A Diary of Events
Shoreham in WWII by Gerald White
As the month of September arrived, the National news couldn’t have been worse. Local people who had no radio gathered in public houses and homes where a radio was available, everyone expected the worst. Mr Stanley Baldwin the Prime Minister spoke to say that Herr Hitler had gone back on his words of peace, would not undertake his promise not to invade Poland and because of this we were now at war with Germany.
Call Up, LDV and Ration Books
Reservists were called up and members of the Armed Forces had all leave cancelled. In Shoreham the Territorial Army gunners 113th Regiment of Field Artillery, based in Worthing set up a field Headquarters at Buckingham Park. The guns, 25 pounders, had only that summer been used on training at the annual summer camp at the Okehampton ranges. The brand new guns were dug in at Buckingham Park and were ranged onto the airport, and Shoreham beach, where landings might occur. The Shoreham battery, was taking its first positive action in what was to be a long war. In the immediate days following the outbreak the National Service Act was introduced, and call up was announced for all men between the ages of 18 and 40. Local men were required to register for medicals at Oddfellows Hall in Queens Road Brighton.
It was also announced by the government that a new defence force called the Local Defence Volunteers was to be formed and volunteers called in to register their names at Tarmount police station. The LDV, as comedians pointed out, stood for Look Duck and Vanish. This organisation was to become known as the Home Guard. Shoreham became number nine company of the Sussex Home Guard. Many of the volunteers were too young for regular service and many were veterans of the Boer and the Great War which had only ended 22 years before. Sixty year old Wlliam White, a Corporal worked as a storeman in the local Home Guard which was situated in the ex. serviceman‟s club in Connaught Avenue which was later to become the Shoreham Grammar School playing field and gymnasium.
All adults had to register themselves and be issued with identity cards which had to be shown on demand to the police, and any member of His Majesty’s armed forces on duty. The carrying of cards was to remain until 1952. All Austrian and German nationals were taken to an internment camp on the Isle of Man, Italian nationals followed shortly afterwards. Very little action between antagonists occurred initially and few shots were fired – the phoney war as it was called had begun. Ration cards were issued within a month of the outbreak of war and Shoreham‟s resident population were required to register with one particular butcher or another from a wide choice in the town that included Harold Snelling, Ted Harmsworth, Jack Shepherd, Evans and Upton. As the war progressed the portions of meat available became smaller and smaller although offal was not rationed.
Street lighting was turned off and would not be switched on again until 1945. The black-out was introduced and road signs were taken down to confuse any invading armies. White lines were painted on roadways, and vehicle headlights were hooded. Torch sales increased but batteries, were not efficient or long lasting with the result that more candles were sold as winter set in. Double summer time was introduced to assist the farming community with the harvest, and ploughing. The Land Army was formed to replace farm workers who had been called up and young women were to learn the farming skills instead. Mrs Ruth Bowley of Shoreham for example had to milk a herd of 50 cows daily before breakfast. Suddenly life became very hard for youngsters who had trained for less strenuous work such as secretaries, shop assistants etc., but then have to plough and sow and reap and mow. In those distant days the life of farm workers was demanding and physical coupled with cold and draughty accommodation, the only consolation was good food with an open air life to give a hearty appetite.
The telephone exchange in Tarmount Lane with its ‘Hello’ girls asked “Number please,” to connect your calls and the Post Office in Brunswick Road with the several sub offices around the town provided a postal service with the sale of postal orders, stamps, and savings accounts. The Post Office Savings Bank was a service most regularly used by folk in the days before bank accounts became more popular, and people began to be paid monthly, instead of the long tradition of being paid weekly. The most popular method of communicating urgently was the telegram service; the user dictated the message which cost so much a word and the messages could be sent world-wide. They were delivered by young boys known as telegram boys. I believe that the postmaster in Brunswick Road was Mr Fermer who lived above the post office at the time.
The police station in Tarmount Lane, was linked to several blue police boxes where a direct line connected them to the station. These blue boxes were situated in Old Shoreham, opposite the Red Lion public house, and on the pavement alongside the war memorial in East Street. The police station was served by a sergeant and a small number of constables together with a number of war reserve special constables. On Truleigh Hill the Royal Air Force had an installation called RDF, the aerial array being the only part visible, the operators were deep under the hillside. The radar unit was part of the UK defence called Chain Home, and was situated between other units at Poling to the West and Beachy Head to the east. The RAF had an admin. support base where MT vehicles were kept. The majority of airmen ‘lived out’ in private lodgings in Shoreham, Lancing and Southwick.
