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JOHN ROBERT OLIVER - 8th Sussex (Bognor Regis & Selsey) Battn.


John Robert Oliver served in the 8th Sussex (Bognor Regis & Selsey) Battalion. His story is told in some detail on another page of this website.

John Oliver sent his wife and two young sons (seen right in a contemporary image) to the rural calm and safety of Gloucestershire.

It became apparent however that even this tranquil corner of rural England, far from the possible invasion beaches and big industrial cities, was not immune to the attentions of the Luftwaffe in the summer and autumn of 1940. Mrs. Oliver wrote several letters to her husband from the home she had established for her children in Lower Slaughter.

Extracts from these remarkable letters are below.

..........We had rather a disturbed night last night - in fact we are having rather too much of it these last few days.

About 11 pm there was sounds of machine gun fire and then two horrible crashes. It sounded so near and we really didn’t like to go to bed (we were just on our way upstairs), however we eventually decided to go, and then this morning heard that it was a training machine whose un-named pilot rammed a German and crashed. All the bodies are in Bourton mortuary, and nearly all the villagers have been to see the wrecks, only 3 miles away!

Well this morning being Monday and wash day, the boys played in the garden until lunchtime and then afterwards we went out for a walk. It was not nice enough for a picnic, quite chilly and inclined to drizzle, so we came back for tea. Afterwards, we were just going up the lane when we heard a series of explosions, apparently very near, and as Mr Welkins (owner of the mill) came by to go on duty as the alarm had been given, he advised me to turn back, which I did!! I have just heard that a tiny village about 6 miles away, had 16 bombs dropped! It seems incredible, there is absolutely no military objective and yet they keep on coming. Whether it is to try to lower the morale of the people or what, I do not know, but I’m not very keen to go to bed tonight. I expect you will be thinking as you read this how silly I am in comparison with the air raids you are having, but the village is SO defenceless there doesn’t seem to be an anti aircraft battery within miles, and we hardly ever see the fighter planes............


.....The second hero was a 26 year old Sergeant pilot. He was practising night flying in an Anson training machine, when a Heinkel bomber dived out of the moonlit sky and fired bursts at him. The Anson machine was completely unarmed.
People on the ground saw the Sergeant pilot crash his machine into the Heinkel. The planes fell to the ground interlocked. In the wreckage of the Heinkel, were five dead Germans. In the Anson the body of the Sergeant-pilot.
He had just gained his wings.The flight which was his last was to have completed his final course of training....


Well, we are having “fun”, another awful night. My only relief is that the children don’t seem to stir. I was just getting into bed at 10-45 last night, when there were some terrific explosions which absolutely rocked the house. I got up again, and through the window watched the searchlightsa trying to pick up a plane. I didn’t know what to do about the kiddies, for the bombs didn’t seem as they could fall much nearer.  However rightly or wrongly I let them sleep on, but kept up myself in case, until just after 2.30a.m. when all seemed peaceful again.

This morning I learned from Mr Bee, that another small village, again only four miles away, had been badly damaged, and this time with casualties. Really it seems tragic that you in Bognor are having to undergo these awful raids day and night, all on your own and we in Lower Slaughter, which we thought would be so safe, also seem to be in the line of fire, although of course there is no comparison in the intensity.

I’m beginning to wish we were somewhere with some sort of defence and shelter - it’s such a nightmare never knowing where they will come next, and not be able to be prepared.


This morning I took the boys into one of the harvest fields where they are cutting the corn, but it happened to be Mr Bees, and he was working there.

About 12-15 he was called on duty, I think I told you he is the chief ARP Officer. He advised me to go home as he went off at the double. We just got back when it started, machine-gun fire, bombs and more terrific explosions! Seemingly horribly close,
however we carried on with lunch, until at the end of the news at 1 p.m., I suddenly heard a German plane. I ran out to see and there it was flying quite low over the village - even “Griffy” whose eyes “ain't too good” could see it. I came back at once and we all gathered under the stairs in case though most of the villagers stood “agape” in the roads. Believe me that wretched thing circled the village for 1½ hours and then made off without doing any damage. I must admit the boys are splendid, and don’t seem a bit “nervy”. Of course I didn’t discuss any details in front of them but they realize about the bombs and all that has been said is from Junior (John Oliver Jr.) to me today, “You said the Germans didn’t know this village, but they do and they’ve come” but he didn’t seem a bit upset, and I don’t make much of it in their hearing.

This afternoon we just went into the hayfield where they made boats and sailed them on the river, apparently undisturbed by the nearby explosions and thuds, and it wasn’t till the machine gun fire started again that Junior looked up and said “There are the rat-tat guns again, Mummy, shall we go home?” We then returned for tea and it has rained steadily ever since, we were not able to go out again. It is all very trying, and one doesn’t know what to do for the best.....

We are most grateful to John Oliver (Jr.) of Eastbourne for this precious family information and for his permission to reproduce it here.