The latest news from Sussex Military History Society:
Posted: Thursday 18 June 2015
The story of SMHS member Geoff Bridger's father-in-law was the subject of a recent Daily Telegraph article. Harry 'Happy' Wimblett is the only man to have won the Epsom Derby without using a horse…
The full remarkable story can be found at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/horseracing/11651823/Wounded-soldier-revealed-as-first-man-to-win-Epsom-Derby-without-horse.html.
Posted: Wednesday 17 June 2015
SMHS honorary member Andy Saunders joined us in June for his first talk to the Society since being appointed Editor of the popular ‘Britain at War’ magazine, his talk entitled ‘Battle over Chichester’ and described the German bombers downed in West Sussex during the Battle of Britain.
Andy’s photographs of these planes were interesting but it was the depth of his knowledge derived from painstaking research that enabled him to describe the often tragic, sometimes humorous, circumstances behind these scenes.
Andy was able to relate whether pilots and crew survived, where they were buried along with contact he had made with some of the crews or their families years after the war. He entertained us with tales of crews detained “by two post office workers armed with shovels” or by “a milkman and his daughter” and of the elderly Home Guardsman who put down his own rifle to receive the pistols of a pilot and co-pilot whose Ju87 was downed in Selsey on 16thAugust 1940.
Doubtless Andy’s passion for military history in general will serve him well in his editorial role and his enthusiasm for military aviation will bring him back to share more of his discoveries with our members in the future.
Posted: Saturday 23 May 2015
Our 5th Annual Study Day entitled Courageous in Conflict was held at Newhaven Fort on 23rd May 2015. All the speakers were raised from our own ranks and gave their time free of charge to maximise the profits for this year’s chosen charity, Combat Stress.
Our first speaker, Dave Dimer explored guerrilla warfare and how it has developed over the years. He started in South Africa where raiding parties, with the support of the local population, were highly effective against far greater British numbers. Guerrilla operations were again successful in the First World War. Dave gave the example of T.E. Lawrence’s attacks on enemy supply lines. In World War Two the Special Operations Executive placed agents oversees to gather intelligence and carry out disruptive raids.
Dave’s key observation was that you have to win the hearts and minds of the local population if guerrilla warfare is to succeed, evoking images of soldiers playing football with children in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our second speaker was Geoff Bridger, whose talk entitled “The Lost Sons of Lewes – The Battle of Aubers Ridge 9th May 1915” explained how 19 young men from Lewes died as a result of the battle. Whilst the French and German armies were composed of conscripted, trained soldiers, the 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment was a territorial battalion made up of raw recruits who had signed up together with their comrades. On the 9th May they were to back up the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, a battalion of regulars, entrenched behind them. That morning, when battle commenced, the 2nd Battalion were slaughtered. An advance bombardment had failed to clear barbed wire or any German emplacements; subsequently the German machine-guns were able to mow down the 2nd Battalion, the 5th Battalion moved bravely forward to suffer the same fate.
Ed Tyhurst then took us on a tour of Newhaven Fort. The Fort was built in the 1860s and is the largest defence work in Sussex, it was re-armed for both World Wars.
Our third speaker was Peter Hibbs, who initially described his research, The Defence of East Sussex Project. His talk entitled “The Battlefield Beneath Your Feet” explored how visits to County and National Archives have assisted him in locating evidence of World War Two in the East Sussex landscape. Pete’s unique digital reconstruction of anti-invasion features entranced us all.
Our final speaker was Simon Bellamy, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve whose talk “North Cape 1943- Final Clash of the Battleships” described the sinking of the last German battleship, Scharnhorst, in the last battleship versus battleship action of the Royal Navy.
The Allies were bringing vital supplies into Russia by Arctic Convoys, groups of merchant ships with Destroyer escorts travelling around the top of Norway in freezing conditions and short daylight hours. These runs were punishing and vulnerable to attack by German submarines or aircraft. The presence of German battleships in the Norwegian fjords meant the convoys needed heavy escorts which tied up Allied warships, desperately needed elsewhere. If the battleships could be destroyed in harbour (as was Tirpitz) or lured out and drawn into battle, the threat to the convoys could be extinguished once and for all.
Simon described an audacious plan using a convoy as bait to draw Scharnhorst out of her safe harbour and use two Forces in a pincer movement to trap her. Simon talked us through the initial engagement which saw Scharnhorst turn away, the dilemma of Vice Admiral Robert Burnett, in command of Force one, who had to decide whether to pursue Scharnhorst or use his Force to protect the convoy, and the concerns of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser who, despite Scharnhorst making off, thought she would turn back and have another go – he would be ready for her.
The ensuing battle saw extraordinary courage from all concerned, with Scharnhorst’s commander declaring he would “fight to the last shell” and the commanders of the Allied destroyers moving within a one mile range of Scharnhorst, almost suicide, to deliver the fatal blows.
There is no doubt that wars reveal men of great courage, heroes - but many of our heroes have, and still do, return home with injuries both physical and psychological, from which some may never recover.
Sussex Military History Society is delighted to announce that a total of £525.00 was raised for Combat Stress, who are today supporting over 5900 serving soldiers, reservists and veterans aged between 18 and 97 who have suffered as a result of their service, which was surely our greatest achievement in a busy but rewarding day.
Posted: Wednesday 20 May 2015
Winston Churchill had been a journalist during the Boer War - taken prisoner he escaped, returning to England with an admiration for subversive movements which was to resurface after the evacuation from Dunkirk, when the German invasion of Great Britain was imminent.
Churchill realised he needed to place agents in foreign countries to conduct espionage and sabotage operations, his brainchild was known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), under the leadership of Brigadier Colin Gubbins. Our May speaker Gillian Halcrow, daughter of SOE operative Col Ernest van Maurik, joined us to describe the most recognised missions of the SOE, introducing us to some of the bravest men and women who would stand against Hitler; many would die for their cause.
Gillian donates her speaker fee to the Lt Dougie Dalzell MC Memorial Trust.
Lt Dalzell lost his life on 18th February 2010, his 27th birthday as a result of an IED explosion in Babaji, Afghanistan whilst commanding 2 Platoon in 1 Company, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. His Memorial Trust supports active and retired service personnel and their families.
Posted: Wednesday 15 April 2015
The National Fire Service (NFS) was formed in August 1941 uniting over 1600 local authority forces; these included the Auxiliary Fire Service, private services from factories and estates, and aimed to standardise equipment and training.
The Blitz had highlighted how disparate the fire forces were and the challenges of working together in emergency conditions.
The county of Sussex fell into Region 12, Area 31 and was reinforced by Reserves from other areas for ‘Operation Colour Scheme’, the NFS’s plan devised to provide fire cover for the D-Day ports and the build-up of troops preparing for the Allied invasion of occupied Europe.
SMHS member Rob Martin, who serves in the Fire Service today, had discovered an album of photographs compiled by Chief Fire Officer, Mr Charles Birch OBE along with his Staff Officer illustrating the work of the NFS in Area 31 which Rob presented a selection of at our April meeting. This is a unique collection - very few members had even heard of Operation Colour Scheme, as the work of the civilian services in a period of such secrecy is not well-documented.
On the same evening we held our AGM. The Society re-elected the existing Committee, who members were keen to thank for their hard work over the previous year. It was great to hear that membership has again continued to grow steadily, currently being at an all-time high. We look forward to the coming year and all it brings.
Posted: Wednesday 18 March 2015
Our March speaker was Dr Luke Flanagan, who spoke about the Canadians in Bexhill during the First World War. Luke was keen to explore the impact of the influx of Canadians to the town and equally the influence war had on the development of Canada as a young nation.
The Canadian Training School saw young officers based in the centre of Bexhill, for around 4 to 6 weeks, before being sent out to the Front as Platoon Commanders. The Trench Warfare School trained cadets in trench warfare, so many of the Canadians stayed in the town for little more than a few weeks. Despite this some formed relationships within the town, a few culminating in weddings. Locals enjoyed attending organised sporting events and local businesses began to tailor their sales to suit the demands of the Canadians. However, when the war ended the Canadians left promptly and little evidence of their time here remains; with no memorials, just a few road names to reflect their presence.
Luke explored how the English Canadians were keen enough to participate in the war, considering the “colonies” at war also Canada had yet to develop foreign policy. In conclusion Luke suggested that the empirical ties did not appear to have decreased as Canada forged an identity of its own.
Posted: Sunday 22 February 2015
February 22nd was a cold day with strong winds and driving rain forecast however, it wasn’t enough to discourage 17 valiant SMHS members setting out from Storrington onto the Downs in search of WW2 features. We had two treasures in mind; an unusual iron clad pillbox along with its collapsed partner and a Churchill tank!
The pillboxes were built as part of a training exercise. They were covered with iron “tiles” designed to resist attack. Moreover the pillboxes were built to replicate a German battalion position and were based on a German design - Allied troops would have better idea of what they could expect to encounter during the invasion of continental Europe.
The Mark I and Mark II Churchill tanks were amongst those involved in the August 1942 Dieppe raid. 15 went, but none left the Dieppe beach. No one anticipated how pebbles from the beach would become jammed in their tracks, rendering them useless. The Kithurst Hill Churchill suffered engine failure before Dieppe and remained in its field near Storrington, consequently being used for target practice. After the war, the tank, too heavy to remove, was tipped into a nearby bomb crater. Buried for decades it was unearthed by enthusiasts, heaved from its earthy grave by Royal Engineers as a training exercise. The turret and tracks were salvaged but the chassis remains at the side of a field near the South Downs Way, a rusting reminder of the part the Downs played in WW2
Some SMHS Members provided their comments on the walk:-
“I enjoyed the walk, I had no idea that so much remained from WW2 in this area. What made it so special was that there were ‘experts’ who could not only identify them, but tell the story of the people who built or used them.” Terri
“Being a local to the Storrington area, I have been searching for that Churchill tank for some time, so to be taken directly to it and have the whole area put in context, with the pillboxes that I was previously unaware of was a real bonus. On top of that the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of places I drive past on a daily basis really made my day.” Richard
“I know that area pretty well but actually knew very little about the pillboxes, other than the speculation already published. Pete cut through that like a razor! He and Stewart are two of the best military researchers out there (please don’t tell them this) and the talk was just great!” Justin
The walk was organised by Stewart, Pete and Jim. Pete had researched the history of the pillboxes and Ed spoke about the tank with authority. There was little time for thanks on the day as the wind blew up and the heavens opened, but this was another high calibre event enjoyed by all who participated.
Posted: Wednesday 18 February 2015
Our February speaker was SMHS Member Dave Dimer, who planned to explode the “Myth of the Battleship”. Dave gave us a brief history of the battleship, discussed their effectiveness and whether they were a “baroque arsenal”, a weapon too costly to use as it was too costly to lose.
Dave described how with the advent of the torpedo and aeroplanes, battleships became vulnerable and in the words of Admiral Sir Percy Scott “submarines and aircraft had entirely revolutionised naval warfare, if the country with which one was at war was in striking distance by submarines, battleships on the high seas would be in great danger - even in harbour they would not be immune from attack unless the harbour was quite a safe one”, as written in a letter to The Times in June 1914.
Dave gave examples of losses from WW2, one being the Bismarck. Following her successful destruction of the battlecruiser HMS Hood then succumbed herself to air and torpedo attack; illustrates that whilst successful when engaged by other ships battleships were poorly equipped for modern warfare.
By the end of WW2 battleships had assumed new roles, for example as monitors off the D-day beaches and in protection of aircraft carriers in the Pacific.
