World War 2 Stories - The Real War
|RNAS COWDRAY PARK, WW2, THE CENTRE PIECE OF AN AMAZING STORY - Sepember 11th 2009
A small, beautifully presented exhibition of photos of RNAS Cowdray Park (Ambersham Airfield, now returned to a polo field) was held today in the Cellar of Cowdray Castle Ruins. It coincides with the 100 year anniversary of the Fleet Air Arm and Cowdray.
The exhibition was put on by Tania Pons who has spent the last few years researching this project.
Not advertised except for a small mention in the Midhurst and Petworth Observer and on CDC Events, the grape-vine got word around and over 500 people filed, shoulder to shoulder, into the small space of the Tudor Cellar and were totally absorbed by what they read and saw.
John Moffat who 'sank the Bismarck', in May 1941, now 90, was based at Ambersham 1943-45 and got married in Selham Church in June 44 met David Mearns of Bluewater Recoveries of Midhurst in 2001 and signed David's book on his discovery of the Bismarck wreck in the Atlantic – it was made into a BBC film - having flown down from Scotland to Ambersham in his Piper Colt for the occasion. Pictures coming soon.
Today Tom Lane (right) resident in the Wharf, Midhurst who was an air-fitter on Swordfish at the airfield in 1944 and who met John Moffat spoke to fascinated visitors in the Cellar. In the meanwhile John Moffat, celebrating the recent publication of his book “I sank the Bismarck”, is now a radio and television star in his 90th year.
A further chance to see this remarkable exhibition may occur if arrangements can be made to hold it in a local church or village hall. In the meanwhile, the exhibition is scheduled to go to HMS Daedalus at Lee on Solent.
RNAS Cowdray Plaque Unveiling Ceremony organised by Tania Pons 2/10/2010. One of two Dutch Barn Hangars seen in this picture remain from WW2. Courtesy of photoshop the ambulances and water sprinkler have been removed. See other pictures via links in the Merritt nee Rose Story below
Here are the reminiscences from Midhurst and Fernhurst people, and visitors to the area, who lived through the war. These are the real 'Foyles'. We bring these stories to you courtesy of the BBC. For Foyle's War Fans these personal accounts just add a fitting resonance to the fiction of this excellent series; for people who experienced the war it'll bring all the old memories flooding back. Hopefully, present generations of Brits, and others, will gain a new insight into the war years and understand the powerful pull which Foyle's War has for them. Foyle's War Series 5 was filmed in Midhurst during March & April 2006; and Series 7 in the Spring of 2009.
John Moffat's Marriage at Selham Church - see Story
We hope Foyle's War Fans and the friends and relatives of those who served in the forces in WW2 and were stationed in West Sussex will be inspired to visit us in Midhurst. The only place without a air-raid siren, as one contributor comments. Sounds right to me. Midhurst is still in the words of H.G. Wells, one of our famous inhabitants, ' a little old sunny rag-stone built town on the road from London to Chichester... has always been a happy place for me. I supposed it rained there at times but all my memories of Midhurst are in sunshine'
Swordfish Torpedo Bombers - See Story about John Moffat
JOHN MOFFAT & THE BISMARCK
One of the dwindling band of World War II veterans who took part in the pursuit of the Bismarck has met the man who most recently visited the wreck - Excerpt from Navy News
Still flying more than 60 years after the bloody skirmishes which saw the pride of the British and German fleets sunk within days of each other, Fleet Air Arm veteran John Moffat flew down from Scotland in his Piper Colt aircraft to Midhurst (Ambersham Polo Field), where he was based during the war, to meet local deep-sea explorer American David Mearns.
David, of Blue Water Recoveries based in Midhurst, led an expedition in 2001 to find the wreck of HMS Hood, sunk by Bismarck in May 1941 with the loss of all but three hands, and re-visit the remains of Hitler’s flagship, previously located by legendary oceanographer Bob Ballard – the man who found the Titanic.
Having sunk the Hood, Bismarck made for the safety of Brest in France as it was losing fuel. But it never made it. Waves of British Swordfish torpedo bomber attacks finally scored a hit on the battleship’s rudder which jammed, leaving Bismarck circling helplessly.
