- Contributed by
- Dennis Moon
- People in story:
- Location of story:
- Hastings, East Sussex and surrounding area
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 October 2003
I was born on the 25th. June 1934 in Hastings, East Sussex. In 1939, at the outbreak of war, I attended Holy Trinity School, in Braybrooke Terrace, Hastings, with my elder sister. We lived in Braybrooke Road. Also attending this school was my elder half-brother and half-sister who lived with our grandmother in Priory Street, Hastings. The school is now Howes Bookshop in Braybrooke Terrace.
My first recollection of the war was the week-end when war was declared. An ARP warden knocked on our door because a sliver of light was showing at a front window. The light was turned off immediately, and additional 'black out' was made by pinning an old rug to an extending five foot wooden rule.
I should point out that my father,who was born in June 1890, was too old for forces service, he having served with the Rifle Brigade throughout the First World War, in Europe. He was a foreman on the Post Office Engineers, and his 'gang' was excluded from forces service for about six months. After this period, they were called up, and my father was left augmenting defence requirements in conjunction with Royal Corps of Signals soldiers. Because we were brought back quickly from evacuation,(more on this later) we spent the war in Hastings.
With little or no schooling, I often accompanied my father to work, and my memories of these times are quite vivid. On one occasion the task was to remove all metalwork associated with 'phones on poles along the road between Winchelsea and Rye as this was interfering with guns radar along this stretch of road. The guns were bringing down 'Doodle Bugs'and preventing the flying bombs from reaching London. I remember 40 soldiers under an officer and two NCO's doing the work under my father's direction. The task involved removing all wires, steps etc. The service was maintained by laying underground cable. I can recall picking up very hot shrapnel after flying bombs had passed over, the hot metal being either parts of gun shells or the bomb itself. When these terror bombs went over, which was quite regular, I would hide under my father's lorry with him. My father built up quite a strong relationship with the soldiers he directed as well as the hundreds of soldiers camped along the road who manned well over 400 heavy guns in the fields along this stretch of road.
Another example of this work of which I have real boyhood memories was at Camber Sands. Because the very shallow water at Camber, it was considered to be a likely invasion area, and was therefore heavily fortified. The Camber road from Rye was out of bounds and controlled by the Military Police. My father's task here was to provide from Post office Stores all the necassary equipment to put all machine gun, gun radar placements in communication with one another. This was carried out by over 100 Corps. of Signals officers, NCO's, and other ranks. because my father had a pass to enter this area, the MP's allowd me in with him. I was about 8/9 years of age. I recall seeing newly brought down German planes, ditched English aircraft etc. Can you imagine the impression this made on one so young?
One thing my father always carried in his lorry was footballs. He was a keen amateur footballer locally, playing up to the outbreak of war, aged approaching 50. The footballs were obtained by collecting Park Drive cigarette coupons, (he was a keen smoker)and lunch breaks always ended with a short 'match' played either on the road or in a field, with tunics as posts. My father carried out similar work elsewhere in the country, later working with American forces along the East Coast of East Anglia. At times, he would be away for months at a time.
Prior to these times, soon after the outbreak of war, myself, sister, half-brother, and half-sister, along with the remainder of the school and elderly teachers were evacuated from Hastings. We were sent to Tonwell, a small village near St.Albans in Hertfordshire. I was five years of age, my sister was seven, my half -sister was eight, and my half-brother nine. Can you imagine it? This was at a time when even in peace-time, people did not travel the country, let alone war time. A member of the family elders would try to visit at a week-end, but overall we were not very well cared for. On one visit, my father dug a shelter in an earth bank near to where we were staying as a shelter should air raids begin.
