Did Hitler's first UK flying bomb land in Cuckfield?
Although sometimes disputed (by a matter of eleven minutes), Cuckfield has the dubious distinction of being the first place in The Second World War to be hit by a flying bomb (sometimes called a ‘doodle-bug’).
‘Wartime West Sussex’ gives us an interesting snapshot of these times:
… with our armies in Normandy, Hitler launched the first of his secret weapons, the pilotless flying-bomb, or ‘doodlebug’. The first reported to fall in England, crashed at Mizbrooks Farm near Cuckfield, in the early hours of 13 June 1944, although some claim it was preceded, by a matter of minutes, by one which fell on the village of Swanscombe, between Dartford and Gravesend.
Twenty-three flying bombs came down in the Cuckfield Rural District. Former schoolboys at Ardingly College remember the school being ringed by A-A guns [antiaircraft] trying to bring down the V1s. Almost 900 flying bombs fell on Sussex between 13 June and 31 August 1944, mostly in the East, in the corridor known as ‘Bomb Alley’ en route to London, and so great was the danger that, for a time, children from East Grinstead, Forest Row, West Hoathly and Worth were evacuated to safer areas.
On 12 July 1944 a flying bomb fell on London Road, East Grinstead, killing 3, injuring 38, and damaging over 400 properties. The incident occurred just after 7.30 am; had it been later the casualties would have been far greater. Within hours, the scene was visited by the King and Queen, who inspected the damage and talked to Civil Defence workers.
The danger remained, even after Paris had been liberated, for on 27 August 1944, a V1 crashed on the Shelley Road-Tennyson Road area of Bognor leaving 66 casualties.
Source: Wartime West Sussex 1939-1945 Project- The story of the Home Front in West Sussex 1939 – 1945. This fascinating pdf is downloadable from West Sussex Learning Resources: http://tinyurl.com/y6pw6r4c
Brook Street resident Jim Revell (aged 18 at the time) witnessed the event and gave the following eye witness account:-
Throughout WW2 my home was in Brook Street. Early in June 1944 I was on leave from my Pilot's training in the RAF when, in the early morning, I was awakened by a noise that I thought was an aircraft in trouble. I looked out of my window and saw what appeared to be some kind of aircraft with an engine on fire. It was flying from East to West and was already getting lower. It went out of my view but shortly afterwards the engine noise cut out and there followed a loud thump.
With the impetuosity of youth I thought I must try and find the crash site and see if I could possibly help any survivors I put on my uniform and went in search of the wreckage, which I felt sure must be somewhere down Sparks Lane. But I had no success and returned to my bed.
Later in the morning a number of large cars displaying impressive service insignia and carrying very senior officers from the navy, army and air force disappeared down the lane. I was rather puzzled by this display of scrambled eggs and gold braid and intrigued by what was happening, decided that I had to investigate further - but this time, I thought, it would be discreet to put on my 'civvies.'
Again my search was fruitless. I never found them. Some time later that day, a family friend, Harry Atkinson, who farmed Lower Sparks Farm, showed me where what I thought was an aircraft of some kind had crashed. It was in the field west of his Farm House by the footpath from Whiteman's Green. There was quite a large hole in the ground with various fragments of metal scattered around. It was, in fact, one of the very first V1's (Doodlebugs) to land in England.
Jim Revell will be remembered by many past students of Warden Park School.
Acknowledged with thanks photograph of doodlebug courtesy of Barry Ray at https://www.slaughamarchives.org/picture/number1357.asp
Many thanks to Malcolm Davison for the article extracts and commentary