12 Jan: Bob Ogley: Doodlebugs and Rockets
A large audience awaited Bob Ogley who started his talk with the question: “How many of you were in this area when doodlebugs were falling?” A large proportion raised their hands, and he then recounted to us the facts and memories that he had collected about the period.
Bob reminded us that his first venture into publishing was his book on the 1987 hurricane. Later he became interested in doodlebugs and rockets through conversations with air crews who worked in the local area. After an appeal in the local press, many people with memories of doodlebugs including firemen, policemen, civil defence and of course civilians came forward with recollections.
Bob told us that there had been reports of rocket sites in German occupied northern Europe, but the first definitive information came from RAF aerial reconnaissance in June 1943 . From the aerial photographs taken at Peenemunde, rockets under construction, were clearly visible. In August the site was heavily bombed so setting the German programme back at least two months and possibly more.
The first doodlebug landed at Swanscombe in Kent, on open farmland in the early morning of June 13th 1944. The sound of the pilotless missile was, he reported, like a model T Ford going up a hill. People in the Kent/Sussex area soon learnt that the silence when the engine cut out was the danger period, as the doodlebug was then starting its descent to the ground and it was time to dive for cover.
The defences against these attacks were guns along the coast and a balloon barrage around London. Leaving the Channel and the open country between the coast and London for fighters to intercept and shoot down the doodlebugs.
Bob Ogley said that, in Sussex, the area around Battle had the largest number of doodlebugs falling, followed by the area around Uckfield. When ever launch sites were discovered by air reconnaissance they were heavily bombed. Eventually as the allies advanced across France in late 1944, sites were captured and the attacks on England lessened. Many bombs did reach London and were the cause of much damage and many casualties.
The Germans also developed a more sophisticated rocket known as the V2, the first one of these was launched in Holland on September 8th 1944 and landed in Chiswick. The V2 approached silently and had a more powerful warhead which caused considerably more damage than the V1. The last V2 fell in Orpington on March 27th 1945 and the last V1 landed at Iwade in Kent on March 29th of that year.
Finally we were reminded of the V1 bomb which came down on Green Square in July 1944 killing two people and causing a large amount of damage.
Although a serious talk with many tales of bravery, Bob also regaled us with stories of considerable humour told by some of those involved. A most interesting and entertaining evening which I am sure brought back memories to many in the audience. At the end of the talk, quite a few members took the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of Bob Ogley’s book “Doodlebugs and Rockets.” Rosemary Pope
9 Feb: John Ray: Changing Role of Women since 1700
Three hundred years is quite a short time in history, covering what was described as just three ages of man. Stories told by elderly grandparents to young children are passed on just three times. Yet in that time there have been many changes that have transformed the role of women.
The most obvious change over the three centuries is the eightfold increase in population. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the population was mainly involved in agriculture, to produce the food needed. Among the working classes, bread, cheese, vegetables and ale could be in short supply making the women’s task of feeding a large family quite a challenge. These women travelled little and were described as being ‘contented’, which is not how we would think of such a life today.
At the same time at the other end of the scale, the women had a very leisurely life, their main preoccupation being how to marry off their daughters. These daughters at least had some education, but much less than their brothers. The heads of the households did not consult or trust their wives with serious matters. Not surprisingly, the women devised means of getting their own way.
Then came the changes. First was the agricultural revolution that meant more food was available making it easier to feed a family. This was followed by the industrial revolution that produced iron and steam. To this day we are invaded by more and more gadgets designed to make life easier. The third revolution was the medical revolution that greatly benefited women. It is noticeable on tombstones that it was common for men to have had several wives as many died in childbirth. Nowadays, women have a longer life expectation than men. (With genetic engineering, what will happen next?)
Several notable women influenced the mid-1800s. Florence Nightingale who wanted to have a career of her own as an alternative to becoming a governess, raised the question of women’s rights. Miss Beale and Miss Buss became well revered in the schools that they started. Meanwhile most homes were run by women well versed in the ‘knowledge of household duties’ as defined by Mrs Beeton. There was not much chance of becoming a vegetarian!
Parliament now began to take some interest in women’s rights. In 1870 the Education Act was passed for girls and boys to go to school. It is now recognised that girls on the whole do better than boys. Women’s rights were improved in 1882 when a married woman was allowed to own her own property. Before then, everything belonged to her husband. However, about 1900, women still suffered subjection. Upper class daughters must always have a chaperone. Their subjection was reflected in their heavy, hobbling clothes, an outfit including several petticoats, garments with frills and many buttons and a tight leather belt making 14 items in all.
