Is it possible that good can come from evil? – well yes it is and there is proof in Alfriston!
During the War the Nazis used naval mines to attack allied shipping in the channel. The naval mine was probably a German invention as during the Schleswig Holsten War of 1848, Kiel harbour was protected by makeshift mines made of gunpowder in barrels.
Naval mines were notoriously unpredictable until the invention of the ‘Hertz horn’ during the Great War. ‘Hertz horns’ are the spikes around the mine. They contain a phial of acid. When the spike hits something solid, the pressure breaks the phial and the acid runs into the battery pack inside the mine which charges the explosive.
On 27th October 1943 a man was working on the banks of the Cuckmere River in Alfriston when he found something odd in the mud covered in slime and barnacles. He went to Leonard Wilde who was the senior A.R.P. Warden for the village and who ran the Post Office. He identified the object as a German ‘Z’ Naval Mine and called in the military. Most of the village was evacuated until Royal Naval mine experts make the mine safe. Despite some rumours that the mine had been dropped from an aircraft, it almost certainly washed upstream into Alfriston from the Channel via Cuckmere Haven.
The Navy handed the defused mine to Sergeant Dinnage of the local army unit. James Webb Dinnage (known as Jimmy) lived at Wivelsfield and in peacetime ran an Engineering business in Haywards Heath. It was Jimmy (who was later to raise thousands of pounds for charity ‘Donkey Derby’ events around Sussex) who cleaned up the mine and cut off the hertz horns. He converted the mine into an unusual charity collecting box and it was placed on the pavement outside the Singing Kettle in Market Square. The first to benefit from the mine was the Red Cross Fund for Prisoners of War.
The people of Alfriston wanted a new sports pavilion and in 1957 this was the designated charity for the mine collection. Amazingly on 24th July that year the mine was actually stolen! This was an amazingly brazen theft considering the mine had been attached to a concrete base with chains and weighed about 2 cwt (about 100 kg) and was sited at the busiest place in the village. The theft was discovered by Mr Selvey, the Chairman of the Parish Council and the local constable, PC Taylor searched the village with no trace.
The mine was found abandoned and unopened a few hours later in Commercial Road near Eastbourne Railway Station. Nothing had been stolen and just over £26 was found inside. The mine was returned to Eastbourne by Wilson’s and returned to its rightful place.
The mine is now painted green and stands near the Old Chapel Centre on the Tye and is still raising money for charity. (Currently the Alfriston Heartstart Medical Emergency Team.) Next time you see it why not pop your loose change inside?
The Alfriston Mine is not alone. After the War the Admiralty donated 200 decommissioned British navy mines to the Shipwrecked Mariners Society to be turned into collection boxes. Of these about 60 are still in use. These tend to be painted red and white. The Alfriston mine is unusual insofar as it is an enemy mine. How ironic that something designed to cause death and destruction has ended up benefiting the very country it was meant to attack!
By the way, the date that the mine was retrieved differs from the documentary evidence and the date shown on the mine, but there is another error painted on the mine, as all locals will know, it is the Cuckmere River and not the ‘River Cuckmere’ !