Worthing’s Summer Of Devastation

DURING World War Two, newspapers were forbidden by censorship regulations to identify specifically places that had been bombed during air raids. This ban included photographs of damaged homes.

The main reason given was that precise information about the location and time of the incident might help the enemy evaluate the accuracy of their bombing.

So a picture of, say, a bomb-damaged house in Lyndhurst Road, Worthing, could appear in the local newspaper only with the vague caption, “A house damaged during a recent Nazi air raid on a south coast town”.

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Perhaps it was nonsensical not to mention the town when the picture appeared only in the Worthing Herald, which, in very slim wartime editions, was hardly likely to publish a picture of a house bombed in Brighton.

This is the explanation for the caption to one of the pictures in the recent Bygones features on wartime Worthing, suggesting it depicted the remains of a house in Lyndhurst Road, Worthing, destroyed by a German bomber that fell on it during one such raid.

But this was incorrect, an unfortunate knock-on effect of the wartime censorship that has left many in a cloud of “information vagueness” when it comes to identifying exact locations of the many unlabelled pictures of bombing incidents during those traumatic times.

A Heinkel 111 bomber did, in fact, crash on a house in Lyndhurst Road, but it was 200 yards further to the east than the wrecked building shown in the photo published two weeks ago.

And, as you might expect, the plane caused a much wider scene of devastation.

Eight people died when a German Heinkel bomber crashed on this doctor’s surgery at the corner of Lyndhurst Road and Homefield Road, Worthing, four Canadian soldiers billeted on the top floor of the house and the four German aircrew.

As my own home at that time was just a few hundred yards away, I spotted the erroneous caption immediately.

What actually happened on that sunny August Sunday evening in August, 1942, illustrates how just a few yards can separate a tragic incident from becoming a horrendous calamity.

Second-year student nurse Winifred Houghton was in the night nurses’ corridor at Worthing Hospital when she was suddenly startled by the roar of engines.

She hurried to the hospital windows overlooking Beach House Park in time to see an aircraft cross diagonally from the direction of the pier towards the north end of Madeira Avenue.

Later, she recalled: “I was amazed it did not strike the gasometer, and I shall never forget that its landing lights were ablaze, despite the brilliant sunshine.

“The plane somehow missed the roofs of Madeira Avenue houses and, with a sudden loss of power, it crashed through part of the flint wall on the south side of Lyndhurst Road.

“Crossing Lyndhurst Road, the aircraft buried itself with a great explosion in the front of Dr Margery Davies’s house and surgery, on the corner of Homefield Road.

There were four Canadian soldiers billeted on the top floor and spilled fuel from the bomber’s tanks set this floor alight. The men were brought to the hospital with severe burns.

“Although several bombs on board exploded, some failed to go off and the area was sealed off until bomb disposal men could remove the remainder.”

Two women members of Dr Margery Davies’ domestic staff had miraculous escapes from death.

Eva Collins and Carol Wilson were in different parts of the house when the bomber struck the building.

Carol immediately rushed to Eva’s room at the back of the house and helped her out, but on reaching the staircase they found it a mass of flames.

Running to an upper window at the front, their shouts for help were heard by soldiers who were tackling a blaze that had also broken out in the house next door.

The soldiers shouted to the women to jump and as they did so the troops caught them, with no injuries to the women.

As the women huddled against a wall their one thought was for the doctor’s car, which was now in flames.

The soldiers searched through the debris for any other trapped occupants. Some lifted flaming beams of wood with their bare hands and had to be treated for burns at the hospital.

A nearby resident visiting a house 150 yards away recalled: “We were engaged in a heated discussion on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity when there was a loud wumff.

“Going in to the street we saw an enormous blaze.

“The large house and big trees surrounding it were burning furiously. Here and there were rivers of flame and the road and shrubs were festooned with ribbons of fire.”

The Heinkel 111 was blown into so many fragments that, for a long time, the rescuers were unaware whether it was a German or British aircraft. Part of an engine fell in a garden and another piece lodged in a wall.

