During the Second World War, Sussex endured countless air raids, losing hundreds of civilians to the falling bombs.
While Haywards Heath, Cuckfield and Lindfield fell foul of the bombings, the majority of the damage was to buildings rather than people.
It’s hard to imagine, though, how terrifying the air raids must have been for the men, women and children on the ground as, throughout the war, the alert was sounded 682 times.
In August 1945, the Sussex Express published a book called The War in East Sussex which detailed the damage done to the area.
In total, 13 high explosive bombs and three batches of incendiary bombs were dropped on Haywards Heath, Cuckfield and Lindfield, while a flying bomb crashed into the cemetery grounds at Haywards Heath.
Most of the damage occurred towards the end of 1940. As horrific as this sounds, no one was killed in the area.
One poor soul was seriously injured and 16 others were left with minor injuries.
When it came to property, three houses in the area were destroyed and 30 others suffered serious damage.
Some 495 homes were left with slight structural damage while glass was broken in 107 others.
The War In East Sussex recorded: “The first incident of note was on a Thursday night during September 1940 when a stick of four high explosive bombs fell near the council houses in Bentswood, Haywards Heath, damaging some of them.
“On Saturday evening, September 28 1940, a bomb exploded in the back garden of a house on the west side of Haywards Road, Haywards Heath.
“Damage was caused to nearby houses in that road and also in Wood Ride and Park Road, and a large number of houses on the opposite side of Haywards Road suffered badly from the blast, while the windows of shops and other buildings in South Road, Ashenground Road and Sussex Road were broken. The bomb was the last of a stick of four which fell across Ashenground Woods.
“At Brook Street, Cuckfield, on December 6 1940, a bomb exploded in the middle of the road, wrecking two houses. There were a number of casualties, though not serious ones.
“There were three incidents in the area on the night of December 21 1940. One bomb fell in an open field at Burntwood Farm, Tyler’s Green, Haywards Heath. Another dropped in the Haywards Heath recreation ground, near the railway station.
“A person walking through the ground at the time received a spinal injury but recovered following hospital treatment.
“The third fell on an isolated lodge in Hanlye Lane, Cuckfield, and the occupants were trapped underneath. They managed to crawl safely out and walked to a hospital not far away for treatment before anyone could arrive to assist them.
“On July 11 1944, a flying bomb crashed in the Haywards Heath cemetery grounds but no damage was done.”
When it comes to under-statement, ‘The War in East Sussex’, published by Sussex Express (August 1945) took the crown.
The book recorded bombings which had taken place across Sussex during World War Two. One passage related to Burgess Hill and read: “The first really disagreeable experience the townspeople had was on Sunday morning. August 18 1940, when a German plane flew in quite low and machine-gunned people in Church Road and Leylands Road.” We known the war generation was one of the toughest Britain has ever produced, but surely it took more than a stiff upper lip to endure a machine gun raid on civilians in a quiet Sussex town!
A curious tale from ‘The War in East Sussex’, published by Sussex Express (August 1945) .
During World War Two a number of air raids saw bombs fall in the area of the Franklands Hotel, Burgess Hill, leading to the rumour the Nazis thought an aerodrome had been built there.
The rumour started when some one claimed to have heard Lord Haw-Haw – a notorious broadcaster of Nazi propaganda to the UK – announce on German radio that Burgess Hill aerodrome had been bombed.
When it came to confirming the claim, no one was willing to step forward and swear they had heard the broadcast. It appears warnings of ‘loose lips’ could not stop idle gossip.
Bombing of Burgess Hill Police Station, From ‘The War in East Sussex’, published by Sussex Express (August 1945).
The air raid which hit the police station was referred to as “the most exciting night” of World War Two for the people of Burgess Hill. The War In East Sussex recorded four high explosives and an oil bomb fell in the district. It added: “One bomb damaged the back of the police station and also the side and back of Mr Kelham’s premises adjoining. A second bomb exploded in Park Road about 30ft from a house and the gas and water mains were damaged. A third bomb fell in a garden in Crescent Row and a fourth on a farm near Burgess Hill railway station.”
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