Rottingdean was attacked at 11.52am on Friday 18th December 1942.
A Dornier 217 bomber was seen flying in low from a south-easterly direction, it then turned eastwards, flying along the coastline towards Newhaven but after about three miles it turned to a northerly direction. It flew down over the village and out over the sea before it quickly returned. With machine guns firing, it dropped four 500Kg bombs.
The sirens and the pips had sounded at the first sight of the enemy aircraft with the local defence guns opening fire.
The first bomb
The first bomb scored a direct hit on the 6 storey high and steel framed St. Margaret’s building at the southern end of the High Street. The bomb quite by chance hit the roof and went down the lift shaft but fortunately it exploded on the fifth floor and damaged just the top half of the building. The main damage consisted of collapsed partition walls and serious damage to floors and ceilings. The parapet on the top of the building was loosened and made unsafe. The shops and other businesses on the ground floor in the main High Street also suffered damage but this was more of a superficial nature, some shops had their ceilings down while others lost their windows.
The vast majority of the residents were not in the building at the time and those that were suffered what was classed as ‘minor’ injuries. Two women were taken to the Royal Sussex County hospital while the other injured people, including two children, were treated by the ARP First Aid Party at the scene.
The only fatal casualty from this air attack was War Reserve Policeman, Harold Stone. He had recently moved down to Saltdean from London. At the time of the attack he was on duty at the southern end of the High Street when the bomb hit the St. Margaret’s building. He had been gallantly trying to get people to safety and clear the street. He was struck by pieces of flying debris and was seriously injured. He was rushed to hospital but he died later the same day.
The second bomb
The second of the bombs hit the playing field and ricocheted from there to explode in front of St. Margaret’s vicarage in Steyning Road, causing the front of the house to collapse. There were two occupants, the maid, who was soon rescued from the debris and the vicar’s pet dog called ‘Robert.’ A First Aid Party treated the maid for severe shock, minor cuts and scratches. The vicar and his wife had gone to Brighton and were shopping in the town centre when news of the bombing reached them. They soon set off for home not knowing what to expect.
Robert, the vicar’s pet dog was a small, perky but very friendly Sealyham and he was buried beneath the debris. The maid had told rescuers that the dog was in the house when the bomb exploded. A superintendent and an assistant from ‘Our Dumb Friends League’, a well-known charity animal welfare group, arrived and were told that the dog was possibly buried beneath the rubble of the building. A few minutes later a Civil Defence worker stated that he had found where the dog was lying buried under wreckage. Although warned about the dangerous state of the building it was decided that they would try to rescue the little dog.
The Superintendent later said, “Everything moved and shook as we walked, it was a bit frightening but the rescue of the dog was the most important thing to worry about.” Together with the Civil Defence volunteer the dog was rescued from beneath a heavy beam and covered with dust and dirt, looking quite pathetic.
The superintendent took the little dog to their clinic for examination and it was found that the dog suffered a badly torn shoulder, a gashed leg and a minor wound to his back. He received the necessary treatment and made a full recovery much to the delight of the vicar and his wife.
The third bomb
A third bomb also fell on the playing field and that too ricocheted over one of the houses in Steyning Road and into a nearby garden. Fortunately this bomb failed to explode and was duly dealt with by a Bomb Disposal Squad. The fourth bomb also fell on the playing field and ricocheted high over the roofs and exploded in the grounds of the Tudor House Hotel, situated on the south side of Dean Court Road.
The only casualty here was the local gardener who suffered cuts to his head and face caused by flying glass from the shattered greenhouse.
A witness recalled the incident and said that he spent almost two hours in the village, crossing various roads all still cluttered up with debris. He first went to a large block of flats (St. Margaret’s) through which a large bomb had crashed. The internal damage was appalling and a miracle there was only one casualty. He said that walking up the High Street he noticed that the damage was chiefly confined to windows but in a neighbouring road, the vicarage had been almost demolished. Before he went to examine the vicarage he had seen the vicar, the Reverend William White and Mrs. White. They had been in Brighton shopping when the raid occurred. Sir Roderick Jones took them to his large house, the ‘Elms’ for a meal and some rest after their ordeal.
The Civil Defence Services, which had since received warm tributes from Sir Roderick and other leading residents in the village, worked splendidly and a Liaison office was quickly established in a key position within the village.
After dropping its bombs the Dornier turned and flew over Ovingdean and Kemp Town where it opened fire with its machine guns. There were no reports of injuries or serious damage in those areas.
Shortly after the attack a New Zealand fighter pilot reported that he had sighted a Dornier 217 flying at 400-500 feet above the sea, a few miles south of Brighton, and had given chase. He saw his bullets strike the fuselage and the starboard wing of the enemy aircraft. Shortly after this smoke began to pour from the underside of the wing. The plane dived down to almost sea level before it pulled upwards and into some thick clouds. The New Zealand pilot followed to try to finish the German aircraft off but although he caught three further glimpses of it, he eventually lost it before returning to his base. Later that day the wreckage of a Dornier Do 217 was found in the sea but there were no sightings of any survivors.
German sources reported that a Dornier Do 217 from II/KG40 had failed to return from a sortie over South East England on the 18th December.
The funeral of Harold Stone took place at the Brighton Crematorium on Wednesday 23rd December 1942 and among those who were present were the Mayor of Brighton Councillor Dutton-Briant, the Chief Constable Captain Hutchinson and his deputy, Superintendent Gerry Crouch. Harold left a wife and two children, a son and daughter.
Constable Stone was aged 40 years and had been a policeman in London but had transferred to the Brighton Force after the London Blitz and lived at 21, Stanmer Avenue, Saltdean. He was an accomplished pianist.