Wartime Memories of Norman Sutton

From Terry Sutton of Dover to Wargen.

The story is about Norman Sutton (deceased), Dover’s only Front Line journalist.

It is claimed, a fact acknowledged in his Times obituary, that journalist Norman Sutton probably had more “stories” in wartime national newspapers than any other reporter.

It came about like this.

When war broke out in 1939 the British government banned all public notification about the weather in the UK. Such information could help enemy bombers.

But in the autumn of 1940, with German troops occupying Nord Pas de Calais (just 21 miles from Dover), they could see what the weather was like in the English Channel and in Dover.

Someone in Parliament woke up to this fact and the government allowed details to be released about “Weather in the Channel.”

Fleet Street leapt at the idea but who was going to supply the facts.

The local press? Norman Sutton was the only reporter left on the Dover Express-all his colleagues had been called up.

So there was a daily (often twice a day) task for Norman Sutton-phoning weather details to a series of Fleet Street newspapers which nearly all published, on the front page, a short snippet about the weather in the Channel.

On one occasion, while phoning from a public phone box, he was arrested at pistol point by an over keen army officer as a “spy” and marched to Dover police station-where he was welcomed by the police officers who had known Norman at work for years!

Norman Sutton, who spent all his days (and some nights) at his Dover Express desk, was also a Home Guard officer whose squad covered Dover sea front. If the enemy landed his platoon would have been the first to die.

Throughout the war he, and other Dover people, endured 2,226 shells fired from the French coast and around 400 bombs. Dover became known worldwide as the nation’s Front Line town. And Norman Sutton was the only journalist (apart from his aged editor) who remained there throughout the war.

His war diary, listing air and shelling raids, was extensively used by the authors of the book Dover in the Second World War.

Excerpts include:1939 “Guards have been mounted at the railway stations and at other places. ARP workers and troops are around the port. Military lorries everywhere. More destroyers and trawlers arriving in the harbour. Hospital patients evacuated.”

1939: HMS Kittiwake (530 tons), a patrol vessel, struck a mine soon after leaving port. Five members of crew killed. Sea mines being washed ashore.”

1940: May-blockades erected on all roads leading into Dover. Spitfire crashed near Dover. Number of wrecks visible from cliffs. A number of German prisoners landed at Dover as well as wounded from a destroyer. June: British and French troops arrive Dover from Dunkirk.”

August 1940: Five siren warnings today. Shelling from French coast. Two killed. St Barnabus Church hit by shell. Bombs kill 14 soldiers playing football. I am issued with a Thompson sub-machine gun for Home Guard duties.

1941: Dover now badly damaged. In one small area 118 houses destroyed and 172 seriously damaged. More than 100 families have now lost homes to war damage.

1943: March-No shelling today. By the end of the month the Dover sirens have been heard 2,275 times. Plenty of action out in the Channel.

1944: (Preparations for D-Day); Dover has become a Regulated Area with the sea front closed to the public. People need special passes. Huge wooden barriers erected on roads leading to the sea front. What goes on behind those barriers is not apparent but rumours are rife.

September 1944: (As Canadian troops fight their way up the coast towards Calais, the German gunners greatly increase shelling of Dover). “It’s a whirlwind, sadistic orgy of destruction” writes Norman Sutton. Dover has become a town under siege with business life forced to a virtual standstill. Shops closed, schools failed to open. People remain in their shelters for days on end. In some areas no bread or milk deliveries for two days. Mobile kitchens supplying hungry people with hot soup.

Dover people did the sensible thing and remain in their shelters and take cover until the guns are finally silenced. Casualties no means light but in view of the considerable damage, deaths might have been many more.

(And later in September 1944): “In his final desperate efforts, the enemy has at last achieved a noticeable effect on the moral of the town’s civilian population that he had failed to do during four long years of shelling.” 

The End

*Thanks for sharing this interesting information from your fathers works*

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Author: shane

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