World War Two in Sussex

1. Sussex at war

Britain had been at war since September 1939 and Sussex had been at the frontline of UK defences. The threat of invasion had been very real. Operation Sea Lion, a major Nazi invasion plan, had identified Camber Sands, Winchelsea, Bexhill and Cuckmere Haven as vulnerable points to breach our defences.

The beaches were no-go areas for most people. Barbed wire defences stood between the sea and the promenades, and heavy artillery lined our seafronts. The Home Guard were prepared for invasion too. They had been trained in unarmed combat and booby trap techniques. In the event of a breach of our coastline, it would be their job to ambush the invading forces.

Sussex towns and villages suffered heavily from enemy bombing raids, especially in 1940 and 1944. Hundreds of civilians were killed, thousands hospitalised and many lost their homes. Especially scary were the daylight ‘tip and run’ attacks, when enemy aircraft would fly in low dropping bombs and machine gunning people in the streets.

Robin J Brooks gives a fascinating description of the terror experienced by an air raid survivor in “Sussex Airfields in the Second World War”

‘Generally people who had experienced a raid… would suffer a belated shock. Subsequent air raids would bring a feeling of nausea and the occasional uncontrollable shaking of the body. A parched feeling in the throat at the sound of the whistling bombs as they fell and the urge to get outside into the open despite the obvious dangers’

Sussex’s most devastating air attack took place in East Grinstead on 9 July 1943. A lone German aircraft spotted a convoy of army trucks in the High Street and dropped eight bombs on the town. Among the buildings hit was the Whitehall Cinema, which was full at the time. The roof collapsed killing many of the audience. In total 108 people died and 235 were injured.

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) whistle

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