Thursday, July 27, 2017

*Blog Tour*: Sussex during World War Two by Merryn Allingham

Hello readers,

today I am thrilled to welcome Merryn Allingham to fit & beautiful heart reads on her first stop of her blog tour to celebrate her new novel The secret of Summerhayes which will be published today. Merryn starts of with a guest post on the historical background of her new novel.

Sussex during World War Two
Sussex was heavily involved in the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk in May 1940, fishermen and boat owners responding immediately to an appeal from the government. Over 850 vessels, fishing boats and pleasure boats alike, took part in the mission and rescued over 200,000 British troops.
But evacuation doesn’t win wars and when France fell on 17 June, the British people stood alone, braced for invasion. Leaflets were issued by central and local government urging people to stand firm ‘if the invasion comes’. The flat coastline of the county was ideal for landing troops and tanks from invasion barges, and under Hitler’s Operation Sea Lion planned for September 1940, Sussex would have been part of the bridgehead of the German 9th Army.
Through the hot summer days of 1940 and into early autumn, conflict raged in the skies over Sussex, its inhabitants eye-witnesses to the dog-fights as the ‘Few’ beat back the Luftwaffe in their attempt to clear the way for invasion. One resident recalls that, as a child, he saw a German pilot hedgehopping his way across the county and smiling and waving to the children playing in the fields below.
All along the Sussex coast, barriers of six feet high concrete anti-tank blocks, ‘dragons’ teeth’ as they were called, were built along the exits of every beach, and square or hexagonal machine-gun pill-boxes erected on sea fronts, at road junctions, and at other strategic points to form ‘stop lines’ to prevent an inland advance by the enemy.
The Canadian Army manned coastal defences between Newhaven and Worthing, while the whole of Sussex was used as a training ground. Canadian soldiers in The Secret of Summerhayes spend long days tramping the Downs, fording rivers and ‘landing’ on beaches.

Residents made a very large contribution to the war effort. Women were recruited to staff the factories and also to play their part in the fields through the Women’s Land Army. ‘Our life was haunted by leaking wellies, damp socks, hunger and fatigue’ wrote one land girl who, for 45 shillings a week, worked a 1000 acre farm near Chichester. Even with the Land Girls’ best efforts, food supply remained a problem. Ration books were issued in September 1939 and food rationing began in January 1940. Bethany, the heroine of The Secret of Summerhayes is overjoyed to be given three ‘real’ eggs as an unexpected gift. For one week at least, the egg powder could stay in the cupboard!  

The formal German surrender was taken by General Montgomery at Luneberg Heath on May 4, 1945. Tuesday, May 8 was declared a public holiday, VE (Victory in Europe) Day. The celebrations took many forms: bonfires blazed along the top of the Downs, effigies of Hitler were burnt, people danced and sang – Good old Sussex by the Sea featured heavily. One of the most popular ways of celebrating was to forget rationing for a day and hold a street party. One little boy, given lemonade, cake and ice cream (unheard of luxuries at the time) was heard to ask ‘Is peace like this everyday?’