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Thursday, 26th Nov 2020

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Hayling Air Raids

A talk given by Sue Humphrey at the memorial plaque unveilling attributed to the late Victor Pierce Jones

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 on Portsmouth. Temporary buildings were constructed and the lights were left on during raids, also fires were lit to imitate the effect of incendiary devices. Using these tactics the bombers were tempted to drop their bombs onto a then very rural Hayling Island instead of Portsea Island thereby saving many lives in the far more densely populated Portsmouth areas.

The actual number of civilians killed on Hayling is not known. The numbers of 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 reported casualties on Hayling would indicate that the bombs were falling short of targets in Portsmouth, so the enemy would adjust as necessary.

We know that at least seven soldiers at the Sinah anti-aircraft guns were killed in a land mine attack. They are commemorated at the Sinah gun site: and 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 where the cover had been dislodged by the explosion and not noticed until the cover was replaced.

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, lived at the west end of Palmerstone Road. She died, in hospital, from an injury, caused by a flying wooden splinter. When a bomb hit their flimsy air-raid shelter on Manor Road, young Leslie Brown was killed.

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 her 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 the rescue party hastened back to the flat to find it as safe and sound as could be expected.

Air Vice Marshall Neville, former head of the New Zealand Air Force, who was brought up on Hayling said that In the mornings after an air raid, school desks were empty and never reoccupied. The casualties we know of were known residents of the Island so their loss was noticed. But there must have been many strangers here at the time, such as evacuees from Portsmouth, Reading, and London, as well as people drafted in to help with the war work. Their loss will never be recorded and they might never be remembered.

Islanders told stories which reveal how survival was often a matter of pure luck. Typical was the case of people in 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 swung away and settled on the other side of the road.

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.

But throughout it all there was always some wry humour. The bomb that fell in the middle of the night in Tournerbury Wood made a circular crater which was promptly dubbed "Hitler's swimming pool.

Bombing Hayling was haphazard but always perilous. We shall never know how many civilian lives were actually lost.

Posted on Mon, December 16 2019