Posted: Wednesday 21 January 2015
In 1939, as Europe teetered on the brink of war, England’s supply of aircraft was woefully short, as was her supply of pilots. Production of aircraft was stepped up but delivery of aircraft from factory to frontline would take valuable combat pilots out of service. Some unexpected trailblazers rose to the challenge; a pioneering group of society ladies were to prove man enough for the job. Richard Atkins joined us in January to introduce us to these remarkable “Spitfire Ladies”.
The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) recruited pilots unfit for military service by way of age or fitness. The ATA flew everything. Their major tasks were ferrying new aircraft from factory to airfield and returning crippled or damaged aircraft to maintenance units for repair.
Pauline Gower (later awarded an MBE) was a society lady who ran a pleasure flight company in Kent. Her connections and personal determination against bureaucracy was to see her lead the ‘First Eight’ female ATA pilots to the skies (the RAF didn’t like the idea of ladies flying!).
Richard told of girls in their teens bringing big bombers across the Atlantic, delivering aircraft on multiple-stop trips to the Middle East, and later the Far East. The planes had no weapons and despite the ladies receiving limited instruction by stand down in 1945 the ATA had delivered over 308,000 new aircraft. Lord Beaverbrook was to say of the ATA “They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront”.
Spitfire Ladies, we salute you!
Posted: Wednesday 17 December 2014
Our December speaker was SMHS Member Keith Brain, author and volunteer at Newhaven Fort. Keith’s talk was based on the research for his new book - Newhaven Fort and Garrison: Newhaven Fort and Newhaven Garrison during the Great War 1914-1918.
Keith’s talk covered Newhaven’s need for a garrison, the garrison defence troops, 1913 accommodation plans, the outbreak of war, Newhaven’s Special Military Area, soldier fatalities, recreational activities and the end of the war.
Due to its position Newhaven was an important port. It supplied the British Expeditionary Force. Vast amounts of ammunition were stored there. The Newhaven Garrison was tasked with protecting the port and fort from hostile attack, either by sea or by land. The likely method of such attack could be a bombardment from an enemy submarine at sea or perhaps a small landing party. The garrison area ran along the coast from Friar’s Bay to Blatchington Coastguard Station, stretching inland to Newhaven Town Station.
Newhaven was never attacked, although there was one incident when it was thought the periscope of an enemy submarine was spotted. Permission from the Garrison Commander was needed before the guns were fired in anger but alas he couldn’t be located so the “periscope” went unchallenged by the garrison. Two Navy destroyers did give chase and dropped depth charges, but nothing was ever found.
The depth of knowledge and devotion to his research are to Keith’s credit, his book (proof-read by our own Ed Tyhurst) would be a great investment for any keen local military historian.
Posted: Wednesday 19 November 2014
Our speaker for November was SMHS Member Adrian Hills. His talk, Plane Deception: Fooling the German Bombers was met with keen anticipation as it had been scheduled for last year’s programme but was adjourned as Adrian suffered an accident whilst out cycling. SMHS is delighted to have Adrian back on form.
Adrian moved to Hailsham in 1999 and soon became aware that local company, Green Brothers, an established rope-maker, had become involved in making dummy Hurricanes during WW2. This went on to inspire him to look into the Allied attempts to fool enemy bombers.
Colonel John Turner had been involved in the expansion of the RAF; he was a pilot and knew what airfields looked like from both the air and on the ground. He was recently retired prior to WW2 and came out of retirement to oversee the deception plan.
Sites designed to confuse daytime bombers were known as K-sites. These were frequently satellite airfields near the location of the target airfield. Dummy planes were constructed from canvas and wood, supported on trestles; frequently being repositioned to fool reconnaissance flights. Dug-outs and false roads were laid and bonfires lit when the site was being bombed, to replicate damage occurring.
Real planes flew in now and then to give the impression that the airfield was in use. However, in April 1941 a map found in a downed German bomber was discovered, detailing the all K-sites and they quickly fell out of use.
Sites designed to confuse night-time bombers were known as Q-sites, utilising either fire (QF) or lighting (QL). QF sites often simulated a town that had been bombed drawing in the later waves of bombers, thus saving the target town. Local QL sites were Cuckmere Haven, decoy for Newhaven and Alciston for Lewes. Q-sites were highly successful and continued in use until Axis attention was drawn by Operation Barbarossa and Allied air superiority brought about the winding down of the decoy sites.
Deception plans were exercised again in the build up to the Allied invasion of France, and following D-day, beach exits were decoyed to protect the Allies from German bombers. It is estimated that visual bombing was reduced by 50% by D-Day + 1½ due to the success of the decoys.
Posted: Wednesday 22 October 2014
In October we were joined by Paul Watkins for his talk entitled Taming the Beast: Godfrey Place VC and Operation Source. Paul’s talk stems from research for his book Midget Submarine Commander: The Life of Godfrey Place VC.
“The Beast” was Churchill’s name for Tirpitz, sister ship of the Bismarck. In 1942 Churchill considered Tirpitz a target of extreme consequence, she could outgun and outrun anything thus her disablement or destruction was paramount.
Hitler had sent Tirpitz to Norway, where he thought her presence would deter a British attack. Fear of Tirpitz in July 1942 caused convoy PQ17 to scatter, leaving the ships to be picked off by air and U-boat attack. Due to the threat of Tirpitz, much of the British fleet was deployed in protection of the Arctic Convoys, leaving the Allies struggling in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Basil Godfrey Place was born in 1921 to Major Godfrey Place, whose name he would adopt on his death in 1931. Place attended the Royal Britannia Naval College where he excelled despite not working very hard. Starting out in the surface fleet, by 1942 he was with the 10th Submarine Flotilla in Malta where he was awarded the Polish Cross of Gallantry.
In early 1942 the development of X3 the midget submarine was underway on the south coast of England. Place was to command X4, the next prototype, which underwent trials off the Isle of Bute, Scotland. The X-craft were 50 feet long, five feet high, damp, unstable and liable to flood.
September 1943 was to see ‘Operation Source’ where six X-craft, manned by passage crews, were towed across by submarines to attack Tirpitz and her escorts. The operation was a success; whilst Tirpitz was not destroyed she was severely disabled and played no significant role thereafter. Place was awarded the VC.
Thereafter, disillusioned by the lack of action, Place trained as a pilot and went on to serve in Korea, Aden and Nigeria. He retired in 1970 as Rear Admiral in Command of Reserves.
Posted: Wednesday 17 September 2014
In the summer of 1919, with WW1 recently concluded and Russia in the throes of revolution, a British spy, Paul Dukes had infiltrated the Bolshevik Government and obtained copies of vital documents. MI6 urgently needed to evacuate Dukes and the documents from Petrograd, but numerous attempts had failed resulting in the torture and execution of those involved.
Sir Mansfield Cumming (“C”), the Head of MI6 approached Augustus Agar, a young Naval Lieutenant who had experience with fast motor boats, to lead an audacious mission to enter the Gulf of Finland in Coastal Motor Boats, pass the fortifications at Kronstadt and recover Dukes at a designated rendezvous.
Coastal Motor Boats were vulnerable and unreliable. Constructed entirely of wood and 40 feet long they were manned by a crew of three. The boats were fast but noisy, they sat shallow in the water, which, when the tide was right, would allow them to travel over the underwater harbour defences.
On the day of the rescue attempt, Agar’s little boat reached the rendezvous point, though Dukes did not, however Agar had seen the Russian battleships attacking the fortress at Kronstadt and had an idea, he would try to torpedo the battleships, Andrei Pervozvanni and Petropavlovsk, which were bombarding the fort. On two nights his boat broke down but on the 17th June Agar returned, only to find the battleships were gone. Instead the cruiser Oleg and her escort were there, and despite a 20 minute delay to replace a charge, Agar was undetected by the Russians and slipped between two destroyers and torpedoed the cruiser, which rolled over with the loss of 544 lives – it was not enough to save the fort, but the Admiralty was convinced that a similar attack could neutralise the battleships.
Larger motor boats were brought in and the tide would be right in mid-August. The motor boats were to attack in 3 groups. Group 1 would attack the battleships and a submarine depot ship, Pamiat Azova, Group 2 were to attack the dry dock and Group 3 another ship with mines aboard.
The success of the raids was such that three VCs and one DSO were awarded, Agar was known as the “Mystery VC” as he went unnamed for operational reasons.
The Coastal Motor Boats had proved their worth and were to return in the cross channel raids of WWII.
SMHS Member John Ross has an MA from Exeter University and Coastal Motor Boats were the subject of his dissertation. John is a Member of RUSI.
Posted: Wednesday 16 July 2014
July’s meeting has traditionally been Members’ Night, perhaps a misleading title as non-Members are equally welcome! This is the evening where the floor is thrown open to the attendees, who turn up with an array of oddly-shaped items squeezed into ancient bags and memory sticks bulging with photos, plans, records and other treasured discoveries they are keen to share with the group.
Pete Hibbs, only recently having stowed away the Vickers gun he displayed at Seahaven Armed Forces Day pitched up with a Sten gun, simple and efficient this piece was a workhorse, even copied by the Germans.
Rob Harvey got perhaps the loudest cheer of the evening. An array of medals, followed by a collection of helmets ‘n’ goggles, stretching from WW1 through to the first Gulf War, and a disposable grenade launcher all of which he had brought down on the train from Norwich!
Peter Tyrell’s presentation covered the tank ranges at and around Belle Tout, Seaford and Michel Dean, including some excellent photos of the Belle Tout Lighthouse in varying states of disrepair.
Time ran away with us and all too soon we were packing up bags to go home. Perhaps the Committee may come under pressure to hold these evenings more often…
Posted: Saturday 28 June 2014
On June 28th, SMHS took its place at Seaford’s Martello Fields to honour and celebrate the Armed Forces community at Seahaven’s Veterans and Armed Forces Day. The event, organised jointly by Seaford Town Council and the Seahaven Branch of the Royal Society of St George, like hundreds of others around the UK seeks to raise public awareness of and show support for; veterans, serving troops & their families, reservists and cadets.
SMHS has its heart in military heritage and our members are always enthusiastic when asked to bring along something that people might find interesting. Pete Hibbs turned up with a Vickers gun, which certainly garnered attention and provided many a photo opportunity, especially for the youngsters. Our Chairman, Nick Woollard, was there with an old RT351 Transmitter/Receiver radio set, a Morse code ‘straight key’ control unit and some empty shell and mortars cases. We were also displaying a variety of bullets, all of which had been found locally from field walking over the Downs. Stewart Angell and Gary New were also on hand and kept busy chatting to the locals about all things military.
The Veterans and Cadets paraded under the watchful eye of SMHS Honorary Member Major Bob Peedle MBE TD whose extraordinary efforts produced an event which blended perfectly the Seahaven community spirit with due respect for our Armed Forces.
Posted: Wednesday 11 June 2014
In June Ian Everest joined us for his talk, The Women’s Land Army – A Sussex Connection. Ian, a previous manager at Newhaven Fort and Town Clerk is now a local historian and his talk was inspired by his Mother’s experiences as a Land Girl in WW2.
Initially Ian highlighted the Land Army was first raised in WW1. As men rushed to war, farm workers volunteered, imagining relief from the long, hard working day and by 1915 300,000 had signed up. As only one third of food was home-grown and with the ever increasing threat of U-boats to merchant shipping, working the land was vital towards the war effort. The land girls were poorly paid, initially attracting women from middle-class families who could afford to subsidize them. By October 1919 when they were stood down there were some 23,000 Land Girls.
