Run for your life... it’s a ‘Hedgehopper’

Stella Rutter, 92, from Emsworth, has written a book called Hedgehopper Run For Your Life!! about wartime experiences in the area ''Picture: Sarah Standing (151979-170)
Stella Rutter, 92, from Emsworth, has written a book called Hedgehopper Run For Your Life!! about wartime experiences in the area ''Picture: Sarah Standing (151979-170)
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A woman is shot dead in her garden by a German plane while she hangs out the washing.

Another woman is killed on a bus after a bullet hits her through the window as she travels along the A27 near Havant on a Southdown bus.

Sheep are found dead in fields across the area.

These kinds of stories sent shockwaves across the community at the start of the Second World War.

It was a chilling time to live on the south coast when you could never find a quiet moment to relax.

A few hundred miles away the continent was under siege and at any moment a German Junkers aircraft could appear from nowhere.

From Hayling Island up to Waterlooville and across to Bognor, they were known as the ‘Hedgehoppers’, a name reflecting the low trajectory they took.

It was all part of Hitler’s plan to land his army at Selsey – one of the few vulnerable spots on the south coast where there was little settlement and mile upon mile of flat land.

Now Emsworth pensioner Stella Rutter has written a fascinating book recalling the memories of people living in the area at the time.

The 92-year-old has aptly named the book, Hedgehopper, Run for Your Life!.

Stella says: ‘The book commemorates the true stories of mothers and children who lived between Portsmouth and Bognor during the first two years of the war.

‘Hitler had noted it was the only place along our southern coast where there were no towns and inland it was flat for many miles.

‘This would allow him to land his troops and tanks before encountering any difficult terrain.

‘His pilots were given the job of photographing both high and low tide shorelines and to discover if any obstructions had been erected.

‘At the same time they had been instructed to fire at anything which moved.’

Stella grew up in Bedhampton and remembers vividly how she became adept at dodging the aircraft.

During the start of the war she worked for the drawing office of the Royal Navy, which relocated from Portsmouth to Petersfield when the conflict started.

She says: ‘There were no sirens to warn us, because the planes would fly along the English Channel before turning to cross our coast.

‘Our anti-aircraft guns on Hayling Island and Portsmouth were unable to deflect their guns to attack these aircraft as they flew at tree and rooftop height.

‘On hearing the sound of an approaching aircraft, you had to use your eyes and ears to ascertain if you were in the line of fire.

‘You would have to find anywhere to hide and as the Junkers had a rear gunner it was necessary to cover that aspect as well.

‘One became adept at finding hidey-holes and places to get out of sight of any aircraft.’

After 18 months, the skies fell silent.

The Nazis never did land at Selsey, but millions more people would die in the coming years as the conflict raged on.

Stella adds: ‘When Hitler decided to attack Russia, these hedgehopper planes ceased to bother us.

‘On that day everyone was querying what was happening.

‘There were no aircraft in the sky, not even one of ours.

‘It was so quiet.’

The book can be bought at Mungo Brooks Emporium, in High Street, Emsworth, or at 19 Fourteas Tea Room, in West Street, Havant.


Stella Rutter

My worst encounter with a hedgehopper was during December 1941 at 7.45am when I was walking up Portsdown Hill with my colleague, Don Fry.

There was a thick layer of snow and I was wearing a dark blue coat and hood.

Just as we got to the gap in the hedge we heard the sound of a plane.

Portsmouth was completely shrouded in a thick mist of the early morning and appearing through it from over the aerodrome came a Junkers 88 towards us directly on the same level as our eyes.

‘Quick’ I yelled to Don, ‘Under the hedge to the left’ as I jumped over the hedge bottom and threw myself down to the left.

Seconds later Don landed on top of me, squashing me into the mud as the plane’s shadow passed over us, only 60ft above.

We could see it fly over the white house on our right and heard it turn and fly past it out to sea.

John Molloy

We lived in Havant in 1940 at 132 West Street.

One day mother gave me a shilling and sent me to do some shopping at the corner shop.

I walked up Boundary Way and then up Park Way and passed the back of the old workhouse and police station.

Then I heard the sound of machine guns and this huge German aeroplane came overhead travelling south to north at roof top height with all guns blazing.

I was terrified.

Diving into the hedge I stayed there for some time until all was quiet.

I never did get to the shop.

At home mother was so pleased to see me safe.

That evening father, who was a reporter for the Evening News, told us that a lady had been shot in her garden in Hulbert Road, Bedhampton.

Pete Walden

One afternoon I was cycling along South Street in Havant delivering newspapers when suddenly I saw bullets striking the road in front of me.

Flying up the road was a Junkers plane and I could see the pilot wearing his cap and goggles smiling at me.

Shaking my fist at him I leapt for the gatepost of the house called Hall Place.

The plane flew past the church and then up North Street to somewhere north of Havant where I heard it crash.

Walter Reeves

I was delivering newspapers along Eastern Road one afternoon when I saw an aircraft flying along the road towards me.

It flew over the power station and dropped a bomb.

It missed but exploded nearby.

The explosion threw me off my bike – backwards!

Audry Parker

I remember when I was five years old I was watching my mother walk down our garden to feed our hens.

As she got to the end I saw a low-flying plane coming towards our house.

Then I saw mother pressing herself into the hedge bordering our chickens.

Even though bullets were hitting that hedge, she was unharmed. What a lucky escape.