Defence and Damage Limitation.
Almost immediately after war was declared the government wartime cabinet under Winston Churchill decided on a plan of defence and damage limitation. The bungalows on Shoreham beach were ordered to be removed. The south coast was to be a line of defensive obstructions and large concrete blocks 6’x6’x6′ were placed all along the open stretches of coastline. Beaches were mined and barbed wire entanglements were set up which together with the gun emplacements such as those along the river bank by the airfield and two large Bofors anti aircraft guns sited in the Nicolson Drive end of the Hamfield allotments all helped to provide a feeling of security.I remember Mrs Robina Page, a member of the Anti Aircraft gun team, telling me that when the gun fired the first time she fell off the gun platform.
The new Air Raid Precautions members and keen first aiders were based with the Fire Brigade at an HQ in the old school in Ham Road. This combined team were trained to deal with bombings and fires caused by bombings. Important buildings like the post office and the town hall were sandbagged, this procedure ensured that unless struck by a direct hit the resulting blast was kept to a minimum. Air raid shelters were built in the Ham in Ham Road, and I recall another in Connaught Avenue on the green, there were others strategically placed for the town residents. Other forms of domestic shelters called Anderson shelters were provided on a self install basis, for gardens, Morrison shelters took the form of a large steel table with caged side where members of the family could sleep fairly safe from bombings. The Morrison shelters were popular because they were erected in the lounge. In the event of gas attacks gas masks were issued to everyone young and old. At school children were shown how to wear the gas mask and ensure that it was carried at all times. Practice rehearsals in the event of bombing were carried out and each pupil was allocated a place in an air raid shelter so when the class was evacuated everyone knew where to go. In Victoria Road school the shelters were situated in the Meads meadow.
The members of the ARP patrolled the street at night and warned residents of any lights which were showing with the call “put that light out”. Each member carried a whistle which they were to blow in strident notes warning of a gas attack or unexploded bomb in the vicinity. Fortunately gas was never used. One of the busiest men in town during the war was the chief Town Clerk Mr Thick. For many years notices posted by the UDC had the signature „…….Thick, Chief clerk‟ which many of us thought funny having a thick chief clerk. The beach was out of bounds. Soldiers and members of the Home Guard patrolled regularly. The Observer Corps was a uniformed volunteer force which were responsible for identifying and range finding incoming aircraft and were an important part of the UK defence network whose skill was used by the anti aircraft gunners who needed to know the height, distance, speed and heading for proximity fuses on shells. Later in the war pursuit aircraft in the form of Spitfires based at the airport were informed of returning enemy aircraft from city attacks. As they were picked up by backwards looking radar the pilots were put on standby and as the raiders fled across the Channel pursuit was given and sometimes a raider was shot down.
Food and Fuel
Posters such as those encouraging the „Dig for Victory‟ campaign, „Is your journey necessary?‟ and others started appearing in prominent places. National security posters like „Careless Talk Costs Lives‟ and „Be like Dad – Keep Mum.‟ Were also pasted up. As the German U boat campaign sank more and more shipping so the importance of saving fuel and growing more food like vegetables became important. Farmers fuel was dyed with a special colour to enable it to be identified by the Customs authorities. There were many shortages of all types which were reflected by long queues at all retail outlets. Foodstuffs such as cheese, eggs, butter, sweets, meat, and other goods like clothing were very strictly rationed.
A black market existed but goods on it were often a fraudulent copy of the original such as flour mixed with sawdust. Rumours about the availability of extra meat at Christmas were always unfounded. Sugar, the foundation of nearly all confectionery was always tightly controlled. Fuel for privately owned vehicles was also strictly rationed and fuel that was set aside for military purposes such as that for aircraft and motor transport often fetched a high price on the black market. Many an officer put high octane fuel in his MG to speed home on weekend leave. It seems amazing now but sweet rationing and other goods like timber which could only be purchased by licence, continued until 1952.
