FRONTLINE SCHOOLBOY

 

 

 

By   John Samuel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Samuel joined Reuters from the Brighton Argus in 1954, became the Daily Herald's Deputy Sports Editor in 1960, the Observer's Sports Editor in 1961, and was The Guardian's Sports Editor and subsequently Assistant Editor in charge of Leisure, in the period 1962 to 2005. He attended nine Winter Olympic Games and three Summer Olympics, formally advised BBC Television at Grenoble, Sapporo, Innsbruck, Sarajevo and Lake Placid, authored or edited ten ski books, and collaborated with Henry Cooper on the boxer's s life story. Married to Mary, a Devon woman he met on a Brighton Brunswick cricket tour, he has lived in Mid-Sussex for 50 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From September 1939 to May 1945, pupils of Blatchington Mill, then the Hove County Grammar School, were first-hand observers of history in the making as Britain defied the threat of invasion, the might of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the build-up to the 1944 Normandy landings, and Nazi Germany’s ultimate defeat. Hove-born John Samuel, one of those frontline schoolboys, went on to report VE Day for the Brighton Argus, and to become a writer/editor with three national newspapers, notably the Observer and Guardian. Here, in four episodes, he tells the tale of sometimes dangerous, sometimes exhilarating years.

 

 

 

Scroll Down to each Episode

 

 

 

TAKE ONE

 

 

 

For the Battle of Britain of 1940 and much that followed, the classroom windows of our South Coast boys’ school provided a grandstand view of the Second World War. Funded by local authorities, the school, Hove County Secondary, now the Blatchington Mill Comprehensive, opened in 1936 with a mixture of scholarship and fee-paying pupils. In the nature of the times, the equivalent girls’ school across a cluster of allotments had a quite separate entrance. Both were subsequently re-christened as grammar schools, later still as well-regarded comprehensive schools.

 

 

 

In 1939, as war approached, 'Scholarship Boys' all had to pass their eleven-plus, not only the town boys but also the “train kids” commuting from the up-country areas of Haywards Heath, Hassocks and Burgess Hill. The entrance examination for fee-payers was no less demanding. New and shining, under a fiercely independent headmaster in Doctor Norden, the school stood proudly on the rising Downs, the nearby Blatchington windmill a badge label for its royal-blue blazers and, at that time, blue caps with a silvery ring. .

 

 

 

Little did we know it, but under German Operation ‘Sealion’ invasion plans of 1940, its classrooms and extensive playing fields were earmarked for Von Manstein’s Seventh Corps headquarters. Karl Student’s paratroopers were to drop on the downs behind. Had the invasion succeeded, the SS chief, Reinhard Heydrich, planned slave labour for every able Briton from 16 to 40. That would have included many among us, the newly minted sixth form not least. Hitler's Reich, as most of us by then were aware, was planned to last for a thousand years.

 

 

 

In a matter of days, after Dunkirk and the fall of France, Brighton and Hove’s seven and a half miles of promenade and beach were transformed into battle lines of block houses, mines and barbed wire, not least the surrounds of Shoreham’s Harbour and Airport. One by one, the fashionable houses on the harbour’s westerly bar, once the haunt of film actors and variety stars, were blown up for the guns on Lancing Clump to enjoy free range. Years later, I was to meet one of the officers in charge, the Daily Telegraph rugby union correspondent Dai Gent, a man mortified by what he had to do.

 

 

 

The air battle began to take shape in early August, our school by now 'on holiday'. News travelled quickly by boyhood mouth. A Messerschmitt 109 was down in a field beside Shoreham Airport. I was on my ancient Hercules bike in a trice. You could see the plane, virtually intact, crash-landed in a mature wheat field. A small group of locals were there gaping. 'He were sitting on one of the wings, smoking a fag,' one of them said of the pilot.

 

 

 

The war for many was still unreal. In the lead-up to it, the South Coast might have told them differently. On a 1937 Sunday, there'd been the sight of the airship Hindenburg, hugging our coastline en route from New York to Frankfurt, coming from out of the Western sunset like a blood-red torpedo, swastikas emblazoned on its twin tails. 'Bet it's taking pictures of us,' said my sister, subsequently a Wren telegraphist at the Royal Navy's Orkney base of Scapa Flow. At that moment we sat on the Adur pub steps, cask lemonade in hand, the family just off the Lagoon beach. In that respect, how right she was. In among the crew, they were taking military intelligence photos. Soon afterwards, the Hindenburg’s flaming destruction at its New York mooring was a further augury of the devastation to come.

