Harry’s Ramblings. The Bombs Fell on Eastbourne
Only three enemy planes dropped their bombs on Eastbourne’s south coast town on Friday 13th September 1940, but they were devastatingly effective in their endeavours. By the time they returned to their home airfields, citizens were dead, homes and businesses were demolished, and disruption had been achieved to a degree previously not experienced.
WW2 had been declared a year and a week previously, but very little enemy action had been received until July 1940, when the first bombs had fallen. Eastbourne is a strange location, lying in a natural bay with the promontory Beachy Head to the west, Hastings to the east, and the South Downs hills five miles inland. It has a topography ideal for pilots, you can’t get lost if you see Beachy Head, so the town, being about thirty miles from the French coast across the Channel, was vulnerable to enemy attacks and training sorties from convenient French airfields.
One of the attack planes dropped a stick of ten assorted bombs on the main town centre, while another plane was dropping four bombs a mile away. One hit an unoccupied school, another hit a gas main, a third landed in the middle of a recreation ground, and the last failed to explode, only being detonated after the war ended.
Three dead and thirty injured.
Saturday morning a Dornier Do17 flew over, being quickly attacked by two Spitfires that shot it down. Jubilation was short-lived, as very likely seven enemy planes bombed the town over the next few hours.
Casualties could have been far greater, but the town had been partly evacuated of civilians.
Sunday evening saw a further seventeen bombs dropped, this time without recorded casualties.
It was reasoned afterwards that the town was being softened up in advance of the proposed German invasion, with many ships being seen in the Channel.
September 1940 was a month where there was a lot of enemy bombing, and I quote from ‘Wartime Eastbourne’. The bomb which demolished 69/71 Cavendish Place buried several people and rescue workers toiled unsparingly for thirty-six hours through daylight and darkness to reach the victims, knowing that only a short distance away a UXB (unexploded bomb) lay in Mansfield’s Garage. They had to tunnel and cut through obstructing concrete, hampered by water pouring from a burst main which required constant pumping to be kept in check.
The German strategy was quite sound. Send over a lone raider, drop the bombs, return quickly, the RAF would have insufficient time to respond. The damage to Eastbourne resident’s morale was considerable. October saw no let-up, Wednesday 2nd saw the first raid at 6.45am with a Dornier depositing three large high explosives and one oil bomb in a small area very close to the town centre. Same day, early evening, another raid.
The same pattern developed over the next few days, when one bomb fell in the garden of a house in North Street without exploding, the defusion was photographed at every stage by Eastbourne Gazette and Herald man Wilf Bignell. It wasn’t just the military personnel who displayed great feats of bravery.
Removal men were working at 94 Sydney Road when a bomb fell, trapping them. It is difficult to comprehend now what horrors they experienced, as they had to be rescued from the rubble of the house, also that of 96, and 98, three houses being destroyed. Two of the rescuers received medals. Not recorded what they specifically did, but it must have been particularly meritorious.
Another bomb of note on October 26th 1940 struck the roof of a train standing at Eastbourne Railway Station. It failed to ignite, subsequently made safe, but in all, on that day alone, four people died as a direct result of the bombing.
Citizens were becoming used to being on the receiving end of the bombs, but something new was to occur a couple of weeks later. A Dornier flying so low it almost clipped the rooftops machine gunned the streets, with the aim of terrifying civilians. Later on the same day a different bomber deposited twelve through the Old Town council estate, one didn’t go bang, four hundred people had to be evacuated before the bomb was declared safe.
Friday 22nd November was the last day of bombing until March 12th 1941. Phew, a sigh of relief.