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.
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!
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.