From 1938 until 1954 I lived at Lodsbridge before moving to School Lane where I lived until 1998. The Mill Cottage is technically in Lodsworth parish, with the boundary running down the garden path.
Obviously, my wartime memories are limited but nonetheless vivid. I can just remember seeing dog-fights over Goodwood from the back of a car. We lived under one of the flight paths for the Luftwaffe bombing streams headed for London and we heard them night after night. There was a Fleet Air Arm station on what are now the Ambersham polo grounds (RNAS Cowdray Park) and the biplanes often came in low over the garden with the pilots waving to us. One of these, John Moffat, is credited with disabling the Bismark. One night, when the bombing of Portsmouth was particularly vicious, we sat in our living room as the house rocked and shook. On one occasion, while locking the Morley petrol pump I found myself being pushed under a chestnut fencing work bench as a German fighter loosed off a few rounds overhead. The yard staff were last seen sprinting down the hill past the mill – destination unknown.
There was a searchlight battery on the Graffham road, just opposite Selham House, and I was fascinated by the huge lights and shiny reflectors. At night we could see them sweeping the sky above Selham. I remember on the same lane, collecting the foils strips which were dropped from training flights before the D Day landings in 1944. They were, of course, to be used for confusing German radar. There was a slit trench at the junction of the Graffham and Duncton Roads which I was allowed to explore on family walks.
In 1940 we received instruction on what to do if the invasion came. Selham Church bell would toll and on that signal we would collect fresh food from Hurlands Farm and tinned food from the Church. Then, we were to “lie low until danger had passed” – a masterpiece of government under statement not too different from the recent publications on emergency situations. We later learned that we were living in an area considered indefensible if the invasion actually came. The line of defence would be on the north side of the Rother (we lived on the south side!).
I recall standing by the white wooden railings at Smithbrook watching local men clearing out the duck pond. This was to provide a water source in the event of fire. Of course, a piped water supply, along with electricity, did not reach Lodsworth until the early 1950s.
I recall the bombs which dropped on Lodsworth. One hit the road on what we then called Dennett’s Corner at the top of Church Lane. It bounced over the cottages and shattered a few windows. The wall of the Dower House was partly demolished and the hole in the road remained for years afterwards.
I don’t remember the bomb which was dropped on the school in Petworth killing almost 30 children but certainly remember the one which hit Midhurst. It demolished the Congregational Church on the corner of Petersfield Road and destroyed the cottage of the seamstress who was making maternity clothes for my mother. The lady survived, as did the clothes which always had a scorch mark on them.
My grandmother lived in Hazel View and had a healthy scepticism about the importance of the blackout. She always pulled down the blind at the front but would leave the back door open when trying to spot passing German planes. She maintained that “He can’t see out the back!” She lived there until she was 91 so who is to say she was wrong?
My father was involved in fire-watching duties along the railway but was eventually released to watch for fire among the far more flammable stocks of wood in Morley’s yard. This may have followed an occasion when my mother was frightened by the sound of nocturnal marching armies which turned out to be an escaped horse galloping around the yard.
We were already well-accustomed to the sound of bomber engines, as many of the raids on London were routed over the village. It was always believed that Selham Station, the motte at Lodsbridge and Kingdom House at River were vital indicators for German pilots. Quite how they saw them on dark nights was never explained to me. Of course, we now know that the bombers flew along routes marked by sophisticated radio beams. It is now amusing to think of those pilots and navigators straining their eyes in the dark to see the washing on the Kingshotts’ clothes line.
I was taken out late one night towards the end of the war to watch gliders being towed over the house en route, we now know, for the Arnhem landings. The noise of the engines was deafening and everything seemed to shake.
In June 1944, after a visit to my grandmother, my mother pushed my brother in his pram with me in tow, down through the fields to Halfway Bridge. There were endless streams of military vehicles on the A272 moving to the embarkation ports. This was, of course, on the old road before the modern A272 was built in the1960s. On the road to Selham we had to pick a route through rows of parked military hardware under camouflage netting, with soldiers eating and sleeping where they lay.
There were Canadian troops camped all around the Mill and on the mound overlooking the fencing works. They pumped water up from the river to collapsible tanks on the top of the motte. It must have been D Day minus one or two. Then they were gone and it was D Day. We had also watched trial buildings of Bailey Bridges over the Rother by Lods Bridge.
The Morley fencing works played their part in the war effort. The chestnut palisade machines were converted to make tracking which could be used to get vehicles through marshy or desert areas. We took all this in our stride, not realising that we were playing a tiny part in history.
I started at Easebourne School just as the War ended (almost two years after the official starting age): my mother was a former teacher and remembered the destruction of the Petworth School. Even so, I remember being led from the classroom to the trenches as the V1 raids came over. This also meant that I was taken to the Village Hall as my mother helped the WI can plums and make jam as part of the war effort.
It is all so much part of a world long gone and almost forgotten. The ration books which were used in the Randall’s shop, the cars with hooded lights, the uncles who came to visit in military uniform, the tiny portions of food and the restricted travel all belong to a time so long passed. The village looks almost the same now as it did to a child in 1943 but it can never be the same. Watching Foyle’s War brings back some of that strangely exciting but dreadful time especially as some of it was filmed in Midhurst.