L’Alouette, Bognor, and the run up to D-Day

By Abigail Hartley, Searchroom Archivist

It’s a year of important anniversaries for World War Two, as later in September it will be 80 years since the start of the war, and, of course, the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings is also upon us.  It is only fitting, therefore, that the Record Office will be highlighting our fantastic Second World War records throughout the year.  To help commemorate, let’s look at one of our most impressive photographic collections – L’Alouette.  

Last month a blue plaque was placed in Bognor in remembrance of Frank L’Alouette on the site of his old shop, 32 West Street.  Born in Windsor on the 2 February 1901, he served an apprenticeship as a photographer’s assistant in Windsor. During the 1920s, he moved to Bognor Regis to work in the photographic department of Cleeves the Chemists in the High Street. In 1931 he bought the premises on West Street where he worked as a general photographer. When war broke out, Frank was unable to join due to a heart condition, but he obtained a Ministry of Information Permit and was able to capture some of the wartime events in and around Bognor Regis.

Frank married Doris Gray at St John’s Church on 30 October 1927 and they had three children: Jeanette, Pamela and Susan. The eldest daughters, Jeanette (or Jenny) and Pamela, appear in many of Frank’s wartime pictures.  The business was later known as Lalouette Photographic Dealers.  After the war he continued his photography business until his retirement in 1956, and he would pass away in 1968.

The Record Office has held his collection since 2012.  His several hundred photographs show the impact and the experiences of Bognor Regis as a town and community during the Second World War.  Above is a small gallery of some of his work.  We can see the impact the Army, RAF, Navy, Home Guard, ARP wardens and the general public had on Bognor’s wartime experience, and how life carried on for much of its populace, with a few notable (barbed wire looking) differences.

If you’d like to see his photographs, especially with the D-Day anniversary fast approaching, have a go at searching online on our catalogue, filling in L’Alouette in the CatalogueNo field, or popping into the Record Office, so we can show you the originals.  Some of his work is also available on Sussex Pictures to buy as prints!

Give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!  With the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War passing this year, we have a sneaky feeling his images will be cropping up often on your feeds!

West Sussex Airfields and the Battle of Britain 1940

By Alan Readman and Martin Hayes

The Battle of Britain, fought mainly in the skies above Sussex and Kent, took place between July and October 1940 and this month marks its 80th anniversary. September 15th has been designated Battle of Britain Day to commemorate RAF Fighter Command’s decisive victory over the German Luftwaffe. Key events will be held at the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne on the Kent coast.

This blog is dedicated the memory of all veterans who served during the Battle and all those who supported them in West Sussex.

Battle of Britain Airfields

West Sussex airfields played a crucial role in the air defence of Southern England in the early years of the war, and subsequently in the air-operations in the build-up to D-Day and the Normandy Landings.

RAF Tangmere was the controlling station of Sector “A”, in No 11 Group, Fighter Command, and as such covered an area from Brighton to Bournemouth. It is probably the most well-known Sussex airfield because of its Battle of Britain role, and links with the legendary Douglas Bader.

Airfields were a prime target for the Luftwaffe, and at lunchtime on Friday 16 August 1940, Tangmere was attacked by Stuka dive-bombers, causing great damage and leaving 13 killed. Through Tangmere flew French Resistance agents, trained at nearby Bignor, and using Tangmere Cottage as their secret operations centre.  Many moonlit missions inside enemy-held territory were flown by the Lysanders of 161 (Special Duties) Squadron at Tangmere.

L’Alouette/A/1/3/3 – Panorama showing aftermath of air raid by German Stukas at RAF Ford, August 1940

Ford, like Tangmere a former First World War airfield, was re-commissioned by the government in 1938 as a Fleet Air Arm Station. Two days after the raid on Tangmere, on Sunday 18 August 1940, Ford was also dive-bombed by Stukas, with 39 killed, many in a crowded canteen.  A granite memorial was erected in Climping churchyard.

Ford had a varied role, flying in the wounded from France after D-Day, commanding the Air Sea Rescue Station at Littlehampton, and hosting the radar-equipped Fighter Interceptor Unit.

On the outbreak of war, West Sussex had a third military airfield, commissioned in 1938 at Thorney Island, but this number was soon to rise, first with the Tangmere satellite stations at Merston and Westhampnett, and by 1944 Chichester was to be surrounded by one of the highest concentration of airfields in the country.

