Canucks by the Sea  

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Canucks by the Sea

During WW2, Eastbourne was ‘home’ to thousands of Canadians. From the recollections of veterans, residents and war brides; from regimental histories and war diaries, this is a slice of social and wartime history. The genteel image of Eastbourne did not match that of a garrison town, and there had been apprehension when it was heard the Canadians were coming. Soon, business was booming in the pubs, and there were brawls between Canucks and Inter-Allied Commandos. Men crammed into church halls to be entertained by ENSA groups. One vicar was so outraged by blue humour that further performances were banned. At the Winter Garden dances, Canadians met local women – both single and married. Writing anonymously to the author, one Eastbourne lady comments wistfully, “And life has never again been so exciting!” Chapter 6, ‘Something about a Soldier’ and Chapter 7, ‘Just one of those Things’ are devoted to wartime romances – respectively those which led to marriage and those which did not.

A succession of infantry regiments from three divisions defended the beaches, and special plans were drafted when retaliation was feared in the wake of the Dieppe raid. Their engineers constructed defences and an emergency airfield; signallers monitored German radio traffic from a seafront mansion. Tanks churned up the roads on their way to training areas on the Downs. Canadian AA gunners fought off ‘Hit and Run’ raiders, and a Bren-gunner shot down a fighter-bomber over the town. The other raider got away but, 60 years on, the author tracked down the pilot and interviewed him in Hanover. One sore point was the destruction of Belle Tout lighthouse by artillery fire. Now the story is told from the official war diary of the Canadian range party.

‘Canucks by the Sea’ by Michael Ockenden (187 pp + 75 illustrations), is published by Eastbourne Local History Society and available from http://www.eastbournehistory.org.uk/publications.php for £10.99 + postage.