LOOKING BACK: The dagger in the library

The badly damaged Central Library
The badly damaged Central Library

Looking Back continues the story written by American David Patterson of his memories of growing up in Eastbourne. David and his family were evacuated during the Second World War - and here he takes up the story of returning to the town.

“Sometime after VE Day, my dad had gone on ahead of his family from South Shields in order to get back to his pre-war job as chef at the Angles Hotel and to find somewhere for us to live.

“He was there at the railway station to meet us sometime early in September 1945 and it was of course a time of family joy. As the five of us walked along Terminus Road, carrying suitcases and bags, the town seemed oddly empty, and the streets were dimly lit.

“It was probably about 9pm and on the way from the station to Wellesley Road, where Dad had rented a house, I cannot remember seeing anyone other than a solitary policeman who waved at us from across the road, and a few shadowy figures in the distance.

“The whole town seemed to have been closed up and, at first glance, did not have a friendly feel about it. No wonder. When I began to look around, I found that all hell had been inflicted on our lovely south coast hometown.

“Across the road from our new home was All Soul’s Church. One of the first things I noticed was that all of the iron railings that lined the perimeter of the church yard had been cut off close to the base, presumably for re-use in creating tanks and other machines of war.

“Numerous houses in the area also had ornamental railings at the front of their gardens and they had been removed also. There was an empty bomb site over the back from our house, where presumably several houses had once stood. Dad said our house had suffered minor blast damage, which had recently been repaired by the owner.

“In Tideswell Road, at one end of Wellesley, was what I think must have been a repair shop associated with the nearby heavily-damaged Mansfield’s garage.

“There was a burned out car in the driveway (now reconstructed as Harris Court) that led to the repair shop, one of those large open-top tourers that were popular in the 1930s.

“The car was rusted and the tyres were gone and the retractable hood was damaged, probably by fire. As I found other kids in the neighborhood to play with, we used to ‘go on trips’, sitting on uncovered seat coils, pretending to turn the steering wheel and operate other immobile controls.

“The bomb damage around town was incredible although, as children, we probably soon took if for granted. Every street seemed to have suffered somewhere along its length. Bomb-sites became playgrounds and we had no knowledge about what suffering had occurred to the people who once had lived or worked in those shattered buildings.

“Venturing onto the seafront one day, I saw that the pier was closed off and a long section of the deck on the south side of the ballroom was missing, presumably removed in order to hamper German invasion forces that might have used the pier landing stage to off load soldiers and equipment.

“When I attended Christ Church School I got friendly with a boy known as a daredevil. He was one of those ‘street-wise’ kids who always seem a bit more ‘advanced’ than their peers.

“The badly-damaged Central Library on Grove Road was a short distance from the school and, while walking home one day with him, we took a detour to gaze at the ruin. He got me to hold onto his bag while he squeezed through a rickety ‘keep-out’ fence, ran across rubble to the building, and quickly disappeared through a low-mounted broken window. (I’m sure he must have done that before, judging by his familiarity and quickness).

“I waited and watched, quite nervously I suppose, afraid a policemen might come along. ‘Street-wise’ emerged a few minutes later and scrambled back through the fence, brandishing an impressive ornamental dagger that, hindsight suggests, must have been a museum exhibit.

“I wonder why it was left there but perhaps the building was so unstable from the bombing that it was decided to let sleeping dogs lie until there were sufficient resources to dismantle the wreckage safely. I steered clear of that boy in future.”

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