05 December 2016

Portslade and the Second World War

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2016)

 (Brighton & Hove under Fire)
St Richard’s Road was bombed in August 1942.

Pre-war Precautions

The Sussex Daily News (23 September 1938) reported that so many people crowded into Portslade Hall for the launch of Portslade Council’s ARP (Air-Raid Precautions) Scheme that they overflowed into the lobby and ante-rooms as well as onto benches at the back of the platform.

Mr F.T. Holden, local ARP organiser, said they needed a minimum of 494 volunteers and perhaps twice that number if proper relief were to be given. The numbers broke down as follows:

101 air-raid wardens
120 first aid workers
46 for the medical transport service
29 for work in rescue parties
33 for the decontamination service
31 for gasmask assembly
40 for messenger services
54 auxiliary firemen

In addition 67 lorries and 14 private cars were also needed.

At the close of the meeting 25 ARP badges were distributed to members of the St John Ambulance Brigade and the Red Cross who had gained their gas training certificates.

By 13 October 1938 it was stated that the response to the appeal launched on 23 and 30 September had been good and 312 people had volunteered. However, it was also felt that volunteers were not coming forward fast enough.

It was hoped Portslade Council would obtain a 60% grant from the Government towards the cost of sandbags and planks for shelters and trenches.

Later in October 1938 mothers and children lined up at Portslade Hall to be fitted with gas masks while Red Cross nurses were on hand to pacify troublesome youngsters. The assembling team made up the gas masks at the old Portslade Police Station at 108 North Street.

copyright © D.Sharp
St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road, 
was let to Portslade Urban District Council for ARP purposes and 
renamed 'Portslade Hall' for the duration of the Second World War. 
(The Church sold the building in the 1960s to fund a new
Parish Centre near St Nicolas Church in the Old Village.)

In April 1939 equipment for air-raid wardens was listed as follows:

26 notebooks
26 torches
26 whistles
26 rattles
11 hand-bells
11 first aid outfits

East Sussex County Council wanted sandbags to be stored in the area at the equivalent of three sandbags per head of population. This meant 36,000 sandbags weighing a total of seven tons. But Portslade had no suitable place for storing sandbags, which because of the weight needed to be on the ground floor. It was suggested a steel garage should be purchased at a cost of £18-10s. Other equipment could be stored at the old Police Station in North Street.

On 8/9 July 1938 and 9/10 August 1938 a blackout exercise was held in which all ARP personnel took part.

Air-raid Shelters

Air-raid shelters at the old Windlesham House School were dug under the playground. They were tunnel-like structures and the boys sat facing each other.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The 14th Battalion (Hove) Sussex Home Guard 19th Platoon were photographed in 1943 outside what had been Windlesham House School. In the second row, third from left, is Sergeant Deacon; fourth from the left is Lieutenant Howard.

It was stated that the three schools in the vicinity of Southern Cross could take shelter in the trenches it was proposed to construct in Victoria Recreation Ground. However, there must have been a change of heart because air-raid shelters were created at St Nicolas School. Sandbags protected the original structures but in 1942 the Ringmer Construction Company erected brick-built shelters.

In May 1939 it was stated that trenches were to be sited in the grounds of St Peter’s School (the former St Andrew's Junior School) and the scheme was implemented in the summer. It was put about that a new drainage scheme was being installed; indeed there was some truth in the matter because standard 6-foot diameter concrete drainage pipes around 70 feet in length were used for the six tunnels. A brick passageway connected the tunnels. Wooden benches for staff and children lined the tunnels and there were chemical toilets at the end.

copyright © D.Sharp
St Peter’s School was more than adequately provided with air-raid shelters

These air-raid shelters remain in existence to this day. They were opened to the public for the first time on 19 August 1995 as part of the celebrations for VJ Day. In subsequent years the tunnels have been open for inspection on one day as part of Portslade Festival. On 26 June 1999 the cost of admittance was 60 pence per person. By 21 June 2003 two tunnels were on view and the cost had risen to £1.

The tunnels are reached down a flight of steps on the north side of the school grounds. The air seems surprisingly good and the tunnels do not seem to be damp.

It is estimated the tunnels could have accommodated 2,000 people and obviously it was a larger enterprise than providing shelter just for the school. It was realised that Shoreham Harbour was likely to become a target and the tunnels were somewhere the workers and local people could take refuge.

In January 1942 Mr H.F. Parker told Portslade Council that the town was in a much better position with regard to air-raid shelters. The considerable chain of surface shelters authorised by the Ministry of Home Security had now been completed. As many as 677 Morrison shelters had been delivered and 25 Anderson shelters were in place.

War Effort
copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Revd E.P.W. Holmes was vicar of 
St Nicolas Church from 1933 to 1946.

Emergency water reservoirs were constructed in Vale Park and Victoria Recreation Ground.

In 1940 Portslade Spitfire Fund was started with H.F. Parker as chairman. It had its own distinctive Spitfire badge that could be obtained from the principal shops. The sum of £80 was soon collected with Bellman & Son donating £20 and Fred Tate and Frank Hillman gave £5 each.