 

 

 

In the late Thirties, the Mayor of Hove, Alderman Captain H C Andrews, publican at the Grenadier, not far from the school, welcomed Hitler Youth to the town in his capacity as president of the Anglo-German Bund. Heads pressed through the railings of the Hove bandstand arena, we observed a Ruhr mayor, smartly suited, Curt Jurgens handsome, a small swastika badge in his lapel, offer assurance that never again would such cousinly nations go to war. The band would take over with its quicksteps, foxtrots and waltzes.

 

 

 

"Peace in our time" had other omens. At the West Hove junior state school, German and Czech Jewish children, some struggling with their English, began to be a presence. Schoolboy refugees from the Basque and Catalan areas of Spain were given residence in dilapidated Hove seafront properties. No doubting their deft Soccer skills. If we beat them it was by Anglo-Saxon bluff. We did not believe in defeat by foreigners, even if it was our goalkeeper‘s bum that stopped them.

 

 

 

Schoolboys made balsa-wood planes, biplanes like the Hawker Fury now overtaken by the Hurricane or Messerschmitt Bf 109E. Magazines such as Picture Post, Life and Illustrated London News succeeded Wizard and Champion, action pictures galore on the Spanish Civil War, even the Japanese invasion of China. We were fast moving out of the First World War tales of Rockfist Rogan, Biggles and Algy. One boys’ magazine, sadly under-read, visualised a Japanese carrier attack on America’s San Francisco coastline. Our KB radio was a lifeline to the world, whether Hitler’s ranting German or Howard Marshall’s dark-brown voice on Bradman’s Australians of 1938. We raced model Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo cars down West Hove school’s playground tarmac. It was an oddity that an Englishman, Dick Seaman , drove one of the silver Mercedes-Benz cars before killing himself at Spa. The nearby Granada cinema was packed for a Spencer Tracey, Clark Gable or Vivien Leigh film, but life was closing in.

 

 

 

Many of us had fathers or uncles from large Victorian families on the memorial crosses of those vast Flanders cemeteries of World War I. In the barber shops, Western Front veterans, not yet 40, spoke of Jerry …“Always something to throw at you…” Most seemed to hope that Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, was playing for time with the 1938 Munich agreement allowing the Nazis to march in to German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia.

 

 

 

My name was drawn from Welsh rather than Jewish antecedents, but it concentrated my mind. I saw the cinema’s Gaumont British News’s record of the Anschluss, the Nazis preceding takeover of Austria; of Crystal Night, Jewish shop fronts smashed up, withJews badly beaten up or ordered to scrub pavements. I asked my father, “What will happen if the Germans land? With us they won’t know the difference.” Hitler’s ranting voice in the early Thirties had given me nightmares. Of a cowboy suffused in blood dancing on a table, banging away with his revolvers. The doctor said I should be watched for St Vitus' Dance.

 

 

 

Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war on September 3rd, 1939, I heard over the radio of the canteen of H J Green’s ‘Garden Factory,’ off Portland Road, West Hove. My father and the factory’s Sunday watchmen were listening gravely when suddenly the public siren on a gantry immediately over our heads began a mighty wail. . My father had been chauffeur and personal helper to the late Horace Green, his flans, custard powder and sponge mixture “the finest ingredients of Empire.” Now, each weekend, he and his neighbour kept a watching overall eye from our recently built semi-detached. It was a pleasant morning and I’d discarded my brand-new yellow shirt, an 11th birthday present, in the warmth of the morning. A field separated the factory and my house. As I fled across it I could only think, I’ll never see my lovely yellow shirt again. The panic extended to the air traffic controllers. The aircraft setting them off was from Belgium.

