Worthing author Pam Weaver delves into the town's wartime mysteries

Pam Weaver
Pam Weaver

Was there a war-time underground command centre under Field Place in Worthing?

Worthing author Pam Weaver doesn’t know for sure; but it has certainly proved a good starting point for her new novel, Come Rain or Shine.

The book is set in Worthing just after the war, as Pam explains: “Like the rest of the country, Worthing was fairly broken at that time, but there were some amazing people. People would all be running for counselling now, but back then they just got on with it.

“But really the inspiration for the book for me came from a couple of articles that I found in the wonderful Worthing Herald, one on January 5 1996 and the other on January 19.

“There was a rumour going round about an underground command centre under Field Place which is a very popular wedding venue now. Everybody pooh-poohed the idea in the first article, but the second article was written by two men, one who was the greenkeeper at the time and another who was a friend, and they said that yes, this place existed, that it was a collection of tunnels and as children they rode their bicycles around in these tunnels and they were actually quite big.

“I found a little book that somebody had written called The Field Place Mystery, and I just thought whether the tunnels were real or not, they would be a brilliant part of my plot. My heroine ends up in the tunnels.

“Most people in authority say that the tales of these tunnels were exaggerated, that it must have just been an underground cellar, but the MoD won’t comment – and that keeps it in the air.”

Either way, it proved the perfect starting point for Pam for her heart-warming story about love, friendship and determination.

The year is 1946 and the war is over, but a bereft Sheila Hodges is left parentless and alone in London. With nowhere else to go, she heads to Worthing to reconnect with her grandmother and cousin Veronica, known as Ronnie.

Ronnie and Sheila are given the opportunity to run their grandfather’s business, a local garage. Ronnie’s ne’er-do-well brother Leslie is furious – as the man of the family, he believes the business is rightfully his. But their grandmother is adamant that Leslie is not to be trusted.

After serving in the ATS in the war, Sheila is a trained mechanic, while Ronnie discovers she has a talent for numbers and a shrewd business head. Despite the garage’s derelict state, the girls are determined to turn it into a prospering business.

Bright and lively, the girls quickly make themselves at home in the welcoming community, a source of comfort after the horrors of war. But when the girls stumble across a shocking family secret, they will have to depend on each other to uncover the truth . . .

Pam’s saga novels are set in Worthing during the austerity years. Her inspiration comes from her love of people and their stories and from her passion for the town of Worthing.

“I have been in Worthing since 1973. I met a get a handsome gorgeous young man and fell in love with him and we have been married ever since. He hasn’t moved at all. He moved from Goring to Lancing and back to Durrington and now we are in Tarring.”

Pam’s own story, however, is rather more dramatic – and is likely to be the subject of her next book: “I am actually the daughter of an American GI. I was one of the ‘brown babies’ that were left behind. I was adopted by my mother’s best friend. My mother had a fling and had me adopted by her best friend because she didn’t want her husband to find out. I don’t think my mother’s husband ever did know about me at all. I can talk about it now, but it has taken me a long time to be able to talk about it. None of it was my fault, but you feel responsibility that you have made life awkward for people. But I do feel I can talk about it now…”

The book has been published by Pan Macmillan.

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