Residents speak of ‘Blitz spirit’ after ordeal

ELDERLY residents from Marlborough House spoke of their shocking ordeal after their residential home caught fire on Sunday (July 28).

More than 30 pensioners were evacuated and many fear they have lost valuable possessions and personal mementos because of the extensive water and fire damage.

Kathleen Upton, Derek Cramphorn, Norman Cotman and Ron Homewood

Kathleen Upton, Derek Cramphorn, Norman Cotman and Ron Homewood

They also do not know when they can return to their flats to collect any remaining property, as firefighters and surveyors continue their investigations.

All residents were offered alternative accommodation in other residential homes. Nine were taken to Arden House, in Cantalupe Road, Bexhill.

But it is expected to take months before Marlborough House opens again.

Norman Cotman, 79, said: “Once the fire brigade arrived they got us all out very quickly. I looked out of the window and saw a lot of people looking up and pointing in my direction.

“Some of us had hardly any clothes on at all as most had just got up out of bed. We were not frightened but were very nervous as it was all sudden.

“Once I was outside I saw the flames quickly spread along the roof.

“One neighbour on the fourth floor is an invalid and can’t speak. He has back problems and had to be taken down in a wheelchair. He collapsed and was crying as he was in pain. All of his money was left inside in a money belt.

“After we were all evacuated it was panic stations to find us other accommodation. Asda and the Co-op supplied us with free food and clothes.”

Residents were taken to Christ Church in London Road, St Leonards, offered meals and looked after during the search to find alternative homes for them.

Norman added: “Our staff and carers were also absolutely marvellous, as well as the firefighters and people at Christ Church.”

He told the Observer that, despite the shock of Sunday’s ordeal, many were not fazed by it as most lived through the Blitz in the Second World War.

Kathleen Upton, who is 86, said firefighters had to carry her to safety from her flat due to her limited mobility.

She said: “It was scary for some of us but I wasn’t frightened. I did have personal possessions in my flat, including a teddy bear I was given on my second birthday.

“I also lived in Australia for two years in the 1950s, wrote a book about my time there, and had photos, which have all probably gone now.”

Kathleen featured on the BBC in 2008, where she talked about being one of the Ten Pound Poms, who emigrated to Australia with her daughter Vivienne in the 1950s.

After the Second World War, Australia was desperate to increase its population and British people were invited to emigrate for just £10. Kathleen went in 1954 and lived life in the bush, trying her hand at sheep farming. She had cine footage of her time there which she fears was lost in Sunday’s fire.

She added: “These things are irreplaceable. We all walked away on Sunday with nothing but the clothes we were standing in. We sat in Warrior Square Gardens, watching the fire. It was surreal.

“However it was much like the war where we all clung together. We are like a big family at Marlborough House. We have lived through much worse. I was in Hastings all through the war and remember the hit-and-run raids by the Germans. We saw terrible bombing raids so the fire on Sunday is small compared to this.”

Kathleen moved to Marlborough House more than a year ago after suffering a stroke, leaving her unable to look after herself.

Derek Cramphorn, 91, said he was in the toilet of his fifth-floor flat when the fire broke out.

He said: “All I can remember is a bang on the door and being told to get out of the building. After realising it was on fire I shot out.”

The fire broke out in Ron Homewood’s flat on the sixth floor. The 65-year-old, who served in the Army for 15 years, said it started after a gang socket, which has several outlets to plug in appliances, caught fire.

He said: “According to firefighters there was not enough power going through for it to catch fire so it remains a mystery on why it did. The socket was eight years old and three plugs were in.”

Ron lived with his late wife at Marlborough House for almost nine years.

He said: “I have lost everything. I had thousands of LPs, some of which were the first LPs by the Beatles, as well as thousands of videos of films, documentaries and nature programmes.

“I got out of the building only wearing a bed jacket and flip flops.”

Following the fire, generous people have been donating clothing and other essentials with the YMCA in St Paul’s Road. No further donations are needed but volunteers are being asked to step forward to help sort the items.

To assist, ring 0207 089 1096.