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Contributed by 
John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443
People in story: 
John Absolon
Location of story: 
Sough East England 1940
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 January 2004

People may remember in 1914 the "Miracle of the Marne" when taxis and buses were used to carry French troops to the frontline to stop the German advance.
In late May 1940 my unit which was due to go to France was redeployed in south-east England. The detachment all 10 of us were deployed near Bolney in Sussex just North of Brighton. We had the standard S/L equipment, 90cm searchlight, sound locator, Lister generator, Lewis Gun (WW 1 light machine-gun) and each with a rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition. We waited while the news got worse and worse and the evacuation of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk and other ports started. It was obvious that, apart from the successful attack by 50 (Northumbrian) Division at Arras where they reached their objective but the French did not.The whole of the guns, supplies and equipment of the Expeditionary force was lost and the men were lucky to get back with their lives and rifles. There have been millions of words written about the "Miracle of Dunkirk" perhaps it was a miracle! .
But what was going to happen now? On June 4th Winston Churchill made his famous speech "we shall fight on the beaches," but who would be fighting on the beaches? At this stage I must point out that this is a view from the bottom looking up,as a 17 year old ( from the 1st June) in charge of a Lewis gun.
All was quiet, the sun shone, and we helped the local farmer with his hay.Two or three days later the O C Section arrived with a London taxi, complete with driver, and we were informed that we were now mobile troops. ( For those that may not know ,the London taxi was a specially designed vehicle. The driver sat in a little cab,on his left was a platform for luggage, in the back the hood could be folded down. Over the top of the driver was a luggage rack.) The Lewis gun was mounted on the luggage rack to fire forward over the driver's head. During the day we carried out patrols and apart from the local LDV,who were just forming, the country appeared quite normal with very little movement.We met our next nearest “mobile” patrol which was about two miles away, apart from that nothing. There was a rumour that some New Zealand troops were in the area but we didn’t see them.. Our orders were to attack parachutists and drive to the “sound of battle”. We were also to form a concealed position so that the men left guarding the equipment could destroy it and move to a hidden position and attack lines of communication. So we waited and waited and nothing happened. We had won. “ The Battle for Britain “ The Germans gave Britain a victory without a fight when they went off chasing beaten troops and dusting off old railway carriages. And, in my opinion,The Germans had Lost the War from that moment.A few days later a relieved taxi driver went back to London. Probably to tow a fire trailer
Now , in hindsight, I will explain my reasons for making that statement. Believing in air power the Germans forgot the main rules of war that have existed from the start of time, and still exist today.

“Always closely follow a beaten enemy.” So why didn’t the German army “bounce” the Channel?
The British Navy? On April 10th 1940 British Blackburn Skua dive- bombers sunk the first major warship by air power alone,the German cruiser Konigsberg . What chance had the Navy against dive- bombers in the close waters of the Channel? The Royal Air Force ? German intelligence services estimated that the fighters stationed in south-east England at about 200.Totally under estimated but they (The Germans) didn’t know that. There were at least three airfields on the south-east coast of Kent the Germans could capture and then attack ports from the rear..Against what opposition?

Availability and capability? Under a year later the Germans launched a successful air assault on Crete. That division must have been available in June 1940. In July 1941 the Germans launched an attack on Russia from the Baltic to the Crimea. All those forces could not have been produced in less than 12 months. The German army was said to have been the finest European army ever produced.
Did the Germans think that Britain would surrender? The Germans did in 1918.when the allies approached the German frontiers.

“Boot on the ground” the only way to hold territory is physical presence (no different from Iraq today) aircraft cannot hold ground, they can prepare it for occupation as the Navy can but they cannot hold it. When the Germans decided they had to get air superiority before making a sea assault they lost the war. Did they have air superiority? Yes,over parts of south-east England,but only when they were there. The Royal Air Force retired to airfields just south of London, Biggin Hill, Kenley, Croydon and other fields. I have seen 100 plus German bomber aircraft flying in formation at about 8000ft over the Kent Surrey border completely unmolested but all they did was make a noise and drop bombs on open fields. No gain in that.
Then why did he not come? The Germans had the finest military force Europe has ever seen. But, mistakenly, they seemed to believe in the” Myth of Air Power.” Or did they believe Britain could be ignored? To totally miss-quote Winston Churchill in the House of Commons “Gentleman the opposition is in front of me, but the enemy is behind” and this is what Hitler failed to realise when he turned to the East.
Probably he also thought that the devious British may have had something up their sleeves and he wasn’t going to take a chance. Winston Churchill’s speech on the fourth of June might have actually frightened him. After all we have always been known to be the Masters of Deception He fell for it again in June 1944 among other times.
Five long years and millions of dead, but the Axis lost the war early in June 1940,unfortunately, it took all that time to prove it. They are many” ifs and buts” to World War II but the Allies had to do what they did to complete the job.
Air power, in a misguided way, went a long way towards winning the war by preparing the ground so that the “Boot” could occupy it and destroy the evil. Perhaps it (air power) is a fearsome extension of the Roman Pila.(a short spear designed to bend on impact so that it couldn’t be thrown back)
“The Myth of Air Power” Just a thought for the100 years of powered heavier than air flight. The first bomb dropped on civilians in open towns was in January 1915 just about twelve years later.

