Eastbourne Police Officer Recalls Storm

To commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Great Storm, retired PC Rob Ekins was interviewed by the Eastbourne Herald newspaper.

Eastbourne Herald, 13 October 2017

Thirty years after The Great Storm of 1987, when 100-mile-an-hour winds caused devastation across the country, a retired British Transport Police officer living in Eastbourne has shared his memories.

Rob Ekins was one of five officers given an award for bravery after rescuing people from a Peacehaven caravan site destroyed by the hurricane.

“It’s one in a million isn’t it? A storm like that’ Mr Ekins said. “There were-fridges flying through the air. It was like a giant was tearing pieces of aluminium off the caravans.”

Mr Ekins said he and his colleague PC Trevor Downer – who were working in Newhaven – were at the end of a late shift on October 15th 1987 when they were instructed to attend the Rushey Hill caravan site around 2am.

The 76-year-old said he and PC Downer joined three Brighton police officers in helping 30 campsite residents, including three babies, to safety at an uninhabited house as the wind grew stronger.

“The place had been totally decimated. A crane between 50 and 60 feet tall had come free of its base and was in danger of falling. We had to evacuate the site.

Mr Ekins, who lives with his wife of 52 years, Maggie, said he and his colleagues could hardly hear themselves speak over the sound of the wind.

He said at one point Brighton PC John Montague-Williams warned him to duck and was hit in the forehead with a piece of hardboard. ’He insisted on getting back in his car. He had two injured people in the back and was determined to get them to hospital,” Mr Ekins said.

Mr Ekins also recalled a chimney stack at the house they had moved the residents into fell onto the spot where his colleague PC Downer had been standing moments before.

“He could have been killed.’ Mr Ekins said. “Had it been daylight I might have wanted to turn and run away.”

The father-of-three took one elderly woman and her husband from their caravan to the abandoned house, recalling she stopped as they were leaving lo pick up her bag of knitting.

“The caravan was disintegrating.” Mr Ekins said. ’She was behind me, holding onto the belt of my coat. The wind must have reached more than 100 miles per hour.

“A gust of wind caught me and we were lifted off our feet. We more or less flew up the bank which was around 10 feet high.”

The retired officer received a certificate from the British Transport Police for bravery along with PC Downer, PC Montague-Williams and PC Gary Ancell, who helped a total of 44 people off the site.

Mr Ekins, a grandfather of four, said. “I think I used what all of us in Britain have: ‘Brit Grit’. We get our heads down and get on with it.’


Published in the Eastbourne Herald, 13th October 2017.
Thanks to Kevin Gordon for the copy.

Rob Ekins had previously contributed his own account of that night for the History Group: The Great Storm, 1987.