Review of Meetings 2018


January

The SOE and its Relationship with Tangmere Airfield

A full house consisting of members and guests of the Yapton & Ford Local History Group welcomed their first guest speaker of 2018. John Gradwell, a volunteer at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum and an ex radio operator for the RAF, lifted the veil a little on the clandestine goings on at Tangmere airfield during the Second World War.

John started his illustrated talk by giving a little background information on Winston Churchill’s brainchild, The Special Operations Executive (SOE) which recruited and trained men and women as agents to work undercover in occupied Europe. Their headquarters were located in 64, Baker Street London under the command of Colonel Maurice Buckmaster. His second in command was Vera Atkins, a Romanian of Jewish parents, who had started off her career in the SOE as a typist.

Initially Halifax bombers, based at RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire, were used to drop agents into France by parachute. It soon became clear that it would be more effective if the agents could be flown in to enemy territory by light aircraft which could land in small fields at night, drop off their passengers and fly out any personnel who required a passage back to Britain. The Lysander, after a few modifications, suited the task admirably. A permanent ladder was fixed to the side of the fuselage for quick exit and access and an auxiliary fuel tank was attached underneath which increased the range from 600 to 1000 miles.

Lysander

Tangmere airfield was chosen, because of its location, as the base for operations to and from France. As a result, a detachment from 161 Squadron was re-located to Tangmere under the leadership of Group Captain Hugh Verity. 279 missions were undertaken by his pilots, ferrying into France 293 agents and flying out 410 men and women. This higher number was accounted for by ‘downed’ pilots and escaped POW’s helped by the French Resistance.

The pilots of these unarmed aircraft were praised by John who highlighted a couple of incidents as examples of their courage. One such pilot was Flight Lieutenant was Jimmy ‘Mac’ McCairns, a young spitfire pilot who had flown with Douglas Bader. He was shot down and crashed landed at Dunkirk. Fortunately, the spitfire didn’t catch fire because McCairns was trapped, unable to open his cockpit. He was eventually freed by the Germans and taken prisoner. He attempted to escape several times over the next few months and eventually succeeded, making his way to Gibraltar with the help of the Resistance movement. From there he was flown back to Britain. On his return he volunteered to fly Lysanders for the SOE and ended the war with many decorations including the DFC with two bars, the Military Medal and the French Croix de Guerre. Another pilot singled out by John was Robin Hooper who, on landing in France, his aircraft became stuck in mud. A pair of bullocks from a neighbouring farm were employed to pull the Lysander out, allowing Hooper to fly back to Tangmere.

It was the agents that John mostly concentrated on, especially an Indian princess by the name of Noor Inyet Khan, who was born in Russia, the daughter of a Diplomat. Her family moved to Paris where she went to University and became fluent in French. With WW2 being imminent they moved to Gordon’s Square in London. She joined the WAAF’s and trained as a wireless operator and it was while she was there that she came to the attention of the SOE. After training she was sent, in June 1943, to Paris where she was the only operator and so working with her French contacts, Henri and Renee Garrie, under her codename of Madeleine, she did the work of three agents.

Noor Inyet Khan
Secret Agent

Shortly after her arrival several members of her resistance network were arrested by the Gestapo, but she refused to leave and moved from place to place sending messages back to London while evading capture. She was eventually betrayed by her French contact, Renee Garrie, who was jealous of her. She escaped from prison but was recaptured a few hours later and returned to her prison in June 1943 from where she was taken in November 1943 to a prison in Germany. Here Noor was kept in solitary confinement and tortured but she refused to give away any information. Eventually in September 1944 she and three other women SOE agents she was transferred to Dachau where, on the 13th September, they were shot. In 1949 she was awarded the George Cross posthumously for her courage.

Allen Misselbrook
March 2018

 

February

Trams of Brighton

Ian Gledhill made a return visit to the History Group for their February meeting. The topic of his talk on this visit was the Trams of Brighton. Trams, invented in America in 1832 and called Street Railways were horse drawn. They had an inherent design problem. Unlike todays tramrails, the controlling element keeping the carriages on the track was a raised step which was rather inconvenient, if not dangerous, for other road users.

In 1860, after a visit to America, George Francis Train brought the idea back to Britain and started a tramway service in Birkenhead complete with steprail. It didn’t take the Government long to pass a bill banning the steprail, this they did in 1870. Initially Trams could only be privately owned but by 1890, Local Corporations could buy into them. During the 1990’s horse power gave way to electric power which meant that by the time a tram service was set up in Brighton they were electric powered. The first tram in Brighton ran from the Aquarium by the pier to Lewis Road in 1901. This initial route was quickly followed in the next three years by others to give an extended tram service to Brighton.

Birkenhead Tram

Proposals were put forward to extend the service to Shoreham and then on to Worthing and Littlehampton. Tracks were laid in Shoreham and extended eastward towards Brighton while at the same time Brighton’s network was extended westward towards Shoreham. Both operations came to a grinding halt, one at Boundary Road and one at Westbourne Villas, Hove because the residents of Hove thought it beneath them to have something as vulgar as a tramway passing through their midst. The Worthing and Littlehampton Tramway proposal never passed the drawing board stage.

Brighton Tramways building

Initially the driver of the trams was open to all weathers and the top deck was also open-topped. Worthing was the last town who built open-topped tramcars. During 1937 a law was passed banning this type of design.

Weather played a major part in 1908 when there was a severe snow storm. As a result, Brighton invested in a Snow Plough Tram. It was never used. The 1st May 1939 saw the advent of the trolley bus and within 6 months the tram service was no more with the last journey being made on 1st September 1939. Only No. 53 Tram survived which is being restored, that was until someone said, "I have an old one in my back garden", which was the Snow Plough Tram.

Ian peppered his talk with photos and anecdotes which enhanced the enjoyment by his audience.

Allen Misselbrook
March 2018

 

March - April

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Allen Misselbrook
May 2017

 

May - June

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Allen Misselbrook
July 2017