D Day in Worthing

6 June 1944 – D Day – was a really important day for wartime Britain and certainly had a huge impact of the residents of the seaside town of Worthing. 'Operation Overlord' (more often referred to as 'D Day') had taken three years of planning and was the biggest armed invasion the world has ever seen.

Since 1940, residents in the town had lived in fear of a German Invasion and in fact many of them had left the town. In the build up to D Day, the whole of the south coast had become a major military encampment with two million soldiers and 365,000 tanks and other military vehicles as the south coast was to be 'the launch pad' for the invasion of occupied France which lay just across the English Channel.

The town of Worthing become a major military defence point. Buildings were requisitioned by the Army and many of those which had been left by their owners were quickly used for billeting soldiers. Thousands of soldiers also camped in gardens, fields and meadows. Tanks lined the roads and travel became restricted for civilians as the whole area was cordoned off – as there was fuel rationing, there was little chance to travel anyway.

4th Armoured Brigade – veterans of the famous 8th Army - moved into the Eardley House Hotel on Marine Parade on 10 February 1944. They used houses in Steyne Gardens for billets and several houses in Cheswood Road became the Brigade's workshops for the unit's 200 tanks. The 1st Scottish Infantry Division took control of the Beach Hotel with 14th Field Ambulance located in Warnes Hotel. Other military units included the Royal Scots Grey which were now located at Steyne Gardens with the King's Royal Rifle Corps and others now billeted in the Drill Hall in Forest Road. No 3 Commando was located in several houses in Broadwater Road. There were Canadian and American soldiers too and talk of a place close to the town that held prisoners of war. Worthing had definitely become a huge military garrison by the early months of 1944!   

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister and General Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, visited the town and contingency plans were drawn up to cope with the anticipated high number of casualties on D Day. At the end of May there was much activity in Worthing as soldiers, tanks and military equipment began to leave the town and by 26 May, the town had fallen unnaturally quiet. 

In the early hours of the morning on D Day, the town's residents woke to the roar of aircraft flying low overhead as they headed for Normandy. Witnesses spoke of 'a sky that was grey with aircraft' heading towards the Channel. Some of the aircraft that had flown over were towing gliders and two of these had broken free as they neared Worthing and had come down safely in fields close to the town.

There was an uneasy peace in the town following D Day but it was short-lived as a flying bomb landed close to First Avenue. Luckily no one was hurt in the attack as the missile landed in garden allotments, but there was plenty of damage to property in the vicinity. The daily sound of the doodle bugs flying low overhead meant that few could relax in the days following D Day – especially when there was the deathly silence as their engines cut.

The war came to an end on 7 May 1945 and the residents of Worthing began the huge clean-up operation as the houses and hotels had all been damaged in the military operation. They worked hard to restore their homes and town knowing that they could enjoy peace once more in their usually quiet seaside town.

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