Wartime Memories: Worthing and Brighton (Sussex)
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A Personal View of Worthing and Brighton in the Two World Wars
By Eileen Sutton
M E M O R I E S      O F
Recollections of a Housewife and Mother

I remember not very much, I'm afraid, of the First World War, because I was very small at the time, but we moved to Worthing from London and we lived with Grannie. She held working parties once a week when a lot of old ladies used to come and make things for the troops. Grannie always wore a hat on these occasions as all her guests would wear hats, and half way through the afternoon I would be brought in and exhibited as the little girl whose Daddy was fighting in France. I hated it!

There were no ration books and I can remember potatoes were in short supply and worst of all, no chocolate or sweets. Daddy came on leave once and I can remember watching him do up his puttees (sort of bandages) round his legs. He never returned again and I can still remember the telegram coming to announce his death. He is buried in a small village in France and my grandson, George, visited his grave and laid a bunch of flowers on it. I was very touched by this. Daddy was an architect and by all accounts a very popular man.

Of course, I remember the Second War quite clearly. We lived in Brighton at the time and, although Brighton was never the target, many bombs were jettisoned there by the Germans as they were chased back from London.

We used to see the sky lit up when London burned and say, "they've got it bad tonight." One of the worst tragedies in Brighton was when a small cinema in Kemp Town was bombed during a children's matinee. About 40-50 children died and there were no survivors. The mother of a friend of mine was killed by a splinter of glass as she sat near a window. Her brother, who was a pilot, was killed in the raid on Kiel.

Two German airmen were shot down and landed in St. Nicholas' Churchyard, but were killed in the process. It seems ridiculous now, but the rumour at the time was that they wore silk underwear and had varnish on their nails! Another time, we had a German plane fly extremely low over our garden and we didn't at first grasp that it had swastikas on the wings. It was too quick to be very scary though. We met some very friendly Canadian troops and had one of them spend a weekend with us. I think he was the most handsome man I've ever known. Of course, many were killed in the Dieppe raid, but he survived and wrote to us after he returned to Canada. He lived in a little place called Sussex in New Brunswick.

Food, of course, was rationed which was fair and we kept chickens and ducks. I hated the chickens who were always escaping over the fence into the adjoining field, but the ducks were sweet. It seems a long time ago, but I still keep up with two of my neighbours from back then, one of whom's husband was a Lieutenant Commander and when he came home on leave, we had a party. He used to bring back quite a lot of drink which was in short supply. Live for the day was most people's motto and I'm sure people were nicer then. I suppose there was a Black Market, but we knew nothing of it. We did have two super food parcels sent to us from Australia which was like manna from heaven and, after the War, I sent them a rather nice table cloth and a photo of myself with the two children. They got the idea from a little magazine called "Housewife" in which we were asked if we'd like a food parcel. People were awfully nice then and it was share and share alike. Of course, we were all in the same boat.

Of course, we all had to do fire watching and I used to get terribly sleepy. We learnt how to deal with incendiary bombs and I can remember one being dropped in a next door garden when we were at a Christening Party. A friend soon dealt with it. We all learnt to use stirrup pumps too. We all had Gas Masks and were supposed to carry them at all times but I never did and I never put it on. A neighbour had a large underground air-raid shelter which we were asked if we would like to share, but we didn't like it and our spaniel had a tummy upset while we took refuge there, which was rather unfortunate. We had what was called a Harrison Shelter which was in our bedroom. Some people had a shelter in their garden called an Anderson shelter but it didn't always stop people being killed. My daughter, Jane, was born during an air-raid siren, but there were no bombs and the all clear sounded just after she was delivered. Very appropriate! It wasn't the raids which frightened me most but, when I heard that France had fallen, I had visions of being a refugee on the road with two babies and a spaniel!

Due to his history of Polio, my husband, George, was refused a place in the Services, so he joined the Home Guard and was often out all night. They had a big gun on the sea-front. Brighton Pier was partly blown up to deter the Germans landing there and of course all the beaches were mined. No-one was allowed to enter Brighton other than the residents. Huge tanks were stationed in one of the roads near us. They were under trees and were camouflaged. When D-Day came, or just before, I watched them set off with a terrible noise which scared my son, Roger, who was then in his push-chair. When France fell, we could hear the guns quite clearly. Of course, they were only a few miles away. It's scary to think about it like that.

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