One thing has surprised me - how ignorant I was about the history of the place. I knew its geography and topography well, thanks to doing A Level Geography and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which caused my friends and me to tramp all over the Downs. But despite doing A Level History, I knew little about the history of the town itself and have only now discovered the significance of its role in WW2. I suppose in the seventies it was still a bit too close to the end of the war and people didn't show a lot of interest (especially teenage girls).
The first German aircraft to be shot down over the town was a Messerschmitt, which was escorting Luftwaffe bombers heading to attack RAF airfields around London, including Heathrow. As this plane flew over the Downs, it was engaged in a dog fight by a Hurricane and broke up in mid air – the pilot, whose parachute didn’t open, was killed when he landed on the roof of a local school. The rear gunner landed in the sea and drowned.
The pillboxes and concealed artillery batteries were operated by various regular army regiments plus the redoubtable Home Guard. Once the threat of invasion was passed, Cuckmere Haven was the site of coastal defence and artillery training, including by the Canadian army. After D Day it was the departure point for cross channel communication cables, which had been cut at the start of the war.
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