Revd E.P.W. Holmes, vicar of St Nicolas Church, kept the church open for twelve hours a day in order that people caught out in the open when the air-raid siren went would have somewhere to shelter. Mrs Holmes did her bit by fire-watching at night by the church with a hard hat on her head. In more peaceful times she became a redoubtable Lay Chairman of Hove Deanery Synod quite able to keep a roomful of restless clergy and lay members in order. 

On 5 March 1942 the Portslade British Restaurant opened at Ronuk Hall (later Portslade Town Hall). Lord Woolton visited it on 16 May 1942. British restaurants were springing up all over Britain and it was a wartime measure to provide decent meals at a reasonable price.

 copyright © C. Todd
Portslade Home Guard were photographed outside Ronuk Hall in around 1943. Back row, left to right, Bob Partner, Dixie Dean, Len Souter, Arthur Harris and Len Searle. Middle row, Ted Perry, Matt Coomber, Lieutenant Smith, Lieutenant Richards, Sergeant Todd and Corporal Charlie Clarke. Front row, Sid Hibbard, Stan Gibbs and Bill Maynard.

Industry and the War Effort

Portslade Brewery

 copyright © A.L Shepherd
Portslade Brewery was a hub of wartime activity.

copyright © G. Ellis
George Ellis was photographed with his 
wife and daughter Barbara in 1939. 
He joined the 10th Army Field Workshop 
that was based at the brewery. 
Since he was officially billeted, 
he enjoyed the privilege of being paid 6d 
a night to sleep in his own bed at home.
The Portslade Brewery is still a prominent architectural feature of Portslade Old Village. Due to its commanding height it was the perfect place to site an anti-aircraft gun on the roof as well as providing a base for the air-raid siren.

The firm of CVA Ltd. occupied part of the brewery from 1940 to 1945. Its normal peacetime output was electric irons and vacuum cleaners. But for the war effort the female employees manufactured shells and bullets.

Army personnel occupied another part of the brewery. The 10th Army Field Workshop was stationed there under Captain Caffyn until despatched to France in early 1940 Also in 1940 the brewery was the HQ of the 5th (Territorial Army) Battalion. Then followed a succession of Army units that always left the place in a terrible state and John Ramus would have the task of cleaning it all up.

One of the units was the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Battalion Pipe Band used to play the Last Post in the road outside the Stag’s Head every evening.

Portslade Home Guard was also based at the brewery. ‘A’ Company occupied the spit of land between Shoreham Harbour and the sea and were kept busy constructing gun emplacements for their Great War Vickers machine guns.

copyright © Mrs Field
The 14th Battalion (Hove) Sussex Home Guard F Platoon D Company was photographed in Drove Road with the brewery on the right. In the front row, third from the left, is Sergeant Field.
 copyright © D. Mepham
Canadian Joe Taylor 
and his bride after the war.

In 1942 the Edmonton Regiment, part of the 1st Canadian Division, was stationed in Portslade.

Joe Taylor from New Brunswick was one of the Canadians who found himself at Portslade and he enjoyed spending his leave with the Mepham family. He kept in touch with the Mephams after the war too. Taylor’s two brothers also served in the armed forces and both were killed and it was a miracle that Joe survived because he spent two long years as a prisoner of war. He emerged from the experience ill and emaciated but made a full recovery. He returned to Canada and the Mephams were delighted when he sent them his wedding photograph and he looked happy and well.  

Southdown Motor Services

The Southdown Motor Services Central Works was located at Victoria Road, Portslade, for many years. The enterprise started off in a small way but Portslade Council was frequently presented with plans for alterations and expansions.

By June 1939 Southdown Motor Services was the sixth largest company in Britain, operating some 700 vehicles. During the war some 160 of them were requisitioned while the workforce was depleted by service in the armed forces. Those that remained became volunteer firemen or joined the Southdown Home Guard.

 copyright © H.G.J. Flowers
Portslade National Fire Service was photographed outside Southdown Motor Works in 1941. Harry Flowers is seated in the front row, second from the left. In the background is the ladder belonging to the engine that also boasted a Coventry Climax pump

The machine workshop contributed to the war effort by building two armoured cars, parts for Spitfires and Hurricanes and 20-millimetre cartridge cases. They also made intricate parts for gun breech mountings. This was of course vital work and the place hummed with activity right round the clock and under blackout conditions during the night. Work was liable to be interrupted by air-raid warnings or actual raids.

By 1946 there were 426 people in the workforce and the rate for a skilled worker was £3 a week.

Tate’s Garage

  copyright © J.Middleton
Tate’s Garage has been there since 1919.

Tate’s Garage at Southern Cross, Portslade, on the corner of Old Shoreham Road and Locks Hill, started off on the site with small premises that opened in 1919. It is pleasant to record that it remains in operation to this day, the business having expanded and diversified but still run by the same family.

During the war Tate’s continued with their small engineering section. Tate’s had the distinction of inventing a gun depression gear for use with the well-known Oerlikon guns mounted on so many ships of the Royal Navy. Without the benefit of this device, a temperamental Oerlikon could inflict more damage on the funnel than it did on an enemy target.

