By Martin Hayes, County Local Studies Librarian, with thanks to Christine Kilby for document transcriptions
On this 75th anniversary of VE Day, not only do we wish to celebrate the day, as best we can during lockdown, but also let us remember and give thanks to all those who served, died and suffered, overseas and at home, in the Second World War.
Our first blog gave a flavour of events and portrayed the excitement and outpouring of joy and relief on VE Day across the County. This one lets you know how the research was done and how you can find out more.
Books Newspapers Photographs Diaries Other records Websites
Most research begins by reading around the subject so history books, periodicals and websites are a good starting point. The Record Office has some relevant secondary sources, identified through our online catalogue. The County Library Service also has books about VE Day both non-fiction and fiction and over 5,000 books on the Second World War overall, some of which can be borrowed free as e-Books. Join the Library Service today……it’s free!
Our booklet Local History Mini-Guide No. 2 West Sussex at War 1939-45 (WSCC, revised 2012) is also an indispensable starting point, listing books, newspapers, photograph collections, archives and museum collections. Download a free pdf here.
There’s no doubt that the 14 local newspapers held by the Record Office and Libraries are the best starting point, and the only comprehensive detailed account of VE Day in all parts of West Sussex. They’re particularly accessible being easy to read and available in several formats: originals, microfilm and searchable digitised copies. The digital versions are in two forms, one set on a WSCC server, and the other via the British Newspaper Archive (Find My Past), both accessible within the Record Office and in West Sussex libraries.
The effects of the war were obvious by spring 1945. Wartime shortages of paper, ink, manpower etc meant a reduced number of pages compared to issues in the 1930s. Censorship of sensitive information was strictly enforced. The style of the reporting also varied , as did the use of photographs, as you’ll see from the examples below.
The West Sussex Gazette seemed unsettled by the unofficial, disorganised nature of VE day euphoria and you’ll look in vain for any detailed coverage of the Day events apart from, curiously, the goings on in Portsmouth!
By contrast both the Bognor Regis Observer and the West Sussex County Times seemed to positively glory in the chaos!
In Worthing there was great rivalry between two titles. The traditional 8 page Worthing Gazette (est. 1883) stuck rigidly to a 19th century style of small ads on the front page, victory in the world war was relegated to page 5 and it printed just a handful of portraits.
By contrast, racy, go-ahead 20 page Worthing Herald put VE Day firmly on the front page, relegated small ads to the back pages and splashed dozens of large photographs across most pages, including a centrefold spread and a whole page photo tribute to ‘Worthing Women on the Home Front’. The Herald was to win the battle for readers in 1981 when the two newspapers merged and the ‘Gazette’ title dropped in 1987.
The normality of local newspaper reporting also must have been strangely comforting and kept everyone grounded. Britain may have won a world war but life in Midhurst and district went on. Victory in Europe shared columns with a Bepton Church wedding, a Midhurst music recital and the formation of a new boy’s club.
The Record Office and Library Service are fortunate to hold an extensive range of Second World War photographs. Three main collections dominate but equally important are rare photographs loaned for scanning, see below.
Among the happy crowd are members of the Harrington, Manwaring and Peskett families. Grateful thanks to Leigh Lawson for supplying photos and names.
Frank L’Alouette Collection (see photos in other VE Day blog too)
Frank L’Alouette (1901-1969) moved to Bognor Regis in the 1920s to work in the photographic department of Cleeves the Chemists in the High Street. In 1931 he bought premises at 32 West Street where he worked as a general photographer. When war broke out, Frank obtained a Ministry of Information Permit and was able to capture wartime events in the Bognor Regis area. His eldest daughters, Jeanette and Pamela, appear in many of the wartime pictures. Frank’s superbly composed photographs were loaned by his daughter Jeanette to the Library Service for the West Sussex Past Pictures website and subsequently she kindly deposited the originals at West Sussex Record Office.
George Garland Collection
Administered by the County Record Office, this magnificent collection covers mainly the Petworth district, and wartime subjects covered include evacuation, Women’s Land Army, Home Guard, Air Raid Precautions (ARP), billeted troops (notably from Canadian Regiments), and of course victory celebrations. There is a poignant series relating to the bombing of the Boys School at Petworth in September 1942.
For further information, see Archivist Nichola Court’s blog on George Garland.
Walter Gardiner Photography Collection
Held by the Library Service at Worthing Library, some 250 prints were taken by company founder Walter’s son William, who obtained a permit in 1944 to photograph aspects of Worthing and its defences. All have been scanned and are on the West Sussex Past Pictures website.
Personal diaries for this period are not numerous but many of those which have been preserved in the Record Office have great value. Some are matter-of-fact accounts of events attended, others express the joy and relief of the Day and some humorous. All reveal something of the character of the writer, passing on important and unusual records for posterity.
For example, AM 733/1 – Hotchpot: a domestic journal of the war years 1 September 1939 – 10 May 1945. Compiled by Mr C. F. Harriss of Worthing, in his detailed, meticulous way, complete with weather report.
Or Add Mss 46201, a diary by Lillian Fairbrother Ramsey. “It seemed like any other day in the morning for I was busy with the billeting ending tomorrow …….At 3 o’clock we listened to Churchill announcing that the war was over. At 6.30 we went to a service on the village green, well attended. Quite a nice little service but I was upset by Mrs Warren who was near me crying bitterly. I think till now one had always hoped her husband was a prisoner…”
Mr G. A. Norrell, in AM 1116/7/3 a man of few words….who was probably glad that the two bank holidays broke up the monotony of agricultural labour……
Finally, Add Mss 26240, a diary secretly kept by Private Ayling Kept while held in Stalag IV C at Oberleutensdorf near Brux in Sudetenland, notes what the reaction was on the mainland.
Details of the planning and outcomes of VE Day may also be found in local authority records (County Council, Urban & Rural District Councils, Parish), parish records, police archives, school records and in the Additional Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Papers collections. See further details in the downloadable Local History Mini-Guide pdf
Access to some key records has improved in recent years and we at the Record Office and Libraries have undertaken various digitisation projects. The relevant one here is the Wartime West Sussex 1939-45 website.
It includes over 700 digitised sources about life in West Sussex during World War II. They include a short account of the Home Front, photos, a WSCC daily record of key events such as bombings, book and diary extracts, newspaper articles, letters, audio memories, official leaflets, a timeline of local & international events, and a map of key local sites.
See also more booklists and other websites