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Balloon Cable Tragedy in Sussex
When balloons broke away, they usually dragged a long cable along behind them and these cables often ran for thousands of feet. Despite
warnings by the Air Ministry, in September 1940 the dangers of handling stray balloon cables were not well known. The cable might be
attached to a balloon and the end of the cable might be well out of sight. One of the dangers was that the cable might well have become
dragged across a high-voltage electricity supply and as a result carry a dangerous electric current.
On the 2nd of September 1940 Frank Simmons, 6. Woodside Cottages, Bolney, heard at noon that a barrage balloon was drifting across the
woods. He went with Frank Chapman and Harry Bolden to Stone Rocks field and saw a balloon cable trailing across the field. Also present
were four young lads. The balloon cable trailed across an electricity cable, and one of the lads put his cycling trousers clip the on cable
and said, "It is all right; it is dead”. Simmons and Chapman put their feet on the cable, and Harry George Bolden, age 34, said: “I will run
over and tie it to the tree.”
Bolden ran about 150 yards away to tie the cable to a tree. Simmons and Chapman felt shocks through their feet, and they jumped clear.
”Harry has got it." and Simons saw Bolden hanging on the wire and lying against the tree. Sparks were seen running along the wire.
Simmons and Chapman ran over at once, and that time Bolden had fallen clear the wire and was lying in the grass. He was burning, and
Simmons and Chapman pulled him clear.
Albeit E. Bushrod of The Street, Bolney. said he was at Ormonde Hall just after noon when he saw a drifting barrage balloon in the distance.
It was south-west over Cowfold. Later Bushrod and Police-constable Rumley saw it again, drifting towards Bolney. They followed it towards
Pickwell. When they got near the balloon the cable was high the air. It sagged about 10 feet from the ground, and Bushrod jumped and
touched it. He was in the air when touched it. He saw P.C. Rumley do the same thing. Bushrod felt a shock and let go of the cable, and he
heard the constable say: “Leave it alone; it is alive.” He had previously seen Thomas John Jeffery, age 37, running towards the cable from
the direction of Bolney. Bushrod heard a groan and saw sparks by Jeffery. Bushrod and the constable got Jeffery off the wire. Bushrod did not
see Jeffery get hold of the wire, and he was astonished to see him under the cable. P.C. Rumley said that when he heard Jeffery groan he
turned and saw him lying with the wire under his right armpit. It was possible that the wire suddenly sagged and caught Jeffery under the arm.
They got Jeffery off the wire and commenced artificial respiration. There was no electric cable near where they were. It was at least
three-quarters of mile between the places where the two men were killed. The balloon looked like it was likely to drift away again, and
instructions were given for the balloon to be shot down. Mr. H. Dixon (engineer and manager of the Central Sussex Electricity, Ltd) said
there was not any doubt that both men were killed instantaneously.
Dr W. P. Murray, of Cuckfield said he saw Jeffery in a field in front of Pickwell House, Bolney, at 1.50 p.m on the previous Monday.
He was burned right through his clothes in both arms. Dr Murray saw Bolden in another field. The whole of the grass was burned at the place
where he actually died. Bolden was extensively burned.
The Coroner said he would approach the authorities concerned with a view' to ascertaining whether there was any possibility of acquiring
The Coroner recorded verdict of Accidental death." and he described it is " a most tragic happening which occurred while the men were
performing a public duty."
Mr. Jeffery was buried at Cuckfield Parish Church on 6th September. He had been a bell ringer and member of the Home Guard, and for several
years was hon. secretary of the Cuckfield Allotment Holders' Society.
Members of the Home Guard formed a guard of honour.
Despite the publicity from this incident more people died from similar incidents, throughout the war.
Garwood April 2021
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