LOOKING BACK: The day all hell broke loose

Devastation: The aftermath of the bombing raid
Devastation: The aftermath of the bombing raid

This is the first part in a series of memoirs from local historian Kevin Gordon on the day when it is said all hell broke loose in Seaford during the Second World War.

Kevin writes, “Thursday November 5 1942 was a wet and windy day and rain pounded the seaside town of Seaford. At Seaford School in Church Street, huge trays of custard tarts were due to be served to about 80 children, although many more had gone home for lunch.

“On the corner of Pelham Terrace (now Pelham Road) and Dane Road a cashier and his assistant were working at Lloyds Bank and next door a junior clerk, Betty Hamper was working in the office of Fuller and Cooper Solicitors.

“Between the bank and the HQ of the Royal British Legion at 9 Pelham Place were five, three-story terraced houses. In the bay window of one, 81-year-old Flora Todd was sitting reading.

“Typically for November, there was low cloud and visibility was poor. A group of soldiers huddled in the grounds of Corsica Hall, for a lesson. The former Seaford College had been taken over for the army and used as a military training centre for aircraft recognition under the command of Lt Col R L Bassett. The men were to have a more exciting lesson they could have imagined.

“At 12.38 a German Dornier 217 plane was suddenly spotted coming in from the channel, just a few feet from the sea to avoid radar. Anti-aircraft defences opened fire on the aircraft and the air-raid sirens suddenly blared out.

“At 14 Pelham Terrace, 26-year-old Cilda Fort who was a talented dance teacher helped three elderly ladies down into the basement for safety. The Lloyds staff rushed downstairs and hid in the bank strong room. The children dived under their tables.

“The enemy plane climbed to avoid buildings and discharged four 500kg bombs. Three of the bombs were dropped in rapid succession from a height of just 65 feet. They whizzed across the back of the school and entered three of the houses just above ground level. As the Nazi plane swerved upwards over Seaford railway station, it dropped its last bomb but this skidded across the railway yard (now the site of Seaford Health Centre) bounced off the railway goods shed and exploded harmlessly in an embankment at the Salts Recreation Ground.

“In the goods yard Gordon Marsh, who was working for a coal merchants, saw the plane overhead. He said it was barely a few feet above the Seaford rooftops and said if he had a brick in his hand, he could have thrown it at the pilot.

“There was a wait of a few seconds due to the bombs having delayed fuses. Gordon said that then ‘all hell was let loose’ as the bombs exploded in the basements. The row of five house crumpled to the ground. Windows in a wide area shattered and the whole scene was enveloped in dust and debris. It was said that day turned to night in the aftermath of the attack.

“As the Luftwaffe pilot escaped back over the Channel, he left five people dead and two seriously injured. Flora Todd was killed instantly and the four ladies in the basement also died. It had been such a sudden attack that there had not been time for people run for cover. The nearest public bomb shelter was in Dane Road (the entrance just opposite where Diella’s restaurant is today) but there had been no time for anyone to use it.”