Postman George Martin (1908-1976) lived in Seaford, Sussex. During the Second World War he was a volunteer fire-warden and ran the Seaford branch of Toc-H, a Christian organisation which helped visiting servicemen. He witnessed the build up of troops in Seaford prior to the Dieppe Raid of 19th August 1942 and the D-Day landings of 6th June 1944. George was interviewed in June 1974 by Anne & Roger Young and Joan Astell of Seaford Museum. I have a poor photocopy of the original notes held at the museum. I have collated his interview and put it in order, hopefully to make the document easier to read. These are his words…….
During the war, Seaford was an army occupied town. No one was allowed on the seafront, I don’t think anyone went on the beach for six years. There were 5-inch guns on the seafront by Claremont Road. There were others at Tide Mills placed by the main road at the side of the bank there. There was a beautiful Romany encampment nearby, there on the main road in a big pit. They were real Romanies, lovely people, I used to have some great times up there. In the war the pit was filled and one of the gun emplacements was put inside.
We had lots of daylight raiders coming in. They used to come in over Seaford Head at sunrise and machine-gunned the town. They seemed to like the November weather. You were living day by day then. There were very few people around as most of the people had been evacuated.
I remember one night when our planes were coming back from a raid and three of them came down on the seafront. They all pancaked into the groynes – one, two, three – right opposite the Esplanade Hotel. There was a pretty rough sea going on and we went down there with the police and some of the troops who were on sentry duty and assisted getting the airmen out of the planes. One of them nearly drowned as he wanted to go back in there and rescue his pigeon, they always carried pigeons with them. He fought us to get back onto the plane to get that pigeon, and he got there too. Afterwards was absolutely exhausted, nearly out on his feet – it is surprising what some men will do.
Before the Dieppe Raid, Seaford was full of Commandos. They had been in town billeted in the Crouch Gardens for a fortnight – no one knew they were there but then they let them loose. They were going round from house to house for people to put them up, but of course the so-called ‘Society’ in Seaford said “You can’t use my house” and the like – some Seaford people are still like that. Anyway they eventually got round to us – we lived in Sutton Drove then (Old Manor Cottage), I was out when they first came so they spoke to my sister who lived with us with her baby daughter. She told them she would have to speak to me first and they said “Don’t worry we will find somewhere else.” They looked so dishevelled no one would take them in so when I got home I went out and found them and said they could stay with us. They said “Don’t worry about us, we sleep together but we wouldn’t half like a bath, we don’t want for two, only one.” So I said “ I’ll light the fire”. They looked terrible – I don’t think that they had had a wash for two weeks. They were the nicest people you could wish to meet. Brian Reeves and Frank Clark. They had just come back from the Lofoten Islands off Norway where they had been living with the inhabitants for six months. They were surveying the area so that when our lads went in, they knew where to go. They used to make my hair stand on end telling me about the things that they had done. We were all sworn to secrecy of course – mother couldn’t take it and went to bed! Always playing chess they were. They never had a key to come in the door to our house. You would lock the door at night time and in the morning there would be a note saying ‘Gone to bed – don’t require food’
NOTE: Operation Claymore was a Commando Raid on the Lofoten Islands, off the northern coast of occupied Norway on 4th March 1941. Oil tanks used by the German Navy were blown up, shipping sunk and over 200 nazis were capture. Perhaps the most important aspect of the raid was the capture of a German Enigma machine. It is clear that the two commandoes hand landed on the island prior to the raid.
One of the commandoes was from the Manchester Guardian so he needn’t have joined up but he was walking home one day when he saw his parents house go sky high. He turned around and enlisted straight away. He said “Put me in the Commandoes because I am going to have as many Germans as I can for killing my parents” – and he did too.
Before the Dieppe Raid they were reconnoitring the French coast. They used to go over every night in these commando speed-boats. The M.T.B’s would take them so far across and then they would get into the small high powered launches. Peter Scott was in charge of the flotilla at Newhaven then.
Seaford was full of Canadians. The Surrey Convalescent Home became a Red Cross Hospital. All the schools had been evacuated. The Navy had St Peters School but the Canadians had St Wilfrid’s, Tyttenhanger, Ladycross, Seaford Ladies College, Chesterton, Stoke House and Newlands. The Canadians made the Downs School their Headquarters. It was freezing in there and they had no coal so they stripped all the old wooden panelling – well everything – to burn as it was their only form of heating.
The Canadians also had Corsica Hall. There were big dances up there every week and everyone used to go. They had their own dance-bands and they were fantastic. It was the same with the football, you had the most fantastic football in Seaford during the war. The Canadians used to play the English PT Instructors from Newhaven Fort every Saturday at the Crouch. When the Germans dropped a bomb on the Crouch there was a crater which was easily as big as a two storied house. Well they weren’t having that, so they commandeered everything on four wheels and took all the sand from Seaford Head and filled up the crater so they could play that afternoon!
