By Michael Cawte

More Memories of a Small Boy living in Newhaven 1943/46

I have mentioned living in my grandmother’s house for these 3 years. Her name was Ada Robinson. My grandfather who I don’t remember was, I believe, a steward on the Dieppe ferry. My mother later told me that my first trip abroad was to Dieppe in 1939. I was 3 years old so can’t confirm it! Did Southern Railway employees get cheap fares? My grandmother had sepia photos of soldiers who were billeted in the house during the first world war. I can’t imagine what sort of landlady she was but being a Queen Alexandra nurse she could at least have dealt with any cuts or bruises. 

Coming back to my own memories, running errands was an everyday occurence for any small child. There was the shop across the road, and fish and chips from the chip shop in Elphick Road. A loaf (hot) from the bakers in the same road was 4d if I remember rightly. There were steps up to door of the baker’s but beside the shop was a long flight of steps downward to the road below. Fetching live fish in from the fishmongers cart was another chore. But mostly we were free to roam. We wandered as far as the beach inside the breakwater and learnt to swim there, jumping off the steps at high tide. Playing ‘chicken’ along the breakwater when rough seas thumped against the back and then cascaded over was exciting and no doubt dangerous. Your subscribers have already mentioned this and the other dodgy practice of sliding down the slingrods under Denton bridge and walking across the pipe before climbing up again. If the tide was in the water lapped against the pipe and if it was out you faced a drop into a very unappetisingly muddy river bottom! We did safe things of course. There were the swings in the corner of the rec., a glass of Vimto for a penny or so in a little shop in Bridge Street, going to the cinema, sometimes asking an adult to take us in if the film was unsuitable for kids. I can’t believe we did that! Fishing was always popular, sometimes off the breakwater, under the swing bridge, off the wooden jetties along the Lewes Road river bank and always with hand lines. A few whiting and lots of little crabs was the best we could do except when we ventured to Piddinghoe ponds where with homemade rods were we might get the odd roach.

We made wooden planes with penknives and I can remember once or twice being taken by my mother to Brighton and being bought an Airfix balsawood model plane to make. Covering the airframe with some sort of special paper and coping with sticky fingers from the adhesive are my abiding memories. Saturday morning cinema in Lewes was a must. Tarzan was favourite with The Lone Ranger a close second. The whole cinema cheered when the goodies were beating the baddies. We went to Lewes on the train and trains were of interest because we collected engine numbers with the help of  Ian Allen books. Merchant Navy, West Country, and Battle of Britain class locos were great catches. We had a few Dinky toys but they were hard to come by. There was a little shop on the corner of Norman Rd? and Brighton Rd which now and again had some in. I remember a shop window, perhaps in Norman Rd, which featured a model elephant with moving trunk. Was it a Fremlins Ale advert? We admired the Southdown Bedford Duple single decker buses, fascinated by the bucket dredger at work, and also the shearlegs, puzzled by the weather cones on the corner of the harbour and the beach area. Funny how these things stick in one’s mind. We were’nt dressed like the fashion kids of today. In my case it was black lace-up boots complete with as many studs or segs as could be fitted (to facilitate sliding down pavements ), long socks down round the ankles, short trousers, a shirt and jerkin of some sort. I don’t think adults  were much concerned with fashion either. We did find time for school. Mr. Glenister and Miss Wheatley come to mind, but apart from playing marbles and cigarette cards against the wall I have no recollection of the lessons. Shape of things to come perhaps. I have a sudden memory of boils and hot poultices. Sadism.