Tate’s also went into the ship repair and salvage business. Their first customer was a tanker Shell Brit that had been bombed while berthed at Shell Wharf. She was made sea-worthy again.

In late December 1944 during a fierce gale the Polish steamer Chorzow bound for Shoreham from Port Talbot with 1,000 tons of coal for the Power Station, went aground on the lea shore west of the entrance to Shoreham Harbour. The Admiralty made several unsuccessful attempts to haul her off but at length the vessel was written off as a total loss. On 3 January 1945 the authorities handed over the Chorzow for salvage to the Tate brothers, described as motor, marine and general engineers of Portslade. The Chorzow was a steel-built ship 209 feet in length with a 31-foot beam. She lay head-on to the shore with a 15-degree list because her cargo had shifted to port. But within a fortnight the ship was safely berthed at Shoreham and pronounced sea-worthy in September 1945 before setting sail for Weymouth; W.J. Streader, a partner of Tate’s, was in charge of the operation.

Another memorable vessel was the French minesweeper President Briand. She was wrecked on a beach at Shoreham surrounded by land mines laid as part of the anti-invasion defences. Tate’s had to wait until the mines had been cleared before getting to grips with the ship. A line of steamrollers was brought in from Worthing and their winches were used to right the ship gradually on the spring tides. The tug Harold Brown from Shoreham eventually towed her off the beach.   

Defence

There was a Bofors anti-aircraft gun on waste ground near Station Road, another at the allotments and one in the grounds of the London L.C.C. School (formerly Portslade Industrial School). There were anti-aircraft guns on top of the brewery and at the Southdown Motor Services Garage in Victoria Road. 

Air-raid sirens were located at the old council depot in Vale Road (where Tozer Court stands today) on top of the brewery and near Downland Court. 

Five Towns Emergency Dispersal Scheme 1940

This was a document setting out the location of suitable buildings and their facilities should there be an emergency. At Portslade the following were identified; the numbers refer to the amount of people that could be accommodated:

First Line Halls (fully equipped)

St Nicolas Senior Boys’ School, 280
West Hove Golf Club, Old Shoreham Road, 120
Congregational Church Hall, Station Road, 60
St Nicolas Junior School, 40
(total 600)

Third Line (not fully equipped)

St Andrew’s Church Hall, 50
Salvation Army Hall, North Street, 100
Good Shepherd Hall, Stanley Avenue, 60
British Legion Club, Trafalgar Road, 50
Baptist Church, North Street, 80
Mission Hall, Trafalgar Road, 60
(total 600)

Premises Earmarked in Original Scheme

Congregational Church, Station Road. Church, 150. Hall 100. 3 lavatories, stove but no cooking equipment.
St Andrew’s Church. Church, 200. Hall 100. 2 lavatories, gas rings but no cooking equipment.
Salvation Army, stove and copper, electric kettles.
Mission Hall, Trafalgar Road, 60, gas ring

Premises not Earmarked but Suitable as Rest Centres

Ronuk, 100
Southdown Motor Services Garage, 150
Fryco, 60
Pavilion cinema, 600 seats

Standing Orders for South Downs Training Area

The South Downs became a training ground during the war. Local people who ventured out on the time-honoured task of gathering blackberries could find themselves in trouble with armed soldiers. But the military authorities did realise the importance of the area and tried to keep damage to the minimum as witness the following information:

The official Standing Orders declared ‘The Water Supply of the South Coast Towns is largely derived from the South Downs. This supply must be protected from physical damage and must not be polluted.’ Reservoirs and pumping stations were put out of bounds while dew-ponds were fenced off. Latrines and urinals were not to be dug in chalk but must be sited as far as possible on ploughed land in the valleys.

High-tension cables must not be damaged but some were more important than others. For example, those running in a north west direction from Portslade and through Block 5 were ‘vital to the National effort as on them depend the electricity supply for a large number of war factories as far as the west of England.’

Buildings were not to be used for target practice except with the written authority from headquarters.

Addendum No 1 to Standing Orders

‘It must be borne in mind that the extensive use of the South Downs for military purposes is a purely wartime measure and that after the war farmers and others will return to live there … it will be therefore readily understood that the requisitioned area must NOT be left strewn with unexploded HE shells, mortar bombs, grenades, etc … steps will therefore be taken by units firing live ammunition to mark the fall of ‘duds’ as far as possible.’

This was of course a pious hope. For example, at Mile Oak Farm when ploughing resumed once more, the bomb disposal unit were frequent visitors. Likewise, walkers on the Downs were well advised to keep on the beaten track.

Statistics

It was stated that there was not a single fatal casualty at Portslade but perhaps this only applied to troops training on the Downs.

On 1 October 1941 there was an incident at Portslade Railway Station when a 35-year old ARP worker Arthur Boxall was injured; he was taken to hospital and died the next day.

Sergeant J.R. Canham, Home Guard died on 8 December 1940 and was buried in Portslade Cemetery.

Another Home Guard, Ronald Arthur Akehurst was injured during an air raid in March 1943 and died in May.

