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.

The Germans Bombed Bepton during the War!

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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

Memorial to a German Pilot near Didling

Memorial to a WWII German Pilot on The South Downs Way

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I came across a small memorial next to The South Downs Way near Didling today – dedicated to a 25 year-old German Pilot called Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann who was shot down and killed over The South Downs on the 13th August 1940. 

Oestermann was flying a Ju88 bomber as part of Luftwaffe KG 54 Bomber Group on the first day of Germany’s offensive against the RAF ahead of their planned invasion of Britain. The German bomber was downed by a British Hurricane, piloted by Pilot Officer Mayers of 601 Squadron flying out of nearby Tangmere Airfield just a few miles east of Chichester.

Two other airmen from the German plane parachuted to safety and were captured. Ironically, the British Hurricane pilot was shot down later that same day over the English Channel. Mayers suffered leg injuries but survived.

One thing that struck me about the memorial is that it is still well tended by local people and passers-by using The South Downs Way. Seeing a British Remembrance Day poppy on a German war memorial is a poignant reminder of all the lives lost during the Second World War – regardless of their nationalities or beliefs.

Ich stieß auf ein kleines Denkmal neben der South Downs Way in der Nähe diddling heute – steht für eine 25-jährige deutsche Pilot namens Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann, die nach unten und wurde erschossen in der South Downs am 13. August 1940.

Oestermann flog eine Ju88 Bomber als Teil der Luftwaffe KG 54 (Bomber-Gruppe 54) am ersten Tag der Deutschland den Angriff gegen die RAF vor ihrer geplanten Invasion Englands. Die deutschen Bomber wurde von einem britischen Hurricane, Pilot Officer von Mayers von 601 Squadron fliegt aus der nahe gelegenen Flugplatz Tangmere nur ein paar Meilen östlich von Chichester pilotiert abgeschossen.

Zwei weitere Flieger aus dem deutschen Flugzeug mit dem Fallschirm in Sicherheit und wurden gefangen genommen – während die britischen Piloten auch Mayers wurde nach unten gedreht später am selben Tag über den Ärmelkanal. Mayers erlitten Beinverletzungen, aber überlebt.

Eine Sache, die mir von der Gedenkstätte getroffen ist, dass es immer noch gut von der lokalen Bevölkerung und Passanten mit dem South Downs Way neigten. Seeing ein Gedenktag Mohn auf einer deutschen Gedenkstätte ist eine rührende Erinnerung an all die Opfer des Zweiten Weltkrieges verloren – unabhängig von ihrer Nationalität oder ihres Glaubens.