The Canadian Army in Bepton during World War II

Canadian Army West Sussex Midhurs Bepton World War II

During World War II 100 Canadian soldiers lived in our house

Last year we stripped some wallpaper in one of the bedrooms and stumbled across a message scribbled on the wall suggesting that our house had been a billet for Canadian soldiers during World War II. It was an interesting concept so we put our detective hats on to see if we could find out more!

We can’t be certain about the authenticity of the message but it’s very likely that Bepton Grange housed Canadian soldiers during 1941-1942. Many people were evacuated from Sussex at this time and replaced by soldiers from all around the world. In 1942 5,000 soldiers stormed Dieppe in France – the majority of these being soldiers from the Canadian Army who were based in Sussex ahead of the allied assault.

We’ve discovered a  couple of interesting articles about Canadian soldiers being stationed in Bepton and the Midhurst area during the Second World War.

The first interesting article is from the BBC’s website and is an account of a man known as ‘Old Stan the Poacher’ from Bepton by Phillip Pratley…

The earliest memory that I laugh about concerns “Old Stan the poacher”. It was August 1941. I was four and three months. I was along the lane from where my family lived at Bepton, just South of Midhurst in Sussex. Old Stan was showing me his shotgun. Gunfire sounded in the distance, getting louder and closer. We moved out from under the trees into the open by a farm entrance.

Flying towards us was a German aircraft. Years later I was to find out it was on a reconnaissance flight and had crossed the South Downs at Brighton, had turned West and was photographing Canadian Army Camps that streched across West Sussex. The Canadians welcomed it’s presence by shooting it full of holes. When it came into view, it was low, smoking, bits falling off it and daylight showing through it in places. The nearest engine was smoking and streaming what I now know to be the oil and engine coolant.

With professional dexterity, Stan snapped open his shotgun, inserted two shells, closed it, raised it to his shoulder, tracked the aircraft and fired both barrels, all in what seemed a fraction of a second.

I was impressed. There was a pause of perhaps two seconds and almost like an echo to the gunshot, the smoking engine exploded. The plane staggered, nosed down and ploughed into a field across the road. Stan looked down at me with a huge grin and said:

“Now thets wot oi carls shootin’, boy!”.

I was in awe of that man for years after, but I later realised that at the height and distance it was from where we stood, there was no way his shot could have travelled that far.

In another article published West Sussex County Council Library Services, Bepton is mentioned as having a unit of The Home Guard “trained by officers of the Canadian Army stationed in the area”. Here’s a photo of the local Home Guard c/o Polilaceous on Flickr.

Midhurst Home Guard

Reading on the website Canadian Roots UK it’s clear that a very large number of Canadians were based in Sussex during the Second World War. 330,000 Canadian soldiers passed through Aldershot before taking up the defence of the UK while most of the British soldiers were away. “From the autumn of 1941 to early 1944 the defence of the UK and particularly the Sussex coast was largely in the hands of the 1st Canadian Army”.

The Mid Sussex Times describes 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.

So back to the writing on the wall in our house. It’s very likely that 100 Canadian soldiers occupied our house during World War II. It would be lovely to know more about this – who knows, maybe this blog will reach a Canadian veteran and they’ll get in touch. But for now we’ve left the writing on the wall and wallpapered over it again, so that one day someone else will uncover the history of our house for themselves.

Didling Church

Didling Church SussexThe Shepherd’s Church, Didling

St Andrew’s Church, Didling, West Sussex. Didling Church (also known as The Shepherd’s Church) sits alone on the side of The South Downs in West Sussex. Dating back to the 13th Century the church has changed very little in centuries.

Here are a few photos:

Didling Church Sussex

 

Didling Church Sussex

Didling Church Sussex

Didling Church Sussex

Didling Church Sussex

Didling Church Sussex

Didling Church Sussex

Didling Church Sussex

Miranda Kate Ottewill

Miranda Kate Ottewill

We found a message written on the wall behind some wallpaper at our house – a message to the future from someone called Miranda Kate Ottewill.

Miranda wrote “This house is called Bepton Grange. It is shared between Mrs Bourne and us, ‘The Ottewills’. Miss Carnick once lived here but has just died and we have inherited her cat ‘Tibbles’. If anyone finds this they will know it has been written by Miranda Kate Ottewill. Miranda Ottewill – we have your message. Are you out there???

Bedham Church

Abandoned church in Bedham

Just along the road near Petworth is the remains of a settlement called Bedham.

I’d heard about Bedham Church ruins and decided to take a look. The abandoned Victorian chapel nestles at the side of a lane near Fittleworth in West Sussex – but you could easily drive past and not notice it.

Built in 1880, the church was built by William Townley Mitford – the Member of Parliament for Midhurst – and dedicated to Saint Michael and All Angels. Back in the 1870s religious morals and education were considered vital for the rural communities in the Sussex Weald, and many buildings were erected to serve as both schoolrooms and places of worship.

At one time the school had 60 pupils and 3 teachers, but by the end of the First World War the building was falling into neglect and closed as a school in 1925. For a while the building still operated as a church, but in 1959 it was abandoned completely.

Cocking Limeworks

Photos of Cocking Limeworks

Just south of Cocking, tucked out of sight beside the A286 is an old Limeworks and Brickworks dating back to the 1830s.

The works was abandoned in the late 1990s but the site remains pretty much intact. To look around you’ll need to climb though a collapsed fence with a sign stating ‘Danger Keep Out’ (I only noticed the sign on the way out) but once inside it’s incredible. The site is pretty much as it was on the day it was abandoned; a lorry parked up, desks and furniture in offices, storerooms and machine rooms, conveyor belts and pallets of lime…

In its final years the limeworks produced lime and chalk for agriculture and nurseries called ‘Calco’ and ‘Nurslim’. The lime and chalk was extracted from the quarry at the top of the hill and then processed through various crushers before being milled and fired in one of the eight huge lime kilns built into the side of a quarry dating back two or three centuries.

Nature is taking over Cocking limeworks; it’s a delightful juxtaposition between dereliction and regeneration, and well worth a nosey-around if you can.

Here’s a plan of the site from a website called The Derelict Miscellany:

Plan_of_cocking_limeworks

Where is Cocking Limeworks?

Cocking Limeworks is just south of the village of Cocking in West Sussex, hidden in the woods on the left hand side of the A286. There’s no parking.

And a very good description of how the limeworks operated can be found here.

The Germans Bombed Bepton during the War!

German_bomber

Bomb Crater in a Bepton Garden

I recently discovered that our neighbour’s garden pond is in fact an old bomb crater dating back to the Second World War! It’s quite extraordinary to think that Bepton was a target for the Luftwaffe so I did a bit of research to find out what happened…

I came across a publication  called ‘Bombers over Sussex 1943–1945’ by Pat Burgess and Andy Saunders which gives some details of what happened:

“On 4th October 1943, eighteen high explosive bombs were dropped on Bepton shortly after 11pm. Damage was caused at Upper Farm House, Manor Farm and Elsted Railway Station and eleven houses and farm buildings were damaged also. The only casualties were one horse and two cows killed, most of the bombs falling harmlessly in open country or woodland.”

I couldn’t find any good reason for why these German bombs fell on our quiet corner of West Sussex. There were a number of World War II airfields and installations in the local area that were possibly the intended target. More likely however is that this was another German bomber that didn’t reach London, Portsmouth and Southampton that turned tail and unloaded its bomb bays randomly on the English countryside as it headed back home.

If anyone knows any more about Bepton during the war please get in touch.

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons © Thomas Redican