My sisters were cared for reasonably well, but my brother and I were somewhat neglected. After one visit my parents were appalled at my condition, and I was brought home with sores covering my face, suffering from impetigo. Soon after this, the rest of the family were brought back to Hastings. Because of the danger of living in the town, my father rented a cottage at Ticehurst some fifteen miles out of Hastings. Ticehurst was my mothers family village and we would often spend eveings with an aunt. Incidently, the cottage we rented still exists, beneath what is now Bewl Water. While at Ticehurst, we attended part-time school with our cousins. School was a four mile walk up a very lonely lane, for someone who was barely six yaers of age. In the winter time, we left in the dark, and it was dark by the time we arrived back home.
On one occasion, whilst walking to school in our group, we were approached by German pilot who had been shot down. He asked us in English to take him to a police station. In the absence of a police station, we took hime to an army camp en route to school, where the sodiers took him into custody.
My elderly grandmother(on my mother' side) was still living in the centre of Hastings in Priory Street. She became ill, and we moved back into Hastings to look after her. Whilst there I have memories of taking a 'go-cart' up to Hastings Railway Station yard where we would load it up with coal and wheel it back down to Priory Street. On more than one occasion it became neccassary to hide in doorways as German planes strafed Station Approach trying to disrupt the railway. My grandmother died in 1942, and my father rented a house in Hollington Old Lane. Here we stayed till long after the war ended.
No schools operated during the war in Hastings. In 1944, an effort was made to commence part-time schooling, attending either in the morning or afternoon session. I attended in the morning where I had my first encounter with a girl called Joan Hooker. Little did I know then that ten years later we would marry, and now forty-nine years later we look forward to celebrating our Golden Wedding in 2004. Living in Hollington, a northern district of Hastings, during the war was not without its dangers. For a young child however, it was just life, we really did not know anything different. In the area in which we lived, bombs fell on houses, people were killed and injured. One flying bomb landed in the fields at the back of our house, blowing in all the rear windows. The fields in which it landed belonged at the time to Rymils Farm, and the place where it landed is just about where the playground to Hollington Junior School now stands.
I recall gun emplacements in the area, doodle-bugs or flying bombs went over very frequently, air raids were quite common. One gun emplacement was at Pett Pond, which is now Bristol Road in Hollington. We had an Anderson Shelter in our downstairs front room. Basically a steel mesh 'cage' in which we would all gather if the sirens sounded their warning. In Hastings itself, people would gather in the underground car parks to sleep, some went to the East Hill Caves to sleep. I recall many forces occupying the town, particularly prior to the 'D'Day landings. I recall Canadians in the town, Americans, men from the Royal East Kent and West Kent regiments, members of the RAF. The sea front or promenade at Hastings was covered in barbed wire, old telegraph poles were pressed into service, set into the cliffs at Rock-a-Nore and on the East and West Hills to imitate gun emplacements.
I recall rationing. No sweets, two ounces of margerine a week. Bacon? Toys? what were they? Only English fruit in season. No clothes shops open. If you had a motor car in those days you were a millionaire. No petrol even if you had one. No television, you took your accumulater to be charged to listen in to the wireless if you had one.
I have one memory which I find hard to explain. I presume my father, with his connections with the military in the town, had decided it was safe, although my mother expressed reservations about it. On the outskirts of hastings was a large prisoner-of-war camp at Grove House, in Hollington, housing Germen and Italian prisoners of war. (This is now the Grove School). During light summer evenings we would walk to the camp with a football and play football with the prisoners. Goals were built from old railings and nets were fashioned out of old chicken wire. By the time the war was ending, many 'youngsters' were returning from evacuation, and quite a lot played football against the prisoners.
These then are some of my memories. Although we had nothing, we were not unhappy. We knew we had to dodge bombs and only had to worry when the 'doodle-bug' engine stopped working. I remember thinking I was lucky because my dad was at home (some of the time). Friends were learning that their fathers had been killed or 'missing in action', I remember this being a well used phrase. I recall tanks and bren gun carriers travelling about the town, the blue uniform of service personnel recovering in local hospitals. A real sight was mock battles fought in Priory Street and the Town Centre area between the local Home Guard and Canadian and American troops awaiting deployment overseas.
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