DOWN MEMORY LANE We were all swimming as a plane came down

Memories of the war are always very popular – and Ken Bailey enjoyed reading about readers’ wartime memories.

Ken, now of South Road, Drayton, wrote a book for his family depicting the experiences of a young Bosham lad growing up in the 1930s.

Below is an excerpt from the book – and pictures he has drawn – which he has sent to Down Memory Lane for readers to enjoy:

The final daylight aerial battle particularly sticks in my mind and although we didn’t know it at the time, it was to signify the last great battle to be fought over England in daylight.

The date was Sunday, September 15, 1940, and totally eclipsed all those that had gone before it.

It was a time of shear excitement and not a little anxiety for us kids. Needless to say, grown-ups who had far more to worry about, didn’t always see it through our eyes.

The day dawned bright but misty in patches and having spent the previous day at Berrymeads, today we were going to introduce some new evacuees to salt water for the first time.

With morning church over, it was a mad race to get home, have our dinner and take off over the fields on our bikes to be the first ones there.

Today, several grown-ups, including my mother, who seemed to live in an over-large straw hat at this time of year, were also coming down and we were to share a picnic with our new London families.

The tide was high and in all afternoon. For those not familiar with the area, Bosham is a tidal harbour with the water rising and falling twice a day, slightly later each time.

German planes had been over several times the previous day and dog fights had ensued, but these had been way over Portsmouth where we saw a few barrage balloons shot down.

And although the warnings had sounded, as the battle was not overhead, we got on with our swimming.

By early afternoon, most of the grown-ups had arrived and were sitting up under the trees, my mother among them.

Us kids were by now well into our swimming and enjoying ourselves when, with a tremendous roar, low overhead flew dozens of Hurricanes and Spitfires all heading out over the English Channel and climbing rapidly, no time to wave from the cockpits.

Almost immediately came the wail of the air-raid sirens.

We had guessed what was about to happen, but we were having too good a time to bother about air raids.

Suddenly, within minutes, the sky was filled with diving, weaving planes, their engines roaring, and it was a job to tell the Germans from the British.

There was the heavy staccato rattle of machine gun and cannon fire and the tell-tale scream of dive bombers.

Suddenly, there was the swish of bullets hitting the water in spurts all around us. No, they weren’t aiming at us, but there were stray over-shots from the battle above.

Then with a terrible noise, right in front of us was a German plane on fire and about to crash.

When it hit the ground, there was a big explosion and the heat from it singed our hair and eyebrows.

I could hear my mother screaming to us children to come in and get under cover.

She claimed after that I had rudely said ‘Get under your hat’, but this I don’t remember!

The battle we had witnessed was a sight never to be missed and one which will stay in my memory forever.

But suddenly it was all over and deathly quiet. Around us were huge fires burning with thick black smoke, and now and again, there would be an enormous explosion which shook the ground when a bomb exploded somewhere.

Without waiting to dry ourselves, we were all soon dressed and on our bikes heading for the nearest crash site.

We were first on the scene which was on the site of a farmyard. We had already decided among us it was an ME 110, which carried two crew.

It was just a smoking ruin – as so many other crash sites had been which we had visited before – with bits scattered over a wide area.

Having seen this one go straight down, we knew what to expect.

One thing I never got over was the awful pungent smell at these crashes – it was overpowering. Grown-ups said it was the smell of death, but we thought maybe they were just trying to put us off.

Soon we were searching among the wreckage as Reg had come up with a partly-burned case filled with what looked like maps.

Now and again, there was a crack and fizz as a round of bullets went off. It didn’t sound too healthy so I moved further away and came across a brand-new shiny boot which had straps on it.

On taking it over to the others we realised there was something inside so we loosened the straps and shook it. Out fell part of a lower leg and a stockinged foot.

This put us off a bit, but the boot was too good a souvenir to throw away, so we kept it.

There was nothing here worth taking and as the local police had arrived, we took off for the next crash site which was, in fact, nearer home.

A fascinating recollection. And Ken adds: The story in the Observer of the German plane crashing into the Bognor gas holder had a sequel in that one of the gas engineers climbed up and rescued the crew safely, for which he was awarded the GM.