Eastbourne man trapped in bombed house during World War Two

Eastbourne resident Malcolm Hipgrave has many memories of the bombing raids in the town during the Second World War.

Tuesday, 29th May 2018, 12:58 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 4:27 pm
Malcolm Hipgrave, Eastbourne

And his young cousin, 14-year-old Irene Hipgrave died in the Spencer Road bombing in April 1943 and is remembered on a roll of honour of 180 civilians who died in Eastbourne during the conflict.

Malcolm lived with his elder sister Evie and his mother and father at 23 Willoughby Crescent.

In March 1940, Malcolm, aged 11 at the time, can remember the SS Barnhill going aground at Langney Point.

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The 5,000 ton cargo ship was bombed off Beachy Head and set ablaze. With his father, Malcolm salvaged tins of meat, stew and beans from the wreckage. He also recovered large blocks of cheese and even typewriters which they transported back to Willoughby Crescent in a wheelbarrow.

Malcolm’s next clear memory was of a horrific incident when his house in Willoughby Crescent was bombed on March 28 1941.

Malcolm had been in the rear yard cleaning his bike and didn’t hear the cuckoo warning but remembered the siren which sounded after the cuckoo and signalled that an air raid was imminent.

His mother Gladys shouted for him to get inside and they took shelter with their pet cat under the stairs which had been reinforced with old telegraph poles purloined from the GPO Telephony Division where his father worked. The reinforcement undoubtedly saved their lives, holding up the staircase while the rest of the house fell on top of them.

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Malcolm cannot remember the explosion but clearly remembers the silence which followed.

His father, having been alerted to the bombing, cycled from the Telephone Exchange in Waterworks Road and joined the ARP in the rescue. It was the end of the day before Malcolm and his mother were rescued from under the staircase. Unfortunately the cat, which was on Malcolm’s leg, died and at first the blood from the fatally wounded cat was thought to be Malcolm’s.

The photograph shows the bombed houses in Willoughby Crescent and in another photo the head warden can be seen carrying out the rescue at Malcolm’s destroyed home.

Malcolm was admitted to hospital in Upperton road with his mother and some two weeks later on discharge the WRVS attended to provide clothing.

It was then found his shoe size had jumped from size six to size nine since the bombing and he is still a size nine today.

It was 18 months later on October 26 1942 when Malcolm was travelling home to 337 Seaside from Eldon Road School that he escaped with his life after a bombing raid.

With school being mornings only, he was on the 1pm bus with his school friend Douglas Gower. They were both aged 13.

Malcolm got off the bus at the Archery Tavern in Seaside and moments later four bombs were dropped in the Seaside area, one directly hitting the bus killing the driver and several passengers including Douglas Gower. In all 15 people died and 22 were injured in that bombing raid. Malcolm luckily was uninjured and returned home safely. A very near miss.

The worst ever bombing raid on Eastbourne took place on April 3 1943 when 10 enemy aircraft dropped 12 bombs on the town centre.

One bomb demolished a surface air raid shelter in Spencer road. The shelter was intended for people caught out doors during an air raid.

Malcolm was 14-years-old at the time and was cycling back along Blackwater Road to Eastbourne Main Post office where he worked as a messenger. The bomb struck the air raid shelter as he passed the junction with Spencer Road but he was uninjured.

However he later found that his cousin Irene Hipgrave, also 14, had died in the shelter bombing. She worked opposite in Baker Sons and Hyde, latterly Strawberry Hill Fireplaces, in South Street and had run across the road to the shelter on hearing the siren.

Her name appears on the Roll of Honour and is included among the names on the new Eastbourne Civilian War Memorial in the Wish Tower Peace Garden.

Malcolm celebrates his 90th birthday this month (June) and lives with his wife Susan in Eastbourne. He has four sons from his first marriage, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.