesday 15th May 2018

I'm never quite sure which of the P&P films I prefer best of all. It depends on the day, week, my mood and how close we are to the weekend of the 'Chillingbourne' ACT experience here in Kent. If I go to The Fens then it's a 'OOOAIM' day for sure and I have to go to the Copper Kettle for coffee at Crowland followed by a trip to Boston.

It was such a day that I was driven by my colleague Gerald from Oakham to Crowland where we took in the water tower, converted to a windmill by the Archers technicians for the film, and then drove on to Boston to see 'The Stump' church masquerading as a 'Dutch' church followed by the town bridge as a bridge over a 'Dutch' canal and then on to lunch. The Germans guard house is still behind The Stump by the way.

I always visit the swing bridge area used for the escape scenes at the end of the film and have seen it in recent days in a rather poor state, dilapidated and forlorn with rotting timbers around the protective structure up and down stream of the concrete central support. I've always thought the bridge was never used and for the last three trips it has remained stuck pointing up and down stream and I always thought awaiting demolition. How wrong I was.

When we pulled up outside the Quayside Inn, a highly recommended hotel providing drinks, coffee and accommodation just a short walk from the bridge, I heard a squeak and a loud rattling noise I had heard before on the soundtrack of the film. The bridge was being put into use and Boston Port engineers were scrambling to get the bridge in position to allow a train to run towards the main line near the A16. I ran to get my camera and took a few shots of the crew and chatted to them. They all knew the film of course and let me scramble over the bridge and photograph various parts of it. Great attention was paid to my safety and they were most courteous.

'Would they make a modern day crew for B for Bertie?'

They were very informative and told me trains ran usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays and still carry freight, mostly steel, from Boston Port to the mainline. In fact the track is owned by Boston Port right up to the main line where Network Rail takes over. The bridge has been converted to a hydraulic rotation system in later years although the cranking handle was still in place as a safety measure should the hydraulics fail. Remember the poor German guard trying to turn the handle dressed in full uniform dating from WW1 to open the bridge to let the fishing boats through? Even the two small hand wheels are still in use to lock the bridge once the rails are lined up and on the day we visited a large crowbar had to be called for to assist the process due to the rails expanding in the heat.

'Just as it was - then and now'

The diesel train duly arrived and took steel wagons fully laden towards the mainline and returned, about twenty minutes later, with twenty or so empty wagons. The crew on the bridge were extremely busy at this time using radios to marshal the train, open road crossing gates, change points and signals and ensuring the pedestrian gates were locked shut. Gerald and I by this time were safely behind the safety fence.

'Graham - not in a German uniform'

I never did see the fishing boat with the 'two white diamonds' and there was no guard or gun shots and certainly no sign of Jo de Vries although I did imagine the crew of 'B for Bertie' paddling their way out to sea on the far side of the river.

'Spot the Teddy Bear?'

If you would like refreshment or accommodation the Quayside Hotel has recently been extensively refurbished and the Manager Ricky Green knows about OOOAIM and welcomes P&P visitors. Finally I would like to thank the Boston Port crew who escorted me safely onto and off the bridge and answered my questions and to Gerald Stancey for transporting me around the Fens.

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