Original diary entries resolve Marlands Estate mystery

Original diary entries have resolved the mystery of the Marlands Estate at Itchingfield and the dates it was hit by a doodlebug.

Thursday, 6th August 2020, 2:03 pm

Robin Fisher was general manager of Marlands throughout the war, and for many years, and his mother-in-law kept meticulous diaries.

His sons, Bob and Alan Fisher, began checking back after reading our article ’Doodlebug dates called into question after history article’, published in the West Sussex County Times on July 30.

Prior to that, research by Jeremy Knight, museum and heritage officer at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, was published in May, stating the first of the Germans’ V-1 robots, also known as doodlebugs, fell at Marlands, Itchingfield, on June 6, as reported in the West Sussex County Times of Friday, October 6, 1944.

Christ's Hospital was hit by a flying bomb in June 1944

We found the original article in the paper and confirmed it did indeed state June 6 but reader David Miller, from Newton Abbot in Devon, questioned the date, saying ‘it cannot possibly be correct, as the first-ever V-1 landed at Swanscombe, near Gravesend, at precisely 04.18 hours on June 13, 1944’.

Thanks to Bob and Alan, we can reveal further details of the doodlebugs at Marlands.

Bob said: “David Miller is right to question the date on which the first doodlebug fell on Marlands.

“My brother Alan is in possession of diaries kept during the war by our grandmother, Mrs Louisa Jane French. Alan has researched those diaries, which have the following entries.

The workings of the flying bomb, also known as a doodlebug

“The first entry confirms that the first robot hit Marlands on Thursday, June 15, 1944, killing 49 chickens. Our grandmother had two of the ‘victims’ for dinner on the following Sunday, when she entertained the Fisher family, including me, then two years old.

“The next report is of a robot hit at Christ’s Hospital on June 28, 1944, which ‘smashed up five cars, stripped roofs of sanitorium and station platforms’.

“The second hit on Marlands was recorded on July 3, 1944, which destroyed The Ark, a farm cottage. Sillwood, my grandmother’s house in Barns Green, about a quarter of a mile distant, was ‘rocked by the explosion’.

“The last report is of a doodlebug brought down by a Spitfire at Madgelands, a farm in Barns Green, on August 4, 1944.”

The diary entry for Thursday, June 15, 1944, confirming the doodlebug hit Marlands and killed 49 chickens

Author Eddy Greenfield also kindly provided a great deal of detail, having been researching the air raids and wartime history of West Sussex for more than a decade.

He is currently writing a book charting the county’s contribution to the Battle of Britain in 1940, which should hopefully be published by Pen and Sword in 2021 or 2022.

His records reveal a number of entries for Itchingfield in local ARP records.

Eddy explained that every town and village had an ARP warden and when an incident occurred, they would report it, with details of time, date, location, damage, casualties, numbers and types of bombs, etc., to their relevant district control – in the case of Itchingfield, this would be the Horsham Control, located behind the Drill Hall in Denne Road.

On Sunday, June 18, 1944, the Fishers came to dinner and two 'victims of Gerrie's robot' were serveed

The district control would then phone through to the county ARP headquarters at Chichester and it is from this set of records that Eddy sourced his information.

He said: “Most of these Action Officer’s Minute Books, as they were called, held in other counties were destroyed after the war but luckily the ones for West Sussex all survive.

“The county HQ would phone the reports through to the south-east regional HQ at Tunbridge Wells and they in turn would give daily summaries to the Home Office in London.

“Although contemporary newspapers can be a useful source, from my extensive research into the subject, it has become very clear to me that they can also be a very inaccurate source, and therefore should be used very cautiously. There was, of course, a great deal of censorship at the time, which not only can obscure specific details but also can result in the deliberate ‘tweaking’ of alleged ‘facts’. It is important to remember that local newspapers were an excellent means of spreading propaganda.”

The Minute Books report incidents literally minute-by-minute at times and Eddy came across a number of entries from the night of June 15 and early hours of June 16, 1944.

He said: “The six-figure map references provided are War Office Cassini Grid references, which are no longer used and require an OS map with the War Office grid overlaid to be of any use. I have, therefore, provided converted, modern co-ordinates in square brackets after each case.

Diary entry of June 28, 1944, tells of the robot that fell at Christ’s Hospital and ‘smashed up five cars, stripped roofs of sanitorium and station platforms’

“These can be copied and pasted into Google Maps. Beware, however, that aside from any potential inaccuracies in the original reporting of the map references, the conversion process can add in another slight degree of variation. Mostly, these are still fairly accurate, but in general I would advise that there can be an +/- 500m degree of accuracy.”