In April 1939, on the brink of war, the decision was taken to reform the Land Army. Gertrude Denman was once again called upon and took up the position of Director. The women were called upon to perform all farming tasks, including catching rats!
At the end of the war they numbered 83,000 and were not officially disbanded until 1950.
It was not until 2000 that the Land Army were invited to take their place at the National Service of Remembrance and in 2008 they were formally recognised with a badge of honour being awarded to surviving members.
Posted: Saturday 24 May 2014
The Great War was a pivotal event in world history. More than 16 million lives were lost; more still underwent life-changing experiences. This war left indelible marks on every person, family and nation where its events played out. In 2014 SMHS dedicated its Study Day to the commemoration of the centenary of the start of the Great War.
~ Lest we Forget ~
Our first speaker was Peter Hart, author, military historian and oral historian for the Imperial War Museum. Peter spoke about Gallipoli, a campaign which, in his opinion should never have happened and lost Churchill his office.
Peter set out the reasons why the Allies attacked Gallipoli, balancing these with the reasons the campaign was destined to fail. Most striking about Peter’s talk was the detail in his descriptions of the conditions the troops fought in, of the inhospitable landscape and the prevalence of disease and suffering amongst the troops. Peter’s latest book entitled “Gallipoli” is available from Amazon or other book retailers. For further information see Peter’s website www.peterhartmilitary.com.
After a short break our second speaker, Luke Barber, a local archaeologist joined us for his presentation on The Seaford Camps 1914-1919 and beyond. Luke, a Research Officer with the Sussex Archaeological Society has led research into various Great War sites and, now resident in Seaford, has investigated the Seaford Camps largely on his own time together with SMHS member Justin Russell. Luke described how most of the area of the camps is now covered by housing but evidence remains of the thousands of men billeted here for training throughout the war. Luke’s sources include postcards, war diaries, letters home, maps and plans. These plans and photos depicted huge swathes of the Downs with huts surrounding parade grounds, areas for physical training and firing ranges – some of which survive in today’s landscape.
After a tour of the fort led by SMHS member Ed Tyhurst was curtailed by rain, we broke for lunch returning early as Ed had volunteered to continue his ‘tour’ in the dry with the aid of maps and pictures. The fort itself is the largest defence work constructed in Sussex, built in the 1860s it has provided coastal defence through both world wars.
Our third speaker was Sue Light, a trained nurse and midwife who worked as a Nursing Sister in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps both in England and abroad. Sue’s talk “The Mobilisation of Nurses – 1914” covered a topic perhaps less familiar to Great War students. The “Fairer Force” numbered just 298 on the eve of war. The Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service had a small presence in military hospitals and its staff were well-trained, efficient and accustomed to hard work which gave them a good footing for war. The QAIMNS also had a Reserve, numbering approximately 200 who could be called upon if necessary which, together with the Territorial Force Nursing Service (3000) and Civil Hospital Reserve (600) identified 4100 potential Nurses who could be mobilised.
In August 1914, Ethel Becher, Matron-in-Chief was just a month away from retirement however; she was to continue in her post throughout the war. Ethel recalled regular members from overseas and sent out letters to those who had retired or resigned. She needed to staff UK military hospitals, hospital ships and send staff to serve abroad. Many who answered her call found that within a matter of days they had left their civilian life and were embarking onto a ship bound for coastal France where a string of buildings were given over for hospital wards. 23 General Hospitals had opened in the UK by the end of August and Ethel had to carefully balance sending staff overseas whilst avoiding leaving heavy gaps in the nursing capability here in the UK. When peace was declared there were 22,000 trained military nurses, and Ethel finally retired from the service. For further details of Sue’s research please see www.scarletfinders.co.uk.
Our final speaker was Kevin Gordon, retired British Transport Police Officer and Seaford Resident with a keen interest in Sussex history. Research for Kevin’s latest book entitled “Seaford and Eastbourne in the Great War” (Pen and Sword Publishing) provided subject matter for this talk.
Eastbourne and Seaford were closer to the war than many other British towns as the sights and sounds of battle could be witnessed by residents. Local people found themselves on the front-line. German U-boat U35 torpedoed boats and the Captain of the steamer “Blackwood” said he could see the Germans laughing as she sank. Another U-boat, U118, washed ashore in front of the Queens Hotel, Hastings on 15th April 1919 whilst being towed to France for scrap. A captive audience were subsequently offered tours until two of the guides died from noxious gases in the wreck, given off by the submarines large lead batteries.
The Mystery Towers built at Shoreham Harbour were constructed to hold an anti-submarine boom across the Solent. Incomplete when the war ended, one was finished and towed to the Solent as a navigational aid (the Nab Tower); the other was found to be too big too leave the Harbour and was subsequently dismantled.
Zeppelin airships appeared in the skies above Sussex. The first air threat, bombs were dropped by hand but not with any degree of accuracy, however they injected real fear into the local population. With the presence of troops on the coast incidents of drunkenness and accidents brought about a rise in Police duties, as did black-out enforcement and the registering of aliens. Newhaven Port was requisitioned and civilian coal deliveries were limited, forcing up the price of coal. One coal ship took two weeks to unload as deliveries were only allowed for two hours each night.
Gas masks were introduced and as men went to war, women took over their jobs. Male farm workers refused to give way and when asked why he did not use female drivers the Manager of Eastbourne Bus Company said he had the safety of his passengers to consider!
SMHS would like to thank all the speakers who gave their time free of charge for this event. Thanks are also extended to Bob Peedle MBE TD for guiding us through a busy programme on time, and to the staff and volunteers at Newhaven Fort for their assistance throughout the day. We are pleased to announce that £800 was raised for The Royal British Legion and all attendees are warmly thanked for their generosity.
SMHS meets on the third Wednesday of every month at the function room of the Royal Oak, Station Road, Lewes, Members (£2) and non-Members (£3) are welcome. Details of our events are available on our website www.sussexmilitary.org.uk. Our speaker for June is Ian Everest who develops the theme of women at war with his presentation “The Women’s Land Army – a Sussex Connection.”
Posted: Wednesday 21 May 2014
At long last in May, long time SMHS member, Phil Wooller, shared with us his boyhood memories of WW2. Phil was 10 years old at the outbreak of war and living on his father’s farm near Arlington in East Sussex.
Gas masks, evacuees, bombing raids, plane crashes, big guns and Army training exercises all became commonplace to Phil, whose recollections are remarkably clear after the intervening years.
Phil’s experiences, often hairy but always exciting, were not shared in the same light by the adults that surrounded him! One thing is for sure Phil’s memories illustrated how active a role Sussex and the skies above it played throughout the war.
Posted: Wednesday 16 April 2014
After the Society’s AGM, which found us to be in excellent shape, not only financially but also with the highest membership yet, 37 attendees settled down for a talk on the Battle of Lewes by SMHS member Richard Shenton.
Richard is a qualified Battlefield Guide and had taken a group of us on a guided walk on the same topic last year.
The Battle of Lewes took place on 14th May 1264. King Henry III was a weak King who spent too much. The landowning Barons rallied against him, annoyed at the level of taxation. Simon de Montfort was a brilliant battlefield tactician who had been playing cat and mouse with King Henry’s army for some time. Finally they met at Lewes.
The Royalists outnumbered the Rebels two to one, but were fighting uphill. Henry, flanked by his brother and son, came up against the Rebels west of Lewes. An over-zealous Edward managed to disperse the inexperienced “Londoners” but in doing so left Henry’s flank exposed. The Rebels, with a reserve carefully hidden in a dip in the hills drove back Henry’s army to the Priory. Henry and Edward were held as hostages and the Mise of Lewes was signed, with Henry relinquishing considerable power to the Barons.
This year will see Lewes hold a range of events to mark the 750th anniversary of the battle and Richard’s talk ensured our group got involved.
Posted: Wednesday 19 March 2014
In March SMHS welcomed Lynn Cornwall of Hastings Area Archaeological Research Group for her presentation “A port of Classis Britannica and military exploitation of iron in the Hastings area.”
Lynn gave an informative talk based around a comprehensive slideshow illustrating the various activities of HAARG and in addition brought a collection of finds for our members to view. The talk was particularly well received and Lynn, along with husband Kevin, took a variety of questions which belied the depth of their knowledge and passion for this project.
Members were delighted to hear news of the engagement of popular SMHS member Ed Tyhurst.
Posted: Wednesday 19 February 2014
In February SMHS member, Simon Bellamy, returned for his third talk to our group on WW2 cross Channel Operations, this time focussing on ‘Bruneval 1942 – Birth of the Red Devils’.
Following the fall of Singapore and the humiliation of The Channel Dash, Churchill was aware that he needed to strike back. The British bomber offensive was suffering unsustainable losses and a raid was planned to ‘pinch’ the Wurzburg radar equipment from the cliff-top near the village of Bruneval in occupied Northern France for examination in the UK. Wurzburg was the German short-range radar, used effectively against our bombers with devastating results.
A Combined Operations raid, Operation Biting, was planned with the use of all three services whereby the RAF flew in ‘C’ Company 2nd Parachute Battalion under Major John Frost in Whitley Bombers. The task was to silence the defenders and dismantle the radar equipment, with evacuation by the Navy from the beach at the foot of the cliffs.
Simon talked us through the strategic background, the Order of Battle, the raid itself and the aftermath before receiving a variety of questions from the members.
Posted: Wednesday 15 January 2014
In January we welcomed back Richard Searles for his talk 'A Prelude to Royal Navy flying in WW1 1895-1914.'
Richard, a retired Naval Officer served in the Navy from 1955-1972, with 12 years in the Fleet Air Arm. His talk covered the early days of flying, early aviation in the UK and Naval aviation 1909-1914.
Predominantly the domain of wealthy thrill-seekers, the early flying attempts were many and varied. Richard delighted us with an extensive collection of pictures and video clips which, whilst apparently comical, reminded us of the huge risk of death and injury that these pioneers assumed.
The Navy was initially reluctant to embrace aviation. Frank McClean, now recognised as the godfather to British naval aviation, owned 16 aircraft and lent them to the Admiralty to train Naval Aviators but it was not until 1909 that the first aircraft was ordered by the Navy.
Richard took questions on naval aviation and brought us right up to date with his knowledge of the Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, currently under construction and expected to enter service in 2016.
Posted: Wednesday 18 December 2013
SMHS is committed to the preservation of military history and our December meeting saw presentations from two of our members of research in the Sussex area.
Peter Tyrell took us on a whistle-stop tour of Sussex entitled “1914 and Now” presenting images of the impact of WW1 on the Sussex landscape. From Rye to Chichester, he showed memorials, barrack buildings, drill halls and cemeteries, each complimented with its own unique story.
Among our favourites, some photos of tethering points for airships from the Royal Naval Air Station at Polegate, still there if you know where to look! Airships based here would patrol the Channel searching for submarines or undertake convoy escort duties. Peter described one disastrous incident when, forced by heavy fog to make unplanned landings, two airships were destroyed when one landed atop another in poor visibility on the Downs near Jevington.
Similarly poignant, Peter showed pictures of the Chattri, Brighton’s Memorial to Indian Servicemen in WW1. The Royal Pavilion, Dome and Brighton General Hospital were all converted to take injured Indian service personnel, with the Chattri being erected in 1921 as a Memorial to those who gave their lives.
Then Pete Hibbs, had the task of summarising the preservation work we have undertaken in 2013. Initially he showed us photos of the Field Team’s work at Cripp’s Corner, where a section of WW2 anti-tank traps were cleared, recorded and permission was granted to paint one in the camouflage scheme taken directly from the WW2 training manual!