 

 

 

We were to grow up quickly. With my air rifle I used the field to shoot sparrows, then deemed vermin, working out trajectories for pigeons in flight. Chaffinches were spared. Soon the field was allotments, my father’s anger reserved for occasions I left out the potato fork overnight. Never, dear man, for my bowling his shiny new cricket ball - a present for topping the 1938 Green’s bowling averages - against a manky wooden fence. In mellow late Thirties days at Hove Recreation Ground, John Green, a Keith Miller of an all-rounder, had bought me one of the new chocolate-caramel Rolos for my work on the scoreboard. He was to die over Hamburg. His brother Philip lost an eye and an arm picking up a German canon shell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the next episode, John Samuel describes the realities of war, and the Battle of Britain in particular, as it begins to hit the Brighton and Hove area, and the School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (C) John Samuel, 2011. Reproduction in full or in part only with his permission.

 

 

 

                                                           FRONTLINE SCHOOLBOY by John Samuel

 

 

 

 

 

From September 1939 to May 1945, pupils of Blatchington Mill, then the Hove County Grammar School, were first-hand observers of history in the making as Britain defied the threat of invasion, the might of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the build-up to the 1944 Normandy landings, and Nazi Germany’s ultimate defeat. Hove-born John Samuel, one of those frontline schoolboys, went on to report VE Day for the Brighton Argus, and to become a writer/editor with three national newspapers, notably the Observer and Guardian. Here, in four episodes, he tells the tale of sometimes dangerous, sometimes exhilarating years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKE TWO

 

 

 

In the second of his memoirs,, John Samuel, a wartime pupil at Hove County Grammar School (now Blatchington Mill), describes the abrupt transition from the Phoney to Shooting War, children not excepted, and, at the height of the Battle of Britain, the crash of a Hurricane aircraft and its tragic consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

Brighton and Hove was firstly a reception area. The Peckham kids, and particularly the Kelly gang, who regularly hi-jacked our bikes in Wish Park, behind Hove Lagoon, were much more the enemy than the Luftwaffe. Only for a time. The Daily Express headline, “Germans in Abbeville,” had only one meaning – our Army in France, the BEF, was cut off. News of the small-boat Armada that helped rescue the Dunkirk 300,000 was sketchy. We did know that our miles of beach and seafront, once so jolly with open-top buses, white-helmeted policemen, and floods of visitors, had become a frontline. And never the same again for seven long years.

 

 

 

Suddenly Wish Park was a target, or so it seemed. Three Heinkel 111 bombers screamed at rooftop height above us as we played schoolboy cricket. Their machine guns opened up, tracers streaming, mostly out to sea. . “Clearing their guns,” our scoutmaster, a good Christian, said later as we loyally manned the waste-paper truck. Shoreham power station was the target, but their bombs fell in the harbour. An uncle of mine supervised the power station‘s turbines. He was to prove the only casualty of the war. A broken little finger.

 

 

 

A handsome man, much our pride in his Home Guard officer gear, he would say of the Germans, “Not so good without their officers.“ He, like my father, had just missed what we still called The Great War, my father only because he’d suffered a heart valve problem which saw him invalided out of the Royal West Kent Regiment, most of whom were massacred in the Germans’ 1918 Spring offensive. From what I had read and seen, I was not so sure about German weakness. Horace Green’s sons sometimes passed on German-made toy trains and cars to my father. They seemed much superior to our own. As did the 1918 German Army gas mask, shown us by our Shiverers Swimming Club coach - his baths soon to become an annexe of HMS King Alfred, Hove’s dry-land RNVR officer training establishment.

 

 

 

As August progressed, on the Southwick downland above my uncle’s house, our two 'holidaymaking' families heard rather than saw a major attack, aimed, we later learned, at Tangmere fighter station, near Chichester. Cloud cover saved it. Ford, the Fleet Air Arm station near Arundel, was blasted instead. Shoreham Airport, as usual, escaped, its air-sea rescue Walruses and Lysanders not deemed worthy of the dive-bombing Junkers 87 Stukas. Heroes they were, as it turned out, rescuing friend and foe alike.

