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Bomb Damage at East Grinstead

Bomb Damage at East Grinstead

East Grinstead, like many other towns, suffered damage from enemy action during World War Two. On Friday 9 July 1943, the town was bombed by a lone German aircraft. In this article, we take a look at what happened that night, and how it impacted on the town and the Sainsbury’s branch there.

On the afternoon of the 9th July, about ten German aircraft crossed the Sussex coast at Hastings heading for London. One of the planes detached from the main group and headed for East Grinstead. It was later thought that he had spotted a convoy of army trucks parked in the main car park just off the High Street. Circling the town twice, he released the bombs into this area at about 5pm.

One of the bombs from the German plane fell onto A & C Bridgeland, an ironmonger's shop. 500 gallons of paraffin were stored in Bridgeland's basement which exploded. The blast swept through the parade of shops, destroying Bridgeland's and Rice Bros next door and causing the rear of Sainsbury's branch at 37-39 London Road to collapse.

Fire quickly swept through the area and by the time the emergency services arrived many buildings including the local cinema were burning furiously. The Civil Defence and Heavy Rescue teams together with servicemen and civilians began to dig away at the rubble in the hope of finding survivors.

Laurie Holmes was the branch manager of the of the Sainsbury’s branch at the time of the bombing. In this video he explains what happened that night and how the company responded to keep trading.

The video contains content which some might find upsetting.


Laurie Holmes


Extract from the daily bulletin for the 13th July 1943


The final casualties from the night numbered 108 killed and 235 injured, one of the highest civilian losses in the country.

After the bombing Sainsbury's moved into a disused Methodist Church at 19 London Road, and remained there while the original branch was re-built.

Considering the damage suffered by neighbouring shops, Sainsbury's had survived remarkably unscathed. However because the building above the shop was unsafe it was removed and a false ceiling installed and the shop was able to reopen. 

A year and three days later, on Wednesday 12 July 1944, a flying bomb fell once again onto the London Road shop.

It landed at 7.30am and caused widespread damage to 400 houses, shops and offices. A number were completely destroyed, including the Sainsbury's shop. Three people died and 41 were injured.

The complete destruction of the shop required emergency measures to get food to the people of East Grinstead.

Sainsbury's sent an emergency van from its Blackfriars headquarters, which parked near to the original shop, by the ruin of Caffyn's garage. The van was fitted out like a travelling shop, complete with weights, scales and counters. The emergency shop served shoppers until the Methodist Church could be refitted again as a Sainsbury's shop. The 'shop in a church' continued to trade until 1951 when a new shop was opened.