Harry’s Ramblings Eastbourne’s Unexploded Bombs
During WW2, Eastbourne on the UK south coast was the most raided town in the south east. Inevitably, some of the bombs failed to explode, with no records kept of every single location. May 2019 found the bomb squad at Beachy Head, detonating a lost bomb.
It might not seem like a particularly strong bomb, three inches wide and twelve inches long, but it was pretty powerful nonetheless. Discovered by a member of the public walking along the cliffs. Eastbourne and Birling Gap Coastguard rescue teams assisted the bomb squad, preventing anyone from getting too close. It was blown up at low tide the same evening, with the loud bang being heard for many miles around.
They wanted to avoid any casualties, so waited for all wildlife to be absent. All clear. Prepare to detonate. Press the plunger. Oh no, what’s that? A seagull has suddenly flown. Big bang. Very scared bird. Heart thumping, unhurt, it flew off, to tell its tale to all the other gulls that would listen.
But this prompted me to investigate further about other unexploded WW2 bombs.
Eastbourne has a pier, built in 1870. Wartime Eastbourne by George Humphrey (Beckett Features, 1989) show that four bombs fell on the west side, within 50 yards. On the east, eight fell within twenty yards, no direct hits. A cluster of four further east again within fifty yards. But what I can’t ascertain is how many exploded.
Eastbourne and Hastings piers are now privately owned by an entrepreneurial businessman who would like to arrange boat trips between various piers along this stretch. His intentions are good, but I just wonder about the application.
There used to be paddle steamers going between piers until WW2, when they stopped, but resumed with a ship called the Waverley, which was a pleasure craft with quite a shallow draft. It was a very popular trip for a while, only ceasing in 1959 when passenger numbers finally dropped.
For many years there was also a speed boat, housed in a small garage at the end of the pier. Passengers could only access via a precarious metal stairway, with the speed boat roped tightly to the structure. A sudden heavy wave could mean a soaking, so it was abandoned due to health and safety reasons. A lot of people regarded the soaking as part of the fun.
Looking again at the map where the bombs dropped, I am quite certain that they didn’t all explode. The shoreline along this section is shingle, which is continually shifting. The owner would have to dredge at the end of the pier, because there is no natural channel. There was one, but tides have moved it.
There is definitely an unexploded bomb dropped in the sea on Tuesday 14th March 1944. Three were dropped, two on land which exploded, during this night raid. But the exact location of this unexploded 500k bomb is not precisely recorded.
But the point I arrive at is a very valid one. Dredging could easily disturb a bomb. Then there could be a very loud bang. Not trying to be alarmist, it is not impossible for the end of the pier to suffer extensive damage
Don’t get me wrong, I love a boat ride, but I just wonder if this little venture has been sufficiently considered. The boat would have to have a draft of at least ten feet, so when departing the pier fully loaded it would clear the shelf. To be viable the boat would have a passenger load of at least fifty, each with their own life jacket.
Let us suppose that the dredging for the boat’s underwater channel was successful, but without researching properly, it is not impossible to suppose that it just might disturb an unexploded bomb, future tides expose the ordnance, and a pleasure craft could then brush against it.
But who would be liable for insurance purposes. Would it be the pier owner? The boat operator? The council for issuing the operator licence? Or Germany for dropping the bomb in the first place.
On the other hand, all could be well, boats could ply their trade for years, nothing goes bang.