Over in the parish of Withyham, the team’s ongoing project is the clearance and surveying of a number of Pillboxes in the Newhaven – Penshurst Stop Line, some threatened by a Planning Application. Pete impressed us again with a computer generated model detailing the construction of a Type 24 pillbox.
Posted: Wednesday 13 November 2013
Members were captivated by an enthralling and thought-provoking talk by North Africa veteran Freddie Hunn at the November meeting. Belying his ninety-four years, Freddie gave us a lively account not only of armoured warfare but also of daily life in the desert.
As a pre-war regular soldier in the 12th Lancers, Freddie had already seen action in France, being evacuated from Dunkirk before sailing for Egypt. He illustrated his story with a map of North Africa, emphasising the huge scale of the three year campaign and recalling many battles which have gone down in military history, most notably El Alamein.
Freddie also shared his photos, often recalling close escapes or the loss of comrades. It was these personal stories, together with details of the hardships of desert life, which made the talk particularly poignant.
I’m sure all members present would like to thank Freddie for sharing his reminiscences, and Phil for arranging his visit.
Posted: Wednesday 16 October 2013
In October, Honorary SMHS member Andy Saunders, joined us to speak about what he considers to be one of the iconic weapons of WW2, the Stuka. We were to benefit from the research behind his new book – Stuka Attack!
The Junkers 87 or Stuka had a range of 490 miles and a top speed of 238mph. Its payload was often a combination of one big bomb and smaller ones, all dropped at the same time. Its ability to dive at an angle of 80 degrees made for very precise bombing; used to target shipping, airfields and latterly radar stations.
Andy explained how the Stuka was highly successful when correctly deployed, but often weakness in German intelligence and poor target selection saw its strengths wasted. Many south coast airfields suffered devastating attacks such as Tangmere on the 16th August 1940 when 29 Stukas took turns in a continuous raid lasting half an hour. Pilots used bullets to fix their target and whilst pulling out of the dive the rear gunner could make use of his machine gun.
What people under attack found truly terrifying about a Stuka attack was the wailing siren as it made its dive. Andy advised that whilst in the early days (Battle of France) the planes were fitted with sirens these were actually promptly removed as it was impossible to disable them and the wailing gave away the Stuka’s position.
By September 1940 the Stuka’s usefulness against major cities (the Blitz) was limited so October/November saw a return to attacking shipping. In the spring of 1941 the Stukas were moved across to the Eastern Front and engaged in North Africa. The Stuka airfields in France were fitted with dummy versions so they appeared to still be operational!
Andy’s book ‘Stuka Attack’ is available from all good booksellers and doubtless a few members will be wishing for one in their Christmas stocking!
Posted: Wednesday 18 September 2013
Our September speaker, Stephen Thomas, certainly attracted a good gathering, nearly filling the function room at the Royal Oak with 35 people attending. His subject matter ‘Samuel Colt and his influence on British Manufacturing’ no doubt prompting their interest.
Stephen collects antique arms, was a member of the Oxford University Pistol Club and is a member of the Historical Breech-loading Small Arms Association. He lectures at the Imperial War Museum and has a private collection of over 100 pistols. Stephen certainly knows his stuff!
Stephen explained how the firearms industry was instrumental in propagating mass manufacturing, focussing on making parts interchangeable; thus where a product had previously been handmade by a Smith or through linked cottage industry, now parts could be manufactured anywhere and brought together in a production line. Standard specification replacements could be used for repairs and in the arms industry a Blacksmith was no longer a battleground essential. Other industries went on to adopt Colt’s production methods. Stephen concluded with a poignant quote from Henry Ford who, in relation to his Model T said “we will use the Colt Armoury methods to produce this car.”
Following Stephen’s lecture members were invited to view a few pieces from his collection which he had brought along for illustrative purposes.
Posted: Wednesday 21 August 2013
Our August Speaker was Roy Butler, Senior Partner of Wallis and Wallis specialist auctioneers of Lewes, who joined us to speak on the subject of Orders, Medals and Decorations. Roy has featured on the popular BBC Antiques Roadshow and told us that the more usual recipients of his talks are passengers on cruise ships! Roy’s extremely informative talk took us through the various Orders, Medals, bars, clasps and ribbons.
Following Roy’s talk, SMHS member Ed Tyhurst offered thanks and was pleased to add that Newhaven Fort actually holds the only General Service medal awarded to a cat! The story goes that on the day of the Dieppe Raid a black and white cat stowed away on board Tank Landing Craft number 5. The craft was subsequently severely damaged but “Sooty” clung to the helmet of a survivor and made it safely back to Newhaven.
Another survivor generously donated his own medal to “Sooty” when the PDSA failed to honour Sooty because she had stowed away!
Posted: Wednesday 17 July 2013
Our July meeting was Members’ Night and we were delighted to welcome two new members, Gary and Jill, who had previously attended our Study Day 2012 at Newhaven Fort and become reacquainted with us at Seahaven Armed Forces Day in June this year.
Members’ night is a melting pot of books, scrap books, models, computer presentations, displays of research, family history, photos – a chance for each member to bring forth something which inspires their interest in military history to share with the group.
Stewart opened with a look back at photographs of the Aux Unit operational base for the Hellingly Patrol sited within Park Wood, adjacent to the old hospital, which was partially excavated in the late 1990’s.
Mike had come across a suitcase “from the loft” and discovered a series of documents which he displayed.
We all admired Ed’s sketchbook. Ed sketches the projects we are involved in and his sketchbook is now itself a valuable resource documenting the Society’s efforts to restore and maintain military sites in the area. Good work Ed!
Peter passed around his updated research into the tragic Cuckmere Haven incident of 1942.
Honorary Member Ron Martin, a surveyor, had an impressive display of his drawings; most notably Kingstanding, Shoreham Airport and a curious air-raid shelter in Roedean.
Pete showed us his recent shrapnel finds following a visit to a former firing range, he discovered documented in a war diary. Thankfully he left the live ordnance on the range for the Police to resolve!
Ray had newspaper cuttings of Reserve Forces in the Brighton area and Geoff of a “Derby” race run by Servicemen injured in The Great War.
John had come by a fire extinguisher from a Halifax Bomber, doubtless numerous SMHS members are hoping the serial number will lead us to the actual plane this was sourced from.
Thankfully the Royal Oak stays open late as the Members had plenty to talk about and were in no rush to go home!
Posted: Saturday 29 June 2013
A warm, sunny 29th June 2013 saw SMHS stand shoulder to shoulder (well, gazebo to gazebo actually) with other community organisations at the Martello Fields, Seaford for Seahaven Armed Forces Day.
Organised by Seaford Town Council & the Seahaven Branch of the Royal Society of St George, the event like many hundreds of others round the country seeks to celebrate and honour members of the Armed Forces, past and present.
Snuggled somewhere between the stands of Seaford Museum (a lively bunch) and Seaford Bonfire Society (in full fancy dress) we were able to display photographs of our walks and projects to the many people who attended.
What made the day for us was the opportunity to chat with members of the public about all things military, many of whom were extremely well-informed and a pleasure to listen to.
This event will undoubtedly go from strength to strength and SMHS is proud to have taken part.
Posted: Wednesday 19 June 2013
Our speaker for June was SMHS member, Peter Hibbs. His talk for the evening was ‘The Battlefield Beneath Your Feet’. It detailed the stages of the war in East Sussex covering The Phoney War, The Invasion Scare, Overlord/Diver and Stand Down/Clear Up.
Pete explained that following the declaration of war there was a period where nothing really happened - then came the invasion scare. The Local Defence Volunteers were formed in May 1940 and General Ironside, Commander-in-Chief GHQ had multiple problems. When the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated from Dunkirk, they left behind 600 tanks, 1000 field guns/artillery pieces, 500 anti-aircraft guns and 850 anti-tank guns, Ironside could not fight a mobile war. He had no option but to put in place static linear defences including stop lines, coastal defences and nodal points, all designed to hold up invading forces long enough for regular troops to advance to meet the enemy.
Using Google Earth Pete showed how the Royal Military Canal was incorporated into a Stop Line and re-fortified with pillboxes. He took us through a computer reconstruction of the anti-invasion defences at Cuckmere Haven and familiarised us with nodal points using Cripp’s Corner as a local example.
Moving on to the Overlord/Diver period he touched on the V1 threat and focussed on Brighton’s Stanmer Park, a D-Day marshalling area and the landing craft hards and embarkation points along the Sussex Coast.
Pete’s research entitled The Defence of East Sussex Project is undoubtedly the most comprehensive study of the WW2 anti-invasion defences in the East Sussex. His website http://www.pillbox.org.uk is worth visiting on a regular basis as he keeps an up-to-date blog of his adventures…
Posted: Sunday 26 May 2013
In his commentary on the 2012 Remembrance Day London Parade, David Dimbleby observed that although the veterans marching before him were both young and old, had fought in different conflicts in different decades, wounded or well, this diverse group had one thing in common; they had all, when required, taken to war for our country, they marched as ‘Brothers in Arms’.
The SMHS Study Day 2013 adopted the theme ‘Generations of Warfare’ with presentations covering the Great War, WWII, the Cold War era and the Falklands Conflict. Our day was overseen by one of SMHS’s greatest friends, Robert Peedle MBE TD, who guided us through a jam-packed programme with consummate ease.
Starting the day, for the second year, was Geoff Bridger, author and military consultant. Geoff assists with identifying bodies recovered from the battlefields and as a former specialist Royal Engineer has an enviable knowledge of firearms and other weapons. Geoff spoke about the March 1915 Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Describing how the British were poorly equipped with aged artillery pieces; old style tactics were failing them in what is considered the first modern war. Poor communications, with those at the Front sending messengers back to those commanding them some distance behind was costly in time and there was no direct communication with those positioned immediately to the left and right. Geoff calls Thursday 11th March the “Day of Confusion”, no-one knew who was where, vital supplies were not received but Battalions pushed forward nonetheless. He showed poignant photos, including graves of unknown German, British and Indian soldiers, little cemeteries, before and after views of the village, where very little remained.
Our second speaker, Major Freddy Hunn, joined the 12th Royal Lancers in 1937. Raised as a Cavalry Regiment in the Jacobean uprising, it was mechanised in 1928 originally with Manchester armoured vehicles. In 1938 they were issued with Morris armoured cars, already obsolete, armed with a Bren gun and a Boys rifle, which they were told would penetrate any German tank. The Morris had a crew of four; Commander, Gunner, Driver and Wireless Operator – plus a basket of carrier pigeons! In 1939 they were deployed to France and spent a freezing, uneventful winter not far from the previously discussed Neuve Chapelle. It was so cold that one of the men had to get up every two hours throughout the night to start the engines of the vehicles to prevent them freezing up! Major Freddy hadn’t heard a shot or bomb until May 1940. They were then ordered to the Belgian border, where as a reconnaissance Regiment were instructed to observe the strength of the enemy, their weapons, materials, the lay of the land, rivers etc. They had an old radio set with a range of 12-15 miles. Major Freddy was wearing the outsized headphones associated with this set when he saw planes overhead; he said wearing those headphones you couldn’t hear anything. He saw something dropped from a plane and shouted to his mates excitedly that he thought it was a crate of beer. When the bomb exploded Major Freddy (still wearing those headphones) noticed all his mates had taken cover, there was not a man in sight! It is testament to the naivety of those young soldiers that Freddy hadn’t conceived that the object coming down could be a bomb.
