LOOKING BACK: Memories of a town at war

Brightland Road in Eastbourne after a bombing raid
Brightland Road in Eastbourne after a bombing raid

Former Eastbourne resident Edward Toovey has sent in his memories of the war in Eastbourne and we will be serialising his memoirs in the weeks ahead.

Edward, known as Ted, now lives in Henfield and writes, “I was 11 years old when the war started but like all my generation, we had got used to the idea of the war coming.

“We had all been issued with gas masks and knew all about the Abyssian War and the Spanish War so it came as no surprise.

However, as soon as we had heard the Prime Minister’s announcement the Air Raid Warning sounded but fortunately it was a false alarm.

“For some months nothing much happened except that we had two evacuees from the east end of London. This did not work out well as they found it hard to adjust after the close knit family they were used to and after some months their parents came and took them home especially as London was not being bombed at that time.

“The only other excitement was a ship being beached as it had been damaged by a mine which gave us something to look at. However, everything changed in the summer of 1940 as when my mother and I came to out of the Luxor cinema there were posters saying that Eastbourne was to be evacuated as it was in the Invasion Zone.

“So for a short time I was sent off to stay with an aunt and uncle in Watford but this was not a good idea as Watford was too close to London, which was suffering from the Blitz and my uncle’s garage was hit by an incendiary bomb, so back to Eastbourne.

“My parents then had the problem of education as all the schools had either closed or been evacuated, and this was a similar problem for other parents with boys when they were in essential services in the town. So they wrote to Percy Gilbert who had been a part owner of Roborough School and asked if he would leave Devon and take on around eight boys.

He agreed so with one master teaching every school subject, school was resumed.

Later on, Eastbourne College, which had been evacuated to Radley, sent three masters and the Navy released one house so that a more formal style of education was resumed. It is perhaps noting that all through the war, exams were still prepared and good results were expected by our parents.

“What was Eastbourne like? First of all there were very few civilians but it was crowded by troops of all sorts. There was a commando made of soldiers from all the European countries in Nazi hands and these were mainly billeted with individuals.

“Then there were Canadians who suffered badly at Dieppe. Lots of artillery and we, as a family, were friendly with a bombardier who took my brother and I to see the sea defences which were housed in pill boxes on the Crumbles and mounted pre-1914 naval guns to oppose the German Army.

“The town suffered numerous air raids mainly carried out by single engined fighter bombers who would come in low under the radar screen and would just target places like the Railway Station or just dropped their bombs anywhere.

“We had a special Cuckoo alarm but it was usually too late to be of any use. It was quite frightening and I can still remember jumping off my bike and going flat in the gutter until the raider had gone over.

“Of course there were machine guns mounted on top of all the hotels and tall buildings so the noise when a raid took pace was terrific.”

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