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LIVING THROUGH THE WAR IN LONDON - PART1 of 3 .

by AgeConcernShropshire

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
AgeConcernShropshire
People in story: 
Margaret Dye
Location of story: 
Balham , Earlsfield , London and Lewes , Sussex .
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5570129
Contributed on: 
07 September 2005

This story is transcribed by me Graham Shepherd , from notes following discussions with Margaret Dye , and will be added to the site with her permission She understands the sites terms and conditions .

I was living in Earlesfield in a block of council flats when the war started aged thirteen , and was evacuated initially to Newick and Chailey , Sussex for a week and then to Lewes in East Sussex . I stayed with a couple I came to know as Aunt Nip and Uncle Jack in Southover High Street . I was in a good position to witness the aftermath of the evacuation from Dunkirk , with ambulance trains passing from Newhaven and the dogfights in the Battle of Britain .

I went to school in Lewes , and after a short time was offered a part time job in the walled garden of Southover House , maintained by the gardener who was a friend of my Uncle Jack and who had served as a radiographer in the RAMC during the Great War . I was paid 6 d a week , good money in those days !

I was in the garden on Sunday 18th August 1940 when I heard the sound of a German bomber approaching - the two diesel engines produced a characteristic beat note . The plane was approaching at about 150 feet firing its guns . I ducked behind the wall and was not touched . I was led to believe that when our bombers approached their destination they always gave a short burst of fire to confirm that their guns were working . I learnt subsequently that this machine was part of a low level squadron which had crossed the channel at Beachy Head and followed the railway line up to Caterham and RAF Kenley Airfield , which was a sector control station . It had a German photographer on board and one of the photographs showed people scattering in Burgess Hill .

The medium level attack came over Dover and the high level up the Thames to London . This was the first time an air force had attempted a three level attack on a target . Fortunately their timing was adrift which saved some damage to the airfield . ( NB . see the book " The Hardest Day " by Alfred Price 1988 , Arms & Armour Press )

We could clearly see the action of the Battle of Britain with aircraft trails in the sky , and remember a M109 which has been hit plummeting vertically downwards and crashing outside Lewes on the side of the old A27 Brighton Road . We cycled to the spot and found the remains in a crater five meters deep .

At the time Uncle Jack worked at the Post Office , and would always tell us how many aircraft he had seen shot down each day when delivering his mail on his country round .

Another vivid memory was one day when I was in the walled garden I heard a single engined aircraft approaching - by now I could recognise all of the different aircraft by the sounds of their engines - and saw that it was a bi - plane . I could hear a bren gun firing , and the plane turned towards Newhaven , and it was painted grey with a black cross on it . A Hurricane appeared and rather than shoot it down shepherded it to land on Lewis racecourse .

I heard later that an English schoolteacher of German and a War Reserve Constable approached the plane and the pilot asked where he was and when told he was in England , handed over his gun and surrendered stating that he would not be a prisoner for long - how wrong he was ! Germany had just occupied the Channel Islands , and he had been there from France to deliver the mail , but it was very foggy and he lost his way and when he saw the coastline assumed that it was France . Someone said that the plane was a Gotha 145 , but I have not found it in any of my reference books . A friend has suggested that it might well have been a RAF Tiger Moth captured on the fall of France and repainted .

Uncle Jack was a veteran of the Great War like many of his generation and after Dunkirk he volunteered for the LDV ( local defence volunteers ) which became the Home Guard . On one occasion he went to London for five days . Apparently he went to Osterley Park where they were instructing in guerrilla tactics by an ex member of the International Brigade who had fought for the Republican Government against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War . I have wondered since if he had been recruited for the secret army to harass the Germans if they had invaded .

The whole area was very active with anti - invasion preparations and one fascinating thing was that in many of the country lanes which were within embankments , there were oil drums positioned with hand grenades attached to them and a trip wire stretched along the hedge such that when it was disturbed it caused a major explosion and fire .

There were regular anti - invasion exercises , but there was very little equipment available with only about three tanks - many had been lost in France particularly against the 7th Panzer Division commanded by General Rommel .

We always knew when there was an anti - invasion exercise taking place , with lots of soldiers with their arms in slings and men with black eyes . On one occasion one of the tanks got stuck on the approaches to the South Downs and they had to bring in a Scammel low loader to pull it free . This turned out to be a three day exercise , but it turned out that the troops were in no hurry since the local housewives were feeding them tea and cakes . The invading troops always claimed that they had managed to break through .

At one time the French Canadian Regiment Les Fusiliers Montreal Quebequois , 32nd of Foot ( Les Vingt Douze ) , who were stationed in Lewes were involved and they were the scruffiest and ill disciplined unit it was possible to imagine . They were unshaven and their battle dress was left open They used to cause havoc by using Southover High Street to play games with their Bren gun carriers , by charging up the street and then locking one of the tracks to do 180 degree turns .
Bets were made on who could perform the most turns .

Later it was sad to hear that they suffered many killed in the disastrous Dieppe landings in 1942 .

They were replaced eventually by the Winnipeg ( ? ) Regiment , who were the opposite : smartly dressed and polite .

Uncle Jack and Aunt Nip had run a small holding in the 30’s in a field off the lane There were still a couple of goats there with a shelter and the grazing let out to two horses . My job was to take the dog for a walk and feed the household vegetables to the goats . Being a 'townie ‘ I was always afraid of the horses - they were loose !

On one occasion in 1940 I noticed army signal wires running in the hedge . At the top of the rise I heard voices and discovered a battery of French 75 field guns dug in pointing towards Newhaven . I thought that they had come over with the 34,000 French troops rescued from France .
However a lecturer at the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich , London , suggested that they might well have been part of the ‘ Lend Lease ‘ from America After the Great War ended , in 1919 the American Army which had received all its artillery from the French Army was so impressed with the 75’s ( Soixante quinze ) that they bought a large number of them .
The British Army 12 pounder , later developed as the 18 pounder was based on the design of this famous French quick firing field gun .

During the school holidays I went home to our ground floor flat in Earlesfield to which we had moved in 1938 . Air raid shelters had been built in the gardens of the flats , but my father who was an ex regular soldier -" 7813 Pte. T J Dye , 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment 22nd of Foot" , 1907 - 1919 . ( I was given the same name as my father ) - refused to use it saying that the upper floors of the flats gave better protection that the shelter . My later experience of the effects of the bombing by V1s and V2s confirmed his opinion in my mind .

I would watch the blitz and searchlights with friends standing at the entrance to the staircase and soon learnt that you did not touch scrapnel - it was very hot . Most of the Anti aircraft guns - " Ack - Ack " guns and barrage balloons were manned by ATS and WAAF personnel but they were not allowed to fire them , this had to be done by a man ! They were stationed on Wandsworth and Clapham Commons .

When the main blitz was over I left Uncle Jack and Aunt Nip and returned to my parents in Earlesfield .

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