Appeal for more information about Worthing’s Royal Observer Corps

Worthing's Royal Observer Corps in 1945
Worthing's Royal Observer Corps in 1945

The Royal Observer Corps was officially formed as the Observer Corps in October 1925, obtaining its Royal status in April 1941.

The Corps was a national organisation with links to the RAF and had observers and lookout posts all over the country.

Their role was to look out for friendly and enemy aircraft and forward any enemy activity onto the RAF. This was before and during developments on RADAR.

Worthing’s members were located on the end of the pier, on the roof of the southern pavilion, but were moved to the roof of the county restaurant in June 1940; as the pier was “sectioned”, or removed, to deter the Germans using is as a landing stage due to a possible invasion.

They were temporarily stood down in May 1945 and soon were signed up again for a peacetime Royal Observer Corps.

The Corps role changed in the late 1950s when they took on the Cold War role of training to report a possible nuclear attack on Britain.

The Corps were finally stood down in 1992, at the end of the Cold War.

I am trying to get into contact with the family members of those shown/listed for my second edition of my book, The Royal Observer Corps in Worthing, and hope Herald & Gazette readers may be able to help.

The photo is believed to have been taken at Stand down in May 1945, and shows the Worthing Observers on top of the County Restaurant, Marine Parade, are facing east towards Brighton.

Those seen in the photo are listed below.

Back row (from left to right): Walter Charles Aldridge, William Edward Ducker, John Bayden White Peach, Herbert John Barnett, Ernest George Summers, Paul Anthony Kemp-Potter, Robert Lawrence Malcolm and Aubrey Alan Harris.

Middle row: George Redfern, William David Prentice, Frederick Richard Kemp-Potter, Donald Wallace Morecraft, Harry Thomas Bunce, Eric F. L. Dunck, Henry Percy Hilson, Archibald Arthur Aldridge and Mitchell.

Front row: William Henry Inwood, Claude Charles Inwood, Cecil Henry Delmar Van Toll, William Clarence Hammond, Pearson, Larkin, William Howard M. Groom and Herbert Walter Pope.

Further information on each member is shown below, with sincere thanks to ex-Observer Paul Wakefield, and his brother David.

In some cases much is known about the individual, whereas in other cases, nothing is known.

n Walter Charles (Wally) Aldridge

Born – August 28, 1881.

Died – June 1972.

Lived at “Greenridge”, 24 St Wilfred’s Road, Worthing.

He originally served in the Royal Engineers as a Sergeant (No.WR.317456) during the Great War with an Inland Waterway Transport Section.

During the interwar period he joined the Police Special Constabulary in the Worthing area and also joined the joint option of the Observer Corps of Special Constables, when, as we know, Police Special Constables could volunteer as members of the Observer Corps.

He became an Observer on the Worthing Post on September 5, 1930, with whom he served during the Second World War, reporting the enemy air activity, and subsequently qualified for the Royal Observer Corps Long Service Medal when it was instituted on January 31, 1950.

Other medals known to have been awarded to him include the Defence Medal 1939-45, the Police Special Constabulary Long Service Medal and the British War Medal 1914-1919.

Interestingly, for reasons unknown, he had initially failed to claim the latter medal until much later.

During the Blitz, part of the War Department’s Records Office in Arnside Street, London, was destroyed, along with thousands of records.

When Aldridge decided to claim his First World War medal, they discovered his record had been destroyed and there was no official proof he had served.

It is not clear how this was determined, however eventually, he was belatedly awarded it.

He was a cousin of Archibald Aldridge, also in the photo and was a member of the Aldridge family who ran an art/framing company, as well as a building company, with four premises in Worthing at; 35 Warwick Street, 4 The Arcade, 146 Montague Street and 16 Ann Street. The building company operated from 16 Ann Street.

Walter’s medals, certificates and letters relating to his military service were auctioned on eBay in November 2011.

n William Edward (Bill) Ducker

Born – November 25, 1903.

Died – February 1994.

Lived at 69 Rose Walk.

n John Bayden White Peach

Born – 1880, in Catsfield, East Sussex.

Died – March 1957.

In 1911 he was a printing engineer, working for the West Sussex Gazette (probably at Arundel), and lodging in Littlehampton.

In 1930 he was a Special Constable and member of the Observer Corps at Arundel.

By 1939 he had moved to Worthing, and was living at 6 St Anselm’s Road.

He had also transferred to the Worthing ROC post.

n Herbert John Barnett

Born – August 17, 1885.

Died – September 1974.

Lived at 225 Brighton Road, (near the Half Brick Public House).

Occupation in 1911 was a nurseryman.

n Ernest George Summers

Believed to have originated from Axminster, Devon.