 

August 18, Eagle Day, 1940, was the day Herman Goering, the Luftwaffe commander, determined he would break the RAF, little did we know it at the time. Above our heads in Hove, on a crystal-sharp morning , two RAF Spitfires converged on the tail of a limping Heinkel 111. Everything happened too quickly to register feeling. Suddenly the Spitfires broke away, bits falling off them. They’d collided. Neither pilot had a chance as the aircraft fell like stones from 2,000 feet. One crash-landed by the old Portslade brewery. The pilot was said to be an ace with a dozen kills. The other’s tail protruded from the roof of a house opposite the then school entrance in Holmes Avenue. The Heinkel swung limply out to sea, its Messerchmitt guard wheeling above like anxious gulls. Clearly we were losing almost as many planes as they were.

 

 

 

The difference was that our downed pilots might be back in the air almost immediately. Some were not. On the morning of August 30th I heard a noise that was never to leave my sub-conscious, the shattering scream and thud of a crashing plane no more than 300 yards from my home. Jumping on my bike I was there almost immediately. There was no sign of a plane except a small tail section lodged in the roof of a house next to the allotment where the Hurricane had gone in. The plane proper had disappeared under a brown puddle of mud. There was no crater as such. A lone special constable was leaning on his bike. He could barely speak. "I saw him. Trying to miss the block of flats. He went in with it."

 

 

 

To some archeological surprise, Sergeant Dennis Noble's bones were excavated within the twisted remains of the aircraft in the 1990s. His coffin had been interred in the cemetery of Newark, his Nottinghamshire home town, in 1940, the assumption being his body was within. In fact it was filled with strones. A reburial took place in the Nineties. The aircraft frame, his parachute and log book are now an honoured exhibit of the Tangmere Military Museum. Aged 20, Sergeant Noble had been with 43 Squadron at Tangmere three weeks. 'Not many hours. I don’t doubt, a lonely chap,' said the Museum curator.

 

 

 

For my part, school resumed, the Orpington evacuee girls of St Saviour’s and St Olave’s Grammar School now gone. One by one, too, the gowned and mortar-boarded masters, Oxbridge almost to a man, all but a few of them of military age. Mr Thorpe, head languages teacher, was to have a distinguished service life as a senior intelligence officer to the Eighth Army. Mr Romer, with his Germanic blond thatch and student years in Nazi Germany, some boys cast as a potential Nazi spy. Very soon he was in the Forces, on our side of course, joined among others by Messrs Allen, Forder, Brown, Richardson, Andrew, Brooks, Burnett and Hawking..

 

 

 

In September 1940 it was history we were watching, so it was to the general disappointment that we often found ourselves in hastily constructed school shelters. Dug into a little-used play area hard by the Neville Avenue back entrance, ten-foot diameter concrete sewer pipes were given temporary lights strung above crude wooden platform seats. Instruction was impossible in such a setting. Often we played knock-out whist while the machine guns and canon chattered above. In the breaks we saw the smoke trails above Beachy Head, mazily beautiful in the golden easterly sun.

 

 

 

We were mostly scholarship lads. At West Hove Juniors 100 of us took the 1939 eleven-plus. Six of us succeeded, helping feed three much smaller classes of the same age-group at Hove County. Balsa-plane modelling had taught us a lot (as it had Luftwaffe pilots, some of whom I was subsequently to meet). Luftwaffe flying formations looked to be superior. We had never seen the point in our “Tail-end Charlies” weaving around the back. The single-engined Fairey Battle bombers over-flying us to France in the Autumn of 1939 had simply looked pathetic.

 

 

 

In performance, we knew the Messerschmitt Bf 109E was up with the Hurricane and maybe even the Spitfire. A friend later to join De Havilland said it was better in the climb and dive, and at altitude. Its canon outgunned us and its fuel injection was superior to the Merlin engine‘s carburettor. But it could not out-turn the British. Its undercarriage, we heard, was vulnerable on temporary grass airfields. Its main job was to shield the bombers, not necessarily pick a fight. And they didn’t have Radar, what then we called RDF.

 

 

 

September 1940, and all this was eagerly discussed in the shelters. Our propaganda kept telling us the Germans were much over-estimating their 'kills.' The Little twins, sons of a worldly-wise former Brighton and Hove Albion professional footballer, would sneer, 'Aren’t we the same?' We cheered when we heard the Poles and Czechs were in, little aware of their airwave chatter and the problems it might have for controllers. Schoolboys didn’t know everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his third episode of life as a wartime schoolboy, John Samuel describes the life and death decisions which families had to make. Whether to evacuate to a heavily bombed region, or stay and risk the threat of invasion.

