Battle of Britain Concert in Steyning

Soprano, Sophie Bevan
Soprano, Sophie Bevan

Tickets have just gone on sale for a world class concert which is to be held on Battle of Britain Sunday, 20th September 2015, at Steyning Parish Church. The Steyning Battle of Britain Memorial Concert brings together an extraordinary group of international musicians.

Amongst these is the soprano Sophie Bevan. She is at the forefront of a remarkable new generation of British singers. Sophie is no stranger to followers of the English National Opera and Glyndebourne festival with numerous leading roles. Together with her sister Mary Bevan we are delighted to be welcoming them at Steyning.

Andrew Bernardi and the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple
Andrew Bernardi and the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple

Seventy-five years ago during the summer and autumn of 1940 the Battle of Britain was fought over the skies of Sussex and the South East of England. Civilisation and righteousness hung in the balance as our courageous young airmen took to the skies to defend our principles and freedoms. Winston Churchill famously remarked that “The gratitude of every home in our Island…goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” I too have shared that great sense of gratitude.

Through my childhood and professional life, both as auctioneer and priest, it has been my privilege to accompany the war time generation who largely remained open hearted and hopeful about the world, with a generosity inspired by their common experience.

Following on from the great successes of this year’s Shipley Arts Festival, Andrew Bernardi and myself decided to organise a Battle of Britain Memorial Concert at Steyning Parish Church, where I serve, to honour the men and women of the RAF. Soloists including: Sophie Bevan (soprano), Mary Bevan (soprano), Andrew Bernardi (violin), Graham Salter (oboe), Bruce Martin (flute), together with the Bernardi Music Group and the Choir of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Chelsea, will be conducted by David Bevan. The concert builds on Steyning Parish Church’s strong musical tradition.

Steyning Parish Church
Steyning Parish Church

The program begins with J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no.2 in B minor BWV 1067 and Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D minor BWV 1060. An interval with Pimm’s will be followed by extracts from Mozart’s Mass in C minor.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor K427 is generally regarded as one of his greatest choral works. He began it in celebration of his marriage but the piece was never completed. The Mass took Mozart’s unpredictable genius to new heights and is one of the most extraordinary pieces of sacred music ever written. It seems fitting that these pieces should be played in memory of and to honour all those who fought to save our island nation.

The concert will conclude with a world premiere performance of ‘To Notice Such Things’ by the late Jon Lord, formerly of Deep Purple.

Sponsored by Toovey’s and Spofforths, The Steyning Battle of Britain Concert will be held at 5.00pm on Battle of Britain Sunday, 20th September 2015, at Steyning Parish Church. Tickets priced at just £18.00 are on sale now through the Capitol Theatre Box Office. Go to or telephone 01403 750220.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th August 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Identifying the unidentified

For many collectors, research can be a source of great joy or, when unfruitful, great frustration. Today, in this age of the internet, a powerful resource of knowledge is literally at our fingertips. Most of us will now ‘Google’ the answer to something, rather than refer to a book. This was not the case in the late 1980s, however, when Mr Savory, a postcard collector from Northants, purchased a group of five postcards from a local fair. Filed under ‘Sussex’ in the dealer’s stock, with a hearsay attribution of being Littlehampton, the collector secured them for their military interest but obviously wanted to find out more. His quest to discover the incident pictured lead him to write a plea for help to the editor of the West Sussex Gazette. On May 21st 1987 nearly half of a page was dedicated to four of the five postcards. Readers of the newspaper wrote in, some with their snippets of facts and some with their reminiscences of these events or similar events. It was discovered that, although they all related to the Battle of Britain, they did in fact illustrate two different events.