Westhampnett had a vital role in the Battle of Britain, and later played host to Wing Commander Douglas Bader, who led the Tangmere Wing in 1941. In 1942, RAF Westhampnett became the home of 31st Fighter Group, US Army Air Force, equipped with Spitfires.

PH 20624 – Showing US Spitfire pilots (309 Squadron) on scramble at Westhampnett. Several of those pilots shown in the picture returned on 28th September 1987 for the dedication ceremony of the memorial stone at Goodwood Aerodrome. Published by Downsway Postcards, Lavant by courtesy of the Southdown Observer Series.

Their evening jaunts into Chichester are well remembered, and a memorial stone was installed in 1987 on what is now Goodwood Airfield.

Battle of Britain

Through the hot summer days, and into early autumn, of 1940, people in West Sussex were eye-witnesses of the drama of the Battle of Britain, watching the dog-fights in the clear blue skies as the gallant “Few” beat off the attempts of the Luftwaffe to clear the way for the invasion of Britain.

The enemy raids intensified from the middle of August. For his courage in a dog-fight on 16 August Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicholson, a Hurricane Pilot whose parents lived in Shoreham, became the first fighter pilot to win a Victoria Cross.

West Sussex Gazette 29th August 1940

Not all came out of these encounters so successfully. Sergeant Cyril Babbage of 602 Squadron, Westhampnett, had to bail out of his crippled Spitfire on 26 August, and was rescued by fishermen at Bognor. During the Battle of Britain he was to shoot down six BF 109’s and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

L’Alouette A/1/3/18 – Sergeant Cyril Babbage shaking hands with RAF officer, 26 August 1940.

After the raid on Tangmere on 16 August, eleven Stukas were shot down, and early in September a Junkers 88 crashed in the sea off Pagham.

Bognor Regis photographer Frank L’Allouette obtained a Ministry of Information Permit and captured many wartime events in and around his home town. See these blogs for more about Frank and his work.

As increasing number of enemy aircraft were brought down, it became a familiar sight in Chichester to see captured Luftwaffe pilots and aircrew escorted to the railway station, en route to POW camps.

Photograph from the Chichester Observer, 18th August 1940 showing the captured German pilot.

Gradually the tide turned and by mid September more attacks were being thwarted.

The courage of the “Few”, and the high casualty rate, is well documented. The Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead was where Sir Archibald McIndoe, the renowned plastic surgeon, operated a specialist burns unit for wounded airmen. Among his patients was Wing Commander Geoffrey Page DFC DSO, a 20-year-old Hurricane pilot with 56 Squadron, who suggested the national Battle of Britain Memorial. West Sussex Record Office holds the archives of the Queen Victoria Hospital including the Guinea Pig Club.*

The Record Office also hold a remarkable collection of audio recordings (OH17) of local people describing the effects of the Battle of Britain on Chichester and Tangmere and also a first- hand account of action by John Bisdee a fighter pilot.

The churchyard at Tangmere, where British and German airmen lay side by side, is a poignant reminder of the air war. Enemy airmen were buried with full military honours, far away from home. At least 107 German airmen are known to be buried in West Sussex.


Websites:

RAF: history, statistics, photos and events

RAF Benevolent Fund: video interviews with veterans of the Battle, blogs and podcasts

Imperial War Museum: events, information and short feature on Douglas Bader

Battle of Britain Memorial: events, learning resources, day-by-day timeline, app etc


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VE Day in West Sussex – Part Two: Records

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 

Books

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.

Newspapers

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.

Photographs

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.

Diaries

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.

Other Records

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

Websites

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


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VE Day in West Sussex 8th May 1945 – Part One: an Overview

By Martin Hayes and Alan Readman

As we approach the 75th anniversary of VE Day, not only do we wish to celebrate that day, as best we can during this challenging period, but also we remember and give thanks to all those who served, died and suffered, overseas and at home, in the Second World War. This first blog aims to give a flavour of the events on VE Day across the County and portray the excitement and outpouring of joy and relief as peace finally returned.

Part Two will showcase the records you can use to find out more.


As the armies of liberation progressed through occupied Europe en route to Berlin, at home the coastal defences were gradually removed, tenders being invited for the demolition of the dragons teeth and pill boxes which had been so feverishly constructed in 1940.

