(Email problems- please get in touch again if you recently
sent a photo)
Slept in our
Kennedy and Macmillan
© AP From the BBC History site
It's a pity that there is no sign commemorating the fact
but less than 5 months before he was assassinated President Kennedy actually slept in
our parish! The Prime Minister at the time was Harold Macmillan and his
(as opposed to his the British prime Ministers' official residence) was situated on the
northern edge of our Parish at Birch Grove. As Kennedy wanted
to see something of the British countryside it was suggested that this might be a
suitable place for an "overnighter" during his European tour.
As it was the weekend Kennedy was required to be seen
attending church on the Sunday morning and at that time the nearest Catholic
church was just over 4 miles away in Forest Row. Just after 10.30 Kennedy
swept out of Birch Grove gates followed by a car with four secret service agents standing on the
running boards clinging to the
sides. Those on the right were trained to shoot with their right hands,
those on the left able to shoot left handed (so that they could hold on and
shoot at the same time!) Nobody had considered assassins concealed in tall buildings
at the time of course! Anyway because of a few (very friendly) demonstrators
on the route Kennedy travelled in a hard top Cadillac! He smiled and waved
all the way and the demonstrators smiled and waved back - very British.
Other secret agents spent the night up trees and every
local car number plate was recorded if it even thought of travelling down
Birch Grove road. Sussex Police sent along a couple constables on their
bikes to offer help which the Americans politely declined as they had
sufficient numbers already. In all there were more than 200 security staff
and a similar number of journalists in the group. Hotels as far away as
Brighton were booked up for the duration and had a field day!
One of the bases for Secret Service operations was the
Lounge Bar of the Crown Inn (another was the bar in the Chelwood Gate pub which
Kennedy visited to drink a couple of beers on the Saturday evening). It is documented that local
televisions refused to work during the visit such was the power of the
Secret Service security transmitters! A special helicopter landing pad was laid out and lit
all night nearby
(a fire crew spent the entire time there on stand by, just in case) and extra supplies of
Kennedy's blood group were delivered to the nearest hospital, the Queen Vic
in East Grinstead. One 8 year old
child was arrested after being nearly shot for carrying a plastic toy cowboy
rifle, and the whole area generally ground to a halt!
As a schoolboy your webmaster (standing just to the right
of the demonstrators in photograph below) took a couple of pictures on the
events on Sunday morning as Kennedy went to church but unfortunately these
have been lost over time. However
that square jawed, smooth shaved, tanned American face is etched in my memory.
If you have any suitable photos of the visit we would be delighted to copy
them to reproduce here.
There is some information on the internet about the
visit but also some obviously recently rewritten reports which are shall we say
"exaggerated" if not just made up.
If you are interested in reading facts about the visit then
we recommend you consult the archives of the local newspapers "The East Grinstead Observer" and
"The East Grinstead Courier" which are contemporaneous and accurate. Their
front page lead the following week was the arrest of the 8 year old boy for
carrying a plastic gun (he was apparently locked up and his parents
interrogated for several hours)!
information in "The Evening Argus" archive seems to have been written from
accounts that are less accurate than many and disagree with the
recollections of many locals who experienced events at the time.
All very friendly and smiling.
Protesters waiting for Kennedy to go to church.
Sunday morning on the corner of Birch Grove Road.
© From The East Grinstead Observer
Extract from the 1963 White House Diary
June 30, 1963
12:00 p.m. G.M.T.
Small luncheon in honor (sic) of President Kennedy given by Prime
Minister Harold Macmillan. Birch Grove House, Sussex, England.
President Kennedy attends Mass at a nearby Catholic church.
President Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan issue a
joint statement following their discussions at the Prime
Minister's country home. Both agree that a nuclear test ban treaty
President Kennedy departs from Gatwick Airport and arrives in
Milan, Italy where he spends the night at the Villa Serbelloni on
November 22, 1963
12:30 p.m. C.S.T.
President Kennedy assassinated in