Board put up to remember terrible day in 1944

Gilbert Saunders unveiling the information board at Steyning Rifle Range. Picture Matthew Thomas

Gilbert Saunders unveiling the information board at Steyning Rifle Range. Picture Matthew Thomas

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“Six big bangs and shells started exploding all over us.”

Gilbert Saunders says he is the only one left from the group of men serving in the Home Guard at Steyning Rifle Range in 1944.

He recently unveiled a special information board at the ground, designed to educate passers by and remember the man who died in a tragic accident, and the others who were injured.

The board is the first of a series being put up to highlight different features of the area, organised by the Steyning Downland Scheme.

Mr Saunders, a former member of Maplehurst and Nuthurst Platoon, was at the rifle range the day the town was accidentally shelled by the Canadian army, who did not know they were there.

Earlier this month Mr Saunders was invited to officially unveil the information board at the rifle range, which tells the story of that fateful day.

He spoke to guests about how he heard six explosions before shells started landing all around. One man, Private Leslie Thomas Wylie, died in the incident, with others wounded.

“They were given the wrong range evidently for their guns”, said Mr Saunders, speaking at the range.

“The result was the shells missed their targets, came right over the circket field and landed up there.”

He told of how one of the commanding officers, Lieutenant Greenwood, had been standing next to him and was injured.

“It was terrible, he was never able to walk again.”

Lt. Greenwood, according to Mr Saunders, had been head master of the children who had come down to the area in the early part of the war. Indeed it was for this reason that he was chosen to be an officer.

The unveiling is part of a larger project run by the Steyning Downland Scheme (SDS), which will see 12 boards put up over the next few months.

“The boards will be looking at different aspects of the rifle range and the wider Steyning Grounds”, said Matthew Thomas, project manager at Steyning Downland Scheme.

The launch of the first board coincided with SDS’s annual Big Picnic, with lots of people coming down to enjoy lunch on the range, as well as a range of fun activities.

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