Almost every week Britain continued to suffer from the random attentions of the Luftwaffe. Sporadic raids with no discernable military purpose caused death, destruction and misery. Recent evidence suggests that they were sometimes carried out simply because the pilots enjoyed the thrill of them. In such circumstances it was very difficult for the minority in Britain who doubted the wisdom of the bombing campaign against Germany to speak out.
Although almost no area in Britain was safe from a random string of bombs it was the south and east coast that took the brunt of it. From post war research Joan Howell learnt that eighteen Me 109s and FW190s took off from Abbeville in France at 2.20pm. Twenty-five minutes later they arrived over her house in Hastings on the south coast:
Thursday, 11th March 1943 2.45pm. The Ridge Hastings.
In 1943 I was L.A.C.W. Joan Howell, a 27 year old parachute packer in the WAAF. On this particular day I was home on leave visiting my mother who lived in a bungalow on the Ridge overlooking Hastings. At that stage of the war the RAF used to fly standing patrols over the south coast towns to combat the growing menace of German tip and run raiders. On regular duty over Hastings was a pair of Spitfires that came to be known by the locals as ‘Gert and Daisy’.
Hearing the noise of low flying aircraft, I assumed it was the usual patrol and opened the front door to look across the valley towards Hastings. Flying towards me along the line of the Ridge, just above rooftop height, there were indeed two aircraft, but I realised instantly that instead of RAF roundels, these planes had black crosses on their sides, and from my aircraft recognition training, I identified them as Focke-Wulf 190s. As they came level with the house, they wheeled away and dived towards Silver Hill.
I ran back into the house screaming to my mother and sister to take cover, which, in this sort of emergency, usually consisted of diving under the kitchen table. Several waves of enemy aircraft skimmed the roof of the house closely followed by the sound of cannon fire and loud explosions to the south.
The aircraft were attacking Silver Hill in what would prove to be the most devastating air raid on Hastings of the entire war. In slightly less than ten minutes the Luftwaffe killed 38 people, seriously wounded a similar number and slightly injured 51.
Whole rows of houses and shops were flattened, and witnesses were shocked and confused about exactly what had happened, although many of the survivors told of a lone soldier who had put up some heroic resistance. It seems that he was driving an army truck with a light anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back.
The raiders struck as he was passing through the road junction at Silver Hill. He stopped in the middle of the crossroads, climbed into the back of his lorry, loaded his weapon and opened fire on the enemy. According to witnesses, successive waves of aircraft swept across the junction bombing and strafing. Despite explosions rocking his vehicle and a hail of shrapnel falling all around he continued to engage the enemy. When the raid was over he closed down his unit and drove off. Despite repeated attempts by the people of Silver Hill to find and thank this hero, he has never been seen or heard of since.
Read more of this story on BBC People’s War.
Peggy Hollands was 14 at the time:
Once on my afternoon off I went into Town (Hastings) on a tram. Coming back, to save a penny, I got off the bus to walk through the park home. The air was suddenly filled with planes, bombs were dropping and I heard machine gun bullets around me. It was a hit and run raid.
As I walked up to my road all I could see was dust and rubble. I climbed over it and someone (I’ve no idea who) took my arm and said “Your sister’s all right she’s at the ARP station”. I then realised our home was wrecked. A bomb had dropped in the middle of the road and bounced across to the school opposite our house.
The school was one that had been closed down at the beginning of the war. Unfortunately, the caretaker and his wife still lived in the house next to it. So many friends and neighbours lost their lives that day.