It is also worth noting that the Home Guard practised shooting at Mile Oak Rifle Range and several casualties were reported in 1944.

On 30 May 1942 one man was killed during an air raid.

There were 1,036 air raid alerts
311 local alarms produced 19 incidents
Between September 1939 and November 1944 35 HE bombs were dropped
During two raids approximately 631 incendiary bombs fell

Incidents

1939 – There was a ‘light’ bombing raid on Portslade when a stick of bombs fell over an area ranging from the L.C.C. School (formerly Portslade Industrial School) to Broomfield’s Farm. One bomb landed in the back garden of 218 Mile Oak Road where John Still’s grandmother lived. But it made no more than a bucket-sized hole and although her glass conservatory was only 20 feet away, no glass was broken.

24 March 1940 – An RAF Blenheim Mark1 en route from France to Tangmere came down near Dyke Hovel on the Downs. The plane landed on top of some gorse bushes and caught fire. The pilot and navigator were killed but Squadron Leader George Lapwood, a passenger, managed to free himself just as three local men arrived on the scene. Gerald Winter, one of the men, pulled gunner L.A.C. Oultrum from the burning wreckage.
The Brighton Herald (28 February 1942) announced that Gerald Winter, general foreman of East Sussex Agricultural Committee, had been decorated by King George VI with the George Cross for rescuing the crew of the bomber that crashed at Portslade.
In June 1986 Mr Lapwood, aged 67, appealed for more information about the incident in the Evening Argus. Retired nurse, Sister Helen Tookey, remembered nursing Mr Lapwood for burns at the Royal Sussex County Hospital where he remained a patient for four months. John Connor, a freelance journalist, from Hangleton Valley Drive, had a piece of the plane, a metal dial, which he had picked up as a souvenir as a 13-year old boy. The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum said they had the ammunition feed-roller from the plane.

30 June 1940 – Two bombs fell on West Hove Golf Course and one or two fell on Sharpthorne Crescent.

 (Brighton & Hove under Fire)
On 8 October 1940 a bombing raid 
left severe cracks in the tower of 
St Michael and All Angels, Southwick.
13 August 1940 – Five bombs were dropped on Shoreham Harbour. It seems the crew manning the Lewis gun belonging to collier Betswood managed to hit one of the German planes, which plunged into the sea.

13/14 September 1940 – In a raid a stick of five bombs fell on the Fairway Crescent area damaging 25 Fairway Crescent where Derek and Jim Whatmore and their parents lived. They all escaped unhurt and even the cat turned up later unscathed. Eventually, the Government awarded the Whatmores £21 as compensation for the damage. Another bomb exploded on the allotments not far from a Bofors gun site. An unexploded bomb was found just over the wall in Goatcher’s field in Mill Lane and there was another bomb in Mill Lane. A large, unexploded 1,000 lb bomb was dug out of a garden in Helena Close.

26 September 1940 – Four bombs fell on the Gas Works, wrecking the coal stores but the retorts were not hit. The only casualty was a horse killed in the wreckage.

8 October 1940 – As dusk was falling three Heinkel HE 111s flew low over Portslade following the railway line west. Eric Masters said they were firing all over the place. One bullet went straight through the plate glass window of the hairdresser’s shop at 30 Trafalgar Road. The large mirror on the wall beyond was peppered with bullet holes. There were at least 40 explosions and severe damage in Southwick with one woman being killed.

10 October 1940 – During a German raid two Spitfires of 92 Squadron collided over Portslade. Flying Officer John Drummond was injured by machine-gun fire and bailed out of his aircraft. But his plane was at too low an altitude and he was killed. Meanwhile, his plane collided with another Spitfire with Pilot Officer Desmond Williams at the controls and he also died. Drummond’s plane crashed into Jubilee Field, at the junction of Easthill Road and Easthill Drive. Williams’s plane landed in Hove.
For those on the ground at Portslade, it was the worst day as regards air-raid warnings because there were four of them.

18 November 1940 – Nine bombs fell on Shoreham Harbour; one of them dropped on a boat in the canal, killing 17-year old butcher’s boy William Wood who was delivering meat to the vessel.
On that day Mr and Mrs Mower were married at Hove Registry Office, after which they visited a photographer in Station Road, Portslade, to have their wedding pictures taken. Then it was back to Middle Street, Portslade to enjoy their wedding breakfast with family and friends. Before they had even sat down at the table, a German plane flew across the canal and machine-gunned up Middle Street. Then the boat was bombed. Mr Mower, as a trained Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance man, went out side to offer assistance when a large piece of shrapnel shot past him and struck the front door. But the Mowers survived and were still living in Portslade in 1994.

21 November 1940 – An explosive bullet from an enemy plane hit the south side of the roof on St Nicolas School, breaking a tile.

24 November 1940 – A Whitley aircraft crashed in Applesham Way.

1 October 1941 – There was an incident at Portslade Railway Station. Arthur Boxall, a 35-year old ARP member was injured and died the following day.

25/26 March 1941 – The Gas Works were again bombed but with little effect.

24 April 1942 – There was a daytime raid.

26 April 1942 – There were two hit-and-run raids and although two bombs were dropped, no damage was caused and there were no casualties.