In a later incident Major Freddy had cause to use that Boys Rifle they had been told would penetrate any German tank. He came across three German tanks 800 yards up ahead - took aim, fired, and…nothing! He repeated the process and it was clear the bullets were just bouncing off the tank. When the tanks started firing back with 75mm shells Major Freddy realised it was time to turn tail and retreat!
The Major had many more stories, the human horrors of war, culminating in the evacuation at Dunkirk. After being ordered to destroy their armoured cars they proceeded on foot to Dunkirk where they saw the multitude of men awaiting evacuation, under constant fire from the German planes overhead. Having organised the evacuation they were the last out. Around 10.00pm with Messerschmitt’s menacing overhead they boarded their “little boat” and were pulled out to a mud-dredger. At midnight the Major looked back towards Dunkirk which he described as a crescent of smoke and flames, effectively the closest thing there is to hell. Received in Margate he felt ashamed having to leave all their equipment behind in France, the Army was impotent; so much so he believed now only the Navy and RAF were left…
After a superb tour of the Fort by Ed Tyhurst and a well-earned lunch break we moved onto the Cold War era with Roy Taylor. Roy was a Radar Operator 1956-57, is the author of a history of Truleigh Hill and is Custodian of the Marlipins Museum in Shoreham.
In 1935 German aircraft production was increasing and the Luftwaffe was formed under Goering. Scientists were working on methods of detecting incoming planes using radio waves. A chain of radar stations appeared in coastal areas; Chain Home, Chain Home Low, Chain Home Extra Low and Ground Control Interception came about in the following years. By the 1950s the ROTOR plan saw the refurbishment of 28 old, wartime stations, which accounted for the nuclear threat by positioning these new radar stations underground. Many over ground elements were built to resemble residential properties and Roy took us through a series of photos showing these clever designs and their present day uses. He was also able to describe the facility at Truleigh Hill in detail and what it was like to serve there.
Our final speaker introduced himself as “Mac”. Kevin MacDonald joined the Royal Navy in 1976 straight from school and served on HMS Antrim as a Radar Operator in the Falklands.
HMS Antrim, known as the Grey Ghost was a County-Class destroyer. With a crew of 471 of an average age of 22 she was captained by Brian Young, who had seen service flying Sea Hawks in the Suez and as a Squadron Commander in Borneo.
On a training exercise in Gibraltar on 19th March 1982, Mac was oblivious to the Argentinians raising their flag in South Georgia, but by 24th March information was beginning to filter through and suddenly the submarines on the exercise were recalled. On 29th March Antrim departed Gibraltar, Captain Young being tasked with retaking South Georgia.
On 21st April the first reconnaissance party landed on South Georgia in appalling weather. The following day two Wessex helicopters were lost trying to evacuate them. Mac showed great fondness for their Wessex HAS.3 helicopter, known as “Humphrey”, which completed the task. Humphrey succeeded again and again, attacking the Santé Fe submarine with depth charges and landing the Special Boat Service behind enemy lines on the Falklands. By 21st May Antrim was in “Bomb Alley” where the task force was subjected to continuous attack from the air by the Argentinian Air force. Mac described how when the Sea Slug was fired no-one could see anything for ages until the smoke cleared, which left them highly vulnerable.
The crowd greatly appreciated all the speakers. The common theme, ‘Generations of Warfare’ illustrated that throughout the decades British people have fought with courage and skill; however it was often obsolete equipment that let them down.
Newhaven Fort was a fantastic venue for the day. Its own future, like that of many important historical buildings, remains in the balance in these times of austerity. SMHS hopes a favourable outcome can be found to keep this vital educational facility and inspirational location open to the public.
A total of £800 was raised for Blind Veterans UK.
Posted: Wednesday 15 May 2013
In May, our talk was a Battlefield Study on Ford Airfield by SMHS member Dave Dimer. Dave explained that the oceans and skies are as much a battlefield as the land upon which Armies have fought.
Battlefield study involves examining the background to the events, details of the attack, eyewitness accounts, topographical analysis, ground relief and obstacles, drainage and water supplies, cemeteries and myth & reality.
Dave explained that the Germans believed the invasion of Great Britain, codenamed Operation Sea Lion, could only succeed if they had air superiority. So commencing on 5th August 1940 the Germans implemented ‘Operation Adler’; its mission to destroy the RAF.
By August 18th 1940 Ford Airfield, Poling Radar Station and Thorney Island were targeted, along with Gosport in Hampshire. Other targets that day were the airfields at Croydon, Kenley and Biggin Hill.
Dave described how the River Arun would have been an excellent guide for the attacking force, its distinctive bends being highly visible from the air.
He played some audio recordings of three gentlemen who had been present at Ford on the day of the attack (courtesy of the IWM). Interestingly each of the three recalled the attack taking place on a different date!
During his research he located records of 25 people who perished in the attack; however secondary sources all place the death toll at 28.
The talk illustrated how battlefield students have to be tenacious and persistent. Detail lost with the passage of time may never be recovered, sources may be unreliable; evidence must be checked and cross-referenced.
Dave had done a fine job in his investigations into Ford and his audience were particularly pleased with the photographic evidence showing Ford throughout its long and varied history, right up to the present day.
Posted: Wednesday 17 April 2013
Traitor’s Gate, the Ravens, Beefeaters, the Princes in the Tower, the Crown Jewels; the Tower of London drips notoriety and intrigue, it is, in Nigel Jones’ opinion, the most iconic building in English history.
Nigel, a Lewes resident and author of ‘Tower: The Epic History of the Tower of London’ joined us in April to speak about the Towers military history and its various roles over almost a thousand years.
Constructed by the Normans as a military fortress its incarnations include Royal Palace, Royal Mint, Records Office, observatory, prison, burial ground, zoo, armoury, and so much more. The Tower has been besieged several times, withstood the Blitz and today is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK.
We also held our AGM in April. Welcomed one new member and voted a rather more longstanding one, Ron Martin, with Honorary Membership. Next month we look forward to both David Dimer’s presentation on Ford Airfield and our annual Study Day at Newhaven Fort.
Posted: Sunday 07 April 2013
The weekend of the 6th and 7th April was a busy weekend for SMHS. On the Saturday Peter Tyrrell and Stewart Angell were manning the SMHS Stall at the Shoreham Aeromart and on Sunday I was one of an enthusiastic group of walkers who set forth from Lewes Castle for a walk under the leadership of long time SMHS member Richard Shenton, themed on the Battle of Lewes.
Habitually early, I was lucky enough to have time to idle at the wall by the Barbican Gate and watch birds of prey being displayed in the Gun Garden, a treat before the main event.
The Battle of Lewes took place on May 14th 1264. Royalists under Henry III and his son Edward were met by disaffected Barons under Simon de Montfort. Richard’s walk took us through modern Lewes and out onto the Downs, our attention was drawn to places and objects of interest, both related to the Battle and otherwise.
Jim, Stewart and David Harvey took some wonderful photos which we hope, in time to add to the website gallery.
Richard had prepared a presentation pack of maps, pictures and information which helped with the Order of Battle and tactics as the Battle unfolded.
I asked a few of my fellow-walkers to let me have a comment about the walk and this is what they had to say….
“My wife and I were glad that we went on the walk as it was a good way to discover new places. Having a guide is an invaluable way of appreciating many small (and not so small) points of interest.”
“I really enjoyed the afternoon; Richard’s knowledge is excellent on the subject.”
“Following a conversation with Richard at one of our monthly meetings I planted a seed of an idea that he ran with for many months. Richard went away and concentrated his research efforts, gathering enough detail to ensure his walkers would take more than just aching legs away with them by the end. From the start our walk was full of facts and explanation. Supported by carefully chosen maps, diagrams and pictures to ensure everyone got a better understanding of the subject matter. A good walk was had by all; with great company, excellent views and plenty of food for thought about the wealth of military history in Sussex.”
“Richard gave a highly informative and well-researched view of the Battle. He moved easily between the political background and the action on the ground, thus ensuring a full picture of events. It was particularly interesting to hear what the area looked like at the time, and how de Montfort used the ground to gain advantage.”
So there you have it - beautiful landscape, a charming town, a well-informed guide, some useful exercise, a bunch of really nice people and some true Sussex Military History!
Posted: Wednesday 20 March 2013
In March, SMHS was delighted to welcome Gary Baines and his ‘Friends of Shoreham Fort’ for a presentation on the Fort’s past, present and future. In fact, Gary introduced us to a set of three forts, Littlehampton, Shoreham and Port Nelson, each a prototype for its later neighbour, constructed to counter the threat of attack by the French.
Gary described how Shoreham Fort was built to look like a gun battery from the sea. The French would have thought this a soft target, when in reality the Fort was cunningly designed. The attackers would approach from the beach up a grassy bank, only to find themselves halted at a precipice by a 15 foot ditch. If not picked off by the Riflemen aiming through ingeniously designed loopholes in the Carnot wall opposite, they would plunge into the ditch. Assuming they survived without injury, advance was now blocked by the harsh face of the Carnot wall, its specially designed curved “top” causing the climber to lose grip and slip back into the ditch, and all this while under fire from defenders in the caponiers, shooting along the length of the ditch – effectively a lethal ‘It’s a Knockout’!
The Fort was manned by the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers – these volunteers even had to pay the equivalent of eight weeks wages for their uniform!
Gary described that in the early 1900s, when the threat of invasion had passed; the Fort was used by Francis Lyndhurst (Grandfather of Nicholas Lyndhurst) as a film studio. Throughout WW1 it was used for training and storage, then as a private dwelling. WW2 brought refortification; two six inch guns, capable of firing 14 miles out to sea, an observation tower was installed and searchlight position created.
Post war the Fort fell into disrepair and sadly the barrack block was destroyed in 1959, leaving the Fort abandoned to the elements and mindless vandals. In the late 1970s the initial restoration phase saw the Fort draw its first breath for years. Meantime a Grandfather took his four year old Grandson to the Fort for adventure. That little lad, adopting his Grandfather’s walking-stick for a rifle, was to develop a passion that year’s later started to breathe life back into the Fort again.
Gary, with the help of family and friends, heaped with infectious enthusiasm and dedicated to his task has risen up not only the Fort itself, but more importantly the Friends of Shoreham Fort, now approaching nearly 100.
These volunteers, co-workers, companions are people with a sense of purpose sharing a passion, ensuring the Fort not only has a future, but one that is firmly rooted in service of its community
Posted: Wednesday 20 February 2013
In February we were joined by our speaker Richard Atkins and his ‘Magnificent Ladies in their Flying Machines’, opening with a confession – that he likes the Ladies! He went on to introduce us to quite a few of his favourite girls, all pioneers of flight.
From Elizabeth Thible’s 4000ft ascent in an air balloon dressed as Minerva in 1784, through the introduction of the internal combustion engine and into the 1940’s, these brave thrill-seekers, often from wealthy families, took to the air challenging expectations, bringing with them changes in fashion, even taking combat roles in the First World War.
Marie Marvingt (1875-1963) flew bombing missions over the German trenches and went on to found the Air Ambulance Service.
Lady Mary Victor Bruce decided after flying round the world to buy a couple of planes and experimented with air-to-air refuelling.
Barbara Cartland was instrumental in the towing of gliders, orchestrating the first long distance tows, developments which later proved vital in troop carrying and the transport of heavy equipment in the Second World War.
Hanna Reitsch was a test pilot of the German V1 flying bomb.
Lydia Litvyak lead a Russian flying wing, she shot down 12 and shared seven kills.
After the talk it was easy for the members to see why Richard has a bit of crush on these truly Magnificent Ladies and their wonderful flying machines!
