Memorial service held in Hastings to remember victims of air-raid

A memorial service has been held in Hastings to commemorate victims and families who died in an air raid in 1943.

Members of Hastings and St Leonards Veterans Association (HSVA), mayor Bruce Dowling and the public held the ceremony in the Memorial Garden, High Street, Old Town, on Sunday, May 24, to remember those who were killed at the Swan Inn, which was struck by German bombs during the raid.

Service for the people that died at the Swan Inn after a direct hit back in May 1943

Service for the people that died at the Swan Inn after a direct hit back in May 1943

The event was also held to remember all those who suffered in the town during the war.

At 12.59pm on Sunday, May 23, 1943, 10 Focke-Wulf 190s swept in at rooftop height under the radar of nearby RAF Fairlight, machine-gunning the town and releasing 25 bombs, scoring direct hits on five public houses and two hotels filled with diners.

Richard Butcher, from HSVA, said: “Twenty-five people were killed in this raid on Hastings, 30 seriously injured and 55 slightly injured.

“The Old Town suffered particularly badly, with many of the deaths occurring at the Swan Hotel, which was packed with lunchtime customers.

“Many serious injuries were caused with between 11 and 19 deaths, among whom were the hotel owner’s wife Grace Gummerson, their three-year-old son Trevor and her sister Hilda.

“After the flames died down, workmen searched all night and the following day for survivors, leading to the rescue of one man and one dog.”

The Queen’s Colour, HSVA and RAFA standards were paraded by members of the veterans’ association in the Memorial Garden, High Street. The remembrance service was conducted by Rev Robert Featherstone, which was continued in St Clements Church after a short break.

Mr Butcher added: “The mayor reminded everyone that although devastating, May 23, 1943, was not the worst raid on Hastings, and that this commemoration was also for all (and their families) who had suffered and died in Hastings during the Second World War for our freedom.

“The HSVAchairman added that historians seemed to ignore Hastings’ plight between the Battle of Britain 1940 and D-Day 1944. As the unevacuated 10,000 inhabitants remaining knew to their cost, Hastings was very much in the front-line, subjected to 85 enemy air attacks of various kinds.

“Elizabeth Downland, one of those 10,000 who still remembers May 23, 1943, well, added poignancy to the commemoration by her attendance. It was also noted that many of the stained-glass windows of St Clements had to be replaced after May 23, 1943.

“After the service, refreshments were served in the church, much appreciated by veterans and public alike.”

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