30 May 1942 – One man was killed in an air attack.

August 1942 – Bombs fell on St Richard’s Road causing some damage. Nearby St Andrew’s Church was also affected.

 (Brighton & Hove under Fire)
St Richard’s Road was photographed after the bombing raid in August 1942.

24 August 1942 – It was reported that a Messerschmitt 109 was shot down into the sea after it had bombed Portslade. Apparently, the bomb fell on Bellman’s, Station Road, where it bounced, flew over the rooftops on the other side of the road and fell on a house in Worcester Villas where Joan Shepherd ran her dancing school. The students and their teacher were sheltering under the stairs and survived although some wreckage landed on Joan’s legs.

  (Brighton & Hove under Fire)
The bomb that hit this house in Worcester Villas, Hove 
on 24 August 1942 had bounced from Station Road.

November 1942 – It was reported that two German planes flew over St Nicolas School and the air was full of machine-gun bullets. Mr R.J. Figgins became the new head of St Nicolas School in 1940 and he was soon frustrated at the disruption caused by the frequent air-raid warnings when the children went into the shelters. In February 1941 he decided that lessons would continue unless there was definite danger. He took to the roof with his binoculars to scan the skies while two boys acted as spotters. The boys soon became experts in recognising different aircraft.  

May 1943 – Several pieces of shrapnel from anti-aircraft guns fell into the playground of St Nicolas School, breaking another tile on their way.

1943 – An incendiary bomb set the roof of Loxdale alight but the flames were extinguished successfully. It is said that blackened timbers are still visible in the attic.
Perhaps it was the same attack when incendiary bombs fell on St Marye’s Convent. It seems the nuns were aghast at the firemen tramping through their space and were inclined to be obstructive although the men were only doing their duty and endeavouring the put out the flames.

 copyright © J.Middleton
There were charred timbers in the roof of Loxdale after a bomb hit it.

6 June 1944 – A Douglas Havoc medium bomber crashed at North House Farm. The plane was badly damaged but the crew were not injured; they were Lieutenant Charles Mish (pilot) C.J. Clarke and R.F. Chustz. It was stated the RAF mounted guard over the wreckage to deter sightseers and souvenir hunters. But Bert Hyde, a farm worker at North House Farm, maintained it was he who had to guard the wreckage all night long. He should know because the aircraft landed on top of one of his precious haystacks that he had built and thatched in the time-honoured way.

13 August 1944 – Five 12-year old boys were injured when a phosphorous grenade exploded while being examined by a group of pupils at the L.C.C. School (formerly Portslade Industrial School). All of them suffered burns and three were left in a serious condition. It was thought one of the boys discovered the grenade while playing on the Downs.

Gas Works

Not only was the Portslade Gas Works bombed but in July 1940 two colliers were lost although they were sailing in a protective convoy. The Pulborough was sunk first and the Portslade followed the next day. On that same day the Power Station lost their collier Henry Moon but her sister ship Arthur Wright managed to survive although she too was hit.

An old sailing ship Six Sisters was sunk in the canal as an invasion precaution.

copyright © D.Sharp
Raymond Sharp back home in Portslade on leave from the army, 
aboard the Six Sisters with Portslade Gas Works in the background

Evacuees

 copyright © Mrs Field
This formal notice dates from June 1942.

St Nicolas School was already overcrowded in the 1930a but matters were made worse when Norbury Manor Junior Mixed School was evacuated to Portslade. The only way to juggle the available space was for one school to use the building in the morning while the other one had to wait until the afternoon. The rota was changed every week. By October 1939 both schools had the use of the Rothbury Hall and the Methodist Church Hall, both in Franklin Road. Sometimes, if the weather permitted, lessons could be taken in Victoria Recreation Ground. When Norbury School left Portslade, there was a short breathing space before Latchmere Senior Boys’ School arrived in Portslade. However, the discomfort was short-lived because after the Dunkirk evacuation took place, it was realised that the south coast was no longer a safe place.

  copyright © G. Fuller
Evacuation label Form A was issued for young Kenneth Fuller of Crown Road.

  copyright © Mrs Field
Evacuation label Form B was issued for Sylvia Field of North Road. Her mother was a member of the WVS Emergency Food and Shelter staff.

On 11 March 1941 all schools at Portslade were closed while the authorities decided what was best to do with the children. In the end there was a voluntary scheme whereby parents could choose to have their children evacuated to a safer area. Some went to Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire and remained there from May 1941 until 12 December 1944. But most Portslade children stayed put.

The boys from Loxdale also went to Sowerby Bridge and then Loxdale became an officers’ mess. 

Wartime Romances

  copyright © D.Sharp
Wartime weddings between soldiers and airmen from overseas to Portslade girls took place at St Nicolas Church.