Posted: Wednesday 16 January 2013
Our January presentation saw returning speaker Trevor Cox join us on a cold, cold night for his latest talk “Seavacs – Evacuations by Sea in WW2” - latest may not be quite the correct terminology, for Trevor had completed the basis of his research some 20 years previously, but only recently transferred his pictures from slides to enable a computer presentation.
The evacuation of children actually commenced in 1939. Following the declaration of war many children from London were taken, some on paddle-steamers round to the East Coast. Others, numbering approx 5000 were evacuated from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.
In 1940 there was an opportunity for children to be evacuated to South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The Government made provision for a few thousand places, yet there were 250,000 applicants who required vetting for health and suitability, only about 3000 would be successful. Churchill had originally looked favourably on the idea, but found the uptake unpatriotic and distanced himself as plans took shape.
The Children’s Overseas Reception Board was formed under Geoffrey Shakespeare. Trevor took us through the various ships involved and covered in detail the sinking of the City of Benares, torpedoed with huge losses. He told the story of one lifeboat carrying 46 which was spotted 8 days after the sinking by a Sunderland on escort duties, leading to the rescue of all on board. The scheme was then officially stopped and many of the ships went on to serve as troopships.
Packed with pictures, detail of life on board and with eyewitness accounts from some evacuees interviewed when he first gave the talk years ago, Trevor is surely an authority on the subject.
Posted: Wednesday 19 December 2012
Those who had attended the SMHS 2012 Study Day and heard Simon Bellamy’s talk "The Channel Dash – Tactical Defeat, Strategic Victory!" were licking their lips in anticipation of Simon’s sequel "The Daring St Nazaire Raid – The Greatest Raid of All." Or perhaps it was Elizabeth and Maggie’s festive mince pies that had us licking our lips?!
Simon is a Member of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Services and a Royal Naval Reservist – he has a unique, analytical approach which we would do well to replicate in our own studies. Our December meeting was set to be a cracker!
Early 1942 was a dark hour for the Allies, Singapore fell and there had been withdrawals from Greece and Crete in 1941. For the British, the humiliation of “The Channel Dash” was injurious to our reputation amongst the Allied Forces and we needed to strike back.
Churchill’s major concern was maintaining supply lines. He placed the importance of protecting the Atlantic convoys above offensive operations elsewhere. This was illustrated by the engagement of the entire British fleet in tackling the Bismarck. Once damaged in combat the Bismarck was limping to St Nazaire when she was finally set upon and destroyed. St Nazaire had the only dry dock on the Atlantic coast of occupied France of sufficient size to service the Bismarck and her sister ship Tirpitz. The Bismarck’s attempt to make it to St Nazaire was decisive; Combined Operations would attempt to put the dry dock out of service. The absence of a repair facility should guarantee that Tirpitz would be kept out of the Atlantic…..
On 28th March 1942 a commando raid was launched, 611 men were to ram HMS Campbeltown into dock at St Nazaire, blow her up and make for home.
The raid was a success, Simon’s analysis fascinated us not only with details of the operation itself, but also covering strategic background, the influence of the Raid on future Operations, highlighting the part played by various individuals, he even had a hand-drawn map and tried to educate us on the effects of the tide! Our enjoyment and appreciation was obvious from the volume and duration of the post-talk applause.
Stewart Angell (Membership and Treasurer) rounded off another excellent year for the Society by bidding us all a Happy Christmas.
Posted: Wednesday 21 November 2012
In November, Martin Snow of Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society joined us to talk about Devil’s Dyke – ‘Pleasure Ground to Bomb Testing Range’.
Martin started with some background on Devil’s Dyke, a beauty spot north of Brighton being a deep valley created by water erosion in the ice-age, or perhaps it was dug by the Devil in an attempt to flood the Christians out of the Weald, believe what you will...
He then went on to show us a collection of postcards depicting the late 1800s/early 1900s when the Dyke was developed as a Pleasure Ground and very popular it was too! There was a carousel, camera obscura, a bike circuit, an aerial cable-way, a funicular railway, a switchback, even a wooden imitation 10 tonne gun! Tea was served at the Dyke Station where the Dyke Railway terminated some 200 metres short of the Dyke; it ran from what is now Aldrington Station. On popular days thousands of people flocked to this popular tourist attraction however the traditional amusements lost popularity and by 1910 the Pleasure Ground fell out of use.
Martin explained how he was interested in a ‘mystery building’ which is still there today, though now in quite a damaged state. At first it was thought this may have been the camera obscura – there would have been a beautiful panorama – but the camera obscura was located elsewhere. Our very own Ron Martin had recorded, many years ago, an excellent detailed drawing of the building; which was brick, but also boasted block-working and a wide entrance.
So Martin turned to official documents housed in the National Archives – which revealed the amazing story of the Brighton Bomb Testing Range.
The First World War ensued and a letter was addressed to the Prime Minister in relation to locating a site for a Bomb Testing Range. The necessity arose to test bombs being dropped from a height of 250ft, in preparation for their installation on aircraft. The London based British Ropeway Engineering Company Ltd was given the task of designing a cable to straddle across the valley from a tower either side. These towers could move along two lengths of railway on raised track beds allowing ‘bombing’ to take place along a 200 metre stretch of the valley. The bombs were to be moved along the cable until centrally aligned between the towers, then dropped electromagnetically.
Some of the existing buildings were utilised for storage but Martin’s ‘mystery building’ turned out to be the proving station, originally lined with steel sheets brought down from Woolwich arsenal, with a dug-out positioned outside the entrance for operatives to take shelter in.
In reality whilst some trials were conducted, the testing range never came into operation due to the Armistice being signed.
In the 1920s, Dyke Estate was sold to the Brighton Corporation, to protect the town’s water supply; it is now in the care of the National Trust.
Martin pointed out many of the extant features and SMHS Reporter is pretty sure that a fair few of us will be paying a visit to the Dyke over the next few weeks (wrapped up well against the winter weather) to explore for ourselves this fascinating locality.
The ever popular Raffle followed, with Maggie back at the helm. Simon Bellamy conveyed the gratitude of the family of Marine James Wright, killed in action last year in whose memory last month’s Raffle funds were donated to the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund. We will be hearing more from Simon in December as he addresses us on the daring 1942 St Nazaire Raid.
Posted: Wednesday 17 October 2012
The Reporter has a dog and the reporter’s dog has a penchant for socks. When Fido has secured one of a pair of the reporter’s warmest, most comfortable walking socks he takes it out to the reporter’s garden and buries it in the perennials border, more often then not there is collateral damage and a scolding ensues. Time goes by, weeks, months even and eventually the day comes when Fido goes to retrieve his buried “treasure.”
Now the reporter isn’t that keen on decomposing, wet, holey, worm-ridden socks – but Fido sees beyond the ravages of time to the prize it once was.
On 24th May 1940, Peter Cazenove flying Spitfire P9374 was covering the withdrawal of troops from France. P9374 was hit by 1or 2 bullets in the coolant system and Cazenove, knowing he was too low to make it back to Dover brought her down on the sand at Calais where he left her, joining up with the Queen Victoria Rifles, he was eventually taken POW and nearly featured in The Great Escape!
Forty years on, our October speaker SMHS member Andy Saunders received a call from the Manager at the hover-port at Calais, informed him a Spitfire was rising up out of the sand! By the time Andy got to Calais the Spitfire was in a bad way, at the hands of souvenir hunters and vandals much had already been taken. The efforts to bring the Spitfire up from her sandy grave were inexpertly done – causing further damage and P9374 was little more than a mangled wreck. Some parts were put on display in a local aerospace museum, others boxed and stored, and thereafter purchased for use as spares.
In 1990 American entrepreneur Thomas Kaplan wanted a Mark I Spitfire. Moreover, he wanted to return it to flight. The Mark I, in Andy’s opinion is the purest of all Spitfires but even those that still exist have been heavily modified and Mr Kaplan wanted a 1940 Spitfire – thus that mangled wreck, P9374, the Spitfire from the Sand began its long journey back to flight.
Describing the project as a reconstruction rather than a restoration Andy told us how much of the original plane as possible was used; those parts that could not be used became “patterns” for replacements. Spares were sought, all within the remit of being dated 1940 or earlier, the cost was eye-watering.
In September 2011 P9374 piloted by John Romain took off from Duxford 71 years after her last flight, Mr Kaplan, like Fido had taken something long-forgotten, buried and left to rot and envisioned it as something to be loved and cherished.
Andy’s book, Spitfire Mark I P9374 The Extraordinary Story of its Recovery, Restoration and return to Flight on which the talk was based is available from booksellers and would make an excellent gift for any enthusiast.
Posted: Wednesday 19 September 2012
SMHS Reporter has never gone a month without washing, the reporter has never gone a month with just a few hours sleep – but Major Freddie Hunn MBE has and frankly, the reporter is humbled.
The 12th Royal Lancers is over 300 years old and Major Freddie Hunn is the last surviving member of that Regiment who served in France in 1940, he joined us to speak of his role in the evacuation from Dunkirk in May/June 1940.
The Major advised that for him the Phoney War passed quietly, he spent the cold, cold winter of 1939/40 sleeping in a small room on straw with 11 other men – no winter clothing was supplied.
Then in May 1940 he was sent to the Belgian border, tasked to shadow the enemy and report back. As the enemy advanced the Lancers retreated river by river, holding a bridge then blowing it as they moved on. The Major recalls the terrifying sound of the Stukas, the appearance of the dead; who looked to him like wax dummies. He recounted the horror of seeing lines of retreating refugees being machine-gunned by German planes. He described having to sit in the lap of the dead driver of an armoured car having received orders to attempt to recover it.
There were light-hearted moments too along with heroics, but eventually vehicles had to be abandoned and destroyed before he and his men joined the line on the beach awaiting their “little boat” – they were some of the last out. At midnight Major Hunn was on board a mud dredger that would bring his Squadron home and remembers looking back towards burning Dunkirk - a mass of flame and smoke, describing it as a circle of hell, then he slept. By 7.00am the Germans had the beach.
Back on mainland England, Major Hunn found himself in Margate, Kent being hailed a hero, however he felt ashamed - men and equipment had been left behind.
SMHS Reporter has never gone a month without washing, cannot imagine that month of hell without sleep – the reporter is humbled.
Posted: Wednesday 15 August 2012
According to Wikipedia, Norman Franks is "an English writer who specialises in aviation books on the pilots and squadrons of World Wars I and II - apparently he has written over 120 books, SMHS Reporter has not authenticated this but has concluded that Mr Franks was more than qualified to address the Society on “Coastal Command” the subject of our August talk!
When France fell, the ports in the Bay of Biscay became available for use by the U-boats, saving the long trip around the North of Scotland to their prey, the Atlantic convoys - and so began a series of measures and countermeasures as Coastal Command (CC), the Cinderella Service, came of age.
At the start of WW2 there were two challenges for CC in relation to U-boats. Firstly U-boats couldn’t be seen, and secondly, there was no way of destroying them. The Royal Navy had depth charges, but these were notoriously unpredictable.
ASV was invented; Air to Surface Vessel radar on planes that could pick up vessels on the surface, even a conning tower. U-boats had to surface for air and to recharge their battery, being highly vulnerable when they did. The U-boats began to travel at night on the surface to avoid detection, thus the Leigh Light was invented, fixed under the aircraft’s wing and guided in by the radar operator - the light came on and illuminated the boat allowing a set of four depth charges to be dropped straddling the vessel – at least one of which should be effective.