It is a hundred years ago that the suffragettes started their militant campaigns to get votes for women. They earned plenty of publicity but it is possible that they actually hindered their own cause. Then came the 1914-18 war that quite radically changed the role of women in this country. While the men went off to fight, the women took over their work and the suffragettes turned their fire against the Germans. Quite soon afterwards, women over 30 got the vote and could stand for Parliament. Other changes included smaller families, simplified clothing and no chaperones. Eventually Hollywood set the fashion in cosmetics, clothing and smoking and with the introduction of bathrooms and gas-fires, living conditions became more comfortable. Unfortunately the divorce rate soared.
The 1939-45 war saw another big change with women in the Services and the Land Army. When the US joined the war they brought with them sweets and cigarettes and they took home 80,000 GI brides. Since 1945 there has been a decline in class distinction. Now nearly 75% of women go out to work although equal pay is not properly implemented yet. In education there is equal opportunity but there still seems a glass ceiling above which women can not progress. There are more women in politics than before, some rising to ministerial level and one to Prime Minister. We have been ruled by a Queen for more than half the time in the last two centuries.
But there is too much now on women’s shoulders. There are many single mothers and plenty that carry the stress of business. Many won’t rush into marriage, 31 is not too late, and how about a designer baby? Joan Grace
9 Mar: Neil Rose: ‘Return Ticket’ the Wadhurst Railway Link
Neil Rose gave a most interesting and informative talk on our local railway service from 1900 until electrification in 1986. This lecture follows his first one last year about the early days until the Twentieth Century.
At the beginning of the century, the railways did not have any competition from the internal combustion engine. Later on to meet this new threat, the South Eastern and Chatham amalgamated with the London Chatham & Dover to combine resources to improve their services. Train times varied, the fastest (1902) was 77 minutes to Charing Cross. The first arrived at 09.50 and subsequent services were at two hourly intervals, with the last train leaving London at 21.00 - no late evening enjoyment in London!
Commuting was not a feature as long distance travel was for the wealthy; rather, the line serviced local communities. By 1910 the frequency of passenger services improved with some trains starting and stopping at Wadhurst. Importantly, rail reduced the cost of bulky items - coal, foodstuffs, bulky goods and parcels. Wadhurst acted as a distribution hub coping with the ten daily goods trains, six days a week.
More powerful engines were introduced just before the outbreak if World War I and they were the mainstay for the next twenty years. During the War the railway deteriorated as maintenance was neglected. The 1921 Railway Act reduced the number of companies to four and so the Southern Railway took over this area. Now that road transport was competing heavily with the railway, better services to and from London were introduced.
There were three classes of fare from First to Third, the latter only costing 1d a mile. Some things had not changed; you could still transport your horse and carriage - however emancipation ensured ladies could reserve compartments for themselves. One could store a wide range of items (cello, ice cream freezer etc) to parking a motor cycle for a set fee per day.
In the 1920's a new more powerful engine, the Schools Class, was introduced and they performed admirably for twenty five years. This resulted in a faster service up to London, taking between 59 to 80 minutes. Electrification, in the 1930's, occurred on parts of the south eastern routes; however that between Sevenoaks to Hastings was postponed. One reason was the need for narrower carriages to fit through the tunnels on this section.
During World War II, our section was considered unimportant compared with
the route to Dover. However damage from bombing and V1 Rockets was repaired
After the War the network was nationalised as British Rail. Passenger traffic continued, but the goods services were reduced heavily with the local goods yards closing at Wadhurst and Frant. Old and tired carriages and engines had to continue working until the middle 1960's even though most of the south eastern routes were being electrified. Fortunately new diesel electric rolling stock was introduced in 1957 & 1958 which provided a twice hourly service, the fast one taking 90 minutes from Hastings to London.
The Beeching Report might have resulted in severe restrictions on the line
and although not implemented, the threat of closure was discussed in the 1980's
unless the diesel electrics were replaced. Fortunately, in 1983, a decision
was made to electrify the Hastings line which saw many changes to signalling,
track and platforms to cope with the new service.
Neil gave us an excellent talk, very well researched which shows us his love of the railway and why he enjoys playing with grown up trains!. Many thanks for a very entertaining and enjoyable evening. John Breeze
'Victorian Wadhurst- Glimpses of our Past'
Despite the offer of free copies to all members 'in good standing' at the start of 2006, sufficient copies have been sold - thanks mainly to the Post Office and Barnett's Bookshop - to cover the costs of printing. As the remaining 400 copies sell, the profits will swell the Society's funds to support some other substantial research activity.