SIXTY YEARS AGO IN MID SUSSEX

IN the days leading up to the D-Day offensive Mid Sussex became one vast military camp crowded with soldiers waiting for the greatest amphibious assault ever attempted.

The whole of the county was effectively cut off from the rest of England as thousands of soldiers prepared for invasion.

Canadians and other Allied soldiers were billeted in private houses across Sussex and, as the count-down to June 6 began, villagers waved the troops on their way as they marched to holding camps near the coast.

Hitler reacted to the D-Day onslaught with Doodlebug vengeance attacks on southern England but the tide had turned and the allied offensive on Normandy paved the way for victory the following year.

CANADIANS SPELT FUN

By early 1944 the defence of the Sussex coast was largely in the hands of the 1st Canadian Army and as Kathleen Rushby from Lindfield recalls, the Canadians "spelt FUN".

They provided children's tea parties, live band music for teenagers and swing-along songs for the mums and dads.

"Apple Blossom Time and Melancholy Baby were just two of the tunes they played," says Kathleen. "We all had Canadian boyfriends and there were quite a few marriages. They probably had girlfriends at home but we were all 'living for today'.

"When D-Day came they went en bloc to the beaches and many were wounded, some fatally. Peace came and we were a little older and perhaps a little wiser but we would never forget how they brightened up those dark days."

Gwen Newcombe recalls: "My most vivid memory is of the children's parties the Canadian soldiers gave in the King Edward Hall, Lindfield. What wonderful parties they were. The Canadians were mostly stationed at Paxhill but many were in houses in the village. They had sweets and chocolates which, to us children, were almost unavailable. I can remember to this day sitting on a Canadian's knee singing You Are My Sunshine."

If the Canadians played hard they certainly worked hard as well, undertaking long route marches to keep up their fitness.

Dorothy Knight ran the New Inn (now The Duck) off Wivelsfield Road, Haywards Heath, and recalls: "The Canadians used to come in with terrible blisters on their feet. We all felt sorry for them. They were billeted in one of the big houses in Foxhill and used to leave little parcels for us on the bar with rashers of bacon, butter, big tins of sausage meat and Spam from America. If you wanted a pair of stockings they always had one or two pairs to spare."

Harold Mighall remembers watching the Canadians as they went about their duties in Lindfield. "They paraded on the Common and used to drive their tanks into the pond to wash them. There were no ducks in those days. We had swans but they had their wings clipped and couldn't fly away! The Canadians covered their tanks with nets to hide them from the air."

VISIT FROM MONTY

ON February, 29, 1944, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Commander in Chief of the 21st Army Group, visited Lindfield to boost the morale of the Canadian troops prior to the Allied landings in France.

Gwen Newcombe recalls: "Monty's visit was very secret but there were whispers in the village that someone very important was coming. As a child the importance of the occasion was not really apparent but we all enjoyed watching the event."

Mothers and children lined the High Street waving their Union flags as the general, standing in his jeep, proceeded from Paxhill to the Common. Having carried out an inspection, he called on the men to break ranks and gave them one of his famous pep talks.

Picture courtesy of Lindfield archivist Gwyn Mansfield. Gwyn says an actor sometimes stood in for Monty to confuse the Germans over the general's whereabouts in the run-up to D-Day. After lengthy detective work, Gwyn tracked the pictures of Montgomery all the way to the Canadian National Archives and was able to verify the general as the real Monty.ID CARDS HAD TO BE PRODUCED

Mid Sussex residents were aware of tightened security down to the coast as preparations for the invasion reached their climax. John Power, who was living in Burgess Hill at the time, remembers: "Any area south of Worlds End was very tightly restricted. The general public were only allowed past the checkpoint, manned by service personnel, upon production of the blue National Identity card and a temporarily issued green I.D card.

"These cards were required when wishing to travel anywhere south, including visits to the Studio cinema at Hassocks or the Brighton Hippodrome.

"When in Brighton I recall seeing a vast number of military vehicles, Bren gun carriers, Jeeps, Quads, field guns and tanks along the seafront, all camouflaged and guarded by servicemen.

"One thing sorely missed was sea bathing, the beach was heavily mined and barricaded and a total no-go area."

Throughout the long night of June 5, the eve of D-Day, Mr Power was aware of air-craft noise filling the skies. "That night, many Lancaster bombers droned overhead, each towing three wooden gliders filled with paratroops," he remembers. "Every Lancaster had one glider attached to each wing, the third was attached to its tail. Sadly, for many of the paratroops, it was a one-way journey."

COUNTDOWN

'I thought at first we were being invaded'

By late May, troops were on the move. Mid Sussex roads were thronged with columns of vehicles and men heading to marshalling camps at Borde Hill, near Haywards Heath, Firle Place near Lewes, Wykehurst Park near Bolney and Stanmer Park in Brighton. The countdown for embarkation from Shoreham, Newhaven and Portsmouth had begun.

"I remember different battalions of troops coming through Scaynes Hill early one morning," says Sylvia Fraser. "I thought at first we were being invaded. My father was a master baker and worked from the early hours. He saw them first and told me they had been marching all through the night. I remember him taking tea out to them. They must have been exhausted, you could see it on their faces."

Nancy Hickman, who grew up in Lindfield, recalls leaning out of the window as a child and waving to the troops as they marched past. "My father saw me waving to them and told me off," she said. "I wondered what on earth was going on. The invasion was more or less hush, hush but we guessed there was something happening."

DOODLEBUGS ARE LAUNCHED

Within hours of the D-Day landings, Hitler launched vengeance attacks with the V1 flying bombs or Doodlebugs. Many people can still recall the sound of the pilotless jet-pulse like a noisy, airborne motorcycle. When the engine died it crashed to earth.

Mid Sussex made history on June 13 when the second doodlebug to fall in the UK was reported at Misbrooks Farm, Cuckfield, at 4.20am. The first Doodlebug had fallen seven minutes earlier in Swanscombe in Kent.

Another was to fall in Cuckfield on August 18 damaging four homes including the village chimney sweep's cottage and a house called Little Ease owned by Dr Evans, a local GP.

Fighter pilots risked their lives trying to tilt the flying bombs off target and back out to sea. Longstanding Cuckfield resident Derek Tidey says: "I saw a fighter plane fly in and touch the wing of a Doodlebug once to try to steer it off course. It came down in the recreation ground at Ansty."

On July 11, a Doodlebug crashed into the cemetery grounds off Western Road, Haywards Heath. Dorothy Knight had moved from the New Inn and was living in nearby North Road when the Doodlebug struck. Her daughter Daphne Geering recalls: "The explosion smashed our conservatory. There was glass everywhere and our cat flew into the back of the settee and wouldn't come out for days, it was so terrified."

Less than a mile away in Lindfield, 7-year-old Gwen Newcombe was excited at the prospect of becoming a bridesmaid later that day. The Doodlebug exploded as she walked up Lewes Road with her mother to catch a bus into Haywards Heath to prepare for the wedding at St Richard's Church.

"We heard the Doodlebug overhead and suddenly the engine cut out. That was fatal because we knew then it was about to come down. My mother and I laid down in a little alleyway by Mr Belcher's cobbler's shop waiting for the explosion.

"There was a tremendous crash and the entire plate glass windows from Masters' store fell out. I remember creeping out of the passageway and looking down the road to see if our house had been struck."

Despite her ordeal, Gwen made it into Haywards Heath for the wedding and heard sirens blaring through the service.

A total of 2,789 flying bombs fell outside London and 350 people died as a result. In London the death toll reached 5,126.