There was also an American contingent in Seaford. It was the Americans that put in the roads up on Seaford Head using concrete from the Newhaven Cement Works. They had look-outs and their ducks up there. They used to fire out to sea at two permanent targets on buoys.
Then there was the Dieppe Raid. The poor devils were playing in the band at the Crouch Gardens on the Sunday, the next evening they all went out and that was it – very few of them came back.
During the War I ran the Seaford Toc-H. I got a banner put up at the church so if any blokes from Toc-H came to Seaford they would see it and get in touch with poor old Reverend Maxwell. He would send them round to my place to get a meal. I would scrape up some raisins and flour and knock up a few rock buns but sugar and tea were a nightmare to get hold of. One visitor was Captain Cosham of the Pioneer Corps. He was a tiny, dapper little fellow who had been through the 14-18 War. I had never seen a man so decorated and invited him to speak at my next Toc-H meeting. When he walked in all the men stood up but he was having none of it. Pointing to his medal ribbons he said “You needn’t admire my herbaceous border – they are all self planted!” He used to visit me after the war.
NOTE: The Seaford Branch of Toc-H was established in 1932 by Mr Pat Johnson. Meetings were held at the Clinton Hall.
We also had A.T.S. girls stay with us. They used to come down and wash out their smalls in the sink in the kitchen. They would sleep in the Morrison shelter in the kitchen having spent all night on the guns. I would think nothing of getting home and finding toes pushed out of the bottom of the shelter. They used to get me to wash their hair. I used to stand over the sink and shampoo and wash the hair of seven or eight girls. After the war they wrote to me and some even visited with their husbands.
Just before D-Day all the tanks were lined up at Tyttenhanger School and in Sutton Avenue on the left hand side – that is why you have such a wide pavement there so that they didn’t get stuck in the mud.
I was on duty on top of the Ritz Cinema when an old Sergeant came in when he was doing his rounds – he would often come in for a cup of tea. He said “If you hear a lot of movement don’t worry, there may be a bit of trouble about tonight” I never thought anything of it as we were always getting these false alarms then all of a sudden a large bright red flare was sent up over Seaford. You couldn’t face it as it was so bright. I closed my eyes but could even see it through my eyelids – it nearly pulled my eyes out. I think it may have been sent up as a distraction for D-Day as most of the invasion left from down west.
Seaford had anti-invasion defences on the beach. There were also oil pipelines for setting the sea alight. There was one oil tank in Bishopstone churchyard and another in the fields by the path that runs between Seaford and Bishopstone via Grand Avenue. You can still see the white ring of chalk when it was. The pipeline took up a huge amount of space where the sailing club now is. That’s where most of it came out but some of the pipeline went along the beach almost to the Esplanade Hotel. The pipeline was the first thing they removed when the war finished.
There were four wooden towers between the Buckle and Newhaven. The tops were covered with canvas and I think they were look-outs. They were not very substantial, after the war they threw a chain around them attached to a bulldozer and they were gone.
After the war I was in the Dramatic Society. There was a play where I was a Station Sergeant and I needed to have a book on the desk in front of me so I used my old Boots Diary which had all the names and addresses of the people I met in the war in it. On the Saturday night the cast went for a sing-song and when I went back on Sunday morning the diary was gone. If anyone left me a fortune, I would spend it in trying to find the people we knew in the war. All of them were very nice.
Note: George was correct about the invasion-defences. Experiments had been conducted at Newhaven Harbour to set the sea alight and proved to be successful.
Two massive oil tanks were installed at Bishopstone with two long pipelines passing under the A259 to this spot at the Buckle Bridge. The small brick bothy was designed to hold the valves which would have been opened to allow the oil to drain into the sea. The pipes would have gone under the railway bridge and out to sea close to the present-day sailing club.
A few years ago I spoke to Gordon Cornford who lives near Maresfield. As a teenager Gordon was too young to be called up but became a member of the Auxiliary Fire Brigade and was based at the fire-station at Uckfield. Every other week he climbed on board the fire tender and drove to Seaford for a 6pm to 6am duty. The pumps of the fire engine were attached to the oil pipes either here or in the village. They then had to ‘stand by’ for the night should there be an invasion. Gordon tells me that this meant that most of the time he got to sleep in the engine. Should the call have come, the fire-engines would have pumped the oil into the sea.
Today the brick structure, looking a little like a lost bus-shelter remains in place and if you brave the nettles and weeds you can still see the war-time pipelines and valves inside. Few people know its secrets.
4 Comments Add yours
My dad used to be a fire watcher in Seaford before he was called up.I have a diary of his that records some of what he saw .
Hello Chris, Sorry to be so slow on the uptake, I would love to see a copy of your fathers war-time diary. Are they scannable. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org which I monitor more regularly!
my father was one of the people who would operate the pipe line –they were in a hut opposite what is the rookery—he was one of the few people allowed on Seaford beach he had a pass that he had to show
Hello Patrick, Sorry for the slow reply! My email is email@example.com for a quicker response. Thanks for the information about the pipe-line. Do you have a copy of the pass? it would be interesting to see. Cheers Kevin.