Uckfield man recalls devastation of random bombing

One of the most dramatic incidents of the Battle of Britain in this part of East Sussex came on August 16, 1940.

Two people died when a cow shed they were working in was hit by a bomb jettisoned by a German raider, writes Paul Watson.

The late Jim Molesworth-Edwards told Uckfield News his memories of the devastation minutes after the all-clear had been sounded.

He was a ten-year-old schoolboy and came out of a bomb shelter with his mother and father wondering what they would find.

The impressive circular shelter had been constructed by his father in the garden of their home at Cross in Hand.

It had a domed roof covered in concrete. Inside it was at least 14ft in diameter, at least 12ft high to the top of the dome, which was just level with ground. The dome was then covered by the earth which had been dug out for the shelter.

The family believed it would survive any blast, bar a direct hit on the centre of the dome.

Mr Molesworth-Edwards clearly recalls that fateful late Friday afternoon when the bombs fell.

“I asked my mother if we could have a picnic tea by the air raid shelter. We were in the middle of tea when the air raid sirens sounded [from our home we could hear the sirens at Heathfield, Crowborough and Uckfield].

“We heard all the aircraft coming over and could hear anti-aircraft guns going off in the distance. This was shortly followed by hearing bombs falling and we immediately took cover.

“There was a tremendous noise with all the bombs falling. We knew they were very close and wondered what we were going to find when we came out.

“My father said ‘I wonder if the house will still be standing’.

“We knew it was mighty close because of the noise.

“A bomb had exploded about a hundred yards from our house but, by being shielded by some very large trees, the only damage we sustained was a piece of shrapnel through one window.

“Three of our neighbours closer to the bomb had all their windows out and ceilings down.

“Within a few minutes we heard Scocus Farm at Five Ashes had been hit; this was only a mile from our home at Brackenwood.

“A friend and myself got there just before the emergency services arrived.

“The cow shed had received a direct hit. The farmer’s two sons were milking at the time and both were killed.

“The cows that hadn’t been killed had to be destroyed because of their injuries.

“There was a double-decker bus passing at the time; all the passengers dived into a ditch and I didn’t hear of any injuries, although the bus was extensively damaged.

“The devastation at the farm was appalling.”

The German planes had been trying to attack Croydon but were turned back by British fighters. The bombs were not aimed at the area but jettisoned in panic by the raiders to try and speed their return to the continent.

The book, The War in East Sussex, records that in all 71 bombs were dropped in that incident.

It named the two men who died as Mr James William Berry and Mr Alfred Ansell Berry, sons of Mr James Berry, the owner-occupier of the farm.

Later during the Battle of Britain, Mr Molesworth-Edwards recalls a dogfight.  “My father was calling me to come and watch and my mother was shouting at me to take cover. I went out with my father and we then heard suddenly the most almighty crash and our fighter come over doing the Victory Roll.”

The Messerschmit crashed in the middle of the road in Mayfield Flat at the Five Ashes end.

In another incident he remembers being in the cinema at Heathfield, the Plaza, which had a corrugated iron roof. When it rained hard you could not hear the soundtrack because of the noise.

On this occasion the sirens sounded but he and his friend stayed inside watching the film.

A dogfight was going on overhead and the spent cartridges could be heard raining down on the cinema roof.

• August 16 also saw a massive attack on the fighter station at Tangmere, east of Chichester. Stukas dive-bombed the aerodrome.

Pilot Officer Billy Fiske nursed his badly damaged Hurricane back to the base and was pulled from the plane. Next day he died. He is the only known American to have died in the Battle of Britain.

• This story was originally published on Uckfield News on August 18, 2010.

• Jim Molesworth-Edwards, a former Uckfield town councillor and road safety campaigner died in 2017. Read more about him here: Former Uckfield town councillor Jim Molesworth-Edwards dies.

See also:

War arrives on Uckfield doorstep

The night incendiary bombs and high explosives lit up Uckfield

Uckfield in the front line


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