Dawn of new danger after D-Day as doodlebugs attack

Ack-ack gun on Hastings seafront
Ack-ack gun on Hastings seafront

Although the preparations for D-Day and the June 6, 1944 invasion did not bring the blitz on the coastal towns that had been feared, England was soon under a new form of attack.

On the night of June 15 there were unexplained craft in the sky and the next morning, as an extraordinarily long air raid alert continued, it was reported that a pilotless plane had been brought down at Glyne Gap.

It had been hit by Ack-ack gunfire and crashed on the railway bank, damaging houses near the Bull Inn.

Parts of the missile, as the plane later proved to be, were found in gardens.

This was the start of months of constant anxiety, as locals grasped that the town lay under one of the several flight paths of the ‘doodlebugs’, as they came to be known.

In the earlier weeks of the attacks, the defence against the flying bombs were Bofors and the Ack-ack guns and fighter planes, which tried to bring down the doodlebugs down in open country, by destabilising them.

In the rural area of Battle 374 were brought down, while 15 fell in the Hasting borough area, mostly on open ground.

However, the powerful blast caused widespread damage and injuries from flying debris.

Hollington suffered very severely in a flying bomb explosion on Sunday, July 16 in which three people lost their lives and 47 were injured, 12 seriously.

The bomb fell among small houses in Old Church Road and Hollington Old Lane.

Two houses were demolished and others rendered uninhabitable.

On Saturday, July 29 St Leonards Parish Church, which had celebrated its centenary in 1934, was destroyed, along with houses at Marina, when a flying bomb exploded on the church steps.

In her teens Joyce Brewer delivered milk in wartime Hastings.

She said: “We thought that our troubles would be over with the invasion but then came the doodlebugs.

I remember hearing this awful chugging sound in the sky and I saw one for the first time, flying low over the houses in Mount Pleasant Road.

“It was night so what I actually saw was the flame of the jet engine that propelled it. I felt sick with fright.

“They came so often that this part of southern England was known as ‘Doodlebug Alley’. But I had to continue with my war work, as the bullets and shrapnel clattered down around me.

“I borrowed my train driver dad’s tin hat when he was off duty. At this time my family slept downstairs on mattresses on the floor, I suppose it gave us a false sense of security.

“But I could tell when a doodlebug was heading our way long before it arrived because the sound waves were transmitted through the seabed as it flew over the Channel.”

Joyce, who lived in Broomgrove Road, had an Ack-ack gun emplacement outside her home, which overlooked the Ore Valley, so she had an unfortunate ringside seat at the valiant efforts of its crew to down the flying bombs.

The last flying bomb fell on Hastings on August 2 and the final air raid warning in the town was heard at 7.19pm on Thursday, November 9, 1944.

Further reading: Hastings in the Front Line. Out of print - available in Hastings Reference Library.