Our town’s tales from the front line

Tourist Information Assistant Maria Cassidy & Front Line Eastbourne Book SUS-140617-160350001
Tourist Information Assistant Maria Cassidy & Front Line Eastbourne Book SUS-140617-160350001

For more than four years during World War Two, Eastbourne was in the front line and had the grim distinction of being the most bombed town in the South East region, outside London.

When the war was over, Beckett Newspapers, publishers of the Eastbourne Gazette and Eastbourne Herald, brought together detailed journalistic and photographic records of attacks and their devastating effect into a 100-page special publication – Front Line Eastbourne.

Now the booklet has been reproduced and reprinted by Eastbourne’s Heritage Centre, with the support of Sussex Newspapers, current publishers of the Herald and Gazette.

Myself, Nicholas Howell, joint chairman of the Heritage Centre, as a graphic designer, scanned and retouched an original copy of Front Line Eastbourne, ensuring that it faithfully replicates the original.

As the sub-heading on the cover states, it stands as “An illustrated record of a famous holiday resort under enemy air assault and a tribute to the stout-hearted residents which kept the flag flying.”

It seemed unthinkable that a seaside resort with no industrial or military importance should be subjected to random repeated bombing and straffing by fighter planes.

Such was the brutality of an air war which escalated from the pursuit of strategic targets to an assault on civilian morale.

Front Line Eastbourne faithfully records the roads and many of the properties destroyed or severely damaged between 1940 and 1944, and the names of those who lost their lives.

The early raids were by medium bombers which dropped sticks of high explosives spanning wide areas of the town.

Then in 1942 savage daylight hit-and-run onslaughts came from groups of fighter bombers which raked the streets with cannon fire and machine guns and also dropped bombs.

In 1943 night attacks were made, and in March 1944 the last bombs from piloted aircraft fell – only to be replaced by the menace of flying bombs launched from the French coast.

Between the summer of 1940 and the spring of 1944 Eastbourne was subjected to 98 raids, 671 high explosive bombs, some as heavy as 2,000lbs, and 3,625 incendiaries. There were more than 1,100 civilian casualties, of whom 174 lost their lives. Some 475 houses were destroyed, 1,000 were seriously damaged and 10,000 slightly damaged.

Buildings lost included the Technical Institute (where the Central Library now stands), the Grove Road fire station, Barclays Bank in Terminus Road, and St Anne’s Church in Upperton.

Front Line Eastbourne’s 70 photograph record these and many other scenes of bomb damage.

The publication is a tribute to the spirit of the people of Eastbourne during the war years. Front Line Eastbourne is available at £5.99 from The Heritage Centre at 2 Carlisle Road, where you can also view an exhibition commemorating Eastbourne in the war years.

n Nicholas Howell, Eastbourne Heritage Centre, Carlisle Road.