The war impinged on all our lives albeit in rather exciting way for us kids. We knew what it was all about and had, lets say, strong feelings regarding the other side. Being pulled out of bed when the air-raid sounded to crawl into the Morrison shelter was fairly common. Then back to bed with the all-clear. We knew the sound of German bombers because their Junkers Jumo engines made a very distinctive ‘thrumming’ sound. Sometimes while out for the day we would watch an encounter between the RAF and Luftwaffe. I particularly remember the incident referred to by another contributor where a Spitfire, fatally damaged by it’s tangle with a doodlebug, came low over the town, with the pilot struggling to open the canopy, and crashed just beyond the town, saving a lot of lives in the process no doubt. I seem to remember there was a searchlight positioned on the landward end of the breakwater. There was a small exhibition of captured German bits and pieces in a (empty) shop at one point .I recall a large army motorbike and an inflatable dinghy. At another time there was an E-boat tied up in the harbour.  Preparations for D-Day were very evident by the convoys of allied army vehicles coming down Lewes Rd. Tracked vehicles churning up the road surface, bren gun carriers, Bedford, Chevrolet, and Reo trucks, US soldiers with sweets and chewing gum, and, highly prized by us, Canadian Sweet Caporal cardboard cigarette packs with silhouettes in three elevations of enemy planes on the back. There was a rumour that Montgomery was in the town one day but perhaps that was his double!

Well that’s my somewhat disjointed memories finished with. There may well be inaccuracies and errors. Put that down to advancing years.

This page was added by Michael Cawte on 29/06/2010.
Comments about this page

If I might add some more small details to my memories. There was a Brian Murphy living at the top of Lawes Ave. Ring any bells? Also I've mentioned a Mr.Glenister at school. The name may have been Bannister. He will have been the Headmaster. Finally, regarding the wartime, I didn't mention the schrapnel collecting and the impressive knowledge of fighters and bombers, both theirs and ours, which young boys acquired.

By Michael Cawte
On 05/07/2010

Michael I believe we may be related. I have been researching the Robinson family. Mary Ada Ranger was married to Joseph William Robinson and one of the children was Violet Alice M. Robinson. Mary and Violet were both recorded in the 1911 Census as living in 12 Lewes Road, although Joseph was not; this probably because he was at sea as in the 1891 Census he was recorded as a ship's steward. Joseph appears to have died in 1942. Joseph was the brother of my mother's father (Ernest Edward Robinson) and so Violet was my mother's cousin. I also know that Violet married William J. Cawte in 1931. Ernest Robinson and his family lived in 32 Harpers Road in the 1911 Census. Hope this is of interest to you. Graham Norris

By Graham Norris
On 23/07/2010

Re your memories of the spitfire coming down, I seem to recall it crashed at Foxhole farm. With regard to the D Day preparations, I  remember the tanks well, especially the bren gun carriers coming down Brighton Road as one decided to swerve off the road and crash through the front of our house, number 58. That was quite exciting for us kids but mum and dad didn't appreciate it much!

By Alan Collington
On 02/08/2010

Thanks for these evocative memories. I lived in Newhaven 1947-54 (father was Rector). At the Boys' School the Headmaster was Major Glenister (a big man - I can still see his round face with red complexion and little moustache). As well as Miss Wheatley, other teachers were Mr Burt (so spelt, I think), Miss Curry, Mr Funnell, Mr Hersee, Mr Marson, Mr Ray. Up to 1948 there was also a little Frenchman called M. Lapierre, known as "Biff", who wept as he addressed us all on his retirement! The Girls' School head was Miss Alice Wadeson, with whom I lived at Bishopstone in 1955-56, while doing A-levels at Lewes C G School. Happy memories!

By Tony Evans
On 24/10/2010

I remember Mr Lappierre crying in the hall at his retirement. He used to sneeze and spit on the floor and rub it in with his foot. No one wanted to sit in the front row. We called him "Biff" because he used to knuckle punch you in the arm muscle if you were up to something. He was a lovely man for all that, he lost a large estate in French Madagascar, so he told me in later years. We used to ask him to sing "The Crocodile on the Nile" song, do you remember that. "To me rap fa la la bull man tip. To me rip fa la la dee." That school was the best and the teachers the same.

By Jack Patten
On 18/12/2010

I remember Mr. Lapierre very well, he taught me at Hill Crest Rd School. He had a short leather strap which he slapped you on the palm of your hand if you were naughty. He was a good teacher and had a road named after him on the valley estate, ie. Lapierre Road. I think he was a councillor on Newhaven District council.

