- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Peter Davies
- Location of story:
- Sussex, England
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 December 2003
I was born on 19 Nov 1930 in East Croydon, Surrey. At the outbreak of war 4th September 1939 I was evacuated with Croydon Parish Church School to Lewes, aged 8 years.
Met at Lewes station by helpers and given my first car ride to the then Cinema-De-Luxe, School Hill, High Street, Lewes.
There, all the children were given a carrier bag containing a tin of corned beef (without a key) a tin of fruit (without tin opener) a bar of chocolate and a packet of “Hardtack biscuits”, inedible! Told to hand these all over to whoever took us into their house. We walked all over Lewes in crocodile fashion to find each child a billet.
After what seemed like an eternity, myself and another boy were the only two kids left not billeted. Finally a lady came out of her house to view us like cattle, demanding “I wanted nice girls, is this all you have?” She eventually took us both in with reservations that if we misbehaved, we could be returned. I spent a very happy time there — they having no children of their own.
Shortly afterwards my friend was returned to his family and I found out later that he had been killed in an air-raid.
As a young boy, the war to me was very exciting and I tried to be in the right place when things were going on.
I remember one day, myself and a friend found ourselves on the hill overlooking Malling Down. There was a line of barbed wire stopping us going any further. We both crawled under the wire and followed a footpath that led down to a battered corrugated shed, covered in large holes. As we walked along the pathway, either side of us we saw unexploded shells and mortar bombs sticking up in the soil. Undeterred, we continued to the shed in the hollow. As we stood inside, we heard shells screaming overhead. We ran like the devil and never went back.
Whenever German aircraft were brought down in the vicinity we were there to have a look, if possible to obtain pieces as trophies. Perspex glass from the cockpit was made into rings for girlfriends.
My friend brought back a clip of .303 bullets and we spent the weekend dismantling the bullet head from the casing in order to get the explosive cordite. We then used this to fly paper planes at school, they went like a rocket.
On Wednesday 20th January 1943, just before 12:30 pm, I was walking along Lansdown Place, Lewes in order to buy some sweets (on coupon) from Downey’s sweetshop. Just before opening the doors of the shop, there was a tremendous explosion that brought all the shop glass out and onto my face and head. As I straightened up, having ducked down I saw at rooftop height a German Meserschmidt 109 fighter plane with the pilot clearly visible to me. A few seconds later, several Spitfires followed in its path in to the town centre.
At about 100 yards from me a column of smoke towered upwards above Southover Road, close to the railway tunnel. I ran towards the smoke and saw chickens were running about in the roadway in fright. I then realised how close the bomb dropped was to the tunnel. I continued to the bottom of Elm Grove. Here I saw the damage, it looked like a dolls house, the back of the houses having been opened up from the roof to the ground floor. The first floor bedrooms were all intact, even down to the bedclothes still on the beds. The kitchen/dining room areas were still laid for lunch with the table cloth, knives and forks still on the tables. I never saw anyone injured but I understand some residents were injured. On my return home I tried to catch the loose chickens for the owner who lived in a new house immediately by the tunnel.
On arriving back at my house in Lansdowne Place where I was living with my parents who had moved down in 1941 to Lewes, I found two secondary school girls crouching in the doorway very frightened. They had come from seeing a film at the Odeon cinema. I sent them both down to the basement where we had an indoor shelter made of tree logs.
In the summer of 1944 “Pilotless Planes”, as they were first called, started to arrive overhead. The V1 Doodlebug had arrived.
An army gun emplacement was positioned on top of the Lewes railway station. At night I could clearly see the tracer bullets going into the air as the V1’s came over towards London from the coast. As my house backed on to the railway station, I was very thankful that they never had a hit, it could have been catastrophe for Lansdown Place.
Just before D. Day (Invasion of France) took place, I watched a continuous convoy of tanks, Brengun carriers and Army lorries loaded with troops coming from Western Road, down to the high street and then turning down Station Street. The tanks were slithering about, catching the granite kerbs and sending fine chippings into the air, you stood well back in order not to be hit.
Everyone just watched in silence, not a word was said or a wave of any kind to the troops. The never ending convoy wound its way towards Newhaven and other embarkation areas.
Billeted at this time with my parents were two Army Commandos. One evening I was nearby when I heard crying coming from the youngest soldier, he was concerned that he would not return and would be killed. The other soldier was comforting him, saying he would see no harm would come to him. I was very upset at hearing this as in my mind the Commandos were the bravest of the brave. I never heard whether they survived or not.
I joined the local Cadet force first, the Army cadets and then because I preferred the smart blue uniform the Air Training Corp. I played in the Cadet band at both playing the bugle and then the trumpet.
When an A.T.C. cadet, I was sent on a Summer Camp to Biggin Hill in 1944, which was then a famous fighter station. I flew on several trips in an Oxford Trainer aircraft. Once we flew over Lewes and it was very exciting sitting next to the pilot and seeing my house from the air. I still have my flying logbook showing the duration of my flights, together with the Pilot’s signature. I was only thirteen years old so in order to fly, I put my age up. It was worth it as this was real flying at low level!
In 1945 (August), I was again at camp with the A.T.C. at Biggin Hill. Part of the station was given up to the USA and their Flying Fortresses (B49 Bombers). It was the most wonderful time to be there as the war with the Japanese came to an end.
The American Airmen went wild and I walked to their part of the camp to see the celebrations. On the perimeter, they had lit bonfires and the B49’s were illuminated on the ground whilst they sang and danced and of course drank! On the outside of their hut were placed upright many photos of German Luftwaffe showing crew members with their wives and children. I remember thinking did this mean they were dead, if not how did they come by them?
One USA Pilot came up to me with a bottle in his hand, pointed to the nearest B49 and asked me would I like a trip with them to the USA. I wanted to jump at the offer but thought how would I get back? I was so sorry to refuse.
One of the biggest and best torchlight processions took place in Lewes when VE Day came about. I was in that procession in the Cadet band and we played our hearts out. There was no shortage of fireworks, they had been saved for the past six years for such a day. The pubs ran dry but everyone was so happy.
I ended up in the roadway outside the White Hart Hotel with hundreds of revellers throwing their lighted torches to make a huge bonfire in the street. We sang and danced whilst holding hands with whoever was next to us, be it civilians or members if the Armed Forces. It was a sight I shall never forget.
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