Then the U-boats took to travelling in groups – or packs. There were too many targets for a single plane and machine guns could be used from the deck to shoot down the CC aircraft which were vulnerable at 50ft, the height needed to ensure their weapons were effective. In response the RAF adopted the same tactic and travelled in packs too or a lone plane called in re-enforcements before attacking…and so it went on.
Mr Franks went on to describe that CC actually knew where 90% of the U-boats were. The U-boats radioed in their position once every three days and unbeknown to them Bletchley was intercepting the messages, though tactics had to be well thought out to deceive the Germans into thinking the positions of the boats were NOT known, otherwise they may have grown suspicious.
There was so much more to the talk, and if Wikipedia is accurate and Mr Franks has written all those books, the Reporter expects any one would make an excellent read!
Posted: Wednesday 20 June 2012
SMHS reporter has mixed feelings towards spider-webs. The reporter is endeared to those that adorn bushes and trees on sunny autumn mornings, dew-drenched and sparkling in the sunlight however, is less keen on those that stretch invisibly across the reporter’s front path… a trap!
The Germans in WW1 also suffered from invisible spider-webs - something SMHS member Dave Dimer, covered in June’s talk on the anti U-boat and anti-zeppelin patrols off the East coast and related operations 1917-1918.
Navigation was harder in those days! The German U-boats heading through the southern North Sea to cause trouble for Allied merchant vessels further west had to pass through the 100 mile gap between Harwich and the Hook of Holland, they often passed in the vicinity of the North Hinder Lightship using it as a navigational aid.
During WW1 at Felixstowe the flying-boat was developed - it was ideal for anti U-boat patrols. A system was devised whereby a representation of a spider-web, centred on the North Hinder Lightship, 60 miles in diameter, each radial arm 30 miles long and circumferential threads at 10, 20 and 30 miles provided the blue-print for the flying boat patrols. Each seaplane could search a quarter of this web in one patrol, it took twice that time for a U-boat to pass through the web – much of this period had to be spent on the surface for ventilation and recharging the batteries. Bombs could be dropped on the vulnerable U-boats and several met their end in this way. A delay of detonation rather than explosion on impact enabled U-boats that were diving to be claimed to a depth of 60-80ft.
Dave also covered anti-zeppelin patrols, German countermeasures, ‘Scarecrow Patrols’ and we were all delighted to hear about the airship station at Polegate – because we really do like a bit of Sussex Military History!
Posted: Saturday 26 May 2012
Hewn out of the rock on the cliff top at Newhaven, overlooking the harbour and Ouse estuary crouches Newhaven Fort, built in the 1860s - the largest defence work ever constructed in Sussex, an appropriate setting for the second SMHS Study Day.
81 military history enthusiasts packed the School Room casemate to hear speakers on the theme ‘Land, Air and Sea’ – and were not disappointed.
After a warm welcome and refreshments on arrival our first speaker was Geoff Bridger, published author and military consultant. Geoff’s talk entitled The Great War Medley took us through 100 photos from WW1, some poignant, all informative, many amusing, plenty heartbreaking – a rollercoaster ride injected with Geoff’s gentle humour and immense knowledge.
Andy Saunders, author and military aviation researcher, (the man who made Tangmere Aviation Museum happen) gave us our second talk One Day in Sussex in the Battle of Britain, focussing on Friday 16th August 1940. Andy conjured up the scenes of horror and devastation on the day he calls ‘Black Friday’. He described the waves of attacks starting around midday over Kent. Coastal radar picked up four large formations of attackers which were met by 3 Squadrons of our own Hurricanes and Spitfires. By 12.30pm a raid over the IOW, Hampshire and West Sussex was underway with the action further East diminishing; Tangmere Airfield was savaged. Andy kindly donated the profits from copies of his books sold on the day to our chosen charity, Help for Heroes. More information on Andy can be found on his website http://andysaunders.tumblr.com/
Ed Tyhurst is clearly a man who is passionate about his work, but then he does work at Newhaven Fort! Ed took us on a tour of the Fort – giving a fascinating insight into its history and firepower. The Fort has been called into service through every conflict during its existence when the threat of invasion has loomed.
After lunch we fastened our seatbelts as Peter Hibbs took us around The Battlefield beneath Your Feet - The Defence of East Sussex 1940 - 42. Pete explained that after the Dunkirk Evacuation in May 1940 the invasion of Britain seemed inevitable. Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces, General Ironside had very limited men and even less equipment, most of which was abandoned in the haste of the aforesaid evacuation. With limited resources Ironside set in place static linear fortifications, ‘Stop Lines’ lined with pillboxes and anti-tank traps designed to slow down the Germans until they could be met by Home Troops. Pete enchanted us with Google Earth imagery showing the anti-invasion defences in Sussex along with how the method of defence changed as more men and equipment became available. Plenty of ooohs and ahhs followed as we saw Cripps Corner and Pevensey Castle rise up in their WW2 battledress and tanks crawl across the Downs. Words alone cannot do this presentation justice – so have a look at his website http://www.pillbox.org.uk/ and click on the Cuckmere Haven Model for a taster!
After a break our final speaker, Simon Bellamy brought us The Channel Dash – Tactical Defeat, Strategic Victory! Simon is a Member of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies and as an Officer in the Royal Naval Reserve has served all around the world. Articulate and authoritative, Simon described the audacious German plan to move three immense and heavily armed battleships from Brest in Brittany, through the Channel right under the nose of the Allies! He explained how radar-jamming and the decision to leave the harbour at night, together with communication errors on the part of the Allies gave the Germans a 13 hour head-start. He recounted the brave Swordfish crews who attempted to torpedo the convoy despite the mission being near suicidal, the failure of the guns at South Foreland, the efforts of Bomber/Fighter/Coastal Commands; all of which were ineffective. Simon explained that whilst the Dash was a success in that the ships made it through the channel, none played any further part in the war, and what’s more their absence from the Atlantic brought a sigh of relief in reducing the threat to the Atlantic Convoys.
Our day was compared by Robert Peedle MBE TD. Bob can be heard on Sundays between 6.00pm and 7.00pm on Seahaven FM (96.3) with his radio show Forces on Parade. Bob often has guests interested in Military History on his show; you can listen online via: http://www.seahavenfm.com/
We are indebted to Bob and our Speakers for the day all of whom gave their talks free of charge in order to maximise the donation we could make to our chosen charity Help for Heroes. SMHS is delighted to announce that as a result of the Study Day we have made a donation of £1000 to the charity – which is a phenomenal sum and the Society would like to thank everyone who attended for their generosity.
All in all, a ‘Grand Day Out!’ and a substantial donation to a very worthwhile cause, roll on next year!
Posted: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Our home ‘upstairs’ at the Royal Oak, Lewes was bursting at the seams - 27 were aboard for May’s meeting, including two new members, to see Trevor Cox’s presentation -Training Ships on the River Thames.
Trevor’s talk centred around his collection of postcards supplemented by photos illustrating not only the ships themselves, but also conditions on board, the pain and pageantry, the everyday life of the youngsters.
Trevor explained that with no welfare system in place, in the early 1800’s boys who committed petty crimes were often deported to Australia to solve the problem of overcrowding and criminality. However this practice ceased and some early Training Ships were effectively prison hulks, where boys were detained in horrific conditions and disease was rife.
Other Training Ships were educational establishments, preparing boys with the skills needed to join the Mercantile Marine (later to become the Merchant Navy) or the Royal Navy. Photos showed various scenes i.e. compass-work, swimming test, learning the ropes etc.
Trevor’s journey took us down the Thames from the Nautical College – Pangbourne, to the King Alfred (Navy League at Reading), via the Neptune (Surbiton), Steadfast (Kingston) and Stork (Hammersmith).
In 1942 the Navy League became the Sea Cadets. The Sea Scouts had a ship, the Minotaur which actually played a part in Operation Dynamo. The Training Ship Exmouth was towed from Grays to Scapa Flow as a Depot ship for HMS Tuna in WW2.
Not all “Training Ships” were sea-going vessels. The boys were sometimes housed in buildings – especially after the loss of their ship – often by fire. The present National Maritime Museum was previously the Royal Hospital School Greenwich, that housed sons of men who had died at sea, training them for life at sea.
After lively questions – mainly about the lack of shoes on board and the continuity of the names of ships we had the ever-popular raffle and a presentation to our very own James Booth in advance of his wedding. Talk was of the upcoming Study Day – Land, Air & Sea. SMHS reporter had a brief word with three of the speakers, all seemed to be looking forward to the day – SMHS reporter predicts a top notch event!
Posted: Sunday 22 April 2012
April 22nd saw a small party of Sussex Military History Society members visit an isolated part of the Sussex coast to record the location and remnants of a British WW2 tank.
After a hard slog along the shingle in brilliant sunshine (and water-filled wellies after a few miscalculations about incoming waves), the site was identified and our team stood transfixed as the receding tide gradually gave up its secrets.
First a road wheel broke the surface, then the gun mantlet plate and gun barrel, and finally some pieces of caterpillar track and suspension. One surprise was the state of preservation of the solid rubber tyres on two of the three wheels found – they were almost like new despite 70 years in the sea!
Photographs were taken to catalogue the remains for the historical record while Ed, the Society’s resident rivet-counter and leader of this expedition, was flicking through his tank identification manuals and delivered a diagnosis of one of the ‘Cruiser’ family of tanks – possibly a Covenanter.
The site is known locally, but not the exact circumstances of how the tank came to be on the foreshore; documentary research has pinpointed a date when Covenanter tanks were training in the area, but no further detail as yet. However, fresh avenues of research at the National Archives have been identified and will be followed up.
Posted: Wednesday 18 April 2012
SMHS Members battled through rain and wind to attend April’s AGM and meeting - nice weather for ducks!
A duck glides serenely across the water, apparently unruffled and effortless, yet beneath the surface the duck’s legs battle furiously against current or tide, both propeller and rudder, to keep the duck on course. Likewise SMHS runs smoothly – our speakers are booked, newsletter prepared for our enjoyment, wine purchased for our raffle, our purse is kept - our meetings planned. So as we enter a new membership year SMHS reporter raises a glass to the ‘duck’s legs’, those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make our SMHS the healthy, growing group we are today…cheers!
April’s speaker was Norman Franks, who addressed us on RAF tactical warfare, particularly relating to raids over Northern France in 1941.
Norman concentrated on the Circus Operations – raids to draw German Fighters into the air or Fighters in combination with Bombers, flown with either specific targets in mind or an opportunistic basis. Many of these raids were flown at very low levels to avoid detection. The raids were risky and often not particularly successful in terms of targets destroyed or ‘kills’.
On the subject of ‘kills’, Norman was well-informed about the numbers claimed by each side and explained how the figures just don’t add up – suggesting that some exaggerations could be accidental, but perhaps on occasion the pilots were a little less honest with the numbers they claimed!
It is likely that Sergeant William Smith, who was found with his Spitfire in France last year by Andy Saunders and buried in France on April 18th was on a Circus Operation, probably number 168. SMHS Reporter is looking forward to hearing more from Andy when he speaks for us later in the year.
Posted: Wednesday 28 March 2012
March’s speaker Kevin Gordon is, in SMHS reporter’s opinion, skilled in the art of deception however, Mr Gordon should not be offended at this assertion.
At face value Mr Gordon’s presentation, a meander down the Cuckmere River seemed just that – from the rise of the river at Three Cups Corner to it’s mouth at Cuckmere Haven we were all enchanted with snippets about churches, buildings of historical interest, statuary, archaeological digs and the like - Mr Gordon ‘knows his stuff.’ Our speaker was even a little apologetic at the lack of military content and read us some excerpts of reports of military occurrences at the close to keep us satisfied, SMHS reporter was not fooled!