The arrival of Canadian troops in Sussex must have sent many a young female heart fluttering. Some romances culminated in marriage. The following military information was gleaned from formal ‘Permission to Marry’ documents at St Nicolas Church, Portslade, which had to be signed by a superior officer. The first one was signed by Major D.G. MacLauchlan of the Calgary Highlanders and enabled Lance Corporal O. Sween to marry Emily Christine Austin. Other potential husbands who wanted to walk up the aisle at St Nicolas to wed their sweethearts came from the following outfits:

Calgary Highlanders
4th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment
Edmonton Regiment
Canadian Reinforcement Unit
1st Anti-Tank RCA
Queen’s Rifles of Canada
Perth Regiment
North Shore Regiment, Canadian Army
Loyal Edmonton Regiment
Counter Intelligence
Australian Air Force

Wartime Jealousy and Murders

1943 – The Willard family lived in Albion Street, Portslade. Pop Willard worked at the Picturedrome cinema in North Street as a cleaner, odd-job man and chucker-out of unruly customers. His formidable wife helped him in the performance of the latter duties; she was a strongly built woman of whom the local children were in awe. If a youngster misbehaved in the cinema she would lift him up by the scruff of his neck before ejecting him into the street.

Mr and Mrs Willard had a daughter who was christened Annette Elizabeth Frederika Christina but was usually called Nan; she was a popular and friendly soul. She married Mr Pepper who by 1943 was a prisoner of war in Germany.

Annette Pepper, aged 30, lodged with her eight-year old daughter Valerie, in a house in Mile Oak Road, Portslade. Canadian soldiers stationed at Portslade proved an irresistible attraction for the lonely Annette; she formed attachments with two of them They were Sergeant William Archibald Rendall of the Edmonton Regiment, and Charles Eugene Gauthier of the regiment De La Chaudiere. She had known Rendall since 1941 but he was later posted back to Canada. She met French-Canadian Gauthier in 1943.

When Rendall was posted back to England, he fully expected to take up with Annette where he had left off. Rendall went to look for Gauthier and they met accidentally in the same café where Annette and Gauthier had first met.

The two men agreed it would be more civilized to talk over the situation at Annette’s home in Mile Oak Road. It was a difficult meeting, which ended when Annette told Gauthier she had never loved him and Rendall was the man for her.

Gauthier was enraged by her rejection and left the house abruptly. He headed straight for the brewery where he chatted to the soldier on duty there. He left but soon returned and managed to steal the Bren-gun from the top of the building.

At 8 p.m. the same day Gauthier was back outside Annette’s home. When the occupants realised who it was, they slammed the door in his face. But Gauthier fired three shots through it and one bullet wounded Rendall above the right ankle. Rendall managed to hobble out of the back door to a neighbouring house.

But Gauthier got in through the back door and shouted to Annette to come downstairs and talk to him. But she refused, saying she feared she would be shot. |Only when he gave his word of honour that he would not harm her, did she venture to the top of the stairs. But as soon as she appeared he fired a bullet through her neck and as she tumbled down the stairs, he fired three more shots at her.

The sound of gunshots alerted the Home Guard unit based at the L.C.C. School and soon Captain J.W.C. Hadfield, R.C. Hotston and J.A. Doughty surrounded Gauthier.

Annette, who was six weeks pregnant, was buried in Portslade Cemetery on 18 March 1943.

On 2 April 1943 Gauthier appeared at Hove Magistrates Court where Gerald Paling outlined the case for the prosecution. On 12 July 1943 Gautheir’s trial began at Lewes. But the jury was deadlocked and there had to be another trial that took place on 25 July 1943 at the Old Bailey. This time the jury found Gauthier guilty of wilful murder; an appeal failed in August. On 24 September 1943 Gauthier was hanged at Wandsworth Prison.

1945 – Charles Elphick served with the Royal Corps of Signals for five years during the war, three of them abroad. He was not called up immediately in 1939 because he was aged 36 and a married man living at Abinger Road, Portslade. His wife Jessie Eileen grew lonely and bored during his long absence and decided to bring a little glamour into her life by attending dances.

It was at a Brighton dance hall that she met Michael Niescior, a Polish ex-sailor who worked as a chef for the Polish Rest Home for Sailors at 98 Marine Parade. By April Niescior was ensconced in the marital home; Jessie wrote to her husband informing him that she had a boyfriend.

Later that year, Elphick came home on leave. He walked up Abinger Road and into his house. There he found a strange man sitting on his bed while his wife was in the bath. The next day Jessie and Niescior left to take up lodgings in nearby Gardener Street. But Jessie, perhaps with a twinge of conscience, returned home to the Abinger Road house to cook her husband a meal; a fortnight later she returned home.

The Elphicks then took a holiday to Hastings and endeavoured to patch things up. But it seems Jessie was unable to make up her mind between the two men. At any rate when they returned to Portslade, she began to see Niescior again.

On 21 October 1945 Niescior arrived outside the Elphick house at 11.20 p.m.. He banged on the door for admittance but Elphick could see through the glass panel that Niescior was armed with a knife. He rushed to the kitchen to pick up a large scaffolding hammer. Meanwhile, Jessie had opened the door and soon she found herself in the middle of an armed fight with the men lunging at each other around her. The mêlée continued outside the house until the three of them fell over a low garden wall in a heap. Jessie managed to extricate herself and she intended to get on her bicycle to fetch the police but Niescior stopped her. Jessie thought her husband was dead because he was lying in the road with stab wounds. But he tried to struggle up before collapsing.

