I just hope I’ll be ready! When not helping care for my dad with his worsening dementia, and other commitments with family, friends, etc., I have been distracted by exciting new discoveries researching WW2 and the Balsdean Downs, the results of which will now be presented to the Sussex Military Society in January next year.
My most recent discovery was that Rottingdean featured as the westernmost of the south coast landing sites proposed by Hitler in his final plans for Operation Sealion. Apparently the Germans were correct that there were no concrete defences guarding this potential landing site, but it was well defended nevertheless. In G. van Geleuken’s review on Amazon of Martin Marix Evans and Angus Mcgeoch’s book, Invasion!: Operation Sea Lion, 1940;
The coastal area around Brighton was held by “Brocforce”, later to become the 26th Armoured Brigade in the 6th Armoured Division. The Rottingdean sector was held by the 5th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, a machine gun battalion, well supported by mortars and artillery. Right behind that, there were three cavalry regiments (16/5 Lancers, 17/21 Lancers, 2 Lothian & Border Horse) as a mobile reserve, at that time still mostly equipped with Beaverettes and carriers, but also with about a dozen brand new Valentine tanks. In other words, a single German infantry regiment (with a few self-propelled guns) trying to push through that narrow gap in the cliffs would have had no chance at all.
Interestingly, a ‘shoulder title’ belonging to an officer in the 16th/5th Lancers was found in the demolition rubble of Newmarket Farm during our 2013 excavation. From their War Diaries I know they were based in West Sussex during the summer of 1940, but have yet to discover whether they crossed the Adur for an exercise on the Balsdean Downs. They were part of the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade known as “Brocforce”.
The 131st Infantry Brigade – which consisted of three 1st Line Territorial Army battalions of the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) – held a Falmer Summer Camp in August 1939, immediately before the start of the war. One incident generated the headline, BLOKE’S BONCE BARBAROUSLY BASHED BY BLUDGEON – BLUNDER! At the same camp ex-Rottingdean professional footballer James William Thompson led a one week training session.
There are also the – for me shocking – stories of the Auerbach Jewish German refugee family in Balsdean at the start of the war, and Exercise Exodus, which trained Canadian soldiers to fire mustard gas bombs in August 1941 just a kilometre away from the Newmarket Farm where my mother’s family were living.
And lots, lots more…
Hopefully I’ll see you there.