An article about Private Frank Taylor, the first local man to die in WW1, struck a chord with Bexhill pensioner Ken Freeman.
Ken, 92, grew up in Sidley and has memories of the men who went off to fight for their country as well as those back home who defended Bexhill from danger.
He said: “Frank Taylor was in the 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and his address was 6 Cumberland Road. It was adjacent to my house at 4 Claremont Road. Frank died before I was even born but I knew the Deeprose family at 6 Cumberland Road, and their son Percy was also in the 5th Battalion and he was killed fighting in 1939, just before Dunkirk. I thought that was a coincidence, that they lived at the same address. I remember Percy because his father was the band master of the Bexhill Town Band, and younger brother Charlie was a great friend of mine. Charlie was captured in the war with six other Sidley boys. They were all in the Royal Engineers and held in a prison camp in Poland, Stalag XXA. Apart from Charlie there was Ivan Bristow, whom I used to write to, Pat Chambers, and Arthur Butler.”
Ken himself joined the Home Guard in Bexhill aged just 17, along with his mates. They attended a mass meeting in the Polegrove and were told Bexhill was under threat of invasion. “We were called the 23rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and our C.O was Captain Sainsbury. I was in the Sidley company but we had nothing to fight with. We used to parade over at Little Common and we had only ordinary shotguns which we used to take over to the guard house on Barnhorn Road where there was a road block.” Apart from seeing a German bomber Ju 88S overhead which landed at Cobbs Hill Farm in Watermill Lane, Ken remembers the Barnhill steamer, a merchant ship bombed in the channel which grounded near Normans Bay. “It was all alight,” he said. “But then afterwards people were down there rolling these big cheeses up the beach and sacks of flour until the customs officers came. There were lots of Wellington boots, all left-footed for some reason, and medical instruments. My dad brought a sack of flour up, but it had oil and tar on it and we couldn’t use it. Then for days after we used to go on our bikes along there and collect up the tins - mostly tins of tomatoes from the Barnhall, but they were good to eat - lovely. You couldn’t tell what you were getting because the labels had washed off.”
One morning Ken was woken by his dad at 4am one with the news the Germans were coming.“Mr Oaten was there to get me, and he said - Ken, get your rifle, and don’t forget your armband - or they will shoot you as a spy!” He met up with the other Home Guard men and they got on a lorry which took them up Turkey Road near the crossroad with Peartree Lane. Ken was ready to carry out his task as bomber of throwing Molotov cocktails, with Kenny Britt, but fortunately his arm was never tested and they stood down at 6am.
He later joined the RAF and served in Egypt and was part of the second convoy to go to the Meditteranean in 1942.
The Observer would love to hear from other Bexhill war veterans. Email firstname.lastname@example.org