DOWN MEMORY LANE Vivid memories of the day the plane came down

Our story about the day a plane fell on Chichester has certainly brought memories rushing back.

Derek Butler, who now lives in Winchester, wrote to share his recollections.

He says: My sister sent me a cutting from the Observer.

On May 11, 1944, I was eight years old and at about 4pm I was, with two friends, on my way from the Central Boys School to my home in Caledonian Road.

As we reached the south end of New Park Road, I looked towards Eastgate Square just in time to see an aeroplane diving at a very steep angle to disappear behind Rowe’s Garage.

I could see it was an American Liberator by its distinctive tail shape (all boys were expert at aircraft recognition at that time) and I knew it was crashing.

I don’t remember the explosion, but I do remember the large plate glass windows at the back of Rowe’s Garage bulging outwards and then coming free from their frames and smashing on the ground.

We retreated to the little park that was then just around the corner in New Park Road and waited for further explosions.

After a short interval we could contain our curiosity no longer and ran to Eastgate Square and then along the alley from the Hornet to Whyke Lane.

As we emerged from the alley we could see the Electric Laundry burning and some people helping a badly-injured man who was lying on the grassy slope of the underground air-raid shelter there.

I believe the casualty was a Mr Miles, the father of my friend Bernard.

We then ran home because I knew my aunt Ann Ashman sometimes worked in the laundry and I wanted to tell my mother.

When I arrived I found my mother hardly able to speak, and I now realise she was in shock. She had been laying on a bed with my baby sister when the house shook and a large part of the ceiling plaster had fallen on to an adjacent bed in the same room.

That evening, my two friends and I went to survey the damage.

We were met by ARP wardens who told us to keep away, but undaunted we slipped down the alley at the end of Whyke Lane and went through the small graveyard and over the wall into the adjacent timber yard where we had a good view.

We saw the US bomb disposal men sitting smoking a cigarette on a recently-defused bomb.

We then picked up some machine gun bullets that had blue painted heads that were lying around and ran off home with our booty.

Some days later my mother found the bullets and took them to the fire station in Market Square. They were live tracer shells.

Eileen Austin, of Canada Grove, Bognor Regis, also enjoyed the write-up.

She says: I forwarded the Observer to my sister who now lives in Norfolk and, indeed, has done so since 1967.

I am hoping my sister will contact the Observer direct with her memories of the events that took place on that day when she was just seven years old.

Her name was Jennifer Starling.

Our family lived in Grove Road at the time, as did a young lad whose surname was Gardener (or Gardener). He lived at number 24, our family lived at 18.

I was not born until 1947, so I have no knowledge of the incident, just the story told to me by my mother, who is now 96 years of age.

Jennifer usually made her way home from school with the young Gardener lad and also a lad by the name of Goff.

On the day in question, the story goes that my sister was naughty and took it upon herself to go home via a different route.

Instead of going across the recreation ground and along the cinder path, she walked on down the Hornet and turned into the Whyke Lane Twitten, passing the Electric Laundry.

Fate must have been looking after her that day as the rest is history.

The two lads were burned badly as the result of the plane coming down, and she was very fortunate in not being hurt that day.

Mother still says how pleased she was that Jennifer broke the rules that day and went home a different way.

I have tried to track down the lads for my sister, via Friends Reunited but have never had any success.

If anyone knows of an address for either or both, my sister would love to hear from them.

So do you know ‘the Gardener lad’ or Goff? Write to us or send us an email – vintage@chiobserver.co.uk – and we’ll the details to Eileen.