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War Memories of a Young Boy Living in East Sussex

by Dennis Moon

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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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Wartime memories

Posted on: 19 October 2003 by Stanley H Jones

It is very interesting to read your memories. I was born in September 1934 and our memories of the war cover the same years of our lives. I lived in a completely different part of the country and not quite so much in the danger areas but it is good to recall thes times. I have been writing regularly on WW2 over the past months as memories come and I really hope that these contributions will be of interest and help to others - particularly the present generation who can now only learn of our expriences as history.

Message 1 - Memories of war

Posted on: 19 October 2003 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Dennis,
I was ten when war broke out and have many memories which I try to put in sequence for WW2 Peoples War.
I can probably explain the football games with the POW's.
Living in the North East of England we got the first POW's to arrive in the country, they were Italians. One morning to my total amazement I heard a clear Tenor voice singing up the road, dashing round to see what it was all about I saw a troop of prisoners marching along. They were alone with their own NCO's marching them down the road, one was singing and the others joined in the chorus. They worked in the area on farms and for various merchants like my Pal's Dad who was a coal merchant. They vanished I think to Canada then the Germans arrived.
Again they would march to the same jobs under their own NCO's with sometimes one English soldier on a bike wobbling along behind. They worked around all day then formed up and marched back to their camp at the top of Junction Road. I was flabbergasted because to my mind a good soldier did not help the enemy and his one aim in life was to escape find his way home and carry on fighting. Two of them worked for my friends Dad and I got to know them well, they would do the morning delivery then have lunch with the family sitting round the table to which I was oft invited. One could speak English so we all conversed in a normal way they even washed up at times then did the afternoon delivery, all very mundane. We just got used to them being there and they seemed happy to be out of the war. They played football against local teams some married English girls later after the war as they waited to go home, none of this seemed abnormal after a while we just thought that was how it was.
Speaking to some of the men who came home from captivity in Germany quite a few had similar stories one man now long dead had happy memories of working and living on a German farm as almost one of the family. Many others had bad conditions and this being a Mining County lots of our lads were drafted into German mines, if you worked you ate if not you starved, it was as simple as that.
To end the story I joined the army in 1947 being sent to the Middle East where at one time I found myself as a camp guard on a German POW camp. Our weapons were not pointed at the Germans but pointing out as the Isreali Arab war was on and we had to guard all military establishments. Those Germans were still waiting repatriation, those living in East Germany not wanting to go home so were slowly being sent to the west. Those boys spent a long time in camps although they did have freedom to come and go, they worked in our workshops repairing every type of equipment and as a piano player had many good nights with them followed by many bad heads next morning.
Hope this enlightens you on how it was, your Dad was playing his part in rebuilding relationships really.
Frank Mee Researcher 241911.

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