LETTER: I watched it burn as a child

As a 10-year-old child, on the 21st of March 1940, I watched from the shore at the top of Carlton Road as a burning ship, the Barnhill, which had been bombed by a German aircraft somewhere to the west of Newhaven, was towed slowly to the east by the Newhaven tug Foremost and subsequently put ashore just to the east of Langney Point where she was secured by a heavy wire rope to a collapsed Martello Tower. We understood the purpose of this was to enable the fire to be put out and the ship re-floated to enable her cargo, valued then at a quarter of a million pounds, to be salvaged. The sea was calm with just enough breeze to ruffle the surface which was of considerable help in conducting this somewhat tricky operation. The Eastbourne lifeboat Jane Holland was in attendance to assist in rescuing the crew, several of whom had been killed in the attack and was about to leave the ship when the ringing of a bell was heard. The Coxswain of the lifeboat asked for volunteers to go back aboard the burning ship to investigate and two men came forward, my uncle Tom Allchorn and a colleague Alec Huggett.

Guided by the sound of the bell they discovered the badly injured ships captain butting the bell rope to attract attention and carried him back to the lifeboat, an action for which they were both awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institutions Bronze medal for gallantry.

The Barnhill was, unfortunately, put ashore lying across the tide which resulted in the sand being scoured out from beneath her bow and stern which eventually left her with no support fore and aft at low water and she broke into three, spilling her cargo into the sea, part of which was tinned food, leaving the sand in the vicinity silver with tins at low water which, of course led to the local population to descend en masse to harvest this very welcome bonus from the sea. Official warnings that it was contaminated went unheeded and a lot of the population of Eastbourne and surrounding districts lived like fighting cocks during that period.

Brian Allchorn,

Station Road, Hailsham.