At Bognor and Worthing the barbed wire was cleared away from the promenade, giving some small children their first glimpse of an unobstructed seafront, though the beaches still had to be cleared of mines.

The formal German surrender was taken by General Montgomery at his Luneburg Heath HQ, near Hamburg, on 4 May 1945.  In Britain Tuesday 8 May was declared a public holiday, VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

In West Sussex the day dawned with dull skies and slight drizzle, but spirits were not to be dampened and the weather improved too. One Barnham Land Girl, Daphne Byrne, recalls [1] unfurling a moth-eaten Union Jack on top of a water tower, and watching as all her neighbours began stringing up flags, bunting and streamers.

In Bognor Daphne Byrne recalled that everyone was “going mad with joy”.  Frank L’Alouette captured the scene (above) as crowds gathered in the High Street, some dancing to relayed music and the Legion Band, whilst others just watched and wondered how to feel now that war was over. The music became louder, enhanced occasionally by high-spirited improvisation. Reg Seward it was who took to the road with his drums, beating out a rhythm that inspired the dancers to greater exertions. Young and old danced the jitterbug in front of the Southdown Bus Station to music relayed from the Ikon Galleries. Inspector Burridge and PC Mills were tempted to join in but duty called their attention away to diverting the traffic. A bus hooted. The crowds parted. ‘Come and dance, Clippie’ shouted a wag.

The Chichester Post reported that the city was bedecked with flags and banners on the afternoon of VE-Day as the Prime Minister’s 3 pm speech was broadcast from the Cross. In Petworth too flags and bunting decorated the Town Square and crowds gathered to hear Churchill’s broadcast and George Garland photographed this historic occasion (below).

Events were many and varied. Southwick’s ancient Green saw a ’pop-up fun fair’, sports for children and probably the biggest tea party in the County. The afternoon’s events were rounded off by, what else, a cricket match between Southwick village and a Mr Bennett’s XI from Brighton. In Shoreham the flag of Russian ally was hoisted over the Town Hall and ventriloquist George Gulliver entertained children at St Peter’s Hall. 

One of the most popular celebrations was the street party.  “Bring your own cup and plate” children were told as rationing was forgotten for the day. Such was the strong community spirit at Park Terrace East in Horsham that it was one of the first organised. Children tucked in to a feast of food not seen for years and one of them, surveying his lemonade, cake and ice cream, asked “Is peace like this every day?”  In the evening Gordon and His Band arrived at the Terrace to play for dancing and singing and householders took leads off their household current to illuminate the street! Returned prisoners-of-war joined in and a collection raised £11 2s 6d for the Red Cross.

One of the less well-off streets adjacent to Worthing Road in Rustington, saw an equally impressive effort. See above.

Towards the end of the day adults came to the fore as dances were held. All tickets for the Victory Ball at the Assembly Hall in Worthing were snapped up in minutes and 700 people danced the night away to Tom Priddy’s Municipal Orchestra. At 9pm the Mayor arrived and a hush fell as everyone listened to the King’s speech. In Balcombe the speech was broadcast through loudspeakers outside the Victory Hall and the subsequent dance was made possible by an amplified radiogram.

As darkness fell, new opportunities arose. In Haywards Heath paths at St Francis Hospital (then Brighton County Borough Mental Hospital) were illuminated by hundreds of coloured lights and bulbs spelled out VE on the water-tower and the main entrance. Bonfires blazed along the top of the Downs.  One was built outside the Norfolk Hotel in Arundel, Daphne Byrne remembers people dancing around it on VE-Day, singing “Good old Sussex by the Sea”.  Southwick’s bonfire off The Driveway, near Buckingham Park, featured a Hitler ‘guy’ in uniform with arm raised in Nazi salute whereas Horsted Keynes burned Mussolini. The creative residents of Sandfield Avenue in the Wick area of Lyminster designed a Nazi swastika (above) to be the centrepiece of their firey celebration.

Of course there were tears as well as happiness. Those who had given their lives were remembered. So too those still fighting the Japanese and those yet to return from their wasted years in POW camps in Europe and beyond. Some amongst the crowds simply watched the festivities, lost in their own thoughts and prayers, but there would be a special time for remembrance and for this day at least the overriding sense was one of unbridled rejoicing.


