I wrote recently about the invasion that never happened and how it left its marks on Cuckmere Haven. Today I’m going to share with you a couple of small clues about WW2 from the roads around my home here in Meads, Eastbourne.
During the War there were several battalions of the Canadian army stationed here in Eastbourne. They were all from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and from three Brigades – the 23rd Field Regiment from the 4th Brigade, the 1st Battalion Black Watch and Le regiment de Maisonneuve from the 5th, and the Calgary Highlanders from the 6th. I suspect the evidence I see here in Meads traces from the 23rd Field Regiment, who were stationed in Meads between August and November 1943 and on and off over the following months between training sorties to Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain and Peppingford Park, until they finally embarked in July 1944 for Normandy, post D Day, to relieve the British 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) and push on into Holland.
The Canadians used to park their tanks along Upper Duke’s Drive – which runs across the top of my road and leads one way to the coast at Holywell and the other to Beachy Head and Birling Gap – and also along Milnthorpe Road – a normal residential road in Meads. Rumbling the tanks to and fro from these sites to the Downs where they had an artillery range, played havoc with the beautiful Victorian red brick pavements throughout Meads. After the war, the town council decided that rather than privileging restoration in some roads and not others (budgetary constraints being as ever uppermost in their minds) they would split the stock of salvageable red bricks and restore the pavements on one side of the roads only, replacing the other side with paving stones or tarmac. While the red bricks are more aesthetically pleasing they get very slippery when wet so on rainy days I am always happy to walk on the ugly side.
This example is from Meads Village where the right hand pavement is red brick and the left a motley collection of paving slabs.
Another fascinating relic of the war is to be found opposite The Pilot pub in Meads Street. The Pilot was the favoured haunt of the 83rd Battery of the 23rd Field regiment whereas their colleagues in the 31st and 26th Batteries preferred The Ship – a couple of hundred yards down the street. The 83rd had their HQ right opposite The Pilot in what was then Holywell Priory, former home of the Countess of Nouailles – demolished in the 1950s. While the site is now a modern housing development, the retaining flint wall remains and has four embrasures – letterbox-like slits through which one could poke one’s gun at the enemy. It is not known whether the Canadians were responsible for creating these or the Home Guard.
The good news behind all of this is that I am at last doing some writing – my fifth novel which has a working title, The Chalky Sea, is now underway and is set here in Meads during WW2. The officers’ and sergeants’ mess for the 36th Battery was in my own road. When I stare out of the window at the sea, devoid of inspiration, all I have to do is imagine those young men doing the same thing. Twenty-five of the men of the 23rd Field Regiment lost their lives when the 2nd Division finally saw enemy action.
I am indebted to Michael Ockenden’s book Canucks by the Sea for his detailed research into the presence of the Canadian army in Eastbourne during WW2.