In June 1944 the tide had turned in World War Two. Allied troops had successfully crossed the Channel and were ashore in Normandy. Then Hitler launched the first of his V (vengeance) weapons – the V1.
The first struck a week after D-Day on June 13, 1944, and landed at Swanscombe in Kent. The second landed soon afterwards in Cuckfield, just north of Haywards Heath, writes Paul Watson.
London was certainly the target but the Germans had not entirely mastered the navigation system, as witnessed by where the first two fell.
By the time a V1 fell to earth on the outskirts of Uckfield on July 26, 1944, people in London and the south east knew exactly what a menace this pilotless flying bomb was.
Launched from sites in the Pas-de-Calais and the Netherlands the V1, or Doodlebug as it was called, brought indiscriminate death and destruction.
People soon learned that the when the rasping “pop-pop” sound of the engine ceased, the flying bomb was about to fall from earth.
The RAF was deployed to try and shoot down the flying bombs and a ring of anti-aircraft batteries was used as part of the defences for London.
As a result, many V1s were brought down in Sussex and Kent – the phrase “bomb alley” was coined for some of the more usual flight-paths.
RAF fighters often found it difficult to shoot down the Doodlebugs. As a result, they would fly close to the V1 with their wing underneath the wing of the flying bomb. The fighter would tip its wing, making the Doodlebug unstable; sending it to earth.
Many were destroyed in this manner with the bombs falling into the countryside, leading to random death and destruction.
There was one such incident in Uckfield on July 26, 1944, which has been mentioned by a number of sources.
Betty Turner, the Uckfield historian, recorded on the WW2 People’s War website: “The next one (V1) I saw was in Uckfield High Street by the cinema, a sunny July afternoon, when the engine cut out! My heart missed a beat, and from nowhere came ‘one of ours’, and tipped the wing and it turned and blew the young Polish pilot to pieces, but saved Uckfield, indeed ‘the Supreme Sacrifice’.”
Another record from the same website by S. Hookey recalled: “One incident that happened in 1944, however, did bring the realisation that war was not a game. I had seen ‘dog fights’ in the sky many times but this incident was special.
“Right above the town, I watched an Allied fighter aircraft attacking a Doodlebug. He emptied his guns without success and then tried to turn the flying bomb by touching its wing, a fairly common practice.
“Unfortunately, as he approached the thing exploded. A huge fireball in the sky, then nothing.
“Together with my Auntie and my sister we went in search of the wreckage. The debris had fallen across a wide area but mainly in a wooded area just at the top of Harcourt Road, called the Highfields.
“The area had not been cordoned off and wreckage was strewn all around. Suddenly we found a flying glove and as we picked it up we saw the pilot’s hand was still in it. Although it did not register fully at the time, this vivid memory stays with me. We were told later that the pilot was Polish but as far as I know, his heroics remain unrecognised.”
In an article published in September 2010, UckfieldNews.com reported on the wartime memories of Peter Packham. He recalled a Doodlebug crashing at Ridgewood.
At the time Mr Packham was visiting Horsted Place with a party of Scouts.
“I heard a fighter rattling behind it (the V1). They reckoned the pilot crashed into it to bring it down. The engine was cutting out and it was coming towards Uckfield,” he said.
He also remembered another Doodlebug crashing on an area which is now Forge Rise.
Research begun by Framfield Road resident Duncan Bennett now seems to show that the pilot was, in fact, a Belgian, Pilot Officer Eugene George Achilles Seghers.
Seghers fought in the Battle of Britain and was decorated by the Belgians in 1941, receiving the Croix de Guerre.
In 1944, at the time of his death, he was serving with 91 RAF Squadron operating from Deanland, at the time an advanced landing ground between Uckfield and Hailsham, just off the A22.
Now a private airstrip, it was one of the bases that was heavily involved in combating the V1s.
Mr Bennett would like to see a proper memorial for PO Seghers in Uckfield, paid for by public subscription.
*The second German “vengeance” weapon was the V2 rocket which rained down without warning. There was no defence against the V2.