The day the train came under attack from air

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A BILLINGSHURST man who was left permanently scarred as a baby by a World War II bomb has told of the day he and his mother became enemy targets.

Paul Leaney, now aged 69, of Rowan Drive, was travelling by train with Rita when the carriage came under attack at Bramley station by heavy gunfire and bombs on December 16 1942.

Rita had been to Farnborough, where her husband was on stand-by with the Tank Corps for embarkation to North Africa, and had not yet seen their ten-week-old son.

Trevor Leaney was a teacher at Christ’s Hospital when he was drafted into the army.

The lone Dornier 217 Bomber had ripped its opportunist target to shreds, killing seven people and badly injuring Paul’s mother.

Rita had been struck in the side of her mouth by a bullet which shattered her jaw bone and blinded her right eye.

She also suffered deep wounds from glass which had embedded itself into her skin.

Paul too was injured by the glass, before his mother passed him down from the wrecked carriage to a Canadian soldier who helped her on foot along to the station.

The raider was pursued shortly afterwards by a Beaufighter over the coast before crashing into a gasometer at Bognor, killing the four crew members.

Over a number of years Rita underwent a series of operations to correct the facial disfigurement.

She was later transferred to East Grinstead for work by Alexander Macindoe, the celebrated plastic surgeon.

This was followed by a long period of convalescence at Shoreham. Paul was looked after by grandparents for two years at Rudgwick.

The Billingshurst man says Rita was very philosophical about her fate and didn’t blame anyone, considering herself lucky, as the woman next to her on the train had been killed.

In 1949 she opened The Flower Box at Horsham station, having left home at 15 to study the art of floristry in London. She also had a flower shop in Carfax until 1962.

Her husband died in 1957 and she later moved to Billingshurst where she opened The Flower Box Shop there, which still exists today.

She underwent operations on her face throughout her life as techniques improved to remove pieces of glass as they made their presence felt.

“I remember her sitting down in the evening and working out huge pieces of glass from her face,” explained Paul.

“She’s just one of those people that got on with life and she never held any malice. If anyone said anything to her she would say the train was an open target.”