Next morning, bits of the Heinkel were still littering many surrounding streets.

Miss Houghton, who continued to nurse at Worthing Hospital for a further 30 years before retiring as a senior ward sister, confirmed that a distance of 50 yards prevented the incident becoming a major tragedy.

“If the Heinkel had been only that distance further north, it would have struck Worthing Hospital.”

“It could have demolished the children’s ward on the corner of Park Avenue, where there were normally at least 20 patients.

“It also narrowly missed a big house called Homefield, immediately opposite the doctor’s house, which was full of troops.”

Fate was also kind in other ways. Dr Davies, one of the town’s first woman doctors, was away on a Guiding weekend when the Heinkel destroyed her surgery and most of her personal belongings.

Had it not been a Sunday, the surgery and surrounding streets would have been busy.

The casualty list could have been horrendous.

As fate would have it, there was not a single civilian casualty.

The bodies of the four German aircrew were recovered from the wreckage and this was noted in contemporary records.

The four Canadian soldiers, billeted at the top of the doctor’s house when the plane hit died as the result of their burns, but their deaths were never recorded in newspapers at the time.

But that was wartime censorship . . .

* * * * *

Dodging Bombs On The Way Back From School

PHOTOGRAPHS of Worthing, Lancing, Shoreham and Littlehampton in wartime published in the Herald/Gazette series have sparked a rush of response from readers.

Many have provided a fascinating insight into the stories behind the pictures.

Retired mechanic David Barrow, from Goring, has spoken about the day in 1943 when a high explosive bomb landed just a few houses away from the Harvey Road house he still lives in.

A young family died in the blast, which demolished two houses and seriously damaged another, the house shown in the photograph.

Mr Barrow said: “I came back from school that day, it was in the afternoon, and it was just boom, boom, boom, boom.

“It must have been a fairly large bomb, taking out two houses and half of another one.

“We disappeared under the stairs, it was our air-raid shelter.

“I remember the bodies were in the trees on the right-hand side.

“The toys of the family were all around the bomb crater.”

Mr Barrow escaped again when he visited the seafront in Littlehampton, near the banks of the River Arun, with his mother and his friend, Dennis Holbert.

“My mother used to enjoy swimming,” said Mr Barrow, “She used to wait for high tide and swim across the river into town.

“While they were over there, the air-raid siren went and I saw this plane come along and drop a bomb.

“I don’t know if it came back or if there were two planes, but it came down and started to machine-gun where we were on the beach.

“I grabbed hold of my friend, who was hiding in a bush, and pulled him into where I was, which was in a bigger bush.

“A line of bullets went straight across by us and that was that.”

Retired engineer Phil Quinn, 76, from Seafield Road, Rustington, shed light on a photograph, labelled simply Rustington.

Although the amateur historian has lived in the area only since 1993, he has devoted himself to researching local history and the photograph sparked his curiosity.

He said: “I looked at it and thought, ‘Where could that be?’ Then it dawned on me.”

Mr Quinn realised the photograph showed a house in his own road, at the junction with Seafield Close, which had been bombed in May, 1942.

His research into the area had uncovered a Littlehampton Gazette report of the bombing from the time.

It told how the attack had claimed the life of 32-year-old Irene Wood and seriously injured her two-year-old son, Rodney.

A woman described as Madame Jadot, aged 73, also died in the bombing.

Mrs J. F. George, now of Lancing, wrote in to describe a terrifying walk home from school in the early war years in Worthing.

She said: “In 1940, when I was 12 years old, we had a hit-and-run raid and the siren had not sounded.

“I was walking home from Davison High School to go home for dinner and along Lyndhurst Road.

“A German plane had dropped his bomb on Cobden Road and then machine-gunned where I was walking.

“I grabbed a large oak tree and prayed. I was lucky.

“When I got home, I found my mother on her knees crying as she had seen the houses blown in the air.”