It was finally sent to the bottom on May 27 by an overwhelming British force under the command of Admiral Sir John Tovey, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet.
Ballard never publicised Bismarck ’s final resting place, so the information former Swordfish pilot Mr Moffat provided was invaluable.
He was ordered to deliver the coup de grâce to the German warship, but arrived to find the ship in its – Bismarck ’s captain decreed his ship was male, not female – death throes.
“When we got about 1,000 yards from the ship, it suddenly turned on its side. I flew over it, maybe 50 feet off its deck, and all those poor people in the water, hundreds of them. Terrible,” Mr Moffat recalled.
The two men had never met face-to-face before getting together at the Angel Hotel in Midhurst, in West Sussex .
“John was a great help in the discovery of the Bismarck wreckage,” said David.
“ We spoke often in the making of a TV documentary on our expedition, but we never met.
“He really helped fill in the gaps on miscellaneous details of the attack. I’m pleased to have finally met him – he’s a great inspiration.” See picture opposite with David Mearns and John Moffat.
The Fleet Air Arm veteran added his name to that of fellow veterans of the pursuit in a signed copy of David’s book on the 2001 expedition and the battle, Hood and Bismarck.
Please see pictures of planes at WW2 Ambersham Airfield in story below.
People in story: Arthur Caygill, Ken Hurrey, Lynn Mears, Johnny Thompson, Jock Milroy, Ray Elliott and Les Wolf.
Location of story: RAF Snaith
Background to story: Royal Air Force
Contributed on: 22 August 2005
I was to know Abingdon (Nr Oxford) well, posted there as part of No 10 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) before my posting to my permanent Squadron, then later, after my tour of ops. posted back again as Instructor at Abingdon, and its out-station Stanton Harcourt. In those days it was in Berkshire, but since then it has been moved to Oxfordshire!
This was a real pukka RAF Station, peace time built, with all the buildings for HQ, and Officers and Other Ranks housing, though of course no families there in war time, though of course in our classless society the top rankers had houses even outside the boundaries with families and servants provided by lowly AC's.
Here we had to be on parade, in correct uniform, all buttons and boots ablaze, correctly shaven, and with proper haircuts. The good old peacetime discipline was kept up with all the necessary and appropriate punishments. There was no easy entrance through a hole in the fence. It was secure and well patrolled.
There was a ceremonial parade when we were given our coveted wings, and at that stage, sergeants stripes. All this was useful, for it raised our pay, and as submariners had ' hard lying' money, we had flying pay, 2/- a day, but that meant quite a lot in the early 40's.
So far, I had done time on the Tiger Moth, the Stearman P.T.17, The Battle, The Oxford, and the Whitley, now it was for the big ones!
The first thing was to throw Pilots and Bomb Aimers and Navigators together. At first the Bomb Aimers were all Navigators, and wore the '0' with a Wing. Later when there was much more to do in both navigating and bomb aiming - map reading and second piloting, the 'B' was placed inside the '0' Wing. We all met together in the Hall, and tried to decide who would go with whom. We seemed drawn to some, and we settled for them. I rather liked the style of a red headed Pilot, a Mediterranean looking Navigator, and a wee Scottish Wireless Operator, we all stayed together throughout the tour, through many strange and terrible situations, and none of us ever found the others wanting. We were not to use the big ones yet, so there was no need for the gunners (mid and upper tail) or the Flight Engineer - they were to come later.
First that long awaited leave. A chance to strut a little and show off the wings and stripes. A quick phone call to Kathleen and, in spite of all restrictions of the Emergency Hospital Nurses, she was kindly and sympathetically treated and allowed to take leave to be with me. So we managed to get together and take an old trip by train and revel in the luxury of a railway cooked and served breakfast to make a small celebration - a real 'transport of delight' in every sense of the words, which was exactly what the leave was. Quiet little Midhurst hadn't changed much outwardly, and later I read in the 'Daily Mirror' that Midhurst was one of the only towns in the South East that had no siren to warn of bombers. But there were signs of the conflict in the sky above, vapour trails of the Hurricanes and Spitfires were crossing and criss-crossing the serried ranks of Junkers as the German bombers flew to target London.
