Pamela Elizabeth Debenham (nee Knight) born 13.8.1921 Interview 21st March 2014
Marriott Lodge, Tollhouse Close, Chichester Also present was her daughter Caroline Procter.
Pamela is the daughter of Frank Knight of Eastergate and the granddaughter of Harry Knight (died April 1911 at Bentworth, Barnham Road) one time landlord of the old Barnham Bridge Inn (before rebuilding) and local property developer. Her father Frank arranged for the lych-gate to be erected at Eastergate Church in memory of his parents. His wife, Florence, had electricity installed in the church in memory of her husband who died in December 1945.
Pamela was born in Church Lane, Eastergate, opposite the church and next to Eastergate House in a single storey cottage called ‘Jock’s Lodge’. The family ran Warwick Nursery in the centre of the village (now housing). In 1938 they moved to The Ranch House in Fontwell Avenue which has since been demolished and is now Collins Close, a housing development. Pamela attended a kindergarten at the far end of Downview Road where she was taught by a French lady. She then went to Courtfield House School in Victoria Drive, Bognor Regis until the age of 12 when she boarded at The Warren in Worthing.
Pamela had just left school and was due to go to Switzerland to finishing school when war was declared. Instead, she took a shorthand and typing course with a Miss Blankinsop and went to work for a surveyor, Mr Jenkins, at his house in Barnham Road (Baynards?). His job was to attend any bomb damage in the area and to write a report for the authorities (HQ at WSCC, Chichester?). Pamela also drove the head warden, Mr Cairn-Cross, at night in her own car. Later she worked at her family’s nursery where they grew vegetables including potatoes, swede, sprouts, cabbages, and tomatoes in the greenhouses for the duration of the war – daffodils having given way to food production. The produce was mostly sent by train to London but sometimes to Portsmouth. The family owned a cow for milk with the surplus going to their workers. They also had chickens, pigs, rabbits, and butter from their milk.
Several land mines dropped in Eastergate damaging the produce and the villagers were particularly afraid of the Doodlebugs. Pamela’s father, Frank Knight, was a Special Constable.
Pamela met her husband, Raymond Frank Debenham, in Eastergate during the war. He was from Milford Haven and joined the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry, becoming a sergeant. She told me that he wanted to post a letter at a post box at the end of Fontwell Avenue but did not have the correct change to buy a stamp from the stamp machine (that was to be found at many post boxes in those days). She suggested that he came to her house where she would help him with the correct change and this he did. Pamela often helped at the canteen opposite Barnham Station where dances were held and parties took place in the Officers’ Mess. She was able to get to know her soldier who drove around in a red sports car. They became engaged on her 21st birthday in 1942 but had to wait until after the war to marry. When Sergeant Debenham was posted abroad, he was fortunate in that the ship broke down and he spent the remainder of the war safe in Mombasa, Kenya.
Pamela died in 2018 aged 97.
[For more information about the Knight family, see the section on St George’s Church, Eastergate]
Revised May 2020