[1] MP 3846 Notes and reminiscences of Miss Daphne MF Byrne; extracts and photocopies from her journal of Women’s Land Army service at Barnham, 1944-5


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A black and white image showing a line of woman queuing to collect rationed fish supplies

Rationing and West Sussex

By Abigail Hartley, Searchroom Archivist

Go easy with the butter,
Be careful with the jam.
And here’s a word remember,
That it’s 16 points for spam.
Just bear in mind that Allied ships,
We need for war’s equipment,
Must pass through many danger zones,
To bring us every shipment.

Rationing, from ‘Rhymes of those Times’ By Gwen Jones, 1945, WSRO, AM 1190/1

Earlier last month I wrote a blog about the arrival of children to West Sussex as part of the Evacuation Scheme successfully cobbled together by central government, and London and West Sussex schools. This month we continue with the commemoration the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.


The Record Office holds a multitude of items that show how people lived whilst having their clothes, petrol, food and drink rationed.

If we start with Add Mss 54087 – Letters to Molly Chandler in Canada from her father Fred Chandler in Tillington, in which he describes how stingy the petrol rationing was in 1939.

“We have had however complete blackout over the whole country, and the most strangest regulations for cars and cycles, making night driving very dangerous. I shall not go out after sunset as I understand the petrol ration will be 5 gals only per month. There is not much hope in getting anywhere.”

WSRO – Add Mss 54087

This collection as a whole is filled with gems. Fred makes drawings of where bombings occurred in the first years of the war, and describes how rationing affected local businesses. His daughter, who was stationed in Canada at the time, received letters on a near weekly basis.

The records of MP 5329 show what the assorted books and cards people now had to carry on their person. The coupon system could get complicated, and inevitably led to the queues so famous in so many images at the time.

A notice to the public regarding the rationing of clothing was published in 1941, which stated the 66 coupons would have to do per person until May 1942. Exempt goods included baby and toddler clothing, boiler suits, hats, caps, hair nets, sewing thread, mending wool, shoe laces, 3 inches thick or less fabric, elastic, lace, sanitary towels, braces, garters, clogs (of all things), blackout cloth and all secondhand clothing. Is it any wonder where the “make do and mend” mentality came from?

But it is not just in personal collections that we see the impact of rationing. It’s also in county records. You can read in Council minutes about the establishment of allotment committees and the purchasing of land to grow more food in WOC/CC1/22. Moreover, local schools, now with even more mouths to feed due to evacuation, had to be extraordinarily careful in what products they used as well as portion size.

E/255/19/10 contains many circulars advising portion sizing, with meat being equivalent of 2d per meal, 1/7 oz of bacon per meal, and 1/5 oz for preserves per meal. Interestingly, tea was not rationed initially. One circular notes:

“There is no permitted quantity of tea at the moment, but all calculations are made on the basis of 1lb of tea equals 200 beverages”

WSRO – E/255/19/10

Which just goes to show how tea was too precious to ration. It was only in 1940 when it was rationed for the general public, and even then it was enough to make three cups a day, much less stringent then other rationed goods for sure!

The Ministry of Food recommended 2,500 calories per child at the time (as much as an adult requires nowadays) and suggested that a hot school dinner should account for 1,000 of those calories. The Labour Research Department reported that by 1942 around 700,000 children were having school dinners – a good way to reduce pressure on parents at home whilst ensuring malnutrition was avoided during particular shortages.

AM621/9 contains a brilliant little advisory menu for children’s meals from the Ministry of Food. It includes such appetising things as cheese and raw grated cabbage sandwiches, swede juice, creamed cod or mashed veggies on toast, all of which seems to be awfully optimistic of children’s eating habits.

The Home Guard also had similar restrictions. Placing orders for food could be tricky, and often requests for extra rations could be nigh impossible to receive a positive response. MP 2064 shows what it took to obtain a turkey in a catering establishment during Christmas. In the case of cheese, we have one circular from the Food Control Committee for the Food Area of the Rural District of Chichester from the 18th August 1940, which notes that:

“While every endeavour will be made to meet your wishes in regard to the types of cheese supplied, no guarantee can be given that your requirements in this respect will be met.”

WSRO – AM 686/1

It is a bit surreal reading these notices now, and tricky to imagine in today’s world being denied cheese or tea or turkey on the 23rd of December… but it was the reality for 1940s and early 1950s Britain.

