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The Fernhurst Society

Oral history interviews: war time

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Frank Jones | George Larbey | Edie Lucas | Alf West

Frank Jones

Another little thing about the house here… working in the garden at the front – it was quite some time ago, ‘round about ’79 I would guess – a couple walked up to the front gate and looked over the garden and appeared to be very interested in the house and everything, so I thought well I’ll go and chat and I spoke to the lady.  Well they’d come from Canada and the lady in the wartime she worked for the Canadian RAF .. and of course all the guys had got their barracks down at what is now Highfield site, but of course the ladies had to fend for themselves and find digs locally you see.  And apparently she used to stay with Mrs Hale here as a lodger during the war and she’d come back all these years later to have a look.  I said ‘Come in and have a look around the garden and the house,’ and she was telling me all about the war and everything else you know.  And down at Highfields we had a lot of sheds where all the radar equipment and the transmitters had beautiful brass dials with voltage meters and things like that which we used for all the transmitter stuff, which was always huge compared to what we have today and things which would be very much sought after by collectors now, but probably a lot of it was thrown away you know.

 

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George Larbey

I can remember going to the cinema during the war, but mainly just the dances. When we were at Tanyard, that was the 1940s during the Battle of Britain, I remember the Battle of Britain, all the dog fights that went on over Fernhurst. That’s about all we did see in the war mainly, dog fights. I mean we had all the airfields surrounding in Sussex, West Sussex. And we had an awful lot of dog fights going on. That summer and autumn of 1940 was rather an Indian summer I seem to remember. In September there were beautiful skies first thing in the morning and these dog fights going on.  Jennifer and I used to have to run to school through Millhanger with all these dog fights going on. Joan did I say, I meant Joan. Jennifer was living it up, up in London.

 That would have been the flight path for all the German planes coming over, I suppose. bombing London.

I think mainly what it was was the fighters that escorted the bombers. And of course our fighters would go up and try and attack, presumably the bombers and the German fighters would chase them about all over the place. One didn’t see an awful lot of the bombers. I suppose that at that time they were bombing the airfields, to try and soften the target up for when the invasion came. It didn’t mean anything to me about an invasion. This is what I remember and I remember you know this gunfire all the time above ones head, and diving and things going on. Joan and I running through Millhanger and running straight into the airraid shelters in the playground and cricket field. Mother was pretty ill at that time. I think it was the start of her session of angina. My aunt Dawn from Lurgashall had to come over and look after us. She didn’t look after us very good. But that was pretty short-lived.

 Was that the break-up of the Blackdown estate?

Yes, I think so, in about  1940, it might have been 1941. All these places were sold and Tanyard was split and sold privately then, I suppose. But I can’t imagine…. we had a Mr Wilkinson living next door to us there and a Mr Bicknell. I can’t ever remember them probably not having enough money to buy those cottages, even though they probably only went for about £200. Steve Humphrey, who Dad worked for, he bought Baldwins then. So it meant we had to move down to Baldwins, next door to his son.

 Can I just ask you about the camp in Fernhurst and the soldiers. You must have seen quite a few going through at the time. Can you remember any of them?

I remember the Canadians up at Blackdown House. I’ve got a feeling it might have been the Medical Corps. I remember my sister Pat going out with one of those. He used to come down to Baldwins most nights. His name was Penny (?) Richter. He came from Disley in Regina, Saskatchewan. Why I remember that, I don’t know. She went out with him for some time.  She used to write to his parents in Canada and I think they even spoke of one day they would get married.  But he obviously… the Normandy landings, they went and nothing was heard of him after that. There were American troops on Henley Common. They were all under canvas.

 That was quite unusual wasn’t it?

There were no buildings much for them to stay in and I suppose they thought…The whole of Henley Common was common land then, it wasn’t wood like it is now. It was just a sea of tents. Down here at Burrows & Paine they had a petrol point, and I remember the first black American, black person I ever remember seeing was in charge of the petrol point. He was an American. He was down here at Burrows & Paine. I think he had a little hut somewhere there that he lived in. He supplied petrol to all the troops around in the area, all the Americans anyway. The actual Fernhurst camp was Englishmen, English soldiers I seem to remember. I remember one rather amusing thing which I have spoken about a little bit in my memoirs. Joe was an American soldier who somehow or other had met up with my sister Pat and we think it must have been at a dance. I don’t know how it came about. She met up with him and gave him a bit of a cold shoulder I think. He met down on the green, he met, I think it must have been Bob Lambert and me.  I remember him saying “Do any of you  guys know where Pat Larbey lives?” I remember saying (at the same time he was jingling a lot of change in his pocket) to him “I not only know, I’ll take you to her, she’s my sister.” I took him to Baldwins, much to my parents’ disgust, and Pat’s. I did alright out of it, because I had about a £1’s worth of change out of his pocket that he insisted I had. Mum and Dad and Pat weren’t all that happy. He was sent away with a flea in his ear. There was an awful lot of trouble. There appeared to be an awful lot of beer about during the war. I don’t know why. Pubs always seemed to find plenty of beer for the troops and things. There were awful fights and things went on. In this particular hall, I remember, dance nights, when you got these different nationalities of troops all tanked up with beer. There used to be some awful fights, I remember. Much to our excitement!.

 I never heard that before! When D-Day came, were you aware of troop movements?

We were aware of movements but it went on for several days, weeks before. I think, presumably getting down nearer the coast etc.  Actually D-Day, we didn’t know it was D-Day. We suspected there was something on because there was an awful lot of movement going on in the air, gliders being towed over and things. My father was on holiday, a week’s holiday, from the farm that particular week and I’m pretty certain it was on a Tuesday, D-Day, although I wouldn’t swear to it. Him and mother and I went to Guildford for the day. I remember, I could take you to but I don’t think the pub is there any more, Mum and Dad went into the pub at lunchtime for a drink and I stood outside. I remember Dad coming out very excitedly after he’d had a drink and said “It’s D-Day.  The invasions have started.” That was when we officially knew that D-Day had started. As I say the skies were covered with planes and gliders. I believe, I don’t know, they lost thousands of troops where the gliders crashed even when they were landing in France. They were full of tanks and goodness knows what, children had never associated with gliders. That’s what I remember of D-Day.

 

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Edie Lucas

They machine-gunned the bus queue one morning.  Nobody was hurt and then they dropped a couple of bombs, small ones, down in Church Road, you know where the cemetery gate is.  We were there 5 or 10 minutes after it had happened and the top of the lychgate had been lifted off from that side of the cemetery right on to the other side.  And of course all down there where that little path was, they were fully grown trees and they were all across the road like that.  And there was a little cottage there by the cemetery where the roof was hanging off and I remember my Mum was going in there.  There was an old couple there.  They were very badly injured. And she would go in there my mother.  I said “For goodness sake, the roof’s going to be…” No, she just moved in, as calm as a cucumber!

 

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Alf West

You didn’t see the bomber that came over and bombed Midhurst did you?

No.  That happened in the daytime.  One of my old schoolmates was actually on the post at Midhurst doing the reporting and they said he made a jolly good job of it too.  The post there was on top of the post office, right close to where the bomb fell.  And Maureen, my daughter, she was at St Margarets School down in Midhurst and she was in the bus and they said lay down on the floor and Maureen said you couldn’t get us, a load of kids, to lay down on the floor – we wanted to see what was going on.  She saw one of the bombs bounce down in the Cowdray Ruins.

 

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The Fernhurst Oral History Project was supported by the Local Heritage Initiative. The Local Heritage Initiative was developed by the Countryside Agency and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Nationwide Building Society.

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