Bexhill raised so much money for the war effort during the First World War that it was one of few towns to be given the gift of a tank – which mouldered away at the far end on West Parade until dismantled on site in 1929.
Bexhill’s record in the Second World War was just as exemplary. Expectations in five of the six fundraising campaigns exceeded expectations.
The first campaign was The Mayor’s Bomber and Fighter Fund which started in September 1940. The target was £25,000. £20,000 for a bomber and £5,000 for a fighter. The first contribution was on 03 September, a cheque for £100. By the end of that week £3131 9s 4d had been donated for the Bomber Fund and £578 19s 10d for the Fighter Fund, a total of £3710 9s 2d. Contributions ranged from that starter cheque to a child of five sending his savings of 180 farthings towards the purchase of a Spitfire. The Bexhill Observer published a full list of contributors and their contributions.
The Rotary Club joined the effort with a ‘Silver Mile’. The public being invited to place coins along the pavement in three streets: Devonshire Road, Western Road and St Leonards Road. Supported by a marching band the proceedings commenced at 10:00 and ended at 17:30 with a two hour break for lunch. £100 3s 11d was raised.
By 19 September the total had increased to £4879 1s 0 ½ d. Which equalled the efforts made by towns with double the population. At the beginning of October a letter and cheque for £5305 3s 7d sent to Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister for Aircraft Production, hoping that a Spitfire may be named ‘Bexhill and Little Common District’. In reality the cost of a Spitfire was £8,897 6s 6d, but the Government accepted the £5,000 figure for the “purposes of public engagement”
Beaverbrook responded, regretting that as the original target of £25,000 had not been reached a named aeroplane would not be done. The Mayor realises that there is not much hope of achieving this but will continue to receive donations. Such donations continued at a trickle and names of donors and their donation were not published after the beginning of November. By this time the town’s population was quite depleted. The photograph on the right shows the Mayor laying the firs silver coin in Devonshire Road in response to the Rotary Club “Silver Mile”.
1941 War Weapons Week
May 17- 24
Target of £100,000
‘Money talks – make yours – talk to Hitler’
This campaign, like those that followed lasted a week and comprised a wide variety of public events, almost carnival-like. Cricket, bowling and boxing contests, a darts tournament, marching bands, dances, concerts and theatricals.
Indicator boards were set up and changed daily at noon to show the amount raised. These were located at Devonshire Road, Town Hall Square, Sidley and Little Common. A military exhibition on the first floor of Boots the chemists drew 3,000 visitors.
The fundraising was going so well, with the target passed by Wednesday, that hopes were high that the target could be doubled, but in the end the result was £176,000.
Sidley provided a spectacle on the Wednesday. Hitler’s coffin, made out of salvaged wood from bombed buildings, draped in sacking with a wreath of stinging nettles upon it, was borne through the streets by four firemen preceded by a pipe band to Sidley Green. Here nails were driven into it by the Mayor and his party followed by the public who could purchase a nail for 2d and those who bought three received a 6d savings stamp. By that evening, since the beginning of War Weapons Week Sidley had raised £1,029. Sidley’s eventual contributed £2,000.
1942 Warship Week
Target of £210,000 for the hull of a destroyer
‘More Warships – Less Hardships’. The slogan competition won by Frank Barrett
The Local Savings Committee, presided over by the Mayor, discussed and approved taking part in the planned national event in November 1941. The War Savings central body wanted a destroyer so the target was raised – causing some dismay at that point.
The week saw a similar line up of events that graced War Weapons Week with the addition of whist drives, football matches, bowls and darts competitions.
Heavy Rescue Party 3 built a 30 foot long model named “HMS Bexhill” to be mounted on a lorry which featured in all the week’s occasions and parades.
The official opening was at the De La Warr Pavilion and Boots mounted a naval exhibition which included a sea mine, torpedoes and a 5 inch naval gun.
The Royal Army Service Corps set up a mobile workshop in the De La Warr Pavilion car park.
A novel idea was a Sinbad the Saver mascot that could be purchased for 6d.
The campaign got off to a good start with each bank donating £5,000. The final total raised was £223,927 which was £18 per head of population. The Admiralty allocated HMS Scourge, at that time under construction and plans were laid to establish an HMS Scourge comforts fund which ran successfully.
Launched Dec 1942 and commissioned July 1943
Service: 13 Russian Convoys, the rescue of the submarine HMS Stubborn off the Norwegian coast and participation in the D-Day fleet
Reduced to Reserve after VJ Day and was sold to the Netherlands in 1946. Renamed EVERTSEN in commemoration of a destroyer lost in the Java Sea in March 1942.Served in Indonesia and Korea as a destroyer until 1957 when she was converted for use as Fast Frigate and remained in commission until 1962 when she was scrapped in the Netherlands.
A commemorative plaque bearing the Bexhill Coat of Arms was presented to the ship. This arrived back in Bexhill in 1993 having been held by a sailor who served with the vessel’s service with the Royal Netherlands Navy and is now held at Bexhill Museum. In 2013 this sailor has also donated a painting of the ship and more recently a scale model which is on display in the Motoring and Technology Gallery.
1943 Wings For Victory
Target of £150,000
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The target was decided upon in the March so as to subscribe for 30 fighter aeroplanes.
A very full variety of events took place in the ten days of the campaign. On this occaision there was also a baby show at Sidley and a Civil Defence fete at their centre at Ancaster House which featured a model aircraft competition.
A roving savings selling centre in the guise of an aircraft carrier toured the town. Boots mounted an exhibition of RAF and Fleet Air Arm equipment which was visited by 2,500 people. Sadly proceedings were marred by the sudden death of the Mayor, Councillor Frederick Wimshurst, and some parades and processions were cancelled.
Advantage was taken of the availability of two local RAF heroes to give speeches; Flight Sergeant David Perry DFM and Bar of Eastwood Road also Pilot Officer Victor Haley MM of Amherst Road along with a message from Battle of Britain ace Pilot Officer Ray Chandler AFC DFM.
The target was reached on the Friday. The eventual total was £254,178.
1944 Salute the Soldier Week
Target of £175,000
This campaign was very successful coming in the immediate aftermath of the D-Day invasion. It was publicised that £112,500 could buy 50 25 pounder guns, £60,000 could buy 30,000 shells, £2,500 could buy 600,000 rounds of rifle ammunition
‘Private Thrift’ and ‘Major Saver’ were the emblems for the week and could be purchased for 6d.
The Polegrove was the venue of a gymkhana and horse show with many stalls giving a village fete feel to proceedings. Other activities mirrored previous campaigns with the addition of a swimming gala and a water polo tournament.
Boots again mounted an exhibition which featured a wide range of arms and equipment and large colour photos of the Army. 25 pounder guns were on display at Town Hall Square. At Buxton Drive recreation ground there were sports, a fancy dress parade and baby show.
The culmination of the week was a big parade comprising 750 members of military units and civil organisations which made their way to the Down for a big rally.
The final total raised was £240,171.
1945 Thanksgiving Week
The purpose of this campaign was to contribute to the recovery of the economic and social life of the country. The campaign started on a quiet note and the Sunday audience at the De La Warr Pavilion concert was disappointing. Monday was more successful with a whist drive at the De La Warr Pavilion with 60 tables in play.
The format followed previous campaigns with a variety of activities. An exhibition of war topics at the De La Warr Pavilion was put on which included photographs of Belsen camp as well as reconstruction topics. Forces Corner put on a display of water colour paintings.
Despite the slow start the grand total of £328,632 widely exceeded expectations. This worked out at £18 15s 2d per head of the population.
Bexhill’s total war savings contributions during the Second World War were £3,500,000.