So I didn’t drive to the sound of battle in a London taxi.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Taxi

Posted on: 08 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


I enjoyed reading this contribution and I am about to amicably debate it with you, if I may.

I also enjoyed such a rare mention of the Roman pila comparing it with modern air power. I had never thought of it that way.

But the pilum wasn't 'a short spear', on the contrary it was a quite long heavy javelin. It had a long pointed iron shank, with a tempered barbed tip, fitted to a wooden shaft. The heavy shaft being about double the iron tip in length. It had high penetration power due to its weight and could penetrate 1/2 to 1 inch thickness of oak and hide; Caesar speaks of pila pinning together two celtic shields.

Through a man it would remain intact, but in a shield it would bend, dragging down the shield and rendering it useless. On impact on any solid (shield, ground, trees, etc) it would either bend or buckle preventing it being thrown back.

Caesar's legionaries carried two, one more slender and lighter than the other, but in Imperial times only one (evolved from the two). The heavy pilum was over 7 ft long, but by about 100AD it had shrunk to about 6 ft with an added bronze ball weight at the junction to give it armour piercing capability. After battle the pila were collected and staightened out by the legion's blacksmiths.

Marius is reputed to have invented it, but early examples have been found in 5th century BC Etruscan graves, so it is probably an Italo Etruscan invention improved by the Romans. It lasted as a supreme infantry weapon well into the 3rd century, when it was replaced by the spear which was more suitable for fending off cavalry. After this, the horse, stirrup, and lance became dominant on the battle field; the stirrup transmitting the full weight of horse and rider to the lance tip.

All the very best,



Message 2 - Taxi

Posted on: 09 January 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Dear Peter
I thought that was the easest way to describe a pilum I should have said "long" of course.Looking forward to your discussion on the post it is sure to be an intresting line of debate.
John Absolon


Message 3 - Taxi

Posted on: 16 January 2004 by Harry Hargreaves

Dear John. In the feedback section you comment that there has been no input on your "contraversial" article "Taxi". I have read it and judged it to be your opinion based on your experience and history. As it is your opinion and the "facts" quoted were accurate I cannot see room for debate. The fact that I and others may disagree with your conclusions is irrelevant. Why should we try to change your mind even, based on your other comments, it were possible.


Message 4 - Taxi

Posted on: 17 January 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Dear Harry.
Thank you for your reply.I presume you are speaking for your circle of friends not the world at large?.If I dont seem to hold the same views as you on some subjects I hope you are not suggesting that I am bigoted and inflexible
John Absolon

Message 1 - Bolney in WW2

Posted on: 31 January 2004 by Patrick George

I am Chairman of Bolney LocalHistory Society and we are researching Bolney in WW2.

Your article came up in the search I did and I would be very interested to hear about your time stationed near Bolney.

I'd be grateful if you'd e-mail me at



Message 2 - Bolney in WW2

Posted on: 01 February 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Hello Patrick .
Thank you for your post. I will most certainly do what I can to help in your research. I was only a short time in Bolney in June 1940. I was also at Warninglid in 1939 and have to be careful I do not confuse the two. Before doing anything else I will open a map of the area to refresh my mind. I am obviously only too willing to help. You must remember that I was only there for very few weeks. Regards.
John Absolon


Message 3 - Bolney in WW2

Posted on: 07 October 2004 by Patrick George


Many apologies for being so long in picking up your post.

Yes please, I would be delighted to hear any of your memories.




Message 4 - Bolney in WW2

Posted on: 07 October 2004 by Patrick George

Please note email address above is no longer valid.

If you pick this up we will
arrange a way to contact each other

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