Whilst bread was restored in 1948, other foods and goods remained restricted. Clothes rationing ended in 1949, and petrol in 1950. Sweets and chocolate were once more allowed to be endlessly consumed on the 4th of February 1953, with sugar in general following that September, where finally, on the 4 July 1954, restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat and all remaining items were lifted. The impact of the war was continually felt on so many levels, fifteen years after it had started and nearly a decade after it had ended.


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D-Day: The West Sussex Story

By Alan Readman

“Okay, we’ll go!” With these words, spoken to his Chiefs of Staff at Southwick House, near Portsmouth, at 4.15 on the morning of 5 June 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, set in motion the greatest armada the world had ever seen. The day following came to be known as D-Day, the 75th anniversary of which we commemorate this year.

D-Day West Sussex cover
The new edition of D-Day West Sussex available at the Record Office and Local Libraries

To mark the occasion, a book published twenty-five years ago by West Sussex County Council titled D-Day West Sussex, written by Ian Greig, Kim Leslie and Alan Readman, has been reprinted. It was researched from local and national archives and from the recollections of people who had lived through those days. Through this book, the contribution of West Sussex to the D-Day story was told for the first time.

D-Day has been described as the most crucial single event of the Second World War. Success for the Allies would hasten the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation; failure would give Hitler the freedom to launch his V1 and V2 attacks on England and strike back at Russia on the Eastern Front.

In West Sussex the build-up of the assault forces had become apparent early in 1944. In February, the 30th US Infantry Division arrived in the Chichester district. Its 120th Infantry Regiment was billeted in Bognor and Felpham, with its HQ in the Victoria Hotel at the Aldwick Road end of Victoria Drive.

The impact of the American presence on British society is well known.  “Over fed, over paid, over sexed and over here” was the quip of the day but in reality local people offered homely hospitality that was greatly appreciated by troops from overseas. In Chichester, Bishop Bell held receptions for American officers in the Bishop’s Palace and, elsewhere in the city, canteen facilities were opened for visiting troops.  At Middleton-on-Sea, they gathered at “Mom and Pops Canteen”, run by Mr & Mrs Vigur.

Visits and inspections by the D-Day Commanders took place. The Bracklesham Bay Hotel hosted Eisenhower, Montgomery and Churchill while they observed landing rehearsals at Bracklesham and Climping. King George VI visited Petworth Park. Its tented and hutted camp was home to over 4000 soldiers, including the 27th Armoured Brigade with its amphibious Sherman tanks, which a few weeks later would prove their value on Sword Beach.

Eisenhower also stayed at the Ship Hotel in North Street, Chichester, while inspecting the many airfields and advanced landing grounds in the area.  He was guest of honour at a formal dinner in the Officers Mess at RAF Tangmere, attended also by the legendary air ace, Johnnie Johnson, then Commander of a Wing of Canadian Spitfires at Funtington.

The Operations Room of RAF Tangmere was in Chichester at Bishop Otter College. A special Observation Gallery was erected from which senior officers could look down on plotting tables, manned round the clock by specially trained WAAFs. On D-Day this room was the nerve centre for the operation of 56 Squadrons from 18 airfields taking part in the invasion. That day, the three Czech Spitfire Squadrons based at the Advanced Landing Ground at Apuldram gave cover to landing forces on the beaches and, flying from dawn to dusk, carried out more sorties than any other RAF station.

The county’s aviation role was varied – including receipt of the wounded from the landing beaches, who were flown back to airfields at Ford and Bognor for treatment at hospitals in Chichester.

L'Alouette-A-3-44
Airborne assault glider being towed by an aircraft – Heading to France to take part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy (L’Alouette/A/1/22/1)

Of the county’s many associations with D-Day, perhaps the most extraordinary were the Mulberry Harbours, the pre-fabricated ports towed across the Channel on D-Day+1 to supply the invasion army. Their design owed much to the inventiveness of Lieutenant-Commander Robert Lochner, a young Admiralty scientist from Linchmere. Some of the principles came to him in his bath and were put into practice in his garden pond at Rats Castle.

The components of these artificial harbours were assembled off the coast at Pagham and Selsey prior to the towing operation. It was all top secret but that didn’t stop locals speculating as to what was going on. The consensus in Bognor was that they were prefab buildings for a new off-shore housing estate. In Bosham, they said they were the start of a cross-Channel concrete bridge. Only in October would they discover the truth, that the harbour when erected at Arromanches played a vital part in the invasion, earning Churchill’s accolade “this miraculous port”. Remnants of a wrecked section, that came adrift in a practice assembly, can still be seen at low tide, embedded in the sand at West Beach on the Aldwick foreshore, our own souvenir of the D-Day activity in West Sussex.

