Memories of a boy from Hastings

Peter Holland - A Boy from Hastings SUS-180315-071233001
Peter Holland - A Boy from Hastings SUS-180315-071233001

Last week we paid tribute to RAF Group Captain Peter Holland MBE.

Peter, who grew up in Hastings left an amazing legacy in the form of a story which captures the essence of the town and encapsulates what it was like to live here.

This is taken from the first chapter Post War Hastings:

The red, oh so red roses in full bloom and dew laden, clustered around the window of the cottage, their heavy scent flooding into the room to wake the slumbering child.

The window looked out onto a lawn bordered by an abundance of floral growth and bounded by a high green hedge. The birds sang rejoicing in the early morning sun. The boy stirred and breathed in the cool fresh air; he had come from a dark place and time, but this was paradise.

The cottage was In Ore on the Winchelsea Road which snaked North East from Hastings to Rye in dear old Sussex by the sea, far away from the mines and slag heaps, factories and mills and the all-pervading acrid atmosphere of the industrial North, where he had spent the war years.

He washed his face in water from the well; cool, fresh and earthy and made his way into the wooden beamed and panelled kitchen, to scrambled eggs, toast and marmalade which after years of rationing seemed like a feast to be savoured and lingered over.

No sooner than breakfast was over, the boy’s elderly parents decided that a visit to the town and seaside was called for.

A short walk up the road to ‘The Kings Head’- a local pub, which also provided the terminus for the Hastings Trolley buses after their long trek from ‘The Bull’, another hostelry at the west of the town bordering Bexhill.

The bus purred off down the hill towards Hastings and soon the sea was in sight at the bottom of a valley, a triangle of watery blue grey stretching up to a wide horizon between two hills, known locally as the East and West Hills.

The bus stopped at ‘The Memorial’, the centre of town, so called because of the clock tower erected in memory of Prince Albert which stood in a small well maintained garden of tulips, daffodils and flowers of the season.

Beyond the Memorial, past ‘The Queens Hotel’, clearly once a magnificent edifice but now suffering the neglect of five years of war, was the Sea Front.

The ‘Front’ started abruptly in the far east of the town where the fishing fleet was beached and fishing nets hung in tall narrow black sheds which dominated the area.

Further down the shore, workshops filled with tackle provided shelter and a base for winches which spawned cables attached to each of the multi-coloured boats which stood on sleepers of black greased wood.

Everywhere there were splats of tar, discarded fish, squawking seagulls and all the salt tanged detritus of a working beach.

The fish market and Fishing Fleet nestled under towering cliffs leading up to the ‘East Hill’. A steep funicular lift was carved into the hillside conveying passengers to the top of the hill and providing a gateway east to beautiful ‘Fairlight’ cove, Winchelsea and Rye.

To the West a breath-taking view of the coast stretching towards Beachy Head embracing the fish-market, old Hastings, and the breakwater, its back broken to frustrate an enemy invasion but still able to provide shelter to the fishing vessels as they hurled themselves at the beach in stormy weather. The Hastings pier, intact and active – the St Leonards Pier a tangled wreck, an eyesore and a hazard. On the horizon, a steady pulse of light from the Royal Sovereign Lightship provided a warning to seamen and quiet reassurance to landlubbers.

We continue Peter’s story, with more memories of Hastings, next week.

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