Editorial

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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

32, David Nicholls ~ wartime Lancing

I found this website by chance and it certainly triggered of some
memories of Lancing for me.

Memories of Lancing.
I grew up in North Lancing.  In 1939 my Dad bought a small bungalow at
Lewes Road off Fircroft Avenue. I remember the cost of our home - just
five hundred pounds). Then Fircroft Avenue was an unmade road lined
with almond trees which shed their blossoms like confetti. The Downs
up to Lancing Clump were a playground to us kids. (It was always
called Lancing Clump locally although the proper name was Lancing
Ring).
As the war progressed the fields above North Lancing became an Army
battle school. Trenches were dug around the Clump and defensive
positions manned by the soldiers during the time an invasion as
expected.  Bren gun carriers towing field guns were everywhere and
soldiers camped in the fields above Derek Road.  Fascinating for small
boys!  Though forbidden by our parents we boys scoured the fields for
any bit of military hardware left behind.

Many of the houses in Ring Road were occupied by the military.
Canadian soldiers who used to march down Mill Road in their Scottish
Canadian kilts led by a bagpiper.  The chalk pit at the top of Mill
road was used as a gunnery range.  The crackle of small arms fire
alerted us boys and although we couldn’t go there while the troops
were firing we would scrabble in the chalk for spent bullets and brass
cartridge cases at the end of the day.

I went to school at the local primary school.  It was in an old
Victorian building at the bottom of Mill Road  opposite the Corner
House as the pub was named then.  Classes were held in one big room
divided up by screens.  Not the best learning environment as the noise
of the other classes made it difficult to hear what teacher was
saying.

Then one day all pupils were assembled in the playground and marched
up to the newly completed School.  I think the year was 1940. What a
palace. Big classrooms with floor to ceiling windows, wide corridors
and a big hall for assembly and PT.  We had only been in our new
school for a few days when a gang of workmen arrived and sprayed the
windows with a plastic stuff that smelled like peardrops. This was to
prevent the glass shattering and flying in all directions if a bomb
landed nearby.  Other windows were plastered with criss cross sticky
tape for the same reason.  We soon settled down in our new school.
Miss Humphreys was Head Mistress,  Miss Tait was second in command and
I remember my class teachers were Miss Dawson and Miss Allman.  (I
don’t know if I have spelled the names correctly - but it is a long
time ago).

It was the time of the air raids.  When the siren sounded we all left
our classes and were led to the brick built air raid shelters on the
south side of the school grounds.  As we trooped down to the shelters
we sometimes heard the far off rattle of machine gun fire and saw the
condensation trails made by the aircraft high in the sky.  We didn’t
know it then but history was being made above us as young men fought
in their Spitfires to defend our country. In the semi darkness of the
shelters teacher would attempt to carry on the interrupted lesson.  I
remember that Horlicks tablets were handed out too and some teachers
would try and get a sing song going.  When the single note of the All
Clear sounded we returned to our classrooms to resume lessons.

Over half a century later I visited my old school in my work as a
Press Photographer to photograph a child who has won an award. I
mentioned to the head teacher that I had been one of the first pupils
in the school. I was then invited to have tour.  I saw again my old
classroom but how small it all seemed after all the years.  Gone were
the serried rows of little desks and in their place were individual
tables scattered about the classroom.  The air raid shelters were long
since demolished and no one remembered them
.
I had a coffee in the staff room which in my day was Miss Humphrey’s
study. More memories.  In this room I was caned for misbehaviour by
Miss Humphreys using a long whippy cane on the palms of my hands.
There were three china ducks on the opposite wall and I kept my eyes
on these to try and not cry at the pain of that punishment. My crime
was to be seen running irreverently across the churchyard, jumping
over the graves during some juvenile game.

A few names from my schooldays.  There was a family of Ripleys and
Johnstons in Fircroft Avenue. My own best friend, Kenny Baker lived on
the corner of Lewis Road and Fircroft.  Further up Lewes Road lived
the Ayling family and opposite us was the Wellbeloved family.  I
wonder where they are now?

At the bottom of Lynchmere Road was the Post Office run by Mr Martin
and next door was the Fircroft News Agency where later I had a paper
round to earn my pocket money. My round took in Firle Road, Derek Road
as well as Rossiter, Lynchmere and Fairview.
The main road A27 ran along past here and on past the church and the
Corner House to the junction with Boundstone Lane and on to Shoreham.
Now there is a bypass and where the roundabout is now stood a small
general store called the Stormy Petrel. (/Anyone remember it?)

