NOSTALGIA: Eastbourne war heroes praised in new book

John Akehurst in RAF uniform

John Akehurst in RAF uniform

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THE incredible war stories of a Spitfire pilot and a Bomber Command hero have been revealed in a new book.

Maurice Macey and John Akehurst feature in the new title Sussex War Heroes, which charts the experiences of nine veterans from across the county.

Maurice, who was born in Eastbourne in 1923 and spent much of his later life in Westham, flew Spitfires in the later years of the war.

He was scrambled up to three times a day to intercept enemy fighters and bomb convoys and railyards in Europe.

He said, “You couldn’t think about what might happen too much, you had to focus on what you were doing. Otherwise you wouldn’t make it back.”

He was also called into action to protect the Sussex coast against Hitler’s V1 rocket - or doodlebug as it was known.

In the book he explains how he would line his Spitfire alongside the speeding rocket and tip it with his wing so it would plummet into the English Channel.

On D-Day Maurice flew multiple missions and patrolled the beaches as the tens of thousands of men landed.

But his luck ran out on his 64th sortie in August 1944, when he was shot down. He parachuted from his Spitfire with his legs on fire.

Once on the ground he was captured, interrogated and thrown in a prisoner camp - but he survived the war.

He passed away just three months after being interviewed for the book, aged 92.

The other Eastbourne hero who features in the book is John Akehurst.

Little was known about his incredible story until his son found his war diary when clearing out his house after his death, aged 96, in November 2014.

The Bomber Command gunner was one of the best and so was recruited for Churchill’s Special Operations Executive. During which time he was part of the mission to assassinate Hitler’s right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich.

By the autumn of 1942 he already had 750 flying hours under his belt and the Distinguished Flying Medal for his efforts. But in the September he was shot down and captured.

Not one to give in, John attempted an audacious escape while being transported by German guards on a train. He launched a flying kick at one of the men and tried to leap from the moving carriage but was wrestled to the ground.

He would spend the next three years in prisoner camps across Europe, notably in Stalag Luft III, the scene of the Great Escape.

He spent a number of weeks in ‘the Cooler’ made famous by Steve McQueen in the Hollywood film before escaping later in the war.

Author Ben James said, “Both of these stories – like the other seven in the book – are incredible and inspiring. Sadly both Maurice and John have now passed away but it is important that their memory and stories live on. Eastbourne should be proud of them.”

In a foreword by Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart described her days in London, India, Egypt and Burma where she sang for the men who were fighting so far from home.

She said, “As I was leaving, a young soldier said to me, ‘Now you are here, home doesn’t seem so far away’. That meant a lot and I have never forgotten it.

“They were all so brave and just so grateful that I had come out to see them.

“They would ask about home and how we were getting on and what we were eating and simple things like that.

“But the sad reality was that many of them would never see home, their loved ones and families again.”

Dame Vera added, “I was a young woman at the time, but it is a period of my life I will never forget. I often think back to my experiences in Burma as it has a special place in my heart.”

Sussex War Heroes is available in all good bookshops, online (amazon.co.uk) and by calling 01235 465500.

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