Clifford Bloomfield’s Wartime Recollections
First published in Jo Kirkham’s ‘Memories of Rye Series
Autumn and Winter 1942
During this time the towns and villages of South East England were subjected to attacks by German Focke Wolf 190 fighter bombers. They carried one 500Ib bomb as well as being armed with machine guns and 20mm cannon. They were referred to as Hit and Run Raiders. To help combat this menace, units of the RAF regiment were drafted to the town and surrounding countryside. They were equipped with their standard airfield defence systems – small armoured cars fitted with a pair of matching guns. Other guns were sited on high static positions. I remember it being said that one such site was at the rear of Durrant House in Market Street.
Rye’s first attack occurred on a Wednesday morning at about 8am -it was September 15th 1942. Two aircraft roared over the town from the east dropping their bombs. One fell in the rear of the Mermaid Inn, but, probably due to the planes low altitude, the bomb did not get into a vertical position, but bounced, leaving its fins there and bursting in the air. The second bomb demolished two houses, including Mr Brown’s butchers shop to the right of the bottom of the Green Steps, in the Strand. This also damaged Strand House and other surrounding properties – many losing windows and tiles. It is possible that these aircraft, coming over the coastline very low and flying at a speed of some 400 miles per hour, were intending to hit Strand Quay as civil engineering works had started in that area to enable landing craft to be moored, serviced and refuelled in preparation for the D Day landings. In those days this was referred to as the Second Front and some activities were diversionary, to fool the enemy away from similar measures going on in West Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, etc.
Two Rye Fishermen Killed at Sea
On September 16th the Rye fishing boat Mizpah was fishing in Rye Bay when it was attacked by a Focke Wolf 190 fighter/bomber. It machine gunned and shelled the little boat killing two of her crew, Mr Hollands and Mr Longley. The skipper, Mr Charlie Locke, was wounded and subsequently he received the British Empire Medal.
Many fisherman were reluctant to go to sea for some time – but time is a good healer, and fishing soon continued unabated.
There were in the town, at this time, indigent protests being voiced, especially at Council Meetings. The fact was that the towns only refuse collecting vehicle had been used to collect the two bodies of the fisherman killed in the attack on the Mizpah, and subsequently, used to take them to the town Mortuary in the Ypres Tower. Questions were “who authorised the use of this vehicle for this purpose?”
Maybe unknown to councillors and townsfolk in general, it had been used on a number of occasions before to collect the bodies of seamen washed ashore, a number of soldiers killed in our own minefields on the coast and airman of both nationalities.
The vehicle’s body was of welded steel construction with sliding shutters closing over it and with a hinged tail gate. It was thus leak proof and would be easily washed out, not only for this purpose, but as was frequently done for its normal refuse collection duties.
The feelings being expressed locally however were that it was an insult to the fisherman’s families.
Regent Cinema Destroyed
On September 22nd after returning to the Catchment Board Offices at 16 Udimore Road, and parking my cycle at the rear, suddenly there was the roar of aircraft and instantly, explosions. I saw two F.W.190 fighter bombers flying low across the western side of the town, but, in fact, there must have been three. They left behind palls of rising black smoke. It looked, from where I was standing, as though at least one bomb had fallen on the eastern side of town, and instantly I though of home. Off I set on my cycle, along Ferry Road, through the railway goods yard and, arriving by the Electricity Showrooms, there before me, was a great pile of brick and concrete rubble across the road. The Regent Cinema had been destroyed and the Cinque Ports Hotel was also in a sorry state; smoke and cordite filled the air.
I did not wait, turned and headed back towards South Undercliff. On arriving at the Ship Inn, again I was confronted by building rubble. I left my cycle, for to my surprise, the woman surveyor that I worked with, Miss D V Harding, was actually taking charge of the situation, attending the injured and dying, instructing people just as the first C.D first aid parties were arriving. I have since discovered that my colleague had been a practising doctor in Australia. The casualties were not Rye people, but working parties sent to repair the previous weeks bomb damage. The bomb had fallen in almost the same location and the Strand House was now destroyed.