Meanwhile, neighbours heard the commotion and sent for a doctor. Elphick was taken to Southlands Hospital. On 22 October 1945 Niescior was charged with wounding but when Elphick died, he was charged with murder at 11.35 a.m.

Elphick was aged 42 at the time of his death. He had numerous wounds including a 4½ inch cut on the right side of his face and an incised wound in his skull of 2 ½ inches.

Niescior appeared at Hove Magistrates Court on 20 November 1945. H.F. Parker (chairman) W. Durrant and Captain Wales were sitting on the bench that day; Stanley Cushman defended Niescior.

On 10 December 1945 Niescior’s trial began at Lewes. It lasted two days and the jury took only 45 minutes to decide he was guilty of murder. On 14 January 1946 there was an unsuccessful appeal and on 31 January 1946 Niescior was hanged at Wandsworth Prison.    

Memories

Charlie Todd

   copyright © C. Todd
The Todd family at war; left to right, Charlie Todd (Home Guard) Muriel Todd (Land Army) Jack Todd (Regular Army). Front row; Evelyn Todd (London Fire Service) and Bessie Todd (Land Army).

Charlie Todd wanted to join up as soon as war was declared but his carpentry skills were too much in demand. Instead he was kept hard at work at the Lady Bee Yard in the engine rooms of various vessels including some MGBs, MTBs, MLs and torpedo boats.

On 15 June 1940 he joined the Home Guard. His unit was E Company F Platoon 14th (Hove) Sussex Home Guard. The unit included 63-year old Private Allen, and ex-Army Dixie Dean who always wore his campaign medals and was meticulous about the shine on his boots.

They drilled with rifles from the Boer War era; the weapons were around 6 feet 6 inches in length with a 16-inch bayonet on the end but surprisingly enough they did not weigh more than the standard Enfield rifle. Their HQ was Portslade Brewery.

This unit of the Home Guard were responsible for six Guard Posts in Portslade:

1. East Tower, L.C.C. School, Mile Oak Road
2. Waterworks, Mile Oak
3. Dyke Hovel (around halfway between New Barn Farm and the Dyke)
4. Gas Works and beaches
5. Portslade Railway Station
6. Foot of Station Road

On One occasion, not long after Dunkirk, those in duty on the Downs during the blackout were horrified to hear what they interpreted to be boots marching along the road. Further investigation revealed that the culprits were cows happily pulling up clumps of grass to chew.

Then there was the time the blackout was pierced by hundreds of tiny lights. The men of the Home Guards seriously considered the possibility that the lights were attached to German paratroops. But a large colony of glow-worms was found to be responsible.

A Messerschmitt 110 was shot down over Shoreham but the pilot landed safely in a turnip field in Erringham. He probably never realised how lucky he was because the area was festooned with trip-wires placed at intervals of 100 yards. Charlie Todd witnessed the incident, jumped into his two-seater Morris and arrested the airman.

The Home Guard’s training ground was Slonk Hill and live ammunition was used. On occasions the 49th Edmonton Regiment of Canada, who had not yet received formal training, came to observe the Home Guard’s Training Programme.

There were also initiative tests such as when C Company had to travel at night from Shoreham across the railway line and to the Gas Works without being spotted by Southwick Home Guard.

Early in January 1944 Charlie Todd volunteered for secret work, which he continued to do for the rest of that year and some of 1945. He worked through the night at Portsmouth, travelling every day from his home in Portslade. He helped to construct shuttering into which reinforced concrete was poured. Each section measured 118 feet in length, 30 feet in width and 60 feet in height. These sections became part of the famous Mulberry Harbour.    

Mulberry Harbour

It is interesting to note that the Mulberry Harbour’s antecedent was connected with Portslade because the first major trial of the Bubble Breakwater took place on Portslade beach. The site was especially chosen because the experiment required a plentiful supply of electricity, some adjacent workshops, and a secluded beach. A pump-house was constructed on the shore.

But before the beach could be used, it had to be cleared of mines and unhappily during the process one man was killed. The ‘Wheezers and Dodgers’ then devised a method whereby loaded pipes were rolled over the sands thus activating the mines without any danger to personnel.

Then, with the assistance of thirteen divers, the team were able to proceed with the experiment. It was unfortunate that the weather chose that moment to take a turn for the worse. The plan of the Bubble Breakwater was simple enough; it was 1,200 feet in length and was positioned 600 yards out to sea, roughly parallel with the shore. There were 400 feet of pipes, six compressors and a high-voltage electricity supply. But the rough sea kept tearing the pipes from their moorings and there were many other difficulties.

Eventually, the Admiralty was informed that if some type of artificial harbour were not forthcoming, then the Allied invasion of Europe would have to be called off. Fortunately, Robert Lockner then had a brainwave that ultimately resulted in the construction of the Mulberry Harbour.

John Knight’s chief memory of preparations for D-Day was the ‘enormous drum-like structures, higher than a house, floating in Shoreham Harbour’. They were in fact concrete caissons waiting to be towed across the Channel to form the Mulberry Harbour.