The Regal cinema in Penhill Road was my Saturday morning treat and the
programme was all for children.  Cowboys and Indians, Cartoons and
Tarzan films were greatly enjoyed.  Later I used to go to the Luxor
when I could afford it.
I often walked to Lancing Manor, past the manor house and up to the
lane leading to Hoe Court. Lancing College was then occupied by the
Royal Navy and called HMS King Alfred.  From here I would continue to
the Sussex Pad and watch the Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lysanders
landing and taking off from Shoreham airport.

One night the war became very real and serious to us.  The siren had
sounded and there were lots of low flying aircraft overhead. Our
family took shelter in our Morrison Shelter, a steel cage supplied to
householders and intended to protect them if the house was destroyed.
That night the anti aircraft guns were firing and suddenly there were
thunderous explosions coming nearer. Bombs were falling on Lancing and
we were terrified as the detonations came closer.  In the morning we
found that one bomb had hit a house in First Avenue and another had
partly destroyed a house in Grand Avenue.  The sight of these homes
with the outer walls gone and the interior exposed made me realise
that the war was deadly serious.  Another bomb had fallen on the
ground above Firle Road making a deep crater in the chalk.

Towards the end of the war the military presence increased.  Fairview
Road and many other side roads had tanks parked nose to tail.  Then
one day they were all gone.  D Day had started the long awaited
invasion of Europe.
It all seems so long ago now.  Boundstone School had not been built
and there were acres of glasshouses growing tomatoes to the south of
the A 27 road. There were more glasshouses and nurseries to the west
of North Lancing. The area of bungalows there were called locally
Mickey Mouse town to the annoyance of the residents.
There then are a few of my recollections of Lancing in the years 1939
to 1945.  I had a happy childhood and although I no longer live in
Lancing I have many happy childhood memories from that time. David

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi do you have any memories of "the red house " as we are looking at buying it as it looks so beautiful

Ray Hamblett said...

Do you mean the house in Manor Road
'Ancient Lights' ?

Alan Marshall said...

From Alan Marshall in Tasmania

David, thanks for all those wonderful memories you have brought back to me. I am somewhat younger than yourself. (I was borne in 1941). But I do remember the old school room, and Mrs. Thomas used teach there. The name Miss Allman, I think she became Mrs. Horne. At that age I had no idea of people getting married and changing their name!
Michael Ayling was in my class at school. I attended there from about 1946 to 1952. The "new" dining room and kitchen was built at the top northern side of the playground, close to the bicycle shed. Always will remember the horrible smell of grease and food waste oozing out of the waste pipe from the kitchen.... and that horrible minced meat, hard potatoes and SPINACH! Awful taste on the tongue of a 7 or eight year old.
The Morrison Shelter we had (in Grafton Gardens) was built underneath the bed of Mum and Dad. We were taken there to sleep for the night whenever the air-raid sirens sounded. Several went off at the same time, giving a discordant, painful wail, all beating against each other and setting the tensions. We as kids did not know the significance of the tension, but on looking back our parents had a hard time of it, didn't they?
I was born in a little wooden shack up the top end of Upper Boundstone Lane, just below the fence of the Cemetery. A bungalow is built there now, in the corner where there's a bend in the road.
My Dad, and his Dad (Percy Marshall) and Denis, his brother, had the nursery where Boundstone School is now. Boundstone lane then really was a "lane." Rough road, lots of puddles to splash in (and frozen over in the winter of 1947). The structure of that road, when upgraded, would have been very strong. Lots of flint, old bricks, etc., went in as foundations, and the top tarmac was compacted with a steam roller. I watched all that work with great interest.
The Brooks, at the western end of Tower Road was a favourite play ground for us.... catching minnows, sticklebacks and tadpoles. When the bridge over the railway at Western Road was being built, I watched them putting in the piles with a huge noisy vertical ram. They raised the ram up to the top of the crane's jib, then let it fall at great speed onto the piling, which was gradually driven down into the subsoil.
Back to the war years, and I was only almost 4 when it ended, but my main memory is of very quite night times, very dark because of no street lamps. If any vehicle drove past in the night is was always very slowly. And if a bomber flew over in the night it was spine-chilling - would keep me awake! Apparently the Heinkels were twin-engined and not well synchronised. Even now, the sound of a piston-engined aircraft in the night brings back all those memories.
Well, there are so many little things that come back, once I get started.... hope these few lines do the same for others who read this.
Greetings from Down Under.

Anonymous said...

Lovely memories, and quite spooky for someone who did a near identical paper round in the 1980s! Also lived in Fircroft for many years and enjoy reminiscing about the school and the clump... thank you for your words