I eventually arrived home via the High Street, not knowing that a third bomb had devastated the Ypres Tower area. For many days after the raid, the road side gutters to the east of the town collected the drifting flock filling of the cinema seats. It is possible that the bomb was intended for the Railway Station – the Cinema was only 100 yards away.
One could also imagine the bombs in the area around the Ypres Tower were aimed at the Rother Iron Works and Bus Depot – again only 100 yards away.
Two Ladies Killed at Rye Harbour October 7th 1942.
Mrs E Clark of 11 Kings Avenue was making one of her regular visits to her aunt, a Mrs Smith of Tram Road, Rye Harbour, when, at 2.15pm, a F.W.190 dropped a single bomb on the house. It demolished it and killed both occupants. I recall this incident as her son John was a teenage friend of mine during these times. In fact he was working on the top of Landgate Tower as an electrician’s mate, installing the new air raid siren. Hearing a distant explosion, he looked from his vantage point, to see smoke rising from the site at Rye Harbour village.
The Beaufighter Incident October 21 1942
It was on Wednesday afternoon that an aircraft was approaching Rye from the direction of Lydd. As it came clearly into view, the Rye guns opened fire on the approaching aircraft. The bursting anti aircraft shells seemed to have no effect as it continued to fly just south of the town. Approaching Winchelsea it must have taken a hit or two, for it banked and crashed into the ground near Winchelsea Station. I stood and watched this event, knowing that the aircraft was British. It was a Beaufighter, but was mistaken for a Junkers 88 bomber, as these aircraft were not dissimilar. The British plane had taken no incident that maybe the crew of two were badly injured or even dead after an action on the other side of the Channel. The aircraft did not release any “vary” lights – a colour combination for the code of the day would have been the practice.
Immediately after the action, I ran across the school field to the Bofors gun. Its crew were cock a hoop with joy at having shot down this J.U.88, but a field telephone call confirmed that they had, in fact, shot down a British aircraft. The crew of two were found in the wreckage. Squadron records of this aircraft state that a “Lt. Brown of AA Command was “lectured” today” and also state that, by a sad coincidence”, a pilot new to this Squadron, Sgt. Wright, was shot down and killed on a sector reconnaissance today”. (I believe this to be “shot down by friendly fire” Ed)
This aircraft, together with a Focke Wulf 190 German fighter bomber that had crashed at Castle Farm on 4.1.43, were collected by an RAF Maintenance Unit whose members were staying at our house.
Sunday December 6th 1942
Having just got up from my bed in a rear bedroom at about 8am, I heard aircraft coming. Quickly looking out of the window, I saw two aircraft pass over the roof. They were F.W.190s flying straight to the town centre. Machine gun and cannon fire filled the air, but no bombs were dropped. I watched them back away to the sea on the far side of the town. On this morning Mr W.Edwards was killed on the Ypres Tower steps leading from Fishmarket Road and Mr. Benny Gamble and Frank “Ikie” Wright, of Wright and Pankhurst, were injured. The anti aircraft guns around Rye were not successful, but Rye’s day was to come.
Friday 15th January 1943
At about 3:30pm in the afternoon, I was standing in a field on the south side of the Rother near Scots Float Sluice, holding a levelling staff for my colleague Mr L.G.Locke, who was bending over his dumpy level, when I heard aircraft approaching. They seemed to be low, but I could not see them. Then instantly looking towards the high, tree covered cliff of that part of Military Road, an aircraft appeared – a F.W.190. All within seconds, this was followed by four others in quick succession, one dropping a bomb. I remember seeing, in the next terrifying moments, the earth and smoke rise skywards from the cliff top. But now I was clutching at the grass on the ground, as machine gun cannon fired at us, as they passed over the same bullets landed literally beside us. They were flying so low that I can remember turning my head sideways and seeing the pilots head in one of the planes. The Sluice Keepers house near had been damaged, but no one had been injured. But the aircraft were now sweeping on towards Rye and above the noise of their engines, the cannon and machine guns could still be heard. In Rye Mrs C. Batchelor had just collected her children from the Primary School in Ferry Road. Near the railway crossing they were caught in the gunfire. Mrs Batchelor was hit by a bullet in the knee and it is believed the same bullet entered the stomach of little Shelia, then five years old, (Shelia is now Mrs Chillingworth).