The first entry for June 16, 1944, was as follows: “04.51 Nuthurst:- Plane believed crashed north of Nuthurst approx. Map Reference 620/450 [51.01947577N, 0.31510986W]. Bombs exploded.”

This was followed by: “06.11 Nuthurst:- Reference 04.51 mass of debris with German markings at Marlands Itchingfield Map Reference 570/473 [51.0406635N, 0.38600118W]. Not yet identified. Military on guard.”

Then came the next message: “06.29 Nuthurst:- Reference message 06.20 [actually 06.11 - there were no messages at 06.20] Marlands Itchingfield Map Reference amended to 574/474 [51.04152259N, 0.38028262W]. Preliminary Police Report suspected PAC [Pilotless Aircraft - this is what V-1s were referred to before the term ‘Flying Bomb’ was used a little later] Extensive damage to Marlands House no casualties.”

A couple of hours later was: “08.27 Nuthurst Marlands, Itchingfield. Amended Map Reference 572/474 [51.04154247N, 0.38313405W]. Objects hit tree, debris over wide area, mostly pieces of wing, sheet metal sky blue. One piece has markings N.I.C.H.T.A.N., FASSC ? N. No sign of engines. No sign of propellor. 2 pieces of metal tube 3 1/2” to 4” diameter. Several houses badly damaged.”

At 19.40 came the following, though Eddy says unfortunately the original is a little hard to read in places: “Enquiry from Station Officer [Illegible] (Bognor Regis N.F.S.) asking for information for an inquiry emanating from N.F.S. HQ at Woking as to number of pilotless aircraft fallen in this area. After inquiry [illegible] Elven informed him that this information could not be given over telephone, but could be obtained on production of credentials here [West Sussex ARP HQ at County Hall, Chichester]. Information given [illegible] Scott in person.”

Just after midnight, and into the early hours of June 17, further V-1s fell at Adversane, Wisborough Green, Blackdown, Birdham, and two at Warnham. Dozens more fell after this date.

David Miller, the man who queried the Marlands dates, was at Christ’s Hospital from 1948 to 1955 and while there, occasionally heard mention of a doodlebug, which had exploded somewhere beyond the infirmary.

He said: “Nobody had been killed but a garage containing masters’ cars had been destroyed and that was as much as anybody knew.”

David is also an author and finds great pleasure in historical research, taking obscure and seemingly unimportant events and discovering what was really going on.

The Christ’s Hospital doodlebug has interested him for many years and this year, he decided to do something about it.

He said: “One avenue I have been pursuing is what other V-1s fell in the general area. There is no record anywhere of a V-1 being launched against England before June 13, followed by a pause and then the bombardment proper started on the night of June 15/16.

“One of the many things I have learned is that the Germans were nowhere near as efficient as we assumed them to be. In the first week in June 1944, they were preparing to launch the first V-1s in July, but Hitler was so infuriated by the D-Day landings that he forced FR155 to bring forward their launch date to June 13, when the rushed arrangements resulted in something of a fiasco - hence the pause until June 15/16.

“It is certainly true that the British government was determined to hide from the Germans any evidence about the accuracy of the V-1s. The media were under very strict instructions that they could report explosions but without giving any suggestion as to the place.

“The V-1s could fall short of their target. An ever-increasing number were shot down by British fighters and AA guns, and no less than 232 were brought down by the balloon barrage, which was sited along the general line of the North Downs.

“Obviously, the RAF pilots sought to cause the V-1 to explode in the air but it was a small and fast-moving target and difficult to hit with any precision. An added factor was that if the pilot got too close and he caused the V-1 to detonate right in front of him, the explosion could destroy his aircraft, and him with it, as happened on a number of occasions.

“But, if the V-1 was so damaged that its control became ineffective, its behaviour was completely unpredictable. Some simply headed straight for the ground, some glided for several miles, and a few reared up and climbed before arching over and heading for the ground. So, the best that the British pilot could hope for was that the V-1 he was attacking would land in a field, wood or some other uninhabited area.

“Some V-1s simply fell out of the sky without any interference by the Allies and, because they usually detonated on hitting the ground, it was not possible to analyse their systems to see what had caused this.”

David’s work on the Christ’s Hospital bomb continues. He has established that it detonated between the masters’ garages and a building known as Sanitorium A, both of which were decimated. He believes the dense belt of trees prevented any damage closer to the school.

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The V-1 that hit Marlands on July 3, 1944, destroyed The Ark, a farm cottage on the estate
The platform at Christ's Hospital Railway Station was damaged by the flying bomb