Bognor, Littlehampton and Worthing were directly under the flight path of the 6th Airborne Division as it headed for Normandy on the night of 5-6 June 1944. There was little sleep for residents of those towns. Next morning, the Army camps were empty and the streets clear of invasion vehicles. The people of West Sussex, who had observed the build-up at close quarters, now knew that the long-awaited liberation of Europe was underway.

Copies of the ‘D-Day West Sussex’ book, reprinted in 2019 (with minor amendments) for the 75th anniversary, is available at £7.95 from all West Sussex libraries and the Record Office, 3 Orchard Street, Chichester (e-mail record.office@westsussex.gov.uk with any queries).

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World War 2 Ministry of Food recipe leaflets (Add Mss 54,872)

Chosen by Holly Wright, member of staff

These Ministry of Food recipe leaflets were produced during World War 2 to help the nation make the most of their food in spite of rationing, a necessary measure first enforced on 8th January 1940 as a result of the enemy bombing or blockading of the supply ships heading for Britain. The rationing scheme was overseen by the wartime Minister of Food Lord Woolton (who lived at Walberton House near Arundel).

It is hard for us to imagine nowadays what it was like to deal with shortages that lasted not a few days or weeks, but for 14 years (rationing finally ended in June 1954). It wasn’t only food that was rationed, other resources were limited too. Imagine Christmas without a decorative tree (timber rationing), one toilet roll for the whole family per week (paper rationing), 5 inches of bath water once a week for the whole family

(water rationing – this often meant sharing the same bath water!) and a set amount of petrol for the car (petrol rationing was actually enforced earlier, in late 1939, and forced many people to give up driving altogether). You also didn’t have the luxury of popping to the shops if you ran low on food – your ration had to last the whole week!

Ration levels fluctuated depending on supplies: it began with butter, sugar and bacon and later on, eggs, jam, biscuits, cheese, sweets and tea were added. In times of severe shortage, the amounts would decrease, at other times there were enough supplies which allowed for a little more. Larger amounts of certain rationed foods were given to those who required it such as expectant or new mothers, babies and workers such as Land Girls and miners. Some foods such as bread and vegetables were not on ration (at least during the war) and made up most of people’s diets. Rationing also encouraged (or perhaps forced) people to ‘grow their own’, thereby supplementing their weekly amounts.

The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign resulted in the creation of over a million new allotments around the country. The Women’s Institute also got involved, setting up fruit preservation centres to make jams and syrups from the wild fruits growing in the trees and hedgerows.

Creative recipe leaflets such as these allowed people more variety – individual recipes were printed in newspapers making them more accessible to the masses. You could also learn how to cook with rations from the home economists themselves: the Chichester Observer advertised a ‘Dig for Victory’ week from 22nd-29th January 1942 with a programme of talks on food and gardening as well as cooking demonstrations. A wartime Christmas edition of the Chichester Observer reported on a cooking exhibition at the Chichester Electricity Department, which focused on making foods ‘with a view to providing some traditional Christmas Fare without being hard on the rations. It was not a Ministry of Food exhibition but Miss Brown did use some of their recipes, besides her own’.

Another new scheme introduced was the ‘British Restaurant’, set up to help those who had been bombed out of their homes but also served meals without the need for coupons – they became incredibly popular with workers who could now enjoy a hot meal at lunchtime. One of these British Restaurants opened in Chichester on 20th April 1942 at the Assembly Rooms in North Street, feeding over 200 people on the opening day. A three course dinner of meat or fish and vegetables, with soup and dessert cost 1s 2d (the equivalent of about £1.70 in today’s money). The Chichester Observer (Saturday April 25th 1942) reported: ‘The restaurant has revealed that there are an astonishing number of workers in Chichester, especially girls and young women, who find it impossible, for one reason or another, to go home for their mid-day meal. To these a hot meal, at a figure within their means, must be infinitely preferable to sandwich food or makeshift buns’.

Of course, this article merely scratches the surface of the history of wartime rationing. How about trying out these recipes yourselves and get a taste of life during the Blitz!