How the Canadians outfoxed the locals
Canada made a massive contribution to the Allied war effort in the Second World War, which is often forgotten. During the abortive Dieppe raid in 1942 the Canadians suffered nearly 3,400 casualties, over one third of whom were killed.
For the invasion of Europe in 1944 Canada provided a whole army, the 1st Canadian, which fought from Normandy right through into Germany. From 1942 onwards through to the D-Day period, the 1st Canadian army was headquartered around Cuckfield.
They succeeded various British units stationed in the village who were not very constructive or noted for discipline. When the Canadians arrived, it was a different story. They took over, extended and modernised Cuckfield hospital for their own use, which benefited the locality right through until the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath was opened in 1991.
Coming from across the Atlantic, the Canadians also gave Cuckfield a much-needed culture shock in the midst of a very depressing war - not forgetting the effect they had on the young ladies of the district!
“They were well turned out – very alive, virile, splendid young men, and extremely smart – which we had not seen in England for a long time”, recalls Angela Fox, well-known Cuckfield resident, author, and president of the Cuckfield Society. “We almost became a Canadian state. This part of England was taken over by the Canadian Army which was greatly to our advantage. Our own men were away fighting.
“I remember the Canadians as most disciplined and well led by their officers, kind, generous, decent human beings who knew why they were here and were prepared to go to any lengths to fight for the cause we were involved in and, wherever possible, look after and be decent to the families who gave them hospitality.
“They were based all around Cuckfield but mainly at Wakehurst which was the first Canadian army HQ. They were wonderfully hospitable. Not only was it a pleasure to have them trip into one's house, but they gave the most brilliant parties.
“Sir Henry Price had made a wonderful garden at Wakehurst and the Canadians did not want to see it go to rack and ruin so they employed someone to care for the garden. At no time was Wakehurst honestly anything but the beautiful place it had always been.
“The Canadians were here until D-day. We all knew what was going on. They used to say “Angela I've got to go to sea”, and so hint to me when the invasion was going to take place. They joked that I would get on to my girlfriends and tell them the wrong information. The Canadian said “she was so discreet she won the war for us!”
“All the Canadians who used my house stayed friends with me and most of them later brought their wives to stay and their children.”
For film on Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps at Cuckfield Hospital during WW2 please follow the link - with thanks to Cuckfield Museum
Thanks to 'Cuckfield 900' (1992) for the article
With acknowledgement and thanks to wikipedia for the Canadian Army recruitment poster image