The 40mm Bofors AA guns were in action, but due to the low roof-topping altitude to the aircraft, it was said that at least two shells passed into the buildings of the Rother Iron Works.
Recorded evidence shows that on this day, as these aircraft were crossing the coast at Winchelsea Beach, one was shot down by gunners of the 230th Coast Battery there. It crashed into the sea and the pilots body was washed ashore at Littlestone.
Over the following weekend, I walked the fields where we had been levelling, picking up the spent machine gun and cannon shell cartridge cases, so I know how close and lucky we had been.
After that experience I remember thinking what a coincidence that Les Locke and I had laid terrified in a field and escaped, when only three months before, his father had suffered a similar ordeal but with serious consequences.
The Wiltshire Regiment
Early 1943 The next troops to arrive were the Wiltshire Regiment. It was part of the 43rd Infantry Division and its sign depicted the Wessex Dragon. This division had the longest stay in Rye and later saw very bitter fighting in and around Caen in Normandy in 1944.
Teatime Bombs February 10th 1943
Late on a grey drizzly, winter afternoon, a Dornier twin engine German bomber flew in from the sea at Winchelsea Beach to Rye. Turning over the north west of the town, it dropped three bombs in a line; the first exploding in the kitchen garden of Rye Cottage, opposite 4 Tillingham Avenue; the second made a direct hit on the railway line at the end of present day Cyprus Place – my Grandparents lived in the terrace next to the line and their house was rendered uninhabitable; the third demolished a terrace of three houses at the Strand, know as Havelock Villas and an adjoining building that had served as the Custom House. A Mrs M.J. Barham (the sister of my Grandmother) was killed, a Mrs Dunk was seriously injured and her lodger, Mr E.J. Castle, a relief manager at the Westminster Bank in the High Street was killed. It is believed that he was outside the house, having just arrived for his tea time meal. Mrs G. Axell, at the other end of the terrace, was also killed.
The site is now occupied by the river frontage of Strand Court.
At the time of this occurrence, I was crossing Monkbretton Bridge on my way home to tea. I saw the aircraft in the darkening sky, flying towards Camber Castle. Rye’s anti-aircraft guns were firing in its direction, but the glowing tracer shells were falling short of their target as it disappeared in the mist.
Our Second Air Raid Shelter Summer 1943
The production of war supplies was probably becoming more plentiful at this time and we were offered an indoor Morrison table shelter, which my parents accepted. It duly arrived as a load of prefabricated steel sections. We put this together ourselves – four heavy corner posts, angle posts top and bottom on the four sides and a sheet of 3/16 steel plate for the top.
Woven steel spring laths were clipped into the base (on which to place bedding), and weld mesh netting was fitted to three sides, although a forth could be used. This stood in our living room under the window, taking up much of the space, as it measured 6’6” long x 4’ wide x 33” high. It was a very awkward, immovable piece of furniture to live with.
As a matter of interest, a corner post of one of these shelters exists to protect the corner of the Flushing House, Market Street, with the junction of Church Square, from high sided vehicles.
War Savings Appeals
The first was a national appeal by Lord Beaverbrook, Minister for Aircraft Production, called the “Spitfire Fund”. Organised to replace the losses of the Battle of Britain, some people paid for a whole Spitfire, but in Rye it was a savings drive for a whole week. My cousin, sister and I decided we would do our little bit, we collected children’s books and opened a children’s library. Loaning them at 1d each on Saturday mornings over some months through the winter, we raised just over £7.