Entertainment during wartime took the form of attending dances, Visiting the music halls, listening to the wireless with Vera Lynn singing „We‟ll meet again,‟ Tommy Handley with his programme ITMA or „It‟s that man again;‟ Wilfred Pickles compering his quiz show „Have a Go‟ that included Violet Carson on the piano; Doris Hare introducing „Workers Playtime when she visited well known factories to entertain workers who were on their lunch break. On Saturday nights Henry Hall stopped the mighty roar of Londons traffic to be „In Town Tonight‟- he interviewed well known personalities who were visiting London that weekend.
The cinema was visited almost weekly and the Pathe Pictorial news brought the viewer the latest news in pictures. The stentorian voice of John Snagge reading the news added extra drama to either good or dismal news. War correspondents recorded their comments at the scene of major military events such as the Anzio beachhead landings which was given by John Moorhouse. Newspaper journalists like „Cassandra‟ of the Daily Mirror wrote an interesting column. The newspaper cartoon figure „Just Jane‟- always caught flagrante delicto by her Dachshund Fritz, was played on stage by Christabel Porter and was only ever seen in the comic strip in her underwear by readers of her comic strip. The News of the World as ever reported the latest gossip. Stanley Matthews, the footballing wizard of dribble, was serving in the Royal Air Force and the name of Fred Perry, Wimbledon tennis champion, was not just an advert on a T-shirt. Dennis Compton, the cricket star, used his glamorous good looks to advertise Brylcreem, a popular hair dressing for men. Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber as he was known, was the world heavyweight boxing champion. He defended his title against the Welsh heavyweight Tommy Farr who later in his life took up residency in Old Fort Road. One of the best known newsreaders was Alvar Liddell who famously read the news on 6th June 1944 of the D-Day landings and following this an improvement in morale pervaded. At Smiths fairground in the Old Shoreham Road Tom Smith, the fair owner, had previously raised monies at his fair for the National Spitfire Fund sufficient to buy a Spitfire. Many years after the war Ruby Smith showed me the certificate which Tom had received on behalf of the fairground staff.
Every weekday evening at 6.45pm on the wireless Dick Barton Special Agent with his pals Jock and Snowy went on adventures that were followed by young girls and boys who eagerly looked forward to the 15 minute programme introduced as always by the exciting music of the Devil‟s Gallop. Every day the BBC broadcast coded messages to secret agents on the continent of Europe, it was preceded by the Morse code for V victory.”The hedge grows slowly in the winter, I say again the hedge grows slowly in the winter” – messages like this brought certain action into operation, particularly in occupied France. At the Brighton Hippodrome Max Miller the Cheekie Chappie with his red book or blue book jokes, some of which were very risque, coloured the cheeks of youngsters and heard his rendition of Mary from the Dairy. “Now then lady” he would say “here is one I know you will like!” Max lived for many years in Ashcroft, a big house on the West side of Kingston Lane.
Despite the war the people of Shoreham, like the rest of the nation, enjoyed being entertained. In many a club or public house Herr Hitler‟s photo was on the wall framed by a lavatory seat. Rude songs about Hitler were sung aloud:- “Hitler has only got one ball. Himmler had something similar, and poor old Goebels, had no balls at all.” – all sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey. At school children played hop scotch, marbles and eye spy. Expensive birthday and Christmas presents were not available so home-made toy prams and forts with lead soldiers were given, sometimes with a few sweets.
The War and Visitors
As the war continued soldiers from Canada were stationed in the south coast barracks at Brighton, Worthing and other coastal towns. Many young ladies found the young handsome Canadians with their smart uniforms and laid back style an opportunity to marry and begin a new life in far off Canada. In 1942 a plan for a large scale invasion of France was made when the briefing of Royal Marines and Canadian soldiers took place in the airport terminal building. The target was Dieppe. Although losses were high the lessons learnt from Dieppe raid provided High Command with a better idea of strategy and planning for the eventual invasion of Normandy. Shoreham was a point of departure for the invasion, or Operation Overlord as it was known and the start of the great venture for the many young Canadian soldiers involved the huge armada to Normandy. Some of the landing craft made two journeys across to France and the troops and equipment that they carried helped keep up the pressure on the German troops defending the coast. To return to the outbreak of war three visitors to Shoreham were Polish airmen who had escaped from their homeland, flew across Europe and landed at Shoreham airport; one man had been shot in his arm during the escape making travelling difficult.
