Betty Baker - a Schoolgirl in Wartime

I was 14 years old when war started. I remember very clearly the first air-raid warning sounding on the Sunday morning. I had been to Sunday School and was walking down Church Lane. My immediate reaction was one of panic. I could only envisage the opening of the film “Things to Come” which I had seen some months previously. I could hear the menacing music in my ears.  I rushed home as fast as I could.

I was attending the Grammar School at Bexhill, and life went on as usual. We had a Girls’ School evacuated to Bexhill, and we had to share our schooldays with them. In the mornings we had lessons in the school classrooms, then in the afternoons we had to walk to various venues for singing lessons, art and games, while the other girls used the classrooms for their lessons.

In the meantime, my brother Godfrey (Geof to us) was called up. He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment and was stationed at Seaford before being shipped out to Egypt.

I shall never forget the day he left home after his embarkation leave. My mother knew that she would never see him again. Unfortunately, he caught some virus which gave him malignant Endocarditis, and he died in hospital in Cairo. I remember the inevitable telegram coming with the dreaded news. Many of the soldiers of the 1st Btn, Royal Sussex regiment were killed action in the Desert  War of 1941.

From the outbreak of war, we had many different regiments stationed in the village, including Canadians and French-Canadians. The Officer’s Mess was at Priory Court. My dad used to supply them with vegetables, eggs etc., and in return we used to find butter, cheese and bacon hidden under the scraps and stale bread sent down to feed out chickens and rabbits.

The soldiers held many dances in the old Pevensey Memorial Hall. All the young girls used to go and have a good time. The French-Canadians also used to show films there, and we were given chocolates and sweets, which were a real treat to us.

When the Seaforth Highlanders were stationed there, they used to put on a display of marching and the playing of bagpipes in the High Street once a week. The villagers used to turn out to watch them.

At the time of the Battle of Britain, I remember watching the planes engaged in mortal combat in the skies over the marshes. The Spitfires diving and weaving, attacking the German planes and bringing many of them crashing down in flames. We had a Morrison shelter in our dining room, but I can hardly ever remember getting into it.

There was a gun emplacement built on top of the tower opposite to our front door and several more were built in a camouflaged way around the Castle. The Americans had a secret communications headquarters in the inner Castle, and the local people were no longer allowed to go inside the grounds.

My father joined the A.R.P. and with his Red Cross training joined a team with many of his Red Cross colleagues, and they were stationed at ‘Greenglades’, a large house in Gallows Lane.

In 1941 our school at Bexhill was evacuated to Letchworth in Hertfordshire. At that time I left school so that I could help my father look after his greengrocer’s shop in Fielding Terrace, Coast Road, Pevensey Bay. Mycousin, Mavis Brook, went with the school and her friend Audrey Miller went with her.

I joined the Girls Training Corps which used to meet in Westham School. Nellie Putland was an officer, and Elsie Guy was one later. I was a sergeant and used to put them through their drill. I remember we put on a pantomime one Christmas. I played the wicked uncle Abanazer. I think Marjorie Dumper was Alladin and Nellie Putland Princess Baldroupador.

Life carried on mostly quite uneventfully until Dec 16th1942, when a German Bomber was driven back by anti-aircraft fire, so he dropped his bombs before going back across the Channel. One dropped in the crossroads, bounced and went through the roof of the  Newsagents shop (Holman.s Corner) into the back of Bainbridge’s Garage. The second fell directly onto our shop, the third further down the road on a bungalow called ‘Providence Cottage’!

Luckily for me I was not at home, having gone to meet my cousin Mavis off the train at Pevensey Bay Halt.

Excerpt from Wartime Memories of Betty Baker, a pamphlet held in the Society library. The photograph, also  in the Society library, shows a play from the 1940s, probably one of the plays which the villagers put on to entertain the troops stationed locally.

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