Now the writer has been reading up a little lately on WW2 deception techniques and consequently “saw through” the speaker’s use of disguise, decoy and diversion to reveal a presentation that was in fact, riddled with military history.
Take for example his reference to Seaford Museum, its exhibits and displays, yet we know the museum is itself housed in Martello Tower, one of the great fortifications of its time. There were two castles; Burlough and Chyngton, the moat at Michelham Priory which is fed by the Cuckmere, clearly a magnificent defensive work. There were references to soldiers apprehending smugglers (and relieving them of their booty), Napoleonic barracks at Cuckmere Haven and the list goes on…
Mr Gordon may have done his best to fool us, but the inescapable truth is that the banks of the Cuckmere are teaming with military gems. So Mr Gordon we salute you, safe to say you are indeed skilled in the art of deception, but on this occasion we say – nice try, but no cigar!
Posted: Wednesday 08 February 2012
Our February meeting saw returning speaker Roger Price tackling the topic of ‘Arms in the Spanish Civil War’. After a resume of the protagonists and historical background to the conflict Roger explained how, despite being party to the Non- Intervention Pact many European countries supplied arms and manpower to the combatants.
Roger went on to cover how Germany and Italy provided an “airlift” to the Army of Africa, Spain’s elite army garrisoned in Spanish Morocco – on a fleet of Junkers JU 52 and Savoia-Marchetti aircraft and thereafter supported the Nationalist side with planes and tanks, notably the Panzer I.
The Republicans sought military assistance from the Soviet Union, the only other revolutionary state in Europe. The cost of the assistance was “paid for” with the Spanish Gold Reserve; this however allowed provision of nearly 400 of the versatile T-26, light infantry tank along with many aircraft and artillery pieces.
The conflict realised an opportunity for the testing of Arms and tactics which were soon to feature in WW2.
Roger confessed his inspiration for the subject stemmed from reading Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia”.
Society Members are reminded that they are at liberty to make use of the Society’s Reference Library – free of charge – a catalogue is available at our monthly meetings and Stewart will bring ordered books to the following month’s meeting.
Posted: Friday 20 January 2012
In January we were joined by Penny Kocher, daughter of John Archibald Hislop who served as an Officer in the Indian Army 1933-1947. Penny has edited her Father’s memoir and we were treated to a presentation of photos, audio clips and sketch maps detailing Hislop’s postings to the Khyber Pass, the border with Afghanistan and his time in Burma during WW2.
Penny described how she didn’t listen much to her Father when he was alive and she was younger, however by writing his memoir he has left a legacy that she has been able to research, verify and now share with military enthusiasts including ourselves.
Penny’s talk is a timely reminder of the importance of keeping records, both written and pictorial which is vital to preserve military history not just for our own enjoyment but also for generations to come.
Posted: Monday 02 January 2012
Secrets surrounding the Home Guard Aux Units continue to be revealed despite the many years since their stand down in November 1944.
Sometimes these secrets can become opportunity, as was the case when the location of the Warningcamp Patrol hideout had been discovered and permission to excavate the collapsed structure was granted by the land owner.
SMHS members Stewart Angell, Pete Hibbs and Nick Woollard presented their findings from the summer SMHS excavation of the Warningcamp site, which took over 600 man hours of digging by hand!
They highlighted the methods used throughout the excavation, the trials and tribulations encountered, and how fulfilling it was to actually achieve the dig’s objective after all that hard work.
Pete finished the presentation with an amazing 3D SketchUp model of how the hideout and emergency exit tunnel would have looked following its construction.
Posted: Monday 05 December 2011
We welcomed Kevin Patience who gave a detailed account of the German cruiser Konigsberg, a new class of 3,000 ton cruiser built in 1907 that following the outbreak of WWI led a charmed life.
Kevin’s engrossing presentation included a working model of the Konigsberg; even smoking funnels!
The Konigsberg story prompted C.S Forrester to write ‘The African Queen’ which was later rewritten into the famous 1951 Kathryn Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart film we all know so well.
Posted: Thursday 17 November 2011
SMHS members attended a very special Remembrance Day community event at the Redoubt Fortress, Eastbourne to mark the iconic date 11-11-11-11.
Local schools gathered to perform drama scenes inspired by personal accounts of war and past conflict. Paper poppies were scattered across the parade ground, adding to the atmosphere. A bugler played either side of the poignant two minutes silence at 11.00am. All donations from the event were given to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.
Posted: Wednesday 16 November 2011
When Mike King, long time SMHS member and University of Sussex tutor, suggested we should join the Nosecone Club, he certainly got us all wondering what it was all about!
By making a donation we secured a prime position to stick our SMHS logo on the front nosecone of a single seat racing car, with the money going to Help for Heroes charity.
The car was built by the University of Sussex Formula Student Project, an International event organized by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
Formula Student provides opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate their skills, enthusiasm, ingenuity and commitment to engineering excellence, and for industry to foster close links with academia.
The event comprises of seven marked categories; Cost, Presentation, Design, Acceleration (quickest time over a 75 metre dash), Skidpan, Endurance (25 x 775 metres) and Fuel Efficiency.
The team along with their car came 34th out of 120 entries; not bad going considering the Sussex team had no professional car manufacturer sponsorship, unlike the Italian teams supported by Ferrari and German teams supported by Mercedes.
Johnson Beharry VC has been a Patron of the University of Sussex Formula Student Project for the past four years and can be seen here unveiling the Sussex car for the first time.
Posted: Wednesday 19 October 2011
Andy Saunders made a welcome return to present his account of how Supermarine Spitfire P9374 was recovered from its 1940 crash site on a Calais beach and subsequently brought back to life, taking to the air again in September 2011.
Unfortunately constraints applied by Andy’s publisher, due to a delay in publishing his book relating to this fascinating story, meant that he could only cover the basics.
Despite this set back Andy covered three other flying incidents much to the appreciation of the well attended audience.
Andy has agreed to return in 2012 when he can tell our members the full story of Spitfire in the Sands.
Posted: Wednesday 21 September 2011
After all the years Maggie, Terry and Ed have been SMHS members they have never collectively presented to the other members until now!
It was never going to be easy choosing what to include out of the many photos collected over the years from their site visits.
Members were taken through WWI sites in France, Belgium and England continuing onto WWII German sites finishing with V1, V2 and V3 sites in France. We look forward to seeing more from the Tyhurst Album in the future…
Posted: Wednesday 17 August 2011
This annual event always proves to be a source of intrigue and learning with a variety of artifacts being brought to the table. Items included military radios, a selection of gas masks, helmets, books and photographs. All prompted plenty of discussion along with anecdotal memories from members.
Posted: Wednesday 20 July 2011
Our speaker, John Burton, started by covered the background of both Hague Conventions of 1899 & 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929 which set the conditions for prisoners of war.
MI9 was set up in 1939 assuming the development role of training soldiers in the art of escape and evasion along with providing escape aids. Various lines of escape were established across Europe including the O’Leary Line, Comet Line and the Shelburne route, all helping hundreds of POW to safety.
Posted: Saturday 25 June 2011
Despite the blustery wind along with ever threatening rain clouds Seaford’s Armed Forces Day still managed to attract a good gathering.
For the third year running Martello Fields witnessed this National event that honours current and former service men and service women alike.
Just before midday a parade started from the nearby Martello Tower making its way along the seafront then leading down onto Martello Fields.
Ex-serviceman and long time SMHS member Richard Shenton, joined the parade as Standard Bearer for the Seaford Branch of the Royal Naval Association, no mean feat in the coastal wind considering the standard is eight feet long!
The SMHS stand attracted a lot of attention, especially regarding our many activities and membership.
Thanks go to SMHS members Stewart A, Richard S, James B and our newest member Vanessa B for their assistance on the day.
Posted: Wednesday 15 June 2011
Dave Dimer gave his first presentation to fellow SMHS members about how modern warfare is reported across the world through television. Using a combination of video clips and commentary, members were taken back to the Falklands, Gulf and Iraq conflicts, remembered by many from when the footage was originally screened as events happened. The internet became the final point of discussion, highlighting how quickly information is getting out to the masses without any censorship being applied or specific reporting stance.
Posted: Saturday 28 May 2011
Over 70 people enjoyed a full programme of speakers along with a guided tour of Newhaven Fort during ‘Operation Sussex’, the first study day organized by SMHS.
Following this successful event SMHS were able to hand over a donation of £400 to Macmillan Nurses.
Posted: Wednesday 18 May 2011
Returning speaker Norman Franks took SMHS members through the Battle of Little Bighorn. Whilst there are many accounts of this famous battle from the Great Sioux War of 1876, members were given a detailed overview from all sides. The film industry has, over the years, played a major role in perhaps clouding what really happened in an effort to ensure an everlasting American legacy.
In 1991 Little Bighorn Battlefield became a national monument that respects all who perished during the battle.
Posted: Thursday 12 May 2011
SMHS members enjoyed a return visit to Kings Standing in Crowborough, the former wartime propaganda radio establishment, now a training facility owned by Sussex Police. A warmer and brighter evening compared to last year the group enjoyed a more comprehensive tour of the site which included an access/ventilation tunnel rarely seen.
A donation of £40 was made towards the Sussex Police Conservation Fund towards the upkeep of the grounds within the sites perimeter fence.
Thanks to SMHS member Jim W for organizing this event for everyone.
Posted: Sunday 01 May 2011
Mayday saw over 100 people walk between the Martello towers of Seaford and Eastbourne to raise money towards ‘Help for Heroes’ charity.
SMHS were represented by Stewart A, who managed to raise £200 towards the total of over £5,000 raised by the event organizers, Seaford Martello Rotary Club. Thanks to all the people who sponsored on this occasion.
Posted: Monday 18 April 2011
The annual SMHS AGM went very smoothly with all officers re-elected for another year.
Following on from the AGM Simon Bellamy gave his first presentation to fellow SMHS members about the ‘Channel Dash’ made by three powerful German warships in February 1942. Simon’s detailed account highlighted how a catalogue of errors allowed the ships to remain undetected for 12 hours during their passage from Brest in Brittany to the safety of German bases.
Posted: Friday 18 March 2011
Following unforeseen circumstances preventing our scheduled speaker from delivering her talk, Geoff Bridger stepped in at the last minute. Geoff took fellow SMHS members on a walk through the memorials dedicated to local war heroes from both world wars around Lewes. Originally created as a guided walk Geoff adapted this into an informative presentation, giving him many opportunities to recount additional stories relating to the First World War.
Members were shown the recent findings from our site survey of the proposed SMHS excavation in West Sussex. Various military related objects were discovered by our metal detectorist ranging from small caliber bullets + cartridges to a uniform trouser button.
Posted: Wednesday 16 February 2011
Eastbourne College archivist, Michael Partridge, presented the story of Frederick Frank Reilly ‘Jack’ Minchin. Minchin was a distinguished World War One pilot who studied at Eastbourne College and went on to learn how to fly at the Eastbourne Aerodrome. His life was full of adventure and incidents; crashes included! He was killed in 1927 whilst attempting to pilot the first plane across the Atlantic from East to West.
Posted: Wednesday 19 January 2011
SMHS member Jim Whittington gave fellow members a great start to the year with a presentation covering all aspects of his findings over the years. Drawing on his extensive collection of photographs and information gained from his travels, Jim took everyone to Sussex sites and beyond.
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