80 years since six men gave their lives protecting Portsmouth as Hayling Island served as decoy to distract German bombers away from dockyard

SATURDAY marks the 80th anniversary of the night Hayling Island was hit by German aircraft during an attack targeting Portsmouth.

By Emily Jessica Turner
Saturday, 17th April 2021, 7:00 am
Gunners at Hayling, taken at North Hayling in March 1941. Members of gun crew 219 battery.
Gunners at Hayling, taken at North Hayling in March 1941. Members of gun crew 219 battery.

During World War II, Hayling served as an elaborate decoy to protect its densely populated neighbouring city, which was being targeted during the Blitz for its naval dockyards.

An age-old military tactic, a series of decoy sites were set up throughout Hayling to simulate blacked-out areas.

To distract bombers away from Portsmouth, decoy fires were lit on Hayling to persuade Germans that Langstone Harbour was actually the dockyard.

Hayling Island historian Robin Walton Picture: Sarah Standing (281220-134)

These defensive measures against night bombing were controlled from Fort Purbrook.

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The Sinah Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, a concrete gun emplacement built in 1940, also formed part of the defences against German air attacks on Portsmouth.

Originally, it had been built as part of the ‘C-series’ civil decoys deflecting bombing from the city, and later became part of the ‘N-series’ of naval decoys protecting Portsmouth Harbour.

Hayling gunsite in 1941.

It was initially manned by the Royal Artillery Gunners of 219 battery.

On the night of April 17, 1941, German bombers took flight and set out to target Portsmouth - but the decoys worked and instead the Luftwaffe dropped bombs onto the sparsely populated rural areas of Hayling Island

However, the Sinah Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery tragically received a direct hit during the heavy air raid, and six men lost their lives while protecting Portsmouth.

Their names were James Bardoe, James Collingbine, Arthur Farmer, Reginald Knight, James Powell, and Leonard Ward.

Pullingers Interiors in Hayling Island was bombed during World War II.

Another man, Jack Chandler, died of injuries sustained during the air raid two days later.

Many other men of the Royal Artillery Gunners were injured, and the heavy attack by parachute bombs also put three guns out of action.

Historian and Hayling Island resident Robin Walton has written two books about the island’s history – An Island at War and History of Hayling Island – and also created the Hayling Island History Trail.

He said: ‘The bombing would have been a shock for people who lived on Hayling Island, but it wouldn’t have had a huge effect.

‘Remember there were only 3,000 inhabitants on Hayling Island at the time, and there are around 20,000 people living here today.

‘It’s quite remarkable that we have as much information about what happened as we do.’

The site remained out of action until December of that year.

Many bombs fell on Hayling Island during the war, destroying a big farm and chicken batteries.

As incendiary bombs fell across the island, a large crater was formed on Verner Common and West Town was impacted by a land mine at 9pm on April 17.

To commemorate the event and pay respect to the soldiers killed on this night, a Service of Remembrance was set to be held on Sinah Common.

However, the event was cancelled by Havant council due to coronavirus restrictions.

Robin, who was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year Honours List in December for his work promoting the island’s local history, said: ‘We got the whole thing organised, but now we’re not sure when will be able to hold the event.’