The War In and Over Sussex
My mother’s memories
Like many children born during or just after the War, my mother used to regale us with stories about what it was like on the ‘Home Front’ with Dad continuously away. She lived from day-to-day and, without knowing it, participated in history being made. My mother was a font of information and would describe the hardships, the humour, and the major events. She played her part in keeping the ‘home fires burning’ and made many friends. Up until the day she died (31 December 1996), she just saw the war years as being ‘normal’ – nothing special – we all had to do it. She was very English and stoic.
She told me stories about the Battle of Britain being fought out in the skies above Sussex; seeing the vapour trails; of the aircraft that came to grief around Hove (where she was then living); of the raids by German aircraft; of hiding young Robert in the Anderson shelter. She was once strafed by a Messerschmitt when she was on the way to work at Oaklands Dairy on her bike. She told me about bombs and incendiaries up the street, around the corner, and one day next door.
Mum gave me her personal perspective on the evacuation from Dunkirk; V1s and V2s. She told me of Monty’s visit to Hove to speak to the troops just before D-Day; about rationing, and about the firm friendships she made with other women in similar circumstances.
Books about the aerial war
As far as I am concerned, the definitive books on the aerial war over Sussex during the Second World War are the series produced by Pat Burgess and Andy Saunders. They have produced three books – Battle Over Sussex 1940; Blitz Over Sussex 1941-42 and Bombers Over Sussex 1943-45.
Burgess and Saunders have obsessively researched the available archives ‘from a wide range of sources’ to ‘draw up a jigsaw type picture of aerial events in and over Sussex during the War’. They have been able to compile a complete listing of the losses to aircraft in the county, including crew names, serial numbers of aircraft and combat data. Of course some incidents are better described than others, but they believe that they have been successful in identifying every aircraft crash in Sussex off airfields.
Their books have been illustrated with many photographs obtained both from official and private sources. They even arranged to have some aircraft ‘recovered’ during the 1970s and 1980s and they supervised the digging up of wreckage in various parts of the county.
The impact of the war on Sussex
The war over Sussex did not take on the drama of the blitz on London and the major industrial cities of the Midlands and the north. However, to the residents of all the towns and villages in Sussex it was just as stressful and the outcome as uncertain as anywhere else in Britain. In fact, given the ‘frontline’ position of Sussex, it can be argued that the threat of invasion had a greater impact on the residents than in other parts.
Between July 1940 and May 1945, 11,486 high explosive bombs were dropped; 89,675 incendiaries were unleashed on the population; some 341 other projectiles/bombs; 77 parachute mines/bombs and 1,405 antipersonnel bombs dropped. 907 V1 flying bombs (Doodlebugs) crashed to earth but fortunately only 4 V2s. This onslaught resulted in 1,015 people being killed and 3,895 injured.
During the Battle of Britain 310 people were killed. Allied aircraft losses are listed as 180 with 61 crew killed compared with 180 enemy aircraft and 143 killed and 147 taken prisoner. This does not include the aircrew that crashed off the coast of Sussex.
For the whole war, a total of 152 enemy aircraft were downed resulting in 220 aircrew killed and 152 taken prisoner. To achieve this the Allied efforts seem out of all proportion – 715 aircraft downed and 533 aircrew killed with 1,055 being safe.
There is a slight discrepancy in the figure, but it is also claimed that a total of 935 aircraft were downed and crashed in Sussed during the war – 666 UK; 102 US and 167 German. I suspect that this includes aircraft that ditched in the sea of the coast, whereas the earlier figures are for ‘land crashed’.
One should not forget also that a large number of unexploded bombs needed to be disarmed and disposed of by the UXB Teams – a truly heroic band of specialists. I must also mention the Home Guard. My grandfather Scott from Hove, a veteran of the First World War, served his time willingly and like them all made a valuable contribution to the home defence. They captured a significant number of the surviving enemy aircrew.