At night there was the sound of our own bombers making their way to the coast to begin their attacks on German targets, and there was the occasional German who had been driven from his formation by British fighters, to limp home across the Channel, and drop his bombs on the countryside. There was one such, who dropped a stick of bombs in the woods at the top of Budgenor Hill, a lot of noise, but the only damage was the vegetation, and folks were able to come and to wonder at the large craters. My parents were worried at such nights, and were rather astonished that I wanted to keep to my bed when they heard of overhead activity, but it was all so comfortable, and knowing the accuracy of the bombing, I thought that if my name 'was on it', I'd die in comfort, not in a confined cellar. I was certainly not going to waste some of my leave in hiding from enemy bombers.
It passed all too quickly - we lazed and visited all our favourite spots and made wedding plans. It was quite a problem, arrange for the Church, hospital leave, and RAF leave. We had to check and re-check back and in my usual chivalrous way left most of it to my partner, who luckily enough now had the support of family and friends in both hospitals. But all too soon I was to be on my way to a new posting, where I had to meet my aircrew.
At first we were all passengers, getting used to flights on the old Anson again, or the Whitley, all trying at different times our appointed tasks in differing areas. We got to know each other well 'Ginger' Caygill, our own pilot always addressed when flying as 'Skipper' or 'Skip', but 'Ginger' when off duty. We learned to rely on him completely, as he did on us, when we gave the instructions to fly a course or be ready to bomb. Gradually we became an integrated crew, I map read to the target, to aim small bombs on some Somerset mud flats, or bomb, by simulation some infra-red target that photographed my stick, and had the results ready to acclaim or criticise when we landed. 'Jock' our Wireless Operator had to keep the radio going to get fixes and keep in touch with control, Les Wolf had to navigate. We did many flights, all over Britain, to get used to the terrain, from February to May 1943, all in daylight. No night flights yet, in case we untried crews got mixed up with the real bomber boys, who would be straining at the leash for their targets. Then at last the posting to our Squadrons.
There had been little time to enjoy the fleshpots of Abingdon. Entrance and exit were tightly controlled, and we had little time, and often no passes to leave our billets which on the peace time station were very comfortable. I was trying hard to compose a letter to Kathleen's family in Eire to tell them of my intentions towards their daughter, and in spite of the problems of boats to Eire from Fishguard to Rosslare, she had made the journey, to tell them of our plans. Of course, they couldn't come, and my letter told them of all of our plans, and my intention to look after her to the best of my ability. There was some consternation across the water, but finally all was agreed, and in the old fashioned way I asked father for the hand of his daughter, and was accepted. This had all meant letters to the C.O. asking for 'permission' and leave, and finally it was granted, and the wedding date set for 17th April 1943, just two days before my birthday, and I was delighted to receive such a delightful birthday present. This of course, though not set in stone would be carried forward to my new C.O. who with all dates arranged, and as that year it was Easter Saturday, special dispensation from the Church, it could hardly be refused. Alas though it nearly didn't happen on that day, for other forces came into play, but more of that later.
The posting to the Heavy Conversion Unit was at 51 Squadron, at Snaith, near Pontefract, Yorkshire, the same site as the Squadron to which we were attached. 51 Squadron was one of 4 Group, with neighbouring Squadrons, e.g. 158 Squadron at Lisset, 76 Squadron at Holme upon Spalding Moor, 102 Squadron at Pocklington, 346 and 347 Squadrons at Elvington and 466 Squadron at Driffield - all part of the 100 or so airfields scattered over the country - but these were all good pals, near enough when we were in dire need of a runway to land quickly, when ours was fogged out, or there was a prang on our runway. These airfields were mostly on the eastern side of the country, where the land was flatter, and we were, perhaps, nearer our targets.
Here at Snaith we made up our full crew. The four 'old stagers' gathered together, again in a large hall, and the Gunners and Flight Engineers were let loose to find a few they thought they could get on with. This was the season for the good old 'Colonial Boys', for the dark blue uniforms of the Royal Australian Airforce loomed large.
