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Memories of a Sussex childhood

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:46 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Brother born on 13th September 1943. Moved from Copse Farm to stay with my grandparents. That morning my sister and I went off to school and the nurse, Nurse Lightfoot said, 'When you come home you may have a baby brother or sister'. And when we did come home my other brother came running up to the top of the road where the post box was (because we weren't allowed beyond the post box) to say that 'Jonathan was born at last.' But the best of it was he was never called Jonathan, he was called Alec. When Alec's own son was born he was called Jonathan.

In that house my mum, my uncle, my sister, my brother (1943) and my other sister (1945) were born. 4 Fishbourne Cottages, Barnham was the home where I felt most comfortable.

Copse Farm, Oving.
We were allowed to play in the field at the side of the house. This particular day we went to play in the field and I think it was Shirley who picked up what we thought was a vase. It was a tiny little round thing with the colours of a shell. Shirley carried it and I carried it and we decided we were going to take it home to give to my mum as a vase, because that was what we felt it was in our hands. We went home and when we got to the gate we gave it to Robert to give to mum as a present. We walked in and said, 'Mum, we've got a present for you.' She took one look at it and went stark white and just said, 'You three stand there and don't you dare move.' And then she went tearing out of the front door and got my dad and my dad came in and just said, 'I'll take that please.' It appeared that we'd picked up a hand grenade, which he took and put down the old well at the back of the cowshed. Then we had a lecture, never to pick up in the fields. If we saw anything we had to tell one of the Air Force men that lived in the house, or we told somebody, but never pick anything up that dropped into fields. After that we never ever did unless we were told we could. At one stage they dropped paper from a plane and we could go and pick that up because that was safe. Robert would have been about 3, Shirley 4 and I would have been about 5 when we picked up the hand grenade.

Airmen

We moved at the beginning of 1944 to Dairy Lane, Maudlin which was a move 'up the slip' into a different house. Not sure why we had to move but I think they wanted the whole of our house for more airmen. Then I went to Westhampnett School. A lovely little school. Learned general lessons like all schools. To have dinner we had to walk to the Old Isolation Hospital opposite Westhampnett Church. That was awful, because it was a big green door and when we walked through it the place stank of boiled cabbage and it was cold. The dinners were lovely. It was just the walk through that door and the smell. It was a hot dinner and it was beautifully cooked and you were well looked after. I was 10 when I went to Westhampnett School.

Beginning of 1945 we moved to Runcton. Dad (Jo Peirce) was still a cowman. He'd been one since he was 9! He had lived in Arundel and that was his life. My dad taught my mum to milk at Copse Farm. She hated it but it was a necessity. They started work at 5 a.m. and if something wasn't right we'd shout to one of the airmen and they'd just come down and sort us out. They were all lovely. We had 6 airmen in the house at a time. We lived in the kitchen and there was a really big scullery with a copper and a proper bath. On a Sunday before he went to work dad would light the copper and it would go all day long. The men would come in and they'd have a bath and then they'd sometimes do their washing. We had great lines of washing across the kitchen or, if it was fine, across the garden. People were coming and going all the time. The airmen used the back door and we used the front door. We didn't know any different. The airmen would change, but the two I remember most were Freddie Tappin, who was a Cockney. He was lovely. He was a little tiny man and he used to play with us and sing and he was just a lovely man. He was there all the time because he was ground crew. He would sometimes bring his wife to stay, which was nice. She could get things off the Black Market like Wellington boots. She lived in London. Sid was also lovely. I was taught to knit by one of the younger men, a lad who was called Claud. We'd sit on the stairs and it would be 'push it in, pull it round, knock it off'.

Barrage Balloon
1944 one of the barrage balloons broke loose and it hung over the pond at Dairy Lane and they had to come and get it. It was quite frightening because it was so big. To walk out of the back door and see this huge thing was frightening. That year the pond dried up and we fished all the fish we could catch out of it and put them in galvanised baths to take them to the gravel pits, which the Canadians had dug.

Uncle Bob.

On 6th June, when they all went over the water. My grandad and my uncle had talked together and grandad had said to him 'If you go over to France when you write could you just say that you all had a sing song and everybody sang their own songs, and yours was Sussex by the Sea,' because then he would know that he'd gone into France. My grandad never told my nan that he knew my uncle had crossed. She received letters from him. The first letter they received was when Uncle Bob had gone over. Grandad knew where he was from what he'd told Uncle Bob to write earlier. All the letters were checked so they couldn't say where they were. My uncle was killed in Belgium just before his 21st birthday. The day war was declared my nan burst into tears and said 'Bob will have to go and he'll get killed.' He was like a big brother to me. He was my mum's brother. There was 10 years between them and they never got on. She just resented him because she'd been on her own so long. He'd written to her and she'd said she didn't like the new house we were in. I always thought all the houses we lived in were lovely houses. Copse Farm was a new house, built in 1934, and to have a bath in the house was unusual.

Barnham Station
Grandad was on the railway and knew the times of the trains coming in and if it was a Saturday or Sunday we were allowed to go down to Rose Cottages. We used to go to the end cottages and sit on the wall with a lady we called Aunt Nell. She wasn't our real aunt but you called all older ladies 'aunt' in those days. We'd often see the airmen, soldiers and sailors coming in. They'd stop and be given a cup of tea and you could see and hear them chatting as they stood on the platform. They were steam trains.


One particular Sunday grandad said 'you have to go down today because we've got a very special train coming through'. It was the first time I had ever seen a turban. To this day to see a turban now is just so wonderful. There were people in turbans, there were people in hats (little round hats) and they'd got blankets on and the colours. They were sitting on top of the train, a lot of them and they'd climb down. And it was just, to me, it was just beautiful.

Morrison Shelter
It arrived and we watched them put it up and then they put a mattress in the bottom of it and then they put a mattress on the top of it so that my mum and dad slept on the top and me, Shirley and Robert slept under the Morrison Shelter and if there was a raid there was a wire that could put up and then my mum and dad could come in the shelter as well. When my brother was born his cot was down by the side of the shelter. I don't think we had too many raids then. It was becoming calmer.


I remember the tanks along the road. You didn't take any notice of it because it was normal then.

History

Item list and details

1. - 2. RAF special pass 3. - 11. Images of various registration cards 12. - 15. Notice of death of Robert Charles Daniels along with some letters received by the family. 16. - 19. Family photos of Winifred and family as a child

Person the story/items relate to

Winifred Dibley

Person who shared the story/items

Winifred (Annie) Dibley

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Herself

Type of submission

Shared at West Meads Community Hall, West Sussex on 11 November 2023. The event was organised by Bognor Regis u3a.

Record ID

106177 | BOG045