Veterans meet in Graffham for D-Day anniversary

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Two second world war veterans Margaret Betty Wilson and Rosamond Watson née Dudley, visited Millburgh Hall in Graffham, on the 67th anniversary of D-Day, where they were both posted sixty-seven years ago during the spring and summer months of 1944.

Both were Wren pay writers at HMS Daedalus, RNAS Lee on Solent, and had been sent with a group of around 20 other naval personnel to staff a temporary branch of the pay office at Millburgh Hall, then known as Selham Place, with the instructions that no matter what was to happen in the ensuing days (ie the D-Day landings), ‘the sailors must be paid’.

The Wrens were billeted at Selham Farm (now known as Manor Farm,) where water for drinking, washing and bathing had to be pumped from a well in the cellar.

There was no electricity but as the country was then operating double summer time this posed few difficulties as by 11pm the Wrens were supposed to be in bed!

Betty Wilson recalled how the Wrens attended dances at the Empire Hall, Graffham, the Drill Room in Edinburgh Square at Midhurst and at Goodwood House, and parties held at an American camp in Haslemere before the men were sent off to Europe.

The Coal Hole Bar at the Spread Eagle Hotel and a church hall where tea and scones were served by women volunteers, were other popular meeting places.

Ros Watson was pleased to see purple rhododendrons still in bloom around Selham Place, just as they were during the War, although back in those days the woodland was also full of tanks and trucks hidden in the undergrowth, prior to the D-Day landings.

On one occasion a Canadian Soldier told Mrs Watson he thought Rosamond was such a pretty name he would paint it on his tank!

Before their tour of the old pay office, by Millburgh Hall resident, Roger Brookes, the former Wrens met up with local veterans Jack Allen and Tom Lane over a pub lunch at the Unicorn Inn, Heyshott to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the commissioning of Royal Naval Air Station Cowdray Park in June 1941.

Both men were at RNAS Cowdray Park while the Wrens were at Selham, but they did not recall meeting each other during the War.

Also present was Kath Allen, who worked as a land girl on the Cowdray Estate.

Meanwhile, at a more formal event held at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall, RNAS Cowdray Park’s Officer in Charge of the Flying (1943-45), Lt Cdr John Moffat, attended a special dinner, marking the 70th Anniversary of the torpedoing of the Bismarck.

Moffat is the last surviving Swordfish pilot to have taken part in the attack.