We chose, and were chosen, by two Aussies and a N.E. Londoner. I think we must have looked as if we needed a father figure for we were adopted by a tall rangy Aussie called Lyn Mears. We were sure he had lowered his age to join up, for he looked well over the age limit; he owned a sheep station back in 'Oz', but he wanted action over here. His skin was like leather, and a cut-throat razor could have been stropped on him, but he was an ace in every way. He said very little, but when he did it really meant something - he had hawk eyes that came with long looks across the dry Australian lands in strong sunlight, and he was a tower of strength. Then another gunner - mid-upper - also an Aussie, Johnny Morris a friend of Lyn, the baby of our group, and to become the great friend of Les Wolf our Navigator. So there was our crew - Ginger, Les, Lyn, Johnny, Ray, Jock and Ken - ready to do battle.
A battle it was too wrestling with the four breasted Halifaxes. The conversion was, we heard later, when it was all over, said to be more dangerous than ops. The kites we were to learn on were old, wounded, cast off things, usually with some consistent fault. But we wrestled and won!
In the midst of the wrestling, however, there had been some bruising. We were billeted in Nissan huts - all seven of us - and the huts were hell. On a warm day the corrugated iron warmed up to an intolerable heat, and the night and the cold days were uncomfortably cold. We longed, alas, for dead men's shoes, for as the built billets became available we moved from these Nissan huts, which were warmed by the old fashioned pot-bellied 'Tortoise' stove, fed by coke, of which we had a ration of a bucket per day - this was often eked out by a nocturnal visit to the coal/coke store, and a careful search of the surrounding area, to pick up dropped pieces.
Sometimes, in the evenings we congregated in a larger Nissan hut to meet and greet other crews. There one evening, one idiot produced a Verey pistol cartridge, and in spite of many shouts of 'NO', threw it on the fire. These Verey lights would throw up enormous light, and the light would burn through almost anything, even burn under water. We used them a lot - different colours as recognition flares when we came into land, or used one to say there were casualties on board, they were used from the ground to give us instructions. This flare would have done a lot of damage to the hut and, perhaps, some of its occupants, so being near, and perhaps stupid, I dashed forward and dragged the thing out. Unfortunately, it had caught and it burnt my hand, a nasty burn to the bone, whilst some other chaps took the long handled shovels we had at the ready for enemy incendiary bombs, and threw some remains into the darkness on the grass.
This meant a trip to the M.O. for me, plus a lot of careful explanation of how and why it happened. I had to turn up for twice daily dressings and sulfathiazole, to help keep from infection, and it was stated that the leave I had arranged for my wedding would be cancelled. It took a lot of explanation to the M.O. to get out of this one - I was able to say, however, that both my mother and my wife were nurses, and they would arrange for the correct dressings. Finally, after much argument, I was allowed the leave, or rather, some part of it; the weekend, starting on Friday, and being back at the station on Sunday evening 23.59 hours! So the crew had a bit of a holiday, whilst Ginger, who was to be my best man and I started for home. The wedding was very impressive. All stops had been pulled out by relatives and friends, cupboards searched, coupons given up, and we had a wonderful reception and wedding breakfast at Budgenor Lodge then off on our honeymoon, not far away, but far enough from all, at Singleton, 'the Horse and Groom', for the one night only; as I was due back next day. I always say that I'm still waiting to complete my honeymoon, though we did try later. The guests at Singleton were very impressed, as the young wife cut food up for the obviously wounded aircrew husband, and gave many signs of sympathy. Back at the station I was seen to heal quickly, and was soon back flying again Indeed, the log book shows a space from 13th April to 30th April, away, from flying conversion, so all benefited from my wedding, and my wound. So then, I was the first casualty of our crew, but unfortunately, I was not to be the last.
My mother, Joan Merritt nee Rose was in the Waaf during the war. She was based at Tangmere, in West Sussex, and later, MiddleWallop, in Hampshire.
She met my father, Tom Merritt, also at Tangmere,and they married in 1948. It was meant that they should meet: not only did they have a mutual friend at Tangmere, but my mother came to live in Midhurst,West Sussex (my father's home town) when her father, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy was posted to the town. My Grandfather, Albert Rose was sent to Midhurst to take charge of an air field used by the Fleet Air Arm, at Selham, near Midhurst. (The field belonged to Lord Cowdray, and is now a polo field).
