by Graham Watson. From the November 2010 issue of Rye’s Own
I was born in Rye East Sussex, in May 1936, and lived at Godfrey’s Row which was a terrace of five houses situated opposite the Pipemaker’s Arms Public House, in Winchelsea Road. In 1940 the first kits of the Anderson shelter, the outdoor type, which consisted of a large hole dug by the householder, with curved sections of corrugated iron bolted together and placed in the hole to form the walls and roof . The earth which had been dug out to from the hole was then thrown back over the shelter to give it added protection.
My father and the other male neighbours had only got far as digging the hole for the shelter when about lunchtime on Sunday 18th August,1940 the air raid sirens sounded the alert. My mother and I were alone in the house, my father being on a training exercise with the railway Home Guard out on Romney Marsh. As an interim measure, until the shelter was completed, my father had padded out a cupboard under the stairs with mattresses and quilts as a makeshift indoor shelter. My mother had put me into the cupboard while I ate my lunch, and played with some cigarette cards (remember those?). After a short while I heard the sound of aircraft passing overhead and moving inland. 1 asked my mother if I could see them. She picked me up and took me to the kitchen door for a moment or two and then placed me back in the cupboard, while she sat outside reading a book. I do not remember hearing a sound, but my mother suddenly dropped her book and dived into the cupboard over my head, slamming the door shut behind her. Anyway within seconds of her speedy entry to the cupboard, the door, now closed, suddenly disappeared and we were enveloped in brick dust.
There was no way of escape for us but, it seemed within seconds, the rescue crews, coincidentally led by an uncle of mine who knew exactly where to find us, had we survived, fought their waythrough the debris, and removed us to safety to a house across the road. Neither my mother nor myself was injured, but our neighbours were not so lucky. Three were killed in the house that was hit by the bomb, and four others were rescued with, I believe, only minor injuries. Of the five houses in Godfrey’s Row three were completely destroyed and the other two were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished . The bomb that hit our houses was a 50 kilo High Explosive bomb and was one of twenty eight that were dropped in this raid. Of the twenty eight bombs dropped, ten exploded and eighteen failed to explode. A number of other houses were destroyed or so badly damage that they had to be demolished. A strange twist to the story, was that the aircraft deemed responsible for the attack was brought down by our coastal guns and the young pilot ended up in Rye Hospital next to one of my fatally injured neighbours. It is alleged that when the injured neighbour was pointed out to him, he was asked if he was proud of the result of his bombing of “Military Targets”, whereupon he burst into tears, or so the story goes. Sometime later wereturned to the Rye area living at Udimore, looking out over the Marsh to the sea beyond Winchelsea. Whilst at Udimore, two things stick in my mind, One was hanging out of my bedroom window at night as the “thousand bomber” raids passed over head, trying to catch a glimpse of them silhouetted against the moon, or the occasional flicker of exhaust flames. The second was again looking from my bedroom window and seeing the sea out beyond Winchelsea, the whole horizon seemed full of ships as far as I could see. The next day the sea was empty, I was too young to realize the significance of the date – 6th, June,1944 – ‘D’ Day!
We are now in the age of the V-l or ‘”Doodle Bug”, and we were surrounded by anti-aircraft guns of varying calibres. Inland of us we had the large calibre guns, along the cliff top we had Bofors 40mm Antiaircraft guns, in the fields below the cliff were Lewis and Bren guns on A.A. mountings. However across the Rye – Hastings railway line we had row upon row of America rocket projectors, they consisted of multiple barrels or rails mounted on an axle and a pair of wheels. There were literally dozens of these in ranks across the fields. When this lot went off on the approach of a V.1, believe me it was the fireworks display to beat all, the sky was full of flak bursts, and what goes up must come down!! Whilst nonchalantly watching the approach of four V. 1.’s – one overhead, one over the Marsh, one crossing the coast followed by another coming over the Channel, as we were peeping out of the kitchen door, no further because of the shrapnel rattling on the roof, there was a loud smack, and a piece of shell, or rocket casing, about 6″ by 2″ hit the step between my mother and I.
She foolishly picked it up and dropped it just as quickly, it was still red hot. As you can see one can get too careless!
A while later whilst helping my father with an elderly lady’s garden we stopped working to watch a large formation of B17 Flying Fortresses pass over, all at different heights, some with an engine smoking, some with an engine stopped altogether. One somewhat lower than the others dropped something large and white as he passed overhead., needless to say we flattened ourselves on the lawn and covered our heads, waiting for the bang. To our surprise, all we got was a very loud thump from the garden next door, when we summoned up the courage to peep over the fence we saw a very large white empty carton of “Lucky Strike” cigarettes. I had heard of them dumping machine guns and ammunition, to lighten the load, if they were having trouble maintaining height, but I doubt very much if an empty cigarette carton would have made any difference. I remember thinking some very uncharitable thoughts about our American Allies, hence the title of this piece.
From the November 2010 issue of Rye’s Own