Interview 19th March 2014 with David Gillbard, born 1930
Penghyll, Park Lane, Aldingbourne, PO20 3TL
David grew up on his father’s farm – Park Farm. His parents were William and Annie Gillbard and the family were active Methodists. The house, Penghyll, was built in the grounds of the farm for his parents when they retired. Twenty years ago David and his wife Sybil retired there and their son took over the farm.
David gave me a copy of a piece about his memories of the war years that he had sent to the local Observer newspaper the previous summer. The following is an edited extract:
“At the outbreak of war in 1939 I was on holiday staying with my paternal grandparents in Cornwall… I still have a clear memory of coming over the Portsdown hills and viewing the harbour area, thickly dotted with barrage balloons to deter low level attacks by German fighters.
Work began on extending Tangmere airfield and not only was some of my [maternal] Grandparents’ farm taken but most of the next farm owned by a Mr Whittle. He was left with a few acres and his farmhouse sitting on the end of the north south runway!
About 6 months after war was declared, my Grandparents, who lived in a house overlooking Tangmere airfield, were told by the military authorities “Mr Pearse we need your house for military staff and you must find somewhere else to live”. For about 6 months they came, with my auntie, to live here in the farmhouse with my parents and my two year old sister.
They were eventually able to buy a house in Felpham, so on Christmas Day 1940 my Mum and Grandma made plans for all the family to spend Christmas Day together; the vegetables would be prepared at Felpham and we would bring the goose we had fattened on the farm, all cooked and ready to eat. There was no petrol allowed to be used for domestic purposes and no buses on Christmas Day, so we all cycled to Felpham, Dad in front with the hot goose wrapped up in an old overcoat in the basket on the handle bars, followed by me and my Mother who had my two year old sister riding on the carrier behind her bicycle seat! My Dad called it a wild goose chase!
Father made an air raid shelter from an old steel ammunition store of 1914/18 vintage which he had purchased years earlier to use as a field shelter for his breeding sows. The shelter was sunk in the ground about 3 feet and the earth taken out was thrown back over it. My Mum, sister and I often slept there at night during the summer but it had to be abandoned in the autumn as it filled with water!
I had an evacuee school friend called John, who with the rest of his school had been sent down from south London to share our village school premises. So we had some of our lessons in the field adjoining the school as there was no room for us all in the classrooms. It was a good job it was a dry and sunny summer! So John came with me that afternoon [when my father and his tractor driver went to cut corn for a neighbour] and we were asked to plane spot standing out in the cornfield to warn those cutting the corn of any danger of which they would be unaware because of the noise of the machinery. Our fears were realised late in the afternoon when one of our own aircraft hoping to make it to Tangmere, but it was on fire. It turned and looked like dropping in the middle of the cornfield out of control. At the last minute it flattened out and dropped over the hedge into a grass field and burst into flames. The pilot of course stood no chance of surviving.
One Wednesday in the autumn… A bomb fell on Reeves garage in North Street Chichester… That particular day, my Dad and two other members of my family put their cars in for service removing them less than hour before a bomb dropped demolishing most of the garage. The mechanic, I think his name was Mr Fernyhough, who was in the inspection pit was very badly burnt. The same plane taking advantage of the low cloud flew over Boxgrove Street, and tried to pepper our school bus when it stopped to allow passengers to alight, but the bullets missed and only hit the road. The plane then came on to machine gun our farm, one came through the roof, one through the brick wall of the bedroom cutting through the carpet bouncing up to take a piece out of a chair and then went through the door and slid along the landing. My sister, who was about three or four at the time, was standing on a chair looking out of the window and saw it pass over the house heading for the farm buildings, exclaimed there goes Gerry!
My Dad, like all the other men in reserved occupations, instead of going in the forces joined the Home Guard, now known to everyone as “Dads Army”. They had to do night duty once a week reporting to headquarters at the local pub “the Labour in Vain”. Part of their job was to patrol Westergate Street at regular intervals during the night. On cold nights they would call into the bakery at about 4 a.m. when the bread was being baked and have a warm up!
My Dad and his tractor driver, because they were good shots with rabbits and pigeons, were issued with a browning automatic rifle. One was told to keep the rifle and the other was given the ammunition!
Father was appointed the person in the parish to deal with any animal casualties caused by enemy action. He was expected to carry an arm band when on duty identifying him as “Agricultural Veterinary Officer”. Fortunately he was only needed twice but it did highlight the problem, when there were cattle out in the fields…
Towards the end of the war one of our aircraft returning from a raid over France, dislodged a bomb as he was landing. Obviously he had released it over the target but it must have caught up in the bomb rack but dislodged as he was coming in to land and dropped in a field on the edge of Hook Lane, Aldingbourne. It sank about fifteen feet into the ground without exploding. It needed the bomb disposal squad to come and dig it out and take it away.”
In addition, David told me:
For the war effort he was a ‘waste paper collector’. He had a badge to this effect and his only reward was tea on the lawn (at Admiral and Lady Merrick’s house?) in Norton Lane. He also collected acorns for, he thinks, 6d per cwt (hundredweight). The acorns were used to feed pigs. For his own pigs, his father collected bins of waste food from the Chichester (St Richard’s) Hospital. This was boiled before being given to his pigs. The family were able to have a pig slaughtered and butchered at Green Lane, Chichester, for their own consumption in exchange for meat coupons. The meat was salted at home in a large sink and lasted for many months. His father sold pigs, six at a time, to Barnham Market where the price was fixed.
There was a national shortage of sugar so farms had to grow sugar beet. The acreage was decided in accordance with the size of the farm. He remembers harvesting by moonlight one summer’s night in shorts. The beet went to Barnham Station where it was loaded into high railway trucks and sent all over Britain for processing. They also grew grain.
They had a large Friesian dairy herd and employed three cowmen. In the 1930s David’s father had bought a tractor which was initially used for ploughing but as time went on and it was used more widely, he began to sell off his five horses, one by one. The farm also supported a carter and three or four farm hands. Farm workers were exempt from enlisting and received extra rations for their labour.
David attended Aldingbourne Primary School in Westergate Street at the outbreak of war. Most children went home for lunch but as he lived some distance away and walked to school his mother sent him with a packed lunch. Sometimes this consisted of sandwiches but in winter it may be a pastie or something else that needed to be warmed. David was able to warm his lunch on the classroom stove and then walk a few doors along the street to The Homstead to eat it with the lady who lived there. At eleven years of age David transferred to Chichester High School (for boys) in Kingsham Road. He went each day by bus close to Tangmere airfield. The conductor would lower the blinds so that any ‘spies’ on board were unable to see what was going on.
David remembered a landmine being dropped in the grounds of nearby Aldingbourne House. The hole was about fifteen feet deep and thirty feet across and was not filled in until the house was converted into flats in the 1990s.
In addition to the Home Guard, there was an underground unit that was sworn to secrecy until 1996. David said that the members had to buy their own dagger and to keep it handy. Not knowing where to keep it, one person put it on his desk and used it as a letter opener.
William Gillbard, David’s father, in his Home Guard uniform
Revised may 2020