Hastings Grammar boys waiting at Hastings Station


On Sunday 21 July 1940, just five days before the first enemy attack on Hastings, some 3,000 children, representing approximately half the eligible number, were hoarded onto 69 coaches and evacuated to 'safe' reception areas in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.  All Hastings schools were closed with immediate effect.  Ken Jones has the memory in June 1940 of the Hastings Grammar School headmaster, Mr M.G.G. Hyder, summoning the whole school to the hall to tell them that the Germans could invade and land in the town at any moment.  If that happened, and it were at all possible, pupils should come to school as usual.


Hastings was ill-equipped to cope with the initial three months of relentless bombings and relied solely on the work of the R.A.F. to protect the town.  Finally, on 14 October 1940, ironically the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the first A.A guns arrived in the town to take the enemy encroachments. 

Eileen Parish recalls her reaction to first seeing the guns: 'I can remember getting out of bed and seeing the anti-aircraft guns and I wondered what on earth it was, because you could see it shooting across the sky in the dark.'

Soon after the guns' arrival, the raids on the town, and indeed on the country as whole, started to be predominantly at night.


Sea Road A.A. guns ready for enemy action

Emmanuel Road after the raid of 3 May 1942


The attack of 3 May 1942 was the first of the year to claim loss of life with the deaths of three Hastings residents.  Shortly before dark, at 9.05pm, four Messerschmitt 190s flew low over the town, releasing four H.E. bombs between them, demolishing three houses, and scoring a direct hit on Emmanuel Church and Vicarage.  Most windows of the church were blown out, as were several windows of nearby houses.  The young daughter of the Reverend Jason Battersby, Deidre Mary, was tragically killed in the raid whilst she slept in her cot.


At 4.20pm on Thursday 24 September 1942 came the worst attack seen so far in terms of lives lost.  Seven fighter-bombers, with an escort of fighters, swept in low over the rooftops and dropped large bombs at Warrior Square, Quarry Hill, the West Hill and De Cham Road, whist showering the town with cannon-fire.  Twenty-three people were killed and 43 were injured.

Among the dead were blind residents Dorothy Dean and Edith Mary Waite in the National Institute for the Blind Home at Quarry Hill, which suffered a direct hit.  The residents were being led to an air-raid shelter when a wing of the building bore the full brunt of the bomb.

Gordon Dengate remembers going with Dengate furniture removers to one of the houses adjoining those flattened in Warrior Square soon after the incident of 24 September: 'We got called to Warrior Square and a bomb had fallen, and it was amazing how it had happened. it looked as if somebody had just taken a couple of houses out and there was just a gap there.  We had to go in the next house up and get the furniture out and the police or Air Raid Warden said to us that the staircase was alright, but whatever we did, not to lean on the wall, what was now the outer wall.  I remember that on one of the landings on this outside wall was a big mirror, a massive great mirror, and it was still hanging there and it wasn't broken and yet the whole other side of the wall had gone.'


Warrior Square after the devastating raid of 24 September 1942

Adelaide Road after 11 March 1943 attack

Death and destruction came to Hastings on 11 March 1943, in the heaviest and worst raid it would see throughout the war.  Between 3.32pm and 3.36pm., 20 Focke-Wulf 190s crossed the channel at Fairlight then came in line abreast at 'zero feet' (rooftop height), while a further eight Focke-Wulf 190s patrolled just off shore.  This spectacular scene must have frightened residents immensely, as a salvo of 25 powerful High Explosive bombs were dropped randomly over the town.

The devastation inflicted upon the town was unprecedented, with 38 people losing their lives, 39 seriously injured and 51 slightly injured.


Two months after the 11 March 1943 attacks, disaster was to strike once more with the second worst raid on the town.  At 12.59pm on Sunday 23 May, 10 Focke-Wulf 190s swept in at rooftop height, machine-gunning the town at the same as releasing 25 bombs, which scored direct hits on five public houses and two hotels filled with diners.  Twenty-five people were killed in this Hastings raid, 30 seriously injured and 55 slightly injured.  The High Street in the Old Town suffered particularly badly, with many of the deaths occuring at the Swan Hotel, which was packed with lunchtime customers.

Denmark Arms in Denmark Place, one of five public houses to be hit on 23 May 1943


V.E. Day celebrations in Clarence Road

After almost six of the most momentous years to have been experienced in the borough, the news that victory had been secured was received over the wireless at 3pm by the Prime Minister, and hostilities in Europe were finally over.  

The Town Council listened intently to the broadcast and within an hour, at 4pm, the mayor, Alderman A. Blackman, spoke to a huge, relieved and joyous crowd from the balcony of the Town Hall, greeted by cheers and applause.

Celebratory flags soon appeared on the town's hotels, pubs, shops, public buildings and private homes.  Firemen worked to run flags through the town centre and over the Memorial in time for the dozens of street parties held all around the town.


Copyright N. Goodwin MMII