Having been told about my mother by a mutual friend, my father knocked on her door (a few yards from his home)and said: "My dog would like to go for a walk".
My mother was in the Operations room at Tangmere, where she plotted planes leaving the country on bombing raids; returning from a raid or any other airbourne activity. She was later a DF teller. She was given this role because she had done Geometry at school (not as common then as it is now) and therefore knew how to read angles off a map.
My father's first job was on dummy airfields, created with lifesize model planes to deceive the enemy. However, when a site was bombed and several people killed he asked to move as he felt he was a 'sitting target'. Ultimately, the dummy airfields were scrapped as the Germans 'got wise to them'. Later, he worked in administration at Tangmere. He was successful in his job, and was consequently offered a commission. He declined it, however, as his title would have been 'Flying Officer' and as he wasn't actually a pilot, he would have felt a fraud. His strength of feeling on this subject was due to the fact that he was denied the opportunity to be a pilot due to a physical disability. Despite enjoying his time in the airforce, he never quite got over the disappointment. Ironically, his disability probably saved his life!
My parents had a good social life in the airforce, where parties were often held in the hangers. The dance at that time was the 'jitterbug' a forerunner of 'rock n' roll'. On one occasion she danced with a Naval Officer in full dress uniform: everyone cleared the floor to watch them, and they won first prize.
A MEMORY OF D-DAY
This is Ken Woodman’s story: it was dictated to Kathy Collard-Berry at the Fernhurst Centre at its D-Day Celebrations on 5 June 2004. The story has been added by Pauline Colcutt (on behalf of the Fernhurst Centre) with permission from the author who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website.
I was 10 years’ old, my father was in Italy with the army, and I lived with my mother, two brothers and grandfather at No 2 High Lane, Haslemere. Following a children’s illness, I was convalescing in Fernhurst with my mother and brothers in a small cottage off the Midhurst road. I do not remember the address, but it was at the back of a common on the right-hand side of the road heading towards Midhurst and was just past a farm on the left-hand side of the road. The cottage was very small, two bedrooms, with no mains services at all (water, sewerage, gas or electricity). Whilst we were staying there, the common was suddenly taken over by the army, Canadian I think. They were under canvas so obviously temporary. What I remember most was the way live ammunition was left lying around. My youngest brother actually picked up a grenade. I was old enough to realize what it was and was able to take it off him before any harm was done. It was not until much later that I realized the significance of this camp.
My War by Margaret T Lees-Barton, Bodmin, Cornwall
This story was submitted to the peoples war site by, Peter Nicholas, of Link into Learning, Cornwall County Council. It was recorded by Link into Learning and Age Concern, Bodmin, on behalf of Margaret Lees-Barton and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs. Lees-Barton fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
I was on holiday with a school friend when War was declared. We were called downstairs to hear the announcement by Mr Chamberlain at 11 am. There were about half a dozen fishermen crouched down by the radio listening intently. They then got up and immediately went off to report for duty as they were all retained Merchant seamen.
Our father spoke on the phone and decided my friend Jean Chatham could not now come down from Salcombe to Lostwithiel to stay with me. We did meet up again at school in Exeter where we formed an Army, digging trenches and shelters for our boarders in the vegetable garden. Wood was lined up and seating put in. The earth was put up over the top and vegetables were still grown over the top. We had to buy lilos so, if we had to sleep down in the trenches, it would be more comfortable than just a rug down with us.
One time when we had a practise during the night I was so sound asleep that I didn't hear our fire bell. When someone woke me I grabbed my flannel and rushed out, putting my foot in the slops bucket, getting it wet, then forgetting my dressing gown, rug and towel. We had lanterns and our torches down in the trenches so singing was always heard until the all clear was sounded. As it was really too dark to read we all learnt to knit, and on four needles, socks for the troops.
My father decided that it wasn't safe in Exeter, as we weren't far away from the barracks, so I had to leave, and before my School Certificate. Not a good idea caused me problems later trying to apply for a nursing course in London.
While I was waiting to go to hospital I was lucky to join St John's Ambulance in Lostwithiel. As they didn't have a first aid course going at that moment I joined up with the Red Cross at Boconnoc.
