DOWN MEMORY LANE: An idyllic childhood in Pagham

Memories of his childhood in Pagham and his wartime service have been sent to Down Memory Lane by John Holder of Bognor Regis, who writes:

In 1923 we – dad, mum, sister and four brothers – moved from Chichester to Pagham to live in a bungalow consisting of two obsolete railway carriages joined to make a four-bedroom house with lounge, kitchen and scullery.

The toilet was outside. I cannot remember any other house I have lived in being as warm.

I was seven years old at that time.

We were all very pleased with our new home, more so because we had about four acres of land dad had bought to turn into a smallholding.


We soon found our way around the district and it was not long before we discovered Pagham church and Pagham harbour.

My sister Rita and two of my brothers joined the church choir.

I was told I was too young but after a few weeks the vicar, the Rev GG Knox, gave the okay and I was a member of that choir until May, 1940, when I was called upon to do my duty.

I had to leave Pagham and it broke my heart as I loved the village, the church, the lovely walks around the lagoon and harbour and most of the residents.

At the age of 11 I started to work at the farmhouse of John and Lydia Aylwin for an hour before I went to school.

My job was to clean boots and shoes, knives and other household wares, sift the ashes from the fire and, if time allowed, trim the grass borders in front of the house.

I was then given a slice of cake, a mug of cocoa and was usually told I had two minutes in which to get to school.

On Saturdays I worked from 8am to midday.

For this I received five shillings a week.


During the four-week holiday period most local lads worked on the farms, leading the horses round the fields gathering the crops.

This we called Stannard; as the wagon needed to be moved to the next stook of corn the lad leading the horse would call out ‘stannard’.

The horse would immediately move off, no ‘gee up’ or ‘walk on’ and the ‘stannard’ was for the man or men on the wagon to stand hard while the wagon was in motion.

As a family we did a lot of fishing, mostly with nets.

One night about seven of us went close to the harbour mouth to try our luck.

The first three draws, our net was full and the fourth draw was empty.

We had caught about five hundredweight of fish, mostly bass and mullet.

Most of Nyetimber had fish for tea that day.

Royal Sussex Regiment

My army days were spent firstly with the Royal Sussex Regiment – training, guard duties etc, a motor vehicle course, at the Wandsworth Technical Institute.

Then various courses – driving, map reading, recovery – before going up to Scotland and on to the troopship, The Duchess of Athol.

I remember leaving the barracks at Chichester and marching to the railway station with the band playing Sussex by the Sea.

After the war I met the youngest daughter of the composer of that stirring march, William Ward-Higgs.

Her name was Joan Bottard.

She had married a Frenchman and after his demise she returned to England and formed the Franco British Society which met once a year in her garden in Bersted Street.

My job was to supply her with coffee tables from the church hall, where I was caretaker at the time. She told me her father composed Sussex by the Sea while living in a house in Bersted Street.

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You can email or write to Down Memory Lane, The Observer, Unicorn House, 8 Eastgate Square, Chichester, PO19 1JN.