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15 October 2014
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The Battle of Brighton and the Eve of D-Day

by alfgitter

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alfred Gitter
Location of story: 
Shoreham HQ, Sussex
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 July 2004

On the 2nd November 1943, I became A.C.2 3007937 Gitter, A. My first posting was at R.A.F. Skegness for 6 weeks of square bashing. The R.A.F. had commandeered a number of private homes as billets. I shared a house with four others. They came from different parts of the country; Somerset, Wales, Norfolk and Birmingham. I became quite friendly with the Welshman, who had worked in the mines from the age of twelve. Compared with his, my life in the East End seemed like luxury.

The chap from Somerset was nicknamed Lofty, because he was extremely tall. He had a bizarre sense of humour. One night we were on guard duty on a hillside overlooking the sea. We had been there a couple of hours when I heard footsteps. I nudged Lofty, who shouted “Halt! Who goes there?” The answer came back, “Officer of the day.” The response to this should have been “Advance and be recognised.” Lofty said to me “Did you hear anything? I didn’t hear anything.”, lifted his rifle and fired two shots into the air. The officer retreated at great speed. I was quite worried and felt sure we would hear more about this. When we were relieved and returned to HQ, we were asked if anything had happened and Lofty shouted, straight as a ramrod, “No, sir!” We heard nothing more. Skegness is not a good place to be in winter because there was nothing to do there.

It was very depressing and we were all youngsters of 18 or so, many away from home for the first time in our lives.. It affected some more than others. One day, during a grenade throwing exercise, we were ordered to take the pin out of our grenade and throw it as far as possible. One young lad, who felt the sergeant had been picking on him, threw his grenade without removing the pin Of course it didn’t explode. When this happened, the regulation was for the sergeant to accompany the man who threw it, to where it had landed in order to see why it hadn’t gone off When they got out there, the man picked it up, removed the pin and blew them both up. The rest of us were hurried away from the scene and discussion afterwards was discouraged by the corporal who was now in charge. Like a lot of things during the war, I imagine this incident was hushed up. At the end of the 6 weeks, our corporal congratulated us on being such a good group.

After this, we were all dispersed to different postings. I was sent to Locking, Weston-super-Mare where I was put on a course to become an engineer (flight mechanic, engines, failed). Here I earned the title Maintenance Assistant, having failed the F.M.E. Signing my name Alfred Gitter, M.A. did not convince anybody.

From there I was posted to 277 Squadron at Bradwell Bay, in Essex. This was altogether better than my previous two locations. I was able to go into Gravesend and the atmosphere on the camp was very laid back. I was at Bradwell Bay for about four or five weeks, working on aircraft and then the Squadron was sent to Shoreham.

HQ at Shoreham was in the beautiful Art Deco airport, although I didn’t really appreciate the architecture at the time. 277 was an Air-Sea-Rescue squadron. Our aircraft were the slow -flying Walrus and Otter, which were both bi-planes. Some of the pilots had been with Bomber Command or Fighter Command and had been stationed at Shoreham as a relief from the stress of active service. Our squadron had a very good record for picking up men who had ditched in the sea. In one case they were Germans who were rescued. They were put into the Sick Bay where I was on guard duty for the first four hours. The following morning, it was discovered that they had spent the night wrecking the equipment and destroying the medicines. There’s gratitude for you. They didn’t do it during my watch as I didn’t hear a sound.

I made some friends, mainly with people who were from London and the South-East: Curly Hale was from Lewisham, Alfie Thiele was from West London and Corporal Cheeseman was from Gravesend. I don’t think we ever called Cheeseman by his first name - it was always Corp. When we had the chance to get away from Shoreham, we got a train or cycled into Brighton. It was early summer and the days were long. One Saturday evening a group of us went into Brighton town centre.

The pub we frequented was full of servicemen from many European countries, Canadians, and a few Americans. An argument started at the bar between a sailor and a Frenchman. A group of Frenchmen started singing the Marseillaise and the sailor took exception to something the Frenchman said and hit him. The Frenchman retaliated and other Frenchmen joined in. Of course the English weren’t going to be left out and, in a matter of moments, all the tension that had been building all evening, erupted. By this time most of the customers were hitting people at random.

The fight spilled into the street, service personnel from nearby pubs stopped drinking and came out to see what was happening. Naturally they then joined in. There must have been several hundred men of many nationalities beating the hell out of one another. The fight couldn’t have lasted more than 10 minutes due to the actions of the M.P.s, also of various nationalities, who arrived and broke up the fight. I can honestly say that I took part in the Battle of Brighton.

I enjoyed being at Shoreham. It was probably the best time I had in the R.A.F. From time to time, I was given Jankers, which is a mild from of punishment for some minor misdemeanour, usually handed out by our Flight Sergeant, who I felt had a personal grudge against me. One morning, at about 9 o’clock, he ordered me to get my hair cut, which I did. I ran into him again at about noon and he said: “Didn’t I tell you to get yer ‘air cut?” I protested that I had. He said “Get it cut again.” So I went and had another inch trimmed off. Unfortunately I ran into the Sergeant again around 3.30 p.m. He said “I told you twice to get your ‘air cut. This time I’m going wiv yer.” He marched me down to the barber and watched while the barber left me with about a quarter of an inch of hair. It was worse than a crew cut. I’d been quite proud of my hair; it was my best feature. I couldn’t leave camp for a month, until some of it grew back.

Eve of D-Day

In early June, 1944, I was summoned to the C.O.’s office. To be summoned to Squadron Leader Brown’s office must mean that I had committed an offence too serious for the Flight Sergeant to deal with. I reported to the C.O. at 4.30 that afternoon. I knocked on the door and was told to enter and stood in front of the C.O.’s desk. He said: “A.C.2 Gitter, I understand you come from Soho.” I said: ”Yes, sir.” He then said :”I have a little job I want you to do. I would like you to obtain a quantity of paint brushes - as many as you can find - preferably wide brushes. You may have two airmen of your choice to help you, but you are in charge.” I said: “Can we not get the brushes from the store, sir?” He said, “No.” I said: ”Can’t we buy them from a paint shop, sir?” He said: “No.” I asked how I was supposed to get these brushes and he replied: “Use your initiative. But remember, if you are caught you’re on your own.” I was not to tell anyone about this, except for the two men I chose.

At around 8.00 p.m. I, Curley Hale and Corporal Cheeseman left camp and decided the best place to get brushes would be to steal them from sheds and garages. Fortunately we were not spotted as we went into these places, as we would certainly have been arrested for stealing. We did this for about 2 hours until we couldn’t carry any more. We got back to camp at about 10 o’clock and went straight to the C.O. who was very pleased with what we had accomplished. He said we were excused further duty for the night. I wondered why he would have done this, as we should all have been in our bunks. I soon found out why. The whole squadron was engaged in painting black and white stripes on the wings and bodies of our aircraft. This was the night of the 5th June. The next day was D.Day I couldn’t bear to be left out on this historic night, so I joined in the painting.

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