At home I was learning to make do in cooking with Mother. We picked elderberries for currants and cut up beetroot into cubes, baked in the oven, for sultanas, which were both excellent in a boiled cake recipe. I learnt to make an egg and bacon pie go further by chipping some potatoes into it -I still do that. Then I had to fill up my brothers and cousins who came regularly to play in the school holidays. Having a small holding with a large vegetable garden, a cow and chickens it was easier to feed them. We were allowed to keep our gardener (who also milked the cow) as we supplied an Army contingent near by. We also kept our tennis court as the grass mowings went to make silage for the cow and chickens. That meant we had molasses for Black Jack for Christmas puddings. We were allowed petrol for our electric and to pump up the water from the well.
We had an evacuee from Lambeth, who tore her dresses from the waist everyday and went through all my brothers and sisters, shoes as well as her own. I was kept mending until I went off nursing.
I went to Worthing General Hospital. They had already had the Gas Works and the Hospital Annexe bombed, but I was lucky nothing quite so near after. We nursed many soldiers of different nationalities. The Canadians were the worse, they queried everything. We were able to transfer them to their own hospital in Surrey . We, at the time, told the patient nothing. Now everyone is told what is going on. The Canadians were well in advance of us. While the Canadians were in town, we had to go out in twos or more, and they stopped the Scottish coming into town because of the fights. They had to have alternate nights off. The Americans were mostly in with 'trench feet'. They were not used to walking. The Russians were real fun, especially the Mongolians who had a lovely sense of humour and lovely laugh. The interpreter never came the same day as our doctors so the white Russians with stomach trouble wouldn't drink their hourly milk. And I can remember going to help on another ward and asked to give an enema to their Private Patient Russian. And, of course, he couldn't speak any English. He must have had one before so I got on OK. He didn't faint like lots of the other men with their needles and bedpans.
We were given fairly good food. I enjoyed horse and whale meat, but the chef couldn’t make a Cornish pasty. We had carrot in it with mashed potato and gravy. My mother posted me up some pasties for my 2Ist birthday. I was able to give the chef one. Uncle sent up a birthday cake with gaudy pink icing and no decorations. I had to go out and try and buy some. The nurses on the ward gave me a lovely silver bracelet.
We were able to go to the Home Sister and get the key for the chalet on the beach. She didn't realise that it was out of bounds, under barbed wire, at the top of the beach. The first jet engine aircraft had their measured mile just off the beach so we were used to jets before they came into service.
Because of the young doctors going to war, the old boys were brought back to take over the hospital -I have a large appendix scar to show for it. I even had to go on the ward I was working on through a side ward.
We did have hospital dances and invited the firemen from the station just around the comer. That is where I met my future husband, at one of the fancy dress parties. He gave me some white peonies that night.
Later, on my days off, I went in the fire service Austin towing vehicle to places like Midhurst Fire Station with equipment. We drove through Cowdray Park but we stopped too near the lake and got stuck. Luckily a party of ltalian Prisoners of War, who'd been tree felling, were able to get us out. And we washed the vehicle at Midhurst Fire Station. (Benbow Pond 2009 below: 'the lake')
I was luckily picked to represent the South Coast Student Nurses to visit London to see the new film, 'Student Nurse', at Kingsway Hall. The Princess Elizabeth came in her ATS uniform. Later I went to another hall for tea with the other nurses not able to get into the hall to watch the film. When we got back it was to see the films, just made by the American and British, of the rescuing and opening of Belsen Camp. They were horrendous. By then we had a great many soldiers back from the Eight Army. Desert Sores were awful but I had a shock when taking one soldier's temperature. The mercury was nearly off the thermometer-I06.8 0. The poor man had Meningitis and Malaria. I'm pleased to say that he got better and was discharged from the Army with only a slight limp.
My worst time was when I had sun burn and a gravel rash, having got the handlebars of my bike entwined in another as I was pulling along a friend. The junior Night Sister came to give me an injection of penicillin suspended in oil and she gave it to me in the wrong place, catching my Sciatic nerve and leaving me with problems today. I told the Ward Sister, who told the Matron and the Senior Night Sister, and it turned out that she had falsified her certificates. She had come from Malta to work and was not a trained nurse.
