Irene Saxby

An extract from ‘My Story’, written by Irene Betty Saxby for her children and grand-children
14 July 1917 – 25 July 2007

‘During the latter part of 1940 and 1941, after the disaster of Dunkirk, there was an invasion threat. It was really believed that Germany was preparing to invade Britain and the whole of the south coast was on Invasion Alert. Soldiers were on duty at all bridges by the railway lines and anyone passing under the bridges had to produce their identity card. If they did not, they could not continue their journey until they had phoned someone who could bring their card, or otherwise identify them. “Careless Talk costs Lives” was on all the posters. People visiting the area had to have a permit and had to have a good reason for coming or going. Brighton Post Office, which had an underground Instrument Room with a switchboard and teleprinters, made provision for such an invasion. The area was approached through the basement with a door through what looked like a concrete wall. Inside was a replica of the Instrument Room upstairs. There were cupboards with provisions, water etc., clothing for a gas attack and every conceivable thing which might be needed. A group of people were chosen to man this and I was one of them. Our Superintendent had sealed instructions, as to what procedure to adopt in the event of an invasion. The staff were to retreat to Horsham if possible, but we had to remain, hopefully, undetected, carrying on communications for as long as possible. We had an escape route which came out behind Hanningtons, the big store nearby. We were also issued with a pistol each, which we had to learn to use. I only qualified by shutting both eyes and aiming hopefully at the target. If we did escape, we were told to make our way to Horsham. We were issued with instructions that emergency rations were hidden in a small chalk quarry just beyond Saddlescombe, on the Henfield Road, should we need them on our way to Horsham. We spent two hours a day operating this underground Instrument Room, to get us used to it and to make sure it operated well. Fortunately, we never had to make use of it, as the invasion never happened and gradually it became apparent that the scare of invasion was receding, as we prepared to invade Europe ourselves. It seems a fantastic story now, but some years later my mother, who never threw anything away, showed me the allowance book she was issued with as my next of kin, so that she could draw my wages from the Post Office whilst I was engaged on this enterprise’.

Note: the Post Office was at the time in Ship Street, Brighton.