The Eastbourne Local History Society has just published a 20 page booklet entitled Letters from Wartime Eastbourne, which describes how the bombing of the Spencer Road shelter tragedy took the life of Bill Edmonds, father of three daughters, as well as more than 20 others.
Bill’s daughter, Gillian Rogers, now 89 and who still lives in Eastbourne, has collaborated with Michael Partridge from the society to publish her mother’s letters to her American family describing life in Eastbourne in 1940.
Gillian also tells the story of what happened later, including the day in 1944 when one of the sisters was hurt by a flying bomb, and how it affected the lives of Bill’s family.
The girls, then aged 13, 14 and 19, all attended the High school in Eldon Road, although they were evacuated to Hitchin in Hertfordshire with the school in the summer of 1940, returning to Eastbourne in July 1942.
Their father Bill and mother Nell continued to live in the town and she worked in the mobile canteens which catered for the many troops that were stationed in and around the town for most of the war.
Bill continued to run his chemist’s shop at 83 South Street but evacuation and the departure of many schools and holidaymakers dramatically reduced his turnover.
The Spencer Road bombing was but one of several that occurred on that day in April 1943: in all 35 local people lost their lives and 99 were injured.
For the town it was the most disastrous day of the whole war: 10 Messerschmidt 109s and Focke Wulf 190s dropped 12 bombs on the town at 11.46am. The shelter in Spencer Road was no more than a brick wall construction and when it sustained a direct hit from a 250kg Nazi bomb it was destroyed, all its occupants were killed and the bodies of some seven of the people sheltering in it were totally fragmented.
Their remains, including those of Bill Edmonds and 12-year-old Peter Horton, who had been in the same billet with Gillian and her sister Jane in Hitchin, were not fully recovered and are buried in Langney Cemetery.
A second blow for the Edmonds family occurred on June 18 1944 when daughter Anne, back from university, took shelter in a house in Mountney Road near to Motcombe Gardens and was blinded in one eye by flying glass when a Doodle Bug fell near where she was sheltering.
All three daughters went on to have good lives and successful careers – Anne and Jane in the USA and Gillian in Britain and the Commonwealth. Their mother Nell died in 1979.
The booklet costs £3 plus £1 for postage and packing and can be obtained from the society via Liz Moloney, 18 The Moorings, St John’s Road, Eastbourne, BN20 7NL, or by email email@example.com