More Memories of a Chichester Evacuee – Peter Lawson Old Thorntonian (1936 -1941)

We met on Friday 1st September 1939 at 8.30am and travelled to Balham (S.R) with haversacks and small attaché cases, to arrive in Bognor just after mid-day. In crocodile formation we marched, full of excitement, to the Social Centre/Theatre opposite the Pier Head, where we were “’selected” by “locum parents” and put into small groups for billeting. I was lucky, being in a group of five with Prefect Veryken, being billeted in holiday rooms over a restaurant on the promenade within a hundred yards of the pier.  The weather was glorious and Bognor was still filled with holidaymakers – we had a fabulous time. The only sign of war was the black-out, with everyone colliding and jostling as they walked along the promenade; the only military prominence was a small Walrus flying boat skirting the coast at a snail’s pace, once in mid-morning and again in the afternoon with the front gunner sitting half out of the nose.  It was generally assumed it was an anti-U-boat patrol.

War was declared on Sunday 3rd September and, since one of our group, Koch, was a German refugee, after listening to Chamberlain at 11 am we tuned into various German stations, but could only find dance music!

The masters who were evacuated with the school I never saw outside school lessons, but I remember Mr Collings (“Coggs”), who taught German. The most memorable lesson he gave was when the Graf Spee made the news and each class lesson for a week was a running report on the progress of the battle until the final scuttling – all in German.

The 1939 December freeze was incredible, with many of the telephone poles snapped in half, due to the weight of the ice in the wires; but what fun on the canal, frozen solid to Dell Quay, and slides on the slopes of Goodwood.

Only one bomb actually dropped on Chichester whilst I was there: a bomber returning from a London raid must have had a spare one and seeing the station must have thought it was a good target. It missed and dropped in a waste plot of land behind the new Law Courts, causing virtually no damage except demolishing an end-terrace wall in the next road, where one of our Second Year was still in bed on the first floor and exposed to the world at large at 7.00am. He was quite cheerful and chirpy about the incident.

Peter Lawson

Old Thorntonian (1936-1941)