“It is the Victory of the cause of freedom in every land”

Maurice Gautier (second from the right in his St John Ambulance uniform) with the British naval officers Surgeon-Lieutenant Ronald McDonald, RNVR, and Sub-Lieutenant David Milln, RN, shortly after landing in Jersey on the morning of 9th May 1945 as part of the advance liberation party

On the 7th May 1945 the Germans surrendered. The Church Bells rang out and on the 8th May 1945 people poured onto the streets of the towns and villages of Sussex to celebrate VE Day, the Allied Victory in Europe.

Winston Churchill spoke to the crowds in Whitehall “God Bless you all. This is your Victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the unbending resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.”

Churchill would announce in his radio broadcast that “…our dear Channel Islands are to be freed today”.

As a stark reminder as to what had been fought for the Channel Islands remained under German occupation until the 9th May 1945 when they were finally liberated.

My wife, Teresa, is a Channel Island girl whose family can trace their roots on the island of Jersey back to medieval times. Her aunt Enid celebrated her 86th birthday last weekend. We telephoned to wish her a happy birthday and our conversation turned to the war and her late husband uncle Maurice. Enid said “The Germans banned all clubs and gatherings even the Girl Guides but church was allowed. The churches were packed during the war, we had forms in the aisles. I worshipped with the Methodists up at Sion. Everyone had someone away. We didn’t know if they were alright so it became a tradition to finish our services with the hymn ‘God be with you till we meet again’. The Germans allowed us to sing any hymn from the English Hymnal so on special occasions we sang ‘God save our gracious King’. They put a stop to that when they found out. You tried to defy the Germans whenever you could.

You felt really safe before curfew, the Germans were very strict with the discipline of their troops. They weren’t feeding their prisoners, Russians and POWs. They let them out at night to scavenge. Some people hid [the prisoners] or fed them on the quiet, others built crystal wireless sets. People split on them and they ended up in prison or were sent to Germany to the camps – they never came back.

We were hungry especially after D-day when we were cut off. We really relied on the Red Cross Parcels that came in on the ships – oh my goodness the parcels were our life line.

Maurice was older than me – eighteen at the end of the war and interested in what was going on – he realised he was witnessing history. Maurice was in the St John Ambulance. They worked with the Red Cross. When the SS Vega came into St Helier harbour on the 9th May Maurice was there to unload the Red Cross parcels onto trolleys. The farmers came with their horses to pull the trolleys into the sheds. All of a sudden a little boat came in with the first British Naval officers, so Maurice and his friend ran down the steps to meet them and shook their hands. A car was found and the advance party were taken to the Pomme d’Or hotel where the expectant, cheering crowds were waiting.” Enid paused and concluded “It’s all history now.”

Like in Sussex flags and bunting were found and hung up. The celebrations were heartfelt providing a moment of respite and hope. Many had lost loved ones oversees and at home, and the war against Japan was far from over. But the first victory in the cause of freedom in every land had been won.

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.