Campaigner Duncan Bennett

Uckfield history: hidden story of World War 2 heroism becomes clearer

Fog of war is a perfect phrase to describe the virtually unknown World War II story of Belgian pilot Eugene Seghers.

He is credited with saving Uckfield from untold destruction as a V1 flying bomb seemed set to crash somewhere in the vicinity of the High Street.

It is only in the last 12 months that the story has emerged. There are earlier historical references to the incident but they say the pilot was Polish.

PO Eugene Seghers. Photograph taken from Facebook group: Memorial to Pilot Officer Eugene Seghers DFC

PO Eugene Seghers. Photograph taken from Facebook group: Memorial to Pilot Officer Eugene Seghers DFC

Seghers (pictured – taken from a Facebook page), flying a Spitfire from RAF Deanland, intervened and tried to bring down the Doodlebug in open country above Ridgewood.

Segher’s heroism above Uckfield

The flying bomb exploded smashing both the V1 and Spitfire to smithereens.

It is thought fragments of the Doodlebug and Spitfire are beneath the soil from an area stretching from the allotments in New Road across towards Selby Road in New Town.

Segher’s heroism in the skies above Uckfield came at a time when Hitler was using the V1 as a terror weapon against the population of South East England and particularly London.

The first V1s were launched only a week after D-Day which took place on June 6, 1944. The second flying bomb ever to hit the UK came down near Cuckfield in Mid Sussex.

The V1 was a terror weapon

The V1s terrorised the population as they had a strange engine noise made by their pulse-jet engines.

At a predetermined distance, the engine would cut out and the V1 would plunge to the ground. It wasn’t highly accurate meaning that V1s were prone to explode anywhere.

People soon learned that as long as they heard the buzzing sound they were safe. Silence meant a massive explosion was imminent.

It is said the V1 tackled by Seghers was about to plunge to the ground after its engine cut out.

You can read more about the V1 here in an earlier history article.

The campaign to ensure Segher’s bravery and sacrifice is properly acknowledged in Uckfield is the work of Duncan Bennett, of Framfield Road, a former town deputy mayor.

He has established a Facebook page which in the last 18 months has garnered much support and information about Pilot Office Seghers.

Ton of explosive

Much of what now follows is taken from that Facebook page.

Here is what Mr Bennett said about the incident itself:

“When Eugene Seghers encountered the Doodlebug, local reports indicate that its engine was dying, meaning that its descent and detonation was imminent.

“He would have known this. He would also have known that the bomb contained a TON of high explosive. Despite this, he tried everything to destroy it in the air to protect those below.

“When his ammunition was exhausted, it is said that he tried to set the V1 off course by using the dangerous and developing technique of nudging under its wing with the tip of his MK14 Spitfire’s own wing. In this case, the bomb exploded and Seghers and the remains of his aircraft fell to earth over a wide area.”

Identified wrongly as a Polish pilot

It appears little was said or recorded of the incident with only limited memories being published and – as we said earlier – the Spitifire pilot was identified as a Polish national.

Seghers was born in Ghent in 1910 and, as Andy Saunders reported on the Facebook page, Seghers entered flying school in 1930.

After the fall of France in 1940 Seghers made his way to England and was commissioned in the RAF in mid July.

He was shot down during the Battle of Britain and baled out into the sea, unhurt.

After the Uckfield explosion Seghers was initially buried in the UK but his remains were exhumed and reinterred in Brussels.

He had been awarded the DFC in 1943.

New Road allotments

The seat armour from Segher’s Spitfire was found on a New Road allotment, where it is said, it was used as a side of a compost heap. It was later displayed at a museum, the Facebook page says, but has now been lost.

Duncan Bennett is getting closer to seeing a memorial to Eugene Seghers in Uckfield and his sacrifice being properly commemorated. See story here.

*If you know anyone who witnessed this V1 incident or are a relative who has been told the story, please contact:

Any information will be passed to Mr Bennett.

See also:

Uckfield’s firefighting history – when roads on the Ashdown Forest burned

Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory

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