In 1925 he married Rita Comber, who, as Rita Summers, became a councillor, and, in 1952–53 was Mayor of Worthing.

He owned an outfitter’s shop in Warwick Street.

n Paul Anthony Kemp-Potter

Born – July 6 1912.

Died – Sept 1997.

Lived at ‘Wych Elm’, Ashurst Drive, Goring-by-Sea.

Co-director of Wenban-Smith Ltd, timber merchants, of Newland Road, Worthing.

Brother of Frederick R (Dick), also in photo.

n Robert Lawrence Malcolm

Born – August 18 1908, in Battle, East Sussex.

Died – December 1989.

He was Paul Kemp-Potter’s best man at his wedding.

n Aubrey Alan Harris

Born – 1892.

Died – March 1951.

Lived at 10, Glebeside Avenue, Worthing.

n George Redfern

Born – 1881.

Died – June 1965.

Lived at 18, Drummond Road, Worthing.

n William David Prentice (known as David).

Born – 1893.

Died – March 1969.

Lived at 22 Cissbury Avenue.

n Frederick Richard (Dick) Kemp-Potter

Born – March 31, 1907, in Durrington.

Died – June 1991.

Lived at 2A Shirley Drive, Worthing.

Co-director of Wenban-Smith Ltd, and brother of Paul (back row of photo).

n Donald Wallace Morecraft

Born – October 1903.

Died – December 1966.

Lived at 8 Rectory Gardens, Broadwater.

Owner of two outfitting shops at 60–62 Broadwater Street East and 5 Brighton Terrace, South Street, Tarring.

Leading Observer on the Worthing Post.

Became a town councillor and was elected Mayor of Worthing 1955–56.

n Harry Thomas Bunce

Born – October 6, 1903.

Died – January 1985.

Lived at 14 Cecilian Avenue.

Owner of a large ironmongers/hardware shop at 112 Chapel Road.

The business is still going strong to this day with additional shops in Storrington, Horsham, Steyning and Littlehampton.

Head Observer on the Worthing roof top post.

Awarded the British Empire Medal for his wartime service.

n Eric FL Dunck

Born – 1892.

Died – June 1947.

n Henry Percy Hilson

Born – June 28, 1883.

Died – September 1972.

n Archibald Arthur Aldridge

Born – 1890.

Lived at 7, Longfellow Road.

Occupation in 1911 was a frame maker.

Also connected to the Aldridge art/framing company, and cousin of Walter Charles (back row of photo).

n Mitchell

Nothing known. Too many in Worthing, without knowing a first name, it is impossible to find any information. It is not FW Mitchell, the baker.

n William Henry Inwood

Born – 1884.

Died – 1955.

Lived at ‘Concord’, A’Becket Gardens, Durrington.

Proprietor of Inwood and Co, auctioneers, at 27 Marine Parade, corner of Bedford Row.

His son, Charles, who is seated just behind him in the photo, also worked for the same company.

n Claude Charles Inwood

Born – 1915.

Died – 1952.

Seated on left between middle and front row.

Son of William, and worked for his father.

The whole Inwood family had moved to Worthing from Bedfordshire.

n Cecil Henry Delmar Van Toll

Born – 1884

Died – March 1961

Lived at 13, Montague Place.

Proprietor of a tobacconist’s shop at 8 Warwick Street (now Jessops).

n William Clarence Hammond

Born – c1877.

Died – June 1950.

n Pearson

Nothing known. Without knowing a first name, it is impossible to find any information.

n Larkin

Nothing known.

n William Howard M Groom

Born – September 8, 1890, in Croydon.

Died – June 1970.

n Herbert Walter Pope

Born – 1865, in Eastbourne.

Died – June 1953.

Lived at 53 Beaumont Road, Worthing.

Known to have fought in the Boer War, and was enrolled as a Special Constable in the Observer Corps in 1929, when the Worthing post was first formed.

In 1891, the Pope family were living at 43 Chapel Road. Their trade was ‘dyers and cleaners’.

There is a connection with many of these men, in the respect that many were shop owners or neighbours, and it’s quite fascinating to speculate how the Worthing post’s membership was made up.

For example, Ernest Summers owned an outfitter’s shop in Warwick Street, which was opposite Van Toll’s tobacconist’s shop.

This is perhaps another instance of two local shopkeepers talking together, as I am sure Harry Bunce did with the Kemp-Potters, just around the corner at Wenbans.

In the 1911 census, the Van Toll’s were living next door to the Barnett family in Brighton Road, so Cecil and Herbert were probably friends.

n If you can offer Graham any more information about the Royal Observer Corps, please call him on 07793 435428 or email: grahamlelliott@hotmail.co.uk