Crowborough veterans remember the war years

Alfred Burton
Alfred Burton

The German battleship Bismarck, Doodlebugs and amazing heroism by prisoners of war were remembered by veterans this week.

Royal British Legion members joined residents at a Crowborough care home for lunch after commemorating Armistice Day on Monday. Stories were pooled in comfort after a rainy gathering at the War Memorial at Chapel Green.

Among those sharing memories at Care UK’s Heather View home in Beacon Road was Alfred Burton, 93, whose ship, HMS Renown, was involved in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. He saw the first strikes that led to its sinking.

Canadian Bill Smith, 89, told of being a lucky survivor of a doodlebug strike in 1944 when nine of his friends were killed on Crowborough Common after the doodlebug landed on their field kitchen. “If it had landed quarter of an hour earlier 130 would have died,” he said. Mr Smith met a local girl and settled in the town after the war. He lives at Forest Dean.

Sidney Jarvis, 93, of Blackness Road, Crowborough, spent five years as a prisoner of war in Poland, and, as camps were evacuated by the Germans, was forced on The Long March from Poland through Czechoslovakia, as it was then, and into Bavaria.

Also at the lunch was Ann Divall, who lives in Jarvis Brook. She has sold poppies for the Royal British Legion for 53 years. She was inspired by her father and started out helping him as a teenager. She was wearing, with pride, his Royal Military Police badge and his National Service Medal.

Frank Tompkins, 91, a resident at Heather View, served during the war in Italy and his strongest memory was of being without food for a long period of time. His daughter Val Lloyd said she remembers him talking, when she was a child, about the time he ‘grovelled around in the dirt’ trying to eat bugs. “I could never leave anything on my plate,” she said. “And to this day he still finishes everything on his own plate because he remembers the time when he was starving.”

The Heroes Past and Present lunch was organised by Emilie Watson, activities co-ordinator at Heather View.

She said that for many of their residents Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day were the most important days of the year. “A lot of these people experienced horrors beyond imagining but this is also a celebration for us to say thank you for the life and freedoms we enjoy. We are thankful for what they did.”