For so many years Cuckfield was associated with the wonderful deaf school run by Mary Stephens Corbishley MBE. Initially it was located at Cuckfield House at the top of Cuckfield High Street before it moved to Mill Hall, Whiteman's Green. One section in the
book about her work, written by Ian Stewart, gives a vivid account of being a child at Cuckfield at the height of World War II as the German bombers flew over:
The aerial Battle of Britain with Germany raged over Sussex and Kent during the months of August and September 1940, resulting in the defeat of Germany’s Luftwaffe Air Force, thus forcing the Germans to abort their planned invasion of England. This famous Battle could have been seen to a small extent from the roof of Cuckfield House, but for the summer holidays when the pupils were away from school.
As she once told the author, Mary Corbishley would climb onto the roof of Cuckfield House with a blanket, chair and torch to keep a look-out and pray to her God for the School’s protection and safety from the Blitz, a German bombing raid on British cities which lasted from September 1940 until May 1941. The bombers flew over Sussex and Surrey, targeting at London, the capital. In Corby she described the darkened evening lit up on the horizon with a tinge of red glowing over London. Recalling such fearful experiences, she always believed that her prayers were answered as her school escaped unscathed by the ravages of the war. Even some of the boys including the author himself boarding at the School would peer through a chink in the bedroom curtains to see the long beams of the searchlights sweeping across the evening sky in the distance and were awed but thrilled by the sight.
An ex-pupil in her letter to the author wrote about her experience of being aware of the bombers flying over Cuckfield: ‘When I touched the wall of my bedroom with my hand, I could feel the noise of the German bombers over Cuckfield House. I saw the red glow of the fire in the sky over London. When the siren came on, Miss Corbishley called us downstairs to her private study and we all put on gas masks and waited until the raid was over. Thankfully, Cuckfield House was safe.’
The author was informed by some of the former pupils who were at Cuckfield House that they had fire drill practice with the help of local firemen who demonstrated the use of ropes and pulleys over the roof parapet for their escape from the upper rooms. One said the experience was 'fun but scary'.
Source: Mary Stephens Corbishley MBE: A Biography of Her Life and Work at Her Oral Schools for Deaf Children in Cuckfield , East Sussex, the UK. by Ian Stewart, 2010. This section of the book is viewable online at Google Books.
Photo: WikiMedia Commons.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.