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November 11, 2013

Wartime Marblehead comes back to life

(Continued)

“For the most part, Marblehead was very, very typical. ... You can use it as a lens to see the entire war,” Casey said.

There was one crucial difference — the town’s link to the sea. Most ’Headers served in the Navy or Coast Guard, which actually had a barracks on Front Street.

Being on the water also meant never forgetting a war was on. Boaters and fishermen had their comings and goings restricted. Residents on Ocean Avenue were forbidden to show lights at night out of fear that German U-boats would use them to silhouette passing American ships. On West Shore Drive, lights had to be dimmed.

Poring over documents, Casey found a reference to the movie “Massachusetts Shore Leave,” which he later located in the National Archives. Marbleheaders stationed overseas had an uncanny aptitude for finding one another and calling out a peculiar local greeting, either “Whip!” or “Down Bucket!” Yet, Casey suspects that none got to see this movie.

“I don’t think anyone in Marblehead ever saw it,” he said.

The film aimed to give servicemen a glimpse of home, a reminder they were not forgotten. It would be shown with a cartoon, said Casey and carry the message that “on the home front, they’re pulling their weight, too.” The Pictorial Service made other films showing places like Madison, Ind., Detroit and even a Georgia peanut farm.

The Marblehead movie depicts fictional sailor Walter Burke, a shipmate in tow, coming home to the town “Where they say the U.S. Navy was born.” Actors play principal roles, but real Marbleheaders are seen, as well, particularly during a service at St. Michael’s Church.

Casey noted that former Selectman Bill Conly believes he was in church on the day the movie was filmed. The names of actual Marbleheaders serving overseas are mentioned, including “the Polley boys.” Bud Polley had already been killed in action, while Gib was a prisoner of war, Casey said. The Boggis brothers, Cliff and Porter, had been wounded at Normandy.

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