The airport was classed as a minor airfield but nevertheless played a significant part in air/sea rescue when a flight of Walrus and Lysander aircraft of 277 Sqdn RAF operated to rescue downed aircrew from the channel. F/O Dizzy Seales who was stationed at Shoreham returned after the war to make it his home. An early air gunnery simulator was installed in the dome at the north side of the airfield which was used as a training facility for many hundreds of RAF Regiment gunners who trained at the dome and moved on. After the war the dome became a drill hall for 1440 Sqdn ATC of which I was later to become a member and inside the dome either side of the entrance door there were two small offices, one contained the light beam source, and the other for the equipment which projected the silhouette of an aircraft onto the dome. When I used the dome all internal equipment had long been removed. My job in the RAF involved visiting numerous old Wartime airfields, many of which were long disused, however, I only saw one other such Dome. It was at RAF Church Fenton , in Yorkshire, and therefore the Airgunner training facilities were very rare.
At Home and Abroad
Many of Shoreham‟s young men who had left Shoreham to join up ended up all over the world. Able seaman Elliot had circumnavigated the World in a battleship the name of which escapes me now. After the war A/B Elliot worked on the pilot boats steering them in all weathers and taking the Trinity House pilots out to ships waiting to enter harbour. Corporal Bill White of the Pioneer corps was captured at Dunkirk and was kept as a prisoner of war for five long years at Thom POW camp in Poland. Kenneth Gilbert joined the RAF and whilst undergoing aircrew training lost his life in Canada. Corporal Frank Dorey served in the RAF with 92 Sqn, a Battle of Britain fighter unit equipped with Hurricanes. Frank or Boots as he was known locally, was an aircraft mechanic. He was on leave in Shoreham when a Luftwaffe M.E.109 was shot down and crash landed in a field at New Salts farm. Using a service pistol Frank said to the pilot “Hande Hoch”, the pilot replied in good English I have my shaving gear with me and from the cockpit of his aeroplane picked up his towel, soap and a razor. Frank then handed his pilot over to the RAF Regiment who arrived to arrest the pilot. The fellow explained to Frank that he always carried his shaving kit when flying as he never knew where he would land.
My own father Len White, another Shoreham man, served with the 113th Regiment of Royal Artillery which took them to Tilbury in 1942. They sailed not knowing the destination and it turned out to be Basrah in Iraq. The guns and their quads (towing vehicles) were driven alongside the river Euphratis to Kirkuk, a major northern Iraqi oil field. They followed the oil pipe line across Iraq to Syria and thence to Nazareth where they spent Christmas 1942. After a short leave in the Lebanon, the Regiment went into its‟ first action at the Battle of El Alamein. Their journeys took them to Sicily and the invasion of Anzio and then into Rome just as it fell.
Following a quiet spell whilst the Normandy landings were in progress the 113th entered France via Marseille. Once again they encountered
the German Army in the Ardenne Forest as the Germans retreated under the hail of combined US army and British and Commonwealth bombardment by Artillery. The Regiment crossed the Rhine river and ended up on Luneberg Heath, the site of the Belsen concentration camp where the smell of death and burning permeated over five miles. Finally some members of the Regiment, depite orders not to fraternise with the Russians, shook hands with some on the River Elbe. It was July 1945 when they finally got back to Shoreham after having returned their guns to Lark Hill. Duty done but some of the local gunners paid the ultimate price.
Although bombed, the town of Shoreham received very little damage. Brighton was attacked 56 times between 1940 and 1944. Most significantly on 14th June 1943 the Odeon Cinema was bombed during an afternoon matinee performance of The ‘Ghost Comes Home.’ Fifty-three men women and children were killed and over a hundred more injured. In October 1940 a delayed action fused bomb landed by the Shoreham Shipping Company when several were killed including a 17 year old Home Guard George Earthy and Arthur Laker a National Fire Brigade man both from Shoreham.
The End of War
In 1945, following the collapse of the Third Reich the war in Europe came to an end. The bells of St Mary’s church rang, public houses were open all day and the chairman of the Urban District Council announced the cease fire from the town hall in the High Street. Servicemen returned. New but very unfashionable demob suits were seen on building sites as men returned to work. The street lights were switched back on and double summer time was reduced to one hour. Street signs were put back and the business of clearing mines from the beach began. The beach was open for swimming again in late 1946.
It was to take many years for Shoreham to get back to normality and the old town looked very tired after five long years of war.