‘Exciting’ times amid the bombs

Rouser 2013
Rouser 2013

One Peter Davies, soon after the outbreak of World War Two, was evacuated from Croydon to Lewes, aged just eight.

And he has recently come up with some reminiscences about those momentous times: ‘I was met at Lewes Station by helpers and given my first car ride to the then Cinema-De-Luxe on School Hill.

‘There, all the children were given a carrier bag containing a tin of corned beef (without a key), a tin of fruit (without tin opener), a bar of chocolate and a packet of Hardtack biscuits, inedible! I was told to hand these over to whoever took me into their house.

‘We were walked all over Lewes in crocodile fashion to find ourselves a billet. After what seemed like an eternity, myself and another boy were the only two kids homeless.

‘Finally a lady came out of her house to view us like cattle, saying: “I wanted nice girls. Is this all you have?”

‘She eventually took us both in, with reservations that if we misbehaved, we would be returned. But in fact I spent a very happy time there.

‘As a young boy, the war to me was very exciting and I tried to be in the right place when things were going on. I remember one day, myself and a friend found ourselves on the hill overlooking Malling Down.

‘There was a line of barbed wire stopping us going any further.

‘We both crawled under the wire and followed a footpath that led down to a battered corrugated shed, covered in large holes.

‘As we walked along the pathway, either side of us we saw unexploded shells and mortar bombs sticking up in the soil.

‘Undeterred, we continued to the shed in the hollow. As we stood inside, we heard shells screaming overhead. We ran like the devil and never went back.

‘Whenever German aircraft were brought down in the vicinity we were there to have a look, if possible to obtain pieces as trophies. Perspex glass from the cockpit was made into rings for girlfriends.

‘My friend once brought back a clip of .303 bullets and we spent the weekend dismantling the bullet head from the casing in order to get the explosive cordite. We then used this to fly paper planes at school. They went like a rocket.

‘On January 20, 1943, just before 12:30 pm, I was walking along Lansdown Place, Lewes in order to buy some sweets (on coupon) from Downey’s sweetshop.

‘Just before opening the doors of the shop, there was a tremendous explosion that brought all the shop glass out and onto my face and head.

‘As I straightened up, having ducked down, I saw at rooftop height a German Meserschmidt 109 fighter plane with the pilot clearly visible to me. A few seconds later, several Spitfires followed in its path in to the town centre.

‘At about 100 yards from me a column of smoke towered upwards above Southover Road, close to the railway tunnel. I ran towards the smoke and saw chickens were running about in the roadway in fright.

‘I continued to the bottom of Elm Grove where I saw the damage. The backs of the houses had been opened up from the roof to the ground floor.

‘The first floor bedrooms were all intact, even down to the bedclothes still on the beds. The kitchen/dining room areas were still laid for lunch with the table cloth, knives and forks still on the tables.

‘On my return home I tried to catch the loose chickens for the owner who lived in a new house immediately by the tunnel.

‘On arriving back at my house in Lansdown Place where I was living with my parents, who had moved down in 1941, I found two secondary school girls crouching in the doorway very frightened.

‘They had come from seeing a film at the Odeon cinema. I sent them both down to the basement where we had an indoor shelter made of tree logs.’

Frightening times - but ‘exciting’ for a kid!

Pictured, A bomb fell through a house in Chapel Hill on October 5, 1940. It failed to explode and was removed by the bomb disposal squad.

It was later presented to this little girl who was living in the house with her mother after being bombed out of London!