Great-grandmother recalls evacuation of Shoreham Beach during war

Peggy McCulloch at her home on Shoreham Beach, with a photo of the home she grew up in, also on Shoreham Beach
Peggy McCulloch at her home on Shoreham Beach, with a photo of the home she grew up in, also on Shoreham Beach

A great-grandmother of seven has shared her memories of being evacuated from Shoreham Beach in 1940 as the threat of German invasion loomed.

Peggy McCulloch said she was inspired to speak about her experiences after watching the recently released film Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan, which she described as ‘very moving’.

Recalling life on Shoreham Beach before the war, Peggy said: “I had a nice childhood, in spite of everything.”

When war was declared, 13-year-old Peggy and her younger sister began crossing the bridge to school in Shoreham town with gas masks around their necks and often had lessons inside an air raid shelter at the school.

As a Girl Guide, Peggy helped evacuees from London off the train in Shoreham.

A nine-year-old evacuee, Rita, who had never been away from home before, was billeted with Peggy, her sister and their widowed mother.

When the troops left France in 1940, an 8pm curfew was imposed and a blackout enforced.

“We had to have our suitcases packed and ready to go,” Peggy said.

The bridge was closed at night, though Peggy’s mother kept a small boat to ferry the family across in case of an invasion.

Peggy said: “She was terrified for us. She had quite a responsibility if you think about it.”

And then, in August, 1940, shortly after the fall of Dunkirk, families on Shoreham Beach were warned that invasion was imminent and were given just 48 hours to evacuate.

Soldiers helped move the 800 households from the Beach into Shoreham town, where Peggy said there were many empty homes.

“A lot of people were fleeing inland,” she said.

“We could have gone to Yorkshire.

“But that was too far and my mother said ‘no’.”

Rita returned to London with the other evacuees.

“We became the evacuees then,” Peggy said, as her family settled in Sullington Way.

It was 1946 before the family could finally return to the Beach.

A year later, Peggy married her husband Peter, who she met during the war, at St Mary’s Church, Shoreham.

Peggy became a nurse with the Red Cross, and later worked in a bank, as well as becoming a mother of two.

Decades later, Peggy, now a widow, still lives on Shoreham Beach, in Riverside Road, opposite the site where her childhood home once stood.

And though she does not think much about the past, Peggy said: “There’s nowhere else I’d like to live.”