By John Skinner
On 02/04/2011

I can confirm that Lt. General B L Montgomery, HQ SE Command did indeed visit Newhaven personally on 26 November 1941, when he visited the then newly completed Royal Naval subterranean intelligence gathering centre known as HMS Forward at South Heighton. Newhaven Local and Maritime Museum has custody (by kind permission of The Guinness Trust) of the HMS Forward visitor's Book in which he has recorded his visit. Visit www.newhavenmuseum.org.uk for details of Newhaven Local & Maritime Museum opening days/times.

By Geoffrey Ellis
On 08/05/2011

Your memory of the American soldiers handing out chewing brought back memories. In August 1944 I was in a small hamlet in France which was liberated by the Americans. By then I remembered very little English as I was now 10 years old and had been in France since September 1939. The soldiers handed us chocolate and chewing gum. We had abolutely no idea what it was. They were strips on which it said something about making teeth white or some such thing. The other kids asked me what it was as I was supposed to be the English expert and I replied that it must be something to do with cleaning the teeth!

By Lily Blin
On 18/09/2011

Does anyone remember Patrick John Sullivan who went to school in Newhaven, late 1930 -1940's, his mother was Florence May Sullivan could have been under the name of Clarke they lived in Meeching Road any information appreciated.

By Yvonne Gregory
On 02/08/2013

I remember dad talking about the dog fight but I don't think the plane came down on uncle Tom's farm (Foxhole farm). I'm sure he said it came down in the fields on the sea side of the Drove.

By Dave Folwell
On 20/03/2014

I remember the nodding elephant, it was in Fremlins off licence in Meeching Road. Years later when I was a carpenters apprentice we had to clear out the place and do a lot of refurbishment, while working in the cellar we got very dirty I think it must have been the coal hole. Keith who I worked with put in for a dirt money, he got a bar of soap in his paypacket he was not very amused. I can remember my dad trying to buy the elephant but they wouldn't sell it to him.

By Terry Howard
On 21/03/2014

Hi Terry, I may be having a "senior moment" again but my memory is telling me that the nodding elephant of Fremlins Off license was in South Road, opposite side to the Dry Cleaners. One thing I do remember, is hunting for empty beer bottles to return and collect the threepence deposit. Often came out with a Shilling, then it was "off to the pictures". Pennies and shillings, what were they?.

 Think you may be right on this one Colin, I believe it was ran by a Mr Ted Kingswood then after him Mr & Mrs Eric Skippen.

John - Editor

By Colin Brandon
On 22/03/2014

Oh dear have I got my roads mixed up, was it almost opposite Horace Horsecraft's shop? So its me having a senior moment and I have only been away since 1971. I must be due a trip over soon to reacquaint myself.

Not quite Terry, more like opposite the "Haven Cleaners"

John - Editor

By Terry Howard
On 22/03/2014

On many trips to the seaside at Newhaven, I remember my Grandparents pointing out a corner property on Lewes Road where my Grandfather had been billetted ( or was my Grandmother a paying guest?) while he was stationed at a camp for "conchies"  in Seaford towards the end of WW1. Later, "Ranji" Robinson lived with/near them in Lingfield, Surrey. I remember his sister, Violet, known to me as "Auntie Girlie" because she hated her first name. I spent the summer of 1966 as a waiter in her B&B in Weymouth, and last saw her in Lowestoft around 1970.

By John West
On 21/01/2015

Hello John West. Girlie was my mother. If you could tell me of your memories of her I would be most grateful because having left home to work at 15 in London missed quite a few details of her life. Your surname rings a faint bell. I remember being taken as a child by Girlie and my father to Lingfield and staying in what seemed to be a fine house on a corner. Ranji, my uncle, was also present. The house boasted a dinner gong! The master of the house had just ordered a new Hillman Minx if my memory serves me correctly.

By michael Cawte
On 15/03/2015

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