Over the years, an organising centre would be set up in an unoccupied shop, in aid of such appeals as War Weapons Week and Wings for Victory Week. During this latter appeal, Mrs M.H. Mackenchnie produced a painting of the then recently damaged Ypres Tower with Spitfires overhead. A slogan read “Rye’s Reply” and it stood in the centre of the window of “Doodles”, High Street. I produced the Spitfire made from scrap wood for Mrs Mackechnie to paint four of them into the scene – I still have it! Also on display were war souvenirs, shrapnel, pieces of crashed aircraft, and weapons.
It was this week also that local army units put on a display of artillery and vehicles on the Salts. We children were allowed to turn the crank handles to raise, lower the traverse Bofors AA Guns. The most popular were the Bren Gun carriers rides round the perimeter of the Salts, very flat, except for the rise and fall over the footpath, twice! The soldiers also set up, between the fishermans huts and the river, a live display of trench mortars, firing their projectiles. They were landing – and exploding – on the river salting at Northpoint Outfall – a distance of 1000 yards to the south east!
Bombing of Northern France Late 1943-Summer 1944
British Hawker Typhoon fighter bombers became daily visitors to Rye. Always coming from the west, they would fly down the River Rother and at Rye Harbour village they would line up within the two harbour training walls. Flying very low, when they reached Lime Kiln Cottage, they would release eight rockets at a time – aiming at a large barge like target just off the river mouth. This was a practice range to simulate the attacks these aircraft were making in Northern France on railways and shipping. The radio news bulletins would refer to these activities taking place daily. “Our aircraft today flew sorties over the Pas de Calis”.
Also at this time the Allied air offensive was building up, for we realized that the air craft passing over Rye were preparing for the Second Front, but there was also a more sinister reason of which we were ignorant at that time, but we were to discover at a later date.
One would often witness the raids by the American heavy day bombers, four engined B17 Fortresses and B24 Liberators on their out going flights. They would be very high in the sky, surrounded by fighter escorts of P38 Lightnings and P47 Thunderbolts and sometimes P51 Mustangs, going to targets much further afield. There were occasions when these aircraft were seen returning.
6 September 1943
A memorable afternoon, the B17 Fortresses were seen coming in from the sea fairly low as individual stragglers. Many were so shot to pieces that holes could be seen right through the wings and fuselages. They looked hardly able to fly. One pancaked into the then flooded Pett Level marshes, still covered by sea water, a relic of the anti invasion measures of 1940.
Another landed less than a mile away in the Pannel Marsh, between Winchelsea and Pett. This one blew up and burned. A third came down in a large field at Reading Street, just off the Appledore – Tenterden road. This machine was repaired and fitted with replacement engines. It then took off to return to its base. Generally these heavy bombers were of the 8th American Air Force.
There was a distinct period, when at about 8:30am. I was either crossing Monkbretton Bridge or about to leave the house for work, when the noise of approaching aircraft could be heard coming from the North. Then suddenly, coming into view over Point Hill, were formations of medium twin engined bombers, B25 Mitchells, B26 Marauders and B34 Venturas. Their markings could be plainly seen, generally these were of the 9th American Air Force, but one was a separate formation of Venturas belonging to the Free Royal Dutch Air Force.
It was customary for the Americans to test their machine guns over the English Channel. At 8am on June 7 1944, a formation of Marauders – American medium bomber – had left their base and were flying towards the coast. Inland, from Scots Float (Star Lock), Military Road, machine guns could be heard- they were a bit premature with their testing as it should have been over the sea! As the aircraft appeared, one of them was pouring out black smoke, it was on fire. It instantly dropped its bombs into a small field at the base of the Cliff and the River Rother by the Star Lock Pub and none of the bombs exploded. The aircraft carried on getting lower and lower until it crash landed in a field beyond Barn Farm, East Guildford. The crew extinguished the fire and all managed to escape. This aircraft had been shot down by one of the others in its own formation. A bomb disposal team arrived and had great difficulty in locating the bombs which had gone down some 3m.
Crash of the B24 Liberator 24 June 1944
On a very fine and quiet summer evening at about 7pm, I was in New Road, by the open ground which is now the school bus park. I heard an aircraft approaching from the direction of Camber. It sounded as though it was in trouble. It came into view high over the school building and beginning to turn, for a better view, I ran to my faithful flat roofed shed to see this four engined B24 Liberator bomber making a large orbit. It continued to do this, but the circles became small and receded back towards Camber. Then suddenly five Chutes appeared from the plane and instantly the plane cartwheeled out of the sky to crash in a field at Wall Farm, Jurys Gap. It hit the ground in a great ball of fire and black smoke.
Admiralty M.F.Vs C Morris and Co Rock Channel
The old Rock Channel Shipyard of G & T Smith was given a new lease of life, if only to be its last. A company by the name of C Morris received contracts to build a number of Motor Fishing Vessels. Although they looked like fishing vessels, I doubt that this was their purpose. Their displacement was in the order of 120 tons. Two were destined for the Far East and Pacific War. Two were completed before the end of hostilities and two remained unfinished on the slips for some time after.
At the launching of the first one in mid 1944, I pushed my Grandfather in a wheel chair from New Road. I was feeling quite excited to see this event, but Grandfathers conclusion was – “They’re nothing like we used to build em! In fact one of these Rye vessels was recently known to be afloat and working as a fishing trawler named “Trewarventh” – PZ 196. Her owners are Stevenson and Sons, Newlyn, Penzance.
A Military Convoy with a Difference
During the late 1943 I think, although military vehicle convoys on the roads were taken for granted as a daily occurrence, there was a difference. For some three days without a break, convoys were all going in one direction – east through Rye from Udimore Road to New Road. Many were Canadian and this I do remember, for I was seeing Divisional signs and also countless American vehicles. It was staggering, endless, all day and all night long!
History now tells us that this was a hoax – this movement of Allied forces was to deceive the enemy spies, or their reconnaissance aircraft into believing that our build up of invasion forces was to be in the east – and not in the west around the Hampshire ports.
Early 1944 now 17 years old – The Manchesters Return
The Manchester Regiment returned to Rye and here I will record an event that I witnessed. Having spent the morning out at work and then returning back to Rother House (our office in Udimore Road), it became known that Field Marshall Montgonery was in town. Leaving the office on my cycle to go home for dinner, I learnt that Monty’s military train was in the railway coal sidings at Rope Walk. I went to look and I found the train standing parallel to the Agricultural Hall (now the Arcade) All seemed very quiet there, just a few guards standing around, so I decided to continue home through Eagle Road. Rounding Deacons Corner into Bedford Place was a short military convoy. It slowly turned into New Road and then took a sharp left turn into the then gateway of the Cricket Salts. The Salts were covered by what seemed a thousand or more soldiers of the Manchester Regiment. Field Marshall Montgomery had arrived to review these men. I left my cycle and joined a few other civilians there already, and so’s not to miss this, we stood in the background, but close enough to hear. By now Monty was standing up in a jeep, waving his arms and calling for men to gather round. “No formalities”. He introduced himself and said in a speech words to the effect that each man from the top of his command to the lowest and youngest private were to know their role, each was to be a participant when the time came for the coming battle.
I remember the “three cheers for Monty” I quickly left for home and a late dinner!
Some time later, it must have been late May, I noticed that the Manchester’s vehicle had suddenly been replaced by new ones. Soon after our town seemed deserted, that is by the military. The Royal Navy was still with us and also anti aircraft units.
Commandos Spring 1944
During this period there were times when Combined Operations Commandos were frequently in the town, although to my knowledge, not garrisoned here.
To be continued ……
Rye’s Own August 2003
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