Anthony Park - Atomic Bombs and Spies?
In October 1942 two “well dressed” men arrived on the doorstep of Rex McKeil’s home in Lower Selma and offered to purchase the land across the road. McKeil objected but soon realized he had no choice. The land was confiscated from him for a price of $8 per acre. The new owners were the American Navy.
The American Navy had been testing bombs in Florida and were using divers to retrieve them from the ocean. This was found to be cumbersome so the Navy searched North America for an alternative. The alternative was the Bay of Fundy. It was chosen because bombs could be dropped during high tide and then retrieved during low tide by driving onto the mud flats.
The United States Bureau of Ordnance acquired the land west of the brook where Anthony Park now is and constructed three large buildings. The first was to house approximately twenty-five scientists, the second a garage and the third was a carpenters building. Locals were employed as builders, cooks, carpenters and mechanics but the mission was highly secretive and none knew the purpose of this base; to perfect the detonator to be used on the atomic bomb. Perhaps one local person knew what was being done in our back yard, the pilot.
The Navy had one plane stationed at Debert and commissioned pilot Freddie Green to drop the bombs. Prior to working for the Navy, Freddie was a stunt pilot for a circus. According to Betty O’Toole he performed all kinds of “twirls and upside downs and tried to fly under the electric wires. He scared the life out of me one day. He came so close to the house I just dropped right down to the floor.” Although his job was a serious one he routinely performed stunts which delighted onlookers.
Each day locals would watch a bomb being dropped. Then, when the tide was low, they could watch it being collected. Although they had warned the Navy about the speed of the tides and how dangerous they can be but the Americans were still caught short. On one day they went to collect the bomb and suddenly found themselves surrounded by water. They barely escaped with their lives. Rex McKeil and his neighbour rescued them but had to leave three vehicles in the bay which would later be retrieved.
An atomic bomb has to be detonated above ground, so the Navy were seeking to find out at exactly what point the detonator should be activated. When a bomb was dropped it had a nylon parachute attached to it to control the descent, thus allowing for a more precise measurement. Once the bomb had been dropped they had no use for the parachute. The men would bring the parachutes home and the women would make curtains from them. According to O’Toole, “Everyone had beautiful curtains”.
On August 5th 1945 the base began to clear out. Large holes were dug, into which leather sofas, tables and other belongings were thrown and buried. The community were not offered anything, although the local mechanic who had been employed by the Navy had the foresight to take as much as he could and set up his own shop. To this day the US Navy’s belongings are still buried in the ground of Anthony Park.
On 7th August 1945 the US Navy in Selma completed their mission. The first bomb was dropped.
While the US Navy was stationed in Lower Selma only one member socialized with local people. Charlie Lane visited Rex McKeil everyday for “coffee and a donut” and all knew him. It wasn’t until after the war it was discovered Charlie was a spy. As the agencies were “closing in” on him he jumped from a window and committed suicide.
During the three years the US base existed in Lower Selma nobody had any idea what experiment was taking place. The local community never thought twice about it. There were no explosions. They had no need to question. In the words of Roy Rhyno, “No-one envisioned they would be associated with such a disastrous event as the atomic bomb”.
So there it is - atomic bombs and spies in our back yard.
- Kate Robson