 

 

 

 

 

Spitfire

 

 

 

 

Heinkell lll

 

 

 

 

Junkers 87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairey Battle

 

 

Portslade Brewery

 

 

 

Radar Opertaor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From September 1939 to May 1945, pupils of Blatchington Mill, then the Hove County Grammar School, were first-hand observers of history in the making as Britain defied the threat of invasion, the might of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, the build-up to the 1944 Normandy landings, and Nazi Germany’s ultimate defeat. Hove-born John Samuel, one of those frontline schoolboys, went on to report VE Day for the Brighton Argus, and to become a writer/editor with three national newspapers, notably the Observer and Guardian. Here, in four episodes, he tells the tale of sometimes dangerous, sometimes exhilarating years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKE THREE

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Samuel, in his third wartime memory, describes the life or death decision facing parents on the School’s proposed evacuation to Todmorden, north of Manchester on the Lancashire-Yorkshire borders. Should we stay and risk the possibility of invasion. Should we go - to one of the most heavily bombed regions of England

 

 

 

 

 

 

The daylight Battle of Britain stilled as Winter set in, and the Germans turned to serious night bombing. Our parents, though, were presented with a life or death decision. Should we be evacuated out of invasion’s way to the designated Todmorden? Seventeen miles north of Manchester on the Lancashire and Yorkshire border it was close to some of the most heavily bombed regions. Our headmaster was clearly unimpressed by it, and said so firmly at a sombre Assembly Hall meeting of parents, pupils and masters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together with two-thirds of the school, my parents decided I should stay, invasion or no. Some wealthier parents withdrew their boys to Hurstpierpoint, Ardingly or Brighton College, a loss to the school in general. My parents' choice was to do with the sea. My maternal grandfather was a mariner. Some in my mother‘s family had traditionally manned the Shoreham lifeboat. As children we were required to pray regularly for those at sea. There was an instinctive belief we would not be defeated there. I had dutifully checked Jane’s list of Royal Navy destroyers. The figure was 307, though out of Plymouth and Portsmouth it was probably more like 50. What mayhem they could cause at night. And our hostile coast with its powerful tides - a prime defence. That was the thinking then, and much later confirmed by Mark Arnold-Foster, a news-editing colleague at The Guardian in my later life, but in those days a dashing motor torpedo boat commander in the Channel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Germans, the Battle of Britain did not end until the Spring. Brighton was an obvious navigational aid to the Luftwaffe bomber groups aiming at Coventry. All night long we heard the uneven throb of Dornier, Heinkel and Junkers engines, de-synchronised to defeat the imagined British radar detection. On other nights our northern horizon would glow with London fire raids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the long winter, schooling had resumed some of its shape. Not least, as we later discovered, because a radar-equipped Beaufighter squadron out of West Malling, the Dam Buster Guy Gibson among its pilots, was circling Brighton so that the Luftwaffe swarm had to divert well westwards for its attacks on Belfast, Manchester and Liverpool, costing bomb load as it did so. Finally, on June 22, came the headline that changed everything. 'Hitler invades Russia.' I could only think, even as a 13-year-old, 'We’re saved.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

The process of being saved, of course, was long, slow and costly. As a 14-year-old I could join a grown-up Spotters’ Club. So, on the CVA machine-tool factory roof next door to Green's, I joined Great War veterans in trying to spot the radial-engined Focke-Wulf 190, able to fly low out of the sea-fret, bombs slung under its wings. We were also privy to 'secret' news. The Beaufighter was a pig to land until there was a dyhedral (lifted fins) to its tail-plane. The Westland Whirlwind was a no-go. The Avro Manchester’s two engines left it under-powered. The four-engined Lancaster was being derived from it.