The Brotherhood Family

The Brotherhood family moved to Portslade in 1929. The three young brothers, Basil, Leslie and Lionel, sang in the choir of St Nicolas Church. During the war Leslie served out East. In 1946 he was on his way home when they stopped at Hamburg. Whilst there, for the price of two cigarettes, a German called Rudolf drew a likeness of Leslie that was amazingly accurate. In 1997 the drawing re-surfaced unexpectedly among some papers and it was returned to their sister Ethel Brotherhood.

Ethel followed the dictum of her father ‘Never volunteer for anything but if you are called up do the best you can.’ Thus Ethel stayed at home until 1942 when she was called up. She became a skilled civilian engineer fitter, working mainly on Spitfires at Lyneham. She received extra rations because she was engaged on essential work and they were very welcome. All the same, she found her war work a terrific responsibility

Leslie Hamilton (1918-2000)

   copyright © O. Hamilton
Les Hamilton married Olive King on 3 February 1940. The bridesmaids are Olive’s sister Mary and her cousin Joyce Funnell while the little girl is Patricia Church.

In 1939 Leslie Hamilton was called up and attached to the 44th Home Counties Territorials. But he was determined to marry his sweetheart Olive before he was posted abroad. They had met the previous year at Hove Bandstand on the sea-front where musicians provided live music for dancing on summer evenings. The couple married at St Barnabas Church on 3 February 1940. He received two telegrams on his wedding day; one offering congratulations, the other ordering him to report back immediately, which he ignored.

When he rejoined his unit on Monday, he found everything packed up ready to go to Norway. But Norway collapsed and instead they were sent to France. Hamilton was part of RASC (509 Company) but it was a short trip and he soon found himself being evacuated from Dunkirk.

Another part of his wartime duties was spent in Tripoli where he served under General Sir Brian Robertson at HQA1. It was while he was there that he decided that he wanted to enter local politics once the war was over.

Raymond Sharp (1923-2001)

 Copyright © D. Sharp
Raymond Sharp, age 17, enrolment card into the 
East Sussex Local Defence Volunteers which was signed by 
Officer Commanding Hove Home Guard, Lt Colonel A. D. Winterbottom.
Raymond Sharp lived in Trafalgar Road with his family and he left school at the age of 14. His mother sounds like a remarkably prescient woman because she was convinced there was another war on the horizon and determined to keep her sons away from the conflict if she possibly could. Her husband had served as an Army nurse in the Great War and thus had first-hand knowledge of what war entailed.

Mrs Sharp thought the best way forward was to get her sons into reserved occupations. Fortunately, she knew the Station Master at Hove Railway Station and Raymond started working at the Station Office.

When Raymond was 17, he headed for Hove where he enrolled in the LDV (14th Battalion, Hove) and was attached to the Portslade Home Guard.
  Copyright © D. Sharp
Raymond Sharp in the uniform of
the Royal Engineers

Many years later when his grand-daughter enquired what he had done in the war, he wrote the following:
‘I joined the railway company and we used to patrol the railway line from Olive Road to Portslade cattle arch; to me it was all great fun. During the apple season I used to rescue apples from the trees that grew near the railway bank in people’s gardens.’

Not quite so idyllic were his stints guarding Portslade beach and Gas Works with veterans from the Great War. Many a cold night was spent shivering in that area while wishing he was back at the railway station.

When Raymond had time off from the Railway, he use to help his father who was a roof-tiler. One of his most interesting jobs was to repair the roof of the Church of The Good Shepherd on Shoreham Beach. In early 1941 this was a highly restricted area. Much of Shoreham’s Bungalow Town was demolished in anticipation of a German invasion, The Good Shepherd was one of the few buildings left intact. Raymond had to obtain a special permit from Shoreham Town Hall to enter the area to work.

Mrs Sharp must have been most disappointed when her precautions came to nothing because when Raymond turned 19 he was conscripted into the Army and joined the Royal Engineers. But at least he survived his tour of duty and came back in one piece. He went to North Africa with the 1st Army and when that campaign ended, he took part in the invasion of Italy. He served in Italy until the end of  the Second World War. After a month's leave in Portslade he returned again to Italy to guard the Italian-Yugoslav border at Trieste. He was finally demobbed at the end of 1946 and married Elizabeth Bradford in St Nicolas Church Portslade in 1947.

Victory in Europe Day 1945 in North Road Portslade 

 copyright © J.Middleton
Victory in Europe Day 1945 was celebrated in style at Portslade with street parties bringing neighbours together to celebrate the end of the war. This photograph shows a party in full swing in North Road.

Sources

Cluett, L.G. Brighton & Hove Under Fire (c. 1945)
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Evening Argus
Middleton, Judy More Memories of Old Portslade (1991)
Middleton, Judy Portslade and Hove Memories (2004)
Sussex Daily News

The Keep

DB/B53/8 – Blitzmerg. Five Towns Emergency Dispersal Scheme 1940
DB/B53/47 – Military Locations November 1941 to August 1942
Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp