I was born in World War Two so my own recollections of the times are limited but the vivid descriptions of incidents that were witnessed by my mum and dad and recited to me many times, remain indelible in my mind.
I would have seen with my own eyes the Doodlebugs passing over our house, mother told me she said a silent prayer every time for the engine to keep going. She dreaded that it would fall silent, which meant it was headed downwards and would detonate when it reached the ground. Many guns were situated in the fields around our house and father told me that shrapnal coming down, from the many shells that were fired at the V 1’s, ruined his Herring Net that protected his Strawberries from the birds. Mum was unable to put me out in the fresh air in my pram as the guns would fire at any time without warning.
My family lived the whole of the War at Winchelsea Beach because my father’s work was so important to the Nation’s food supply. Fishing on the beach, as the family still does requires the nets to be attended twice daily. Our house, being only one of seven brick buildings, was requesitioned by the Army and eleven Canadian officers lived in it. Mum and Dad moved into an old, London wooden wheeled, furniture pantecnican at the end of the garden.
A Doodlebug was nearly the undoing of my father. One day he was on the beach mending his nets with all the guns blasting off. A voice shouted “Take cover”. A V1 had been hit and was coming straight down towards them. The military men took cover behind thair sandbag wall and dad dived behind a breakwater. The evil German thing hit the beach only 20 yards from father, on the opposite side of his hiding place. The explosion sent so much mud and beach over the breakwater it burried dad completely. Luckily the gunners had seen what had happened and dug him out, none the worse for his experiance except for a little deafness.
One of the very last recorded Doodlebugs to cross the English coastline almost got me. It came down at the cross roads to Float Lane and Winchelsea Station. My eleven year old big brother had me in my pram watching the steam trains. There were many running then as supplies were rushed to France to support the troops as the pushed the German Army back and the Ashford Hastings line was twin tracked allowing far greater traffic than would be possible today. We were watching the trains when soldiers shouted to my brother to take cover, which he did, leaving me in my pram up on the road. The missle hit a large Oak tree and the blast tipped me out of the pram and perforated my left ear drum, leaving me partially deaf.
My mother was a young woman, and living where she was, had to have a security pass. One day she forgot her pass and was arrested by a guard on the road, even though he knew who she was. My father was none too pleased and kicked up a rumpus.
Most of the Canadians that lived in our house went on the Dieppe Raid, none came back. In later years my wife planted a Canadian Maple in the back garden in remembrance, it is now a supurb tree.
Mum told me of the day her and father were about to leave for church and a German M E 109 fighter aircraft plunged to earth on 400 yards from them. The pilot parachuted to earth in our field. He was taken to Rye Hospital and worked on a local farm as prisoner of war. He stayed on when the war was over and married a girl from Peasmarsh. In 1978 I took a load of men to the spot where the aircraft hit the ground. The spot was easy to find as a large patch of stinging nettles grew there. Peter Dunk with his JCB, dug down 15 feet to find the cockpit and engine. Behind the pilots seat, two sheets of steel shaped like a church window, were armour plating designed to protect the pilot, across the back of the plates were score marks where the bullets had hit. Without these plates the pilot would have been hit in the back. No guns were found but a clip board with a map of the area and a pencil on a piece of string were recovered along with a small book of poems. The pilot’s mother had written inside “To my dear son”.
As the aircraft had no guns and the map had pillboxes and trenches marked it was presumed to have been a ‘spy plane’. When the pilot was contacted and the little book of poetry returned to him tears filled his eyes. He had never returned to Germany and had not seen his mother after she gave him the book.
The engine was identified as one from an ME 109d, a very early type made for the Spanish Civil War. The map is now in Winchelsea Museum and the engine in Brenzett Air Museum.
Aircraft seem to have a special significance to mother and father in the war years. Dad had a lucky escape on the way to Rye when waiting for a convoy to pass at the Winchelsea Beach junction with the main Hastings – Rye road. The driver of one truck invited him to join the road in front of him so he was now on his way to Rye sandwiched in the middle of a large convoy of army vehicles. It was then that an enemy plane started to machine gun the line of traffic and a 20mm. cannon shell found it’s way into dad’s engine and stopping it working. The Army kindly towed dads van to Tolgate Garage where the mechanic found the shell in the sump. Dad’s good luck held out again as the nasty pointed thing had failed to explode.
“Rye’s Own” July 2014
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