This article originally appeared in the Hayling Islander. We have permission from both the Hayling Islander and the author (Vic Pierce-Jones) to reproduce this article on our website.
It is well known that during the war Hayling Island was used as a decoy site, luring enemy planes to drop their bombs here instead of Portsmouth. At least seven soldiers at the Sinah anti-aircraft guns were killed in a land mine attack and are commemorated at the Sinah gun site. Noel Pyecroft informs me that two more soldiers were killed in West Town.
One of them was not discovered for days after the attack because his body had been blown into a manhole dislodged by the explosion and not noticed until it was replaced.
Noel believes that a young Islander surnamed Goble was given an award for helping to deal with this incident. It is believed that he was the son of a Surgeon General of the First World War who may have learnt medical aids from his father. They lived in Bounds Lane.
But what was the fate of Hayling civilians? There were only ten public air raid shelters, each with a capacity for sheltering only 50 people. None were underground shelters. So most Islanders had to look after their own safety at home, under tables or stairs or in flimsy corrugated iron shelters in their gardens.
In most endangered parts of the country, children were evacuated for safety. This idea doesn’t seem to have occurred to the authorities when it came to Hayling’s children. At least three young children were killed here.
Little Miss Spencer who lived at the west end of Palmerston Road, died in hospital from an injury caused by a wooden splinter which could have been easily cured today. In the same incident, her grandmother died. When a bomb hit their flimsy air-raid shelter on Manor Road, young Leslie Brown was killed and the lady next door was also a victim. The daughter of Portsmouth builder Henry Jones was killed with her father and his secretary when a bomb hit their house in Hollow Lane. They were actually sheltering in their air-raid shelter which their father had built of bricks with an eight inch thick concrete roof. This fell in one piece with fatal results. One young baby survived when her parents’ apartment in Elm Grove was wrecked by a bomb. Mum and dad were rescued and taken to the first aid post at St Mary’s Church hall. When the mother revived she screamed out for the baby and th rescue party hastened back to the flat to find it, as safe and sound as could be expected.
In the mornings after an air raid, school desks were empty and never reoccupied. I was informed about this by Air Vice Marshall Neville, former head of the New Zealand Air Force, who was brought up on Hayling. The actual number of civilians killed on Hayling is not known. I keep on hearing of cases, most recently of a lady who was killed down leafy Tournerbury Lane. These I mention were very well known residents of the Island so their loss was noticed. There must have been relative strangers here at the time, such as evacuees from Portsmouth, Reading, obviously London, as well as people drafted in to help with the war work. This included farming, of course , and at Yachthaven work was transferred from Vospers in Portsmouth, while Mill Rythe took work from Portsmouth docks. Their loss might never be remembered. Incidentally, there were several cases of civilians being machine gunned, including at Yachthaven and Manor Road. Eileen Smith remembers being machine gunned when she was a girl, cycling with a friend down Beach Road. Seventy years later she recalls they didn’t the plane diving on them. Then, as they raced for safety her friend knocked her off her bike. They must have thought they’d got me,” says Eilen but they took shelter in a pillbox at the end of Hollow Lane.
In the same vicinity a plane machine gunned some goats in a garden before going on to attack the Hayling Billy railway. Civilian casualties from air raids were top secret. If they were announced the details would have been pounced on by enemy intelligence to evaluate their attacks. Any casualty on Hayling would indicate that the bombs were falling short of targets in Portsmouth, so the enemy would adjust as necessary.
In her recently published book The Blitz: The British Under Attack (Harper Press), Juliet Gardiner describes in gruesome detail how difficult it was to count the number of casualties after a bombing raid. Broken bodies were often impossible to count, “there always (were) too many legs”. Islanders tell stories which reveal how survival was often a matter of pure luck. Typical was the case of an air raid shelter at the southern end of Chichester Avenue. During a raid in which the enemy dropped land mines. high explosives dangling on parachutes, the family heard the thump as the swinging bomb hit the side of the shelter. Fortunately it did not explode the bomb came to the end of its swing and settled on the other side of the road – obviously the fuse had been arranged so the bomb didn’t go off until it had come to a standstill. Many land mines were described as coming to Hayling with onshore winds, but it is likely many were blown out to sea. The bomb aimers could only have guessed what the wind was like below them. In contrast, the RAF insisted that their bombs were properly targeted and the crews had to watch the bombs they dropped so as to photograph the explosions they made. Though the bombing on Hayling was haphazard, it was always dangerous.
One bomb fell behind the shops at Stoke, a rural spot but someone could have been killed, like the lady in Tournerbuty Lane. West Town suffered a lot. One bomb shattered the window of a dress shop leaving a fashionable Jaeger tweed suit covered with brilliant shimmering shards of glass. On the other side of the road (now the entrance to the park) a council depot was hit and a little piece of Hayling heritage shattered. This was the ornimental horse trough which used to stand on the corner of Beach Road and the sea front. How many civilian lives were threatened or actually taken by casual incidents such as these? Will we ever know? An exception would have been the bomb that fell in the middle of the night in Tournerbury woods. This made a circular crater which was dubbed “Hitler’s swimming pool.
Vic tells me that the air-raid siren was housed on top of the Regal cinema.