All this time there were tanks and carriers up and down all the streets. I was lucky to be on night duty, on an army ward, when D Day came. The sky was black with planes and gliders. The noise was terrific - nobody on the ward slept that night. A soldier who was discharged that day was sent over with the invasion, jumped out of a truck in France, and fractured his' leg. We had him back the next day. The married nurses said their husbands went up on the South Downs to look over Southampton to see the thousands of ships go out.
Being on the children's ward was nice at night, my boyfriend was able to come in the window - being downstairs - to chat for a time. I found it very tiring. Parents weren't then allowed to stay with their children. Some parents were emigrating to Canada but couldn't take their children or babies with them as they had skin complaints - until they were cured.
Some of the soldiers made teddy bears and we were able to take them to the children. They also made ice cream out of custard flavour with jam. It went down well with them that had had their tonsils out.
Worthing has the best reported weather in Britain. The other nurses could not understand me taking all my leave at once and in the spring. More chance of fine weather on the South Coast. Grand for tennis, especially when I won the cup!
The prisoners of war from Singapore were also brought home and we had some in our hospita, but most were in such a state they didn't get better.
Though the train ride home was packed, I learned to sleep standing up, especially when just going home on my nights off. The other nurses couldn't make out how I managed to save enough money for the trip of £2.3.4d, as we only got half a crown a week and board, which in today's money is I2 ½p. But soon after I started it went up to 7/6, which would be about 30p today. You didn't get £1 until you had passed your finals, which we went to Brighton to take. I’m pleased to say that I passed and was able to come home, having completed 3 years and 3 months, to get married. Then, like now, it was difficult to find anywhere to live.
- Contributed by Palderek
- People in story: Derek Emes
- Location of story: Midurst Sussex
- Article ID: A2033047
- Contributed on: 13 November 2003
I was a boarder at the Midhurst Grammar school from Sept '42 and observed much of the war activities in the South. Initially we had a girls' school from London, Lady Margarets, evacuated on us. This created much disruption to young boys' hormones and school work! When the air raid alarm would sound we all had to move fast out of the school into the woods. The teaching staff had an impossible job gathering all together again at the "all clear".
There were numerous sad times heralded by the headmaster's sudden appearance in the classroom asking for a particular boy to accompany him to his study. This invariably meant that some close relation had been killed. Two of my close friemds had this experience, one lost his brother in the air the other his father underwater in a sub.
Later on the buzz bombs would travel over head to London, sometimes we saw one be shot down by a pursuing fighter plane and sometimes one would cut out and land in our area of West Sussex. This occasioned the only casualty I know of in the boarding house. I was in sick bay with another lad, he was looking out the window at a buzz bomb when its engine cut. He yelled "It's coming down", cleared my bed in a bound and landed on his head breaking his nose!
As the Normandy Landing time approached we realised someting big was happening, the military activity all around became extremely busy. One morning we awoke to see the playground wall broken down and the school yard full of tanks. The tank crews were really good to us playing tag and other games during the day. They were gone the next day. Another occasion was when we went to a favourite copse to play "Robin Hood Commandos" and suddenly came upon a tented encampment. They were Canadians on the move south. We chatted and chewed on Chiclets and Hershey Bars. The Canucks clearly enjoyed our company and no doubt were holding onto normal life as much as they could. Whilst we were young kids we realised what these young soldiers, only a few years older than ourselves, would be feeling.
I remember the evening and night of 3rd May '44 so very clearly even now in my dotage! The sky was a continuous drone of aircraft, it seemed to go on for ever. We obviously knew the invasion had started. I wondered then and still do ,how many of those kind squadies who played and chatted to us survived.
V.E. day was also unforgettable. Quiet sleepy Midhurst went wild. There was a giant bonfire built in the school garden and the whole town seemed to be at the school. No holds were barred and we kids had a freedom to break every school rule!
A footnote of post war reminiscence. We were allowed to work on local farms (6d an hour) to help harvest etc. I got talking to a foriegn lad about a year older than me. He was a "displaced person-D.P.)" from the Baltic. He had fought with the Germans at the age of ten, then with the partisans against the Germans. He was only sixteen when I met him.
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