 

 

 

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The invasion threat did not go away with Russia. After the loss of Crete, not so much to paratroopers as to glider-born German Jaeger troops, our playing fields were set with timber telegraph poles. Somehow, football and cricket went on among our contending Houses, York, Windsor, Kent and Gloucester. Playing football for York, I momentarily spotted a Beaufighter plunging nose first over East Brighton, no sound, no parachutes. The thump of foot and ball went on. No-one else had seen it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Hove Park, we chatted with the Canadian tank crews. They taught us soft ball. We showed them cricket. Brighton ice rink saw some of the best ice hockey in the Western Hemisphere. After the Dieppe raid of 1942, they would tell us, 'The Germans were waiting for us.' On the eve of the raid, my bedroom had suddenly turned to daylight. 'Flares' I shouted to my sister and parents. We tumbled down to the cupboard under the stairs, my mother nursing my three-year-old brother Keith, subsequently a Hove Grammar School boy, like myself, on a vacuum cleaner box. I had no control of my jawbone as aircraft engines roared above, the shriek of what seemed a thousand bombs falling around us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were incendiaries as it turned out, and I have to say the CVA next door was a legitimate enough target. Light glowed beyond the black-out curtains, but as my father set out to investigate, blue tin hat jammed on, I’d recovered enough to shout, 'Dad watch out. They’ve explosives with their incendiaries.' Nothing clever. Schoolboys picked up that sort of thing. The small fires slowly burned out and eventually we went back to bed. Next morning, pack on my back, I joined the school group riding our bikes the 50 miles to North Downs farmland , where our August task was to clear tangled copses for planting. No-one knew of the attack. Mr Bell, our master in charge, well into his thirties and one of the few remaining 1939 staff, sheepishly admitted he’d volunteered for RAF educational duties. We thought him a bit crazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At school, things weren’t that bad, among them a refugee Frenchman to teach French, Miss Griffiths, a charming, blonde with Betty Grable legs to look after geography, Mr Bates to keep us gymnasium fit, one of his sons to go on and play for Sussex at cricket. Mr Reynolds engaged geography, music and religious instruction, preparing us well for political debate. 'Jumbo' Griffiths, a diabetes sufferer, looked after languages and cricket. Mr Tabrett, the deputy head, maintained a tough overall discipline, detention and cane to hand, maths and physics drilled in behind lantern glasses with a merciless eye for attention lapse. Six of the best was a painful experience, suffered personally when the headmaster’s wife reported me for having a laugh during a lecture by Jomo Kenyatta, a personal friend of Dr Norden while living at Storrington. He was to become Kenya's first president after the Mau-Mau uprising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his flowing robes, Dr Norden was a theatrical presence, flying silver hair, blazing eyes behind rounded academic spectacles, all the more striking for the cotton wool blobs from his shaving misadventures. One morning he swept into class, chalk raised dagger-like.. 'This was the British Empire in Elizabethan times…' His chalk prescribed a great arc on the first section of the room-width blackboard. Down it zoomed. Then up again in another great arc, the headmaster not breaking stride. 'Here, Victorian times,…' Still striding on. 'And this, now.' The chalk line streaked down off the board, the chalk snapping in half. 'Wonder what the old man’s had for breakfast?,' Pat Gann, son of the Hippodrome variety theatre’s lead violinist, muttered at the next desk. This time I just managed to choke back my laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1942, Brighton looked out on our first Thousand bomber raid, on the Philips factory at Eindhoven. It was a sunset offshore parade of everything that could fly. By 1943, things were different, the Oxfordshire and Hampshire based B17s of the US 8th Army Air Force stacking meaningfully above us, some limping back in aircraft rags. By 1944, sixth formers of my first year, among them Charles Stapley (subsequent star of 'My Fair Lady', step-father of Heather Mills), Peter Gann, (Pat's brother), and Denis Earl, were on the assembly platform bearing pilot's wings, talking about active service life without hint of arrogance. Glamorous it wasn't. Dangerous it certainly was.

 

 

 

Focke-Wulf 190 

 

 

 

 

 

Bristol Beaufighter                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Westland Whirlwind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avro Manchester 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lancaster

 

 

B17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his fourth and final memoir, John Samuel looks at a lighter side of school life – cricket against Australian aircrew. Then of D-Day and the Doodlebug threat as it happened locally. Finally, life as a young journalist before meeting the enemy personally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKE FOUR

 

 

 

 

 

John Samuel , in his fourth and final memoir, recalls lighter moments of his last school days, getting to know the girls, cricket against the Australians, D--Day and a lost school friend, the Doodlebug threat, VE Day and his experiences as a young journalist …finally , life with some of the enemy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

War produced its lighter moments, even for we kids at Hove County. On her occasional leave from Scapa Flow, my sister would arrive at Brighton station from the 600- mile rail journey, rarely more than 40 minutes late. Just as well. There were no mobile phones as I waited.

