‘One of the most memorable nights at Uckfield was on September 18th, 1940, when about 700 incendiary bombs and twelve high explosives lit up the town.’
The paragraph above is from an account of the bombing of East Sussex in World War Two, writes Paul Watson.
It sounds to the modern reader to have been an horrific night but one schoolboy watched it all from his attic bedroom window.
Peter Packham, now 80, lived at Mount Pleasant, just off Framfield Road. “I don’t know if there was a warning that night. I don’t think there was. “It was not a raid on Uckfield, as such,” he said.
German raiders had been turned back from attacking London and jettisoned their bombs on the way home.
“We did not have a shelter and I looked out of the attic window and saw burning at the top of the High Street,” he said.
An incendiary had dropped through the roof of 222 High Street and burnt out the top portion of Mr Bingham Towner’s photographic studio.
“He tried to put it out with a bucket of water but I think it just spread the flames,” Mr Packham said.
He doubts that 700 incendiaries were dropped on Uckfield that night, as the book, The War in East Sussex, claimed. “I think that is a bit exaggerated,” he commented.
One of the high explosive bombs landed in Olives Meadow (then just a field), killing a cow and a donkey.
The bomb fell only yards from where Mr Packham now lives with his wife June. The explosion took the tiles off the roof a house nearby.
Another bomb fell close to the pumping station which used to pump water to the tower which is now at the top of Browns Lane.
A water main was burst.
Mr Packham recalls that time of the Battle of Britain as being a “bit of an adventure” to himself and his school pals.
“The talk was of what we were going to do to the Germans if they invaded,” he recalled.
Mrs Packham, who lived next door to her future husband, recalls standing outside and watching the dog fights of the Battle of Britain.
During the London Blitz they both can remember being able to see a glow in the sky to the north as the capital burned.
Later in the war, Mr Packham remembers hearing a Doodlebug (V1) over Uckfield.
“The engine stopped and I thought ‘oh crikey, where is it going to land’.
“It came down near the gas works,” he said. They were in what is now known as the Forge Rise area of Uckfield.
On another occasion a Doodlebug came down at Ridgewood. At the time Mr Packham was at Horsted Place with a party of Scouts.
“I heard a fighter rattling behind it. They reckoned the pilot crashed into it to bring it down. The engine was cutting out and it was coming towards Uckfield,” he said.
Mr and Mrs Packham have lived in Uckfield all their lives. He is a former insurance agent and she worked for High Street jewellers, Gale and Woolgar. They have been married for 56 years.
The book, the War in East Sussex, was published at the end of hostilities.
It also reports that on the night of September 18 the cottage hospital (now the Hughes Way area) also had a narrow escape from a high explosive bomb which fell in the grounds.
About the same time 150 incendiary bombs were dropped at Maresfield without causing any damage.
The book, which was compiled and published by the Sussex Express and County Herald, said that Hadlow Down School was slightly damaged on September 24, 1940.
Thirteen high explosive bombs were straddled across the fields and main road and “two little evacuees, Robert Hemsley, aged 11 years, and Eric Charles Russell, aged 7 years, were seriously injured”.
The book also reports that on October 16, 1940, Norman Albert Montgomery, of Chapelwood Cottages, Nutley, was killed instantly while he was “motoring home, when a bomb fell in the road at Courtlands Hill directly in front of him”.
Five high explosives and two oil bombs were dropped and his car was blown to pieces and the road blocked for several hours.