Looking Back: Eastbourne during the war

The former Mansfield Garages was demolished in bombing raids.
The former Mansfield Garages was demolished in bombing raids.

We continue our trip down Memory Lane this week of Eastbourne during the Second World War thanks to an illustrated book which lists all of the bombings the town suffered in the conflict.

The year is 1941 and on May 11 at 3.15am about 60 bombs were dropped on the Old Town district of the town causing numerous fires and a tank containing 200 gallons of paraffin was set on fire.

Two weeks later a single low flying plane dropped four bombs in Churchdale Road and Channel View Road and 16 houses were severely damaged and 15 people were injured.

There were 18 casualties when a plane dropped three bombs in St Leonards Road and The Avenue causing severe damage to seven houses.

After that there were no bombs for nearly 11 months and according to the book, Eastbournians were living the lives of almost normal people. But on May 4 1942 at 1.42pm with only about 10 seconds warning from the local alarm, a Hun swooped and once again brought death and destruction to the town.

Bombs were dropped in widely separated parts of the town hitting St John’s Church, Meads, and setting it on fire, scoring a direct hit on the gas works, the railway station causing severe damage to a train and station buildings. The Cavendish Hotel was hit trapping people under tonnes of debris. Three houses were wrecked in Willingdon Road by a bomb aimed at St Michael’s Church and fishermen in a small boat were gunned down as the raiders flew out to sea.

The book’s editor N Hardy wrote, “Although this new type of attack was terrifying in its suddenness, the public kept a high standard of morale and the Defence Services performed their jobs with wonderful speed and zeal.

“On August 11 1942 at 1am we had our most serious night raid when about eight or nine enemy multi-engined bombers attacked the town.

“The planes came in ones and twos over a 30 minute period at heights of up to 5,000 feet. They dropped numerous flares before releasing their bombs. Fires and damage by explosions were reported from Arundel Road, Ashford Road, Grange Road, Furness Road, Upper Avenue, Princess Alice Hospital yard, Carew Road, Gaudwick Road, Hartfield Road, Enys Road, Compton Place, Royal Eastbourne Golf Links, Railway Station, Coopers Hill and Chalk Farm.

“In all 47 HE bombs were accounted for and nearly 2,000 incendiary bombs were dropped. Considerable damage was done to residential and business properties in many parts of the town and it is amazing that casualties were so light - apart from the eight Canadian soldiers killed in a shelter.”

The bombing continued until October 26 when at 1pm the town was attacked and Willoughby Crescent, Seaside, Allfrey Road and Northbourne Road were bombed and the Arlington Arms received a direct hit and was demolished. More than 50 houses were damaged, 14 died and 22 were injured.

Mr Hardy continues, “December 18 1942: a week to Christmas and the streets crowded with shoppers. Two months since the last raid and everybody cheerfully going about their business when the warning sounded and a Dornier swooped to a very low level and dropped four large bombs. Marks and Spencer’s. Scholls, Artizan Dwelling Co, and Aitken-Grinstead’s came crashing down as the result of direct hits and buried many people under tonnes of debris.

“Rescue services were quickly on the job and worked throughout the next 24 hours in an effort to free the trapped people. Searchlights and canteens operated all night. Some 18 people died and 37 were injured.

“On December 29 1942 at 2.36pm two FW 190s made a low level attack on Victoria Drive and Moat Croft Road. Each carried a bomb and used guns freely. One bomb fell in the grounds of Gildredge Hospital and ricochetted over houses in Longland Road and Dillingburgh Road, through the roof of a house in Victoria Drive before exploding at the back of the house.

“A second bomb fell in the garden of the Court House in Motcombe Road and a fragment of this bomb was picked up in the grounds of Princess Alice Hospital. There was severe damage to houses in both areas, one person died and 36 injured.”