 

 

 

More often than not she’d scoffed all the NAAFI chocolates she intended as presents. School had long since given up on air raid shelters when sirens went. We retreated only for the shrill public service pips, signalling supposed enemy aircraft within six miles. Often as not they were ours. With Mr March, our groundsman, called up in his late thirties, we now mowed and rolled our own cricket pitches. Australian air crew, resting up from Bomber Command tours in Brighton’s Grand and Metropole Hotels, cheerfully took us on at cricket, putting us in to bat three and four times, scoring 200 or so themselves.

 

 

 

Our cricket team took the lead in tennis matches with the neighbouring girls' school. We were also up for sixth-form dances at Brighton College and Brighton Grammar School, much more relaxed, as it happened, than Saturday nights at the Ralli Hall opposite Hove station. There the boys stood nervily at one end, the girls at the other - until Canadian soldiers moved in with their cries, 'Go get 'em, boys.'

 

 

 

Jimmy Parks Junior, later a Sussex and England wicketkeeper-batsman, had joined the school’s first form, and Jim, his father, 3,000 county cricket runs and 100 wickets in 1937, came from Lindfield to coach us. As first-team cricket captain, I was half serious in wanting young Jim for my first team. I was always cricket mad. On Hove’s County Ground, once hit by a Luftwaffe bomb which failed to explode, we watched Keith Miller and Alec Bedser in their prime, Gubby Allen and Maurice Tate maturely graceful in their senior years.

 

 

 

I had seen Verity’s great seven wickets for nine runs on that last day of County Cricket in 1939. As Hitler invaded Poland, Yorkshire agreed to play Sussex only because of Jim Parks Senior’s benefit. Arthur Wood, Yorkshire’s wicketkeeper, lined us up for autographs, .Len Hutton brushed past, anxious to get home, as they all were. The great Verity would never return from the war, dying in captivity after being struck by German bullets in a blazing Sicilian cornfield.

 

 

 

By 1944, we knew D-Day was coming, but no-one could work out the great blocks being towed westwards close to the shore - the blocks of Mulberry Harbour. I joined the local 176 Air Training Corps squadron, not least to be able to play football on Brighton and Hove Albion’s ground on a Sunday. More to the point, you’d have a 20-year-old Bomber Command pilot, looking all of 30, tell us, 'One navigational mistake, one radar thread outside the stream, and you are gone.' This was 1944, and the German night fighters had never been more dangerous.

 

 

 

Steuart Went, one of the Haywards Heath commuters, reported an explosion in the Balcombe rail cutting, the first V I, or flying bomb, to fall in the area. On the High Weald they could observe the Doodlebug stream and a school lumber camp at Mayfield was cancelled because of it. Brighton and Hove generally missed it, though once I was thrilled to see a radial-engined fighter, the high-speed Hawker Tempest, flip the wing of one of them, tipping its gyro compass so it zoomed harmlessly out to sea.

 

 

 

In July, 1944, I learned of my Oxford School Certificate and London University matriculation, but there were other things in the mind than university. Action so much beckoned and the chance of an editorial place on the Brighton Evening Argus, selling close to 100,000, was not to be missed. Even in the Readers’ Room, where as a copyholder I could learn the techniques of sub-editing from corrections and marks on original copy. Mrs Dean , the head reader, appeared to have inside knowledge. As early as August, 1944, she whispered to me, 'Do you know the Germans have a rocket (the V 2) dropping on Essex.' But school still called. In the 1944 magazine, I was to write an obituary of "Banger" Banks, son of a Hove butcher, one of our Wish Park cricketers, killed in Normandy not long after D-Day.

