Local memorials to airmen killed in action to WW2

The following article, by Brian Holliday (writing as “Bloke on a bike”), first appeared in the Messenger magazine in December 2011.  (The picture of the memorial to P/O Meaker was taken by Charlie Leslie in 2020).

As a relative newcomer to the Brightling area, and recently retired, I thought it a good idea to get my bicycle out and cycle around the district to get to know a little more of the local history and to explore the many highways, byways, bridle paths and footpaths that criss-cross this beautiful part of East Sussex.

The first discovery was somewhat obvious – the hilly terrain is not exactly cyclist friendly! No matter which direction you take the hills are always in evidence, either as you free-wheel downhill with the wind in your hair (what’s left of it ) or as you struggle at crawling pace uphill, with your lungs at bursting point and your heart undergoing an extreme cardio-vascular workout. I have found that to cycle from Brightling to Robertsbridge is an easy 15 minutes jaunt, but the return journey is approximately 50 minutes of effort, leaving you red-faced and sweating. But there is much to see along the way, and I have found these excursions very interesting, and full of surprises.

Within a radius of 4 miles from Brightling, I have discovered 4 private memorials, dedicated to airmen who were killed in action during WW2, poignant reminders that many of the airborne battles were conducted in the skies above Sussex. Before the end of hostilities in 1945, it is recorded that 935 aircraft were to crash onto the Sussex countryside, made up as follows : 666 British, 102 American and 167 German.

Just a few yards before the entrance to Giffords Farm, on the 82096 road from Battle towards Woods Corner, is a small concrete post with a metal insert, dedicated to Pilot Officer J R B Meaker of 249 Squadron, who died at 15.20pm on the 27th Sept, 1940, when his parachute failed to open after he had baled-out of his Hurricane Mk 1 fighter aircraft, possibly because he was struck by the tailplane. His body fell to the ground in the Warren, Brightling Park, and the aircraft crashed onto Brake field at Giffords Farm. Several years later the wreckage was dug out and taken to an aircraft museum. The memorial was donated and erected by Graham Alderson on the 27th Sept, 1990. Earlier that same fateful day in 1940, Pilot Officer Percy Burton, a close friend and colleague of Meaker, also of 249 Squadron, had perished when he deliberately rammed a German Messerschmitt 110 after he had exhausted his supply of ammunition. Both aircraft crashed onto Hailsham, and all 3 occupants were killed. A road on a housing estate, off Station Road, has been named Burton Walk in honour of this pilot.

At 15.30pm,that same day, another Hurricane Mkl was shot down over Burwash and its pilot, Flt/Lt R F Rimmer was killed. His memorial, erected by his family, is found by walking approximately 200 yds along the entrance to Franchise Manor Farm (although it is a private drive, it is also a public footpath) off Spring Lane, Burwash. The memorial was erected close to the spot where the aircraft had crashed.

The next memorial in the area is the one I came across first. It is at the side of the road at Red Pale, between Woods Corner and Bodle Street, close to Little Rabbits Farm. It was erected by Mrs Margaret Crofts, In memory of her son Flying Officer Peter Crofts, who on Sept 28th 1940 was killed at 13.55pm. This unfortunate pilot had been shot down and managed to bale out of his Hurricane fighter aircraft, but was fired on by his combatant as he descended under his parachute. He became detached from the parachute and fell to his death. There are eye witnesses of this action, alive today, who can vividly recall this event. Lord Dowding, the Commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, caused controversy when he was quoted as saying that he felt that German pilots were quite within their rights to shoot at British pilots under a parachute, the rationale being that trained aircrew were more difficult to replace than an actual aircraft, which were in plentiful supply. The memorial is very easy to access and it is very well main-tained by the RAFA of Eastbourne, who conduct an annual parade and service. The aircraft crashed into a field at Earls Down, Dallington.

These memorials are all for fighter pilots, who were just 21/22 years of age at the time of their deaths.

The fourth memorial is the largest and most imposing. It is at the side of the road that climbs from Darwell Bottom towards Netherfield, just above Doctors Cottage. This was built by Sgts Stanislav Josefiak, and Josez Nilski in memory of their 4 fellow crew members who perished on the night of 27/28 May 1941 when their Vickers Wellington lc bomber crashed into a tree on Doctors Farm. The aircraft had flown from Syerston, near Nottingham, to bomb Boulogne but was hit by anti-aircraft fire and suffered damage to its left-hand engine. On the journey home, l crew member baled out over the Channel and was lost. Sgts Nilski and Josefiak baled out over Sussex and survived, although Josefiak broke his ankle on landing. The remaining 3 crew members died in the ensuing crash. This memorial is very well main-tained, and services are held at the site by the British Legion each year. I would .caution against parking a car on this busy road, better to park further away and walk up to the site.

There were many other aircraft crashes in the Brightling area during WW2, and perhaps in the future (when the sunshine returns) I can find out some interesting stories relating to them, but in the meantime I hope that some of you who have read this article will make time to pay a visit to these sites and reflect on the sacrifice these men made for our freedom.

7 Nov 2011