Junkers 88A down at Pagham postcard auction ©2015 Toovey's
A series of four Battle of Britain postcards

Four of the postcards record the fate of a German bomber which took off on a sortie to attack the London Docks on 9th September 1940. It was a Junkers 88A, works no .0333, coded 4D+AD, of Stab 111/KG30. For those not familiar with such terms, it was an aircraft of the Staff Flight of the 3rd Wing of Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Group) 30. It was piloted by Gruppe Kommandeur Major Hackbarth and his crew comprised Oberfeldwebel Manger, Unteroffizier Sawallisch and Gefreiter Petermann. The first two survived but the other two died in an attack almost certainly launched from Kenley, probably by 253 Squadron Hurricanes but possibly by Spitfires of 66 Squadron. It was subsequently force-landed off Pagham at 5.50pm and soon after that is the moment the postcards start to capture the event. Two of the postcards depict British soldiers guarding the aircraft; another shows an injured member of the crew on a stretcher and the final view is of soldiers removing a spoil of war, the swastika from the tail, as a memento. One of the letters from a reader of the newspaper claimed that the removed tail panel resembled one in the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, which had been used during the war as a scoreboard by a Hampshire Territorial searchlight troop. Another reader stated that, as a curious local schoolboy in Pagham, he was inside the plane and removed the factory serial plate from the cockpit (long since lost), which gave the release date from the factory as the previous day!

Postcard of Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore at Bognor Auction ©2015 Toovey's
Postcard of Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore

The fifth postcard was originally believed to be part of the same series but, in fact, illustrates a separate event from the Battle of Britain. It shows Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore at Bognor on 26th August 1940. He had been piloting a Spitfire X4188 of 602 Squadron Westhampnett (Goodwood airfield). A contemporary account was published in an unidentified newspaper, the clipping of which was offered by someone responding to Mr Savory’s plea. It stated:

A thrilling air battle was witnessed over a South-East Coast town on Monday afternoon during an air raid alarm, when machine gun fire rattled overhead, and the thuds of bombs were heard exploding in the distance, punctuated by sharp cracks of anti-aircraft guns… As soon as our ground defences held their fire nothing could be heard except the sharp rat-tat of machine guns… One of our fighter pilots during the engagement baled out of his plane, and could be seen descending towards the sea. He pitched in the sea about half a mile off shore, where he was picked up by some fisherman. He was brought ashore with cheers ringing in his ears from several hundred persons who flocked to the sea-shore, although the all-clear had not sounded, thus incidentally, exposing themselves to extreme danger.

The pilot was rowed to shore by two fisherman from Littlehampton and the ‘L.I.’ registration code on the boat was perhaps the clue for the original dealer’s attribution. The fishermen, Messrs N. & A. Ide and a member of the Ragless family, recalled that Babbage was smiling cheerfully as he had shot a Messerschmitt prior to two others setting upon him over Selsey Bill. It was Hauptman Mayer of 1/JG 53 that finally put him out of action at 4.43pm; he was taken to Bognor hospital ‘slightly hurt’. One West Sussex Gazette reader said that he subsequently went back to his squadron and ‘had a very chequered career, being shot down, or damaged in action at least three more times, during the Battle of Britain.’

Perhaps today Mr Savory would have typed in ‘crashed German plane on the Sussex coast’ or similar into a search engine and, after visiting swathes of results, found out all the information he needed. He would not, though, have found all the fascinating reminiscences that were relayed by readers of the West Sussex Gazette, among them an anecdote of a lady who dived into a stinging nettle patch fearful of a chasing plane, only to see the R.A.F. roundels pass overhead! It was this research that brought the postcards to life for Mr Savory and why these postcards gave him so much pleasure.

Having enjoyed the postcards ever since, Mr Savory has decided to sell the postcards at Toovey’s forthcoming auction of Paper Collectables on 24th February 2015, encouraged by the fantastic results achieved for Sussex postcards in these specialist auctions. The group of four photographic postcards of the German bomber at Pagham carry a pre-sale estimate of £70-100 and the single photographic postcard of Babbage’s return at Bognor will be offered separately at £30-50. In addition to Postcards, Toovey’s sales of Paper Collectables also include Stamps, Cigarette Cards, Autographs, Photographs and Ephemera.