 

 

 

In the Evening Argus reader's room the news agency reports were on a vast theme as Nazi Germany crumbled bit by bit, and MacArthur and Nimitz closed in on mainland Japan. Promoted to the editorial room in early 1945, I reported Dr G K Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, soft-voiced and gentle, objecting to the carpet bombing of German cities. His audience was about 20, but it was one of the differences, I thought, between us and them, that he was free to do so. I was proud of his words, reflected the next day in newsprint from my clattering Underwood typewriter, though personally unconvinced. Like so many of our time, I believed the Nazi evil should be suppressed in the shortest order by every available means.

 

 

 

Experienced Time-Life and Vancouver Sun journalists were now popping into the Argus and Sussex Daily News office on special leave. Older heads persuaded me not to join them in US Army Air Force uniform to see how the locals (the girls, of course!) behaved with our American allies. 'Supposing the military police get you....'.At the Dome, I rallied a group of school pals to shout for my sister at one of the Dome's Services' talent nights. Among them was Ron Redman, ever willing to help with the cricket bag, son of a Portland Road newsagent, who was to father the actress Amanda Redman. My sister had been coached on Home Fleet variety occasions to sing across the microphone. Too bad. Here it was tuned down for the bawlers and we saw only her mouth open and close. Never mind. A thousand voices took up, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It was the spirit of the times.

 

 

 

So to VE Night, crowds milling round the Brighton Clock Tower, lights ablaze for the first time in six years. And the crowd suddenly parting. A free fight! Incomprehensibly, it was a young man with a club foot and two fingers to each hand, Alan Doyle, a gentle enough boy I had known at school, squaring up to a much older man who, I discovered, was a deaf mute. I did up the police mop-up statistics as a good reporter should. But the fight symbolism? As it might portend for further struggles, for the Cold War, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, at 16, at the height of such relief and exhilaration, I could not guess at it..

 

 Like many before me, I reported at Padgate for RAF service in August, 1946. No aircrew training was available. I re-mustered from ground-crew wireless operator training to clerk, general duties, in an effort to join a former Argus journalist on Cairo‘s RAF News. The Wing Commander said I might regret it. He was right. Almost immediately, we pulled out of the Canal Zone and I was stuck at RAF Records Office at Gloucester, trying to use such journalistic skill as I had to write compassionate letters to long-service families desperately seeking married quarters.

 

 

 

Sport, as ever, was a lifeline. Soccer was frequently against German prisoners of war. Mostly drawn games. All they wanted was a return to their home towns, to a Munster or an Osnabruck, many devastated by our bombing. Often I shared ablutions with them. Our RAF basins at the early-training centre, Compton Bassett, were mostly filthy, the Germans' never. I was liable to a charge, but I cleaned my bowl religiously and never a complaint was made. Our Naafi Craven 'A' cork-tip cigarettes were exchanged for plastic lighters and cigarette cases which the Germans fashioned from RAF spares. They made excellent Christmas presents. The most icy winter of my life was succeeded by a Summer where John Arlott's mellow Hampshire tones on Bradman's 1948 tour could bring the NAAFI canteen to wrapt silence.. Peace it was. But at a price many of us will never discount.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

V1 "doodlebug"                            Spifire pilot bravery - tipping a V1 off course 

 

 

V2 Rocket Bomb - "retaliation weapon" 

 

 

 

 

Viaduct Damage                                        Sandbagged Clock Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawker Tempest

 

 

 

 

 

VE Day Celebrations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE END OF JOHN SAMUEL'S RECOLLECTIONS OF LIFE AS A "FRONTLINE SCHOOLBOY"

 

 

 

 

 

THE AUTHOR

 

 

 

JOHN SAMUEL

 

 

 

John joined Reuters from the Brighton Argus in 1954, became the Daily Herald's Deputy Sports Editor in 1960, the Observer's Sports Editor in 1961, and was The Guardian's Sports Editor and subsequently Assistant Editor in charge of Leisure, in the period 1962 to 2005. He attended nine Winter Olympic Games and three Summer Olympics, formally advised BBC Television at Grenoble, Sapporo, Innsbruck, Sarajevo and Lake Placid, authored or edited ten ski books, and collaborated with Henry Cooper on the boxer's s life story. Married to Mary, a Devon woman he met on a Brighton Brunswick cricket tour, he has lived in Mid-Sussex for 50 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(C) John Samuel , 2011 , Reproduction in full or part only with his permission