Unexploded bombs, hurricane-force winds and 100m-wide ‘potholes’ – it’s all in a day’s work for one of East Sussex Highways’ longest-serving employees.
Bernie Gorringe, from Ninfield, has just clocked up 50 years on the county’s roads, rising from crew member via highway superintendent to his current role as project manager.
Born in Eastbourne, Bernie was a fresh-faced 16 year old when he first joined East Sussex County Council in 1969 – an era that was a world away from today’s high-tech environment.
He said: “We didn’t have the kind of machinery we have today so a lot of it was done by hand. It was hard, physical work, but when you’re young it’s enjoyable and keeps you fit.”
Health and safety was not such a priority in Bernie’s early days – like when his crew unearthed a foot-long unexploded WWII bomb while building flint walls at Kingston, near Lewes.
“We called the police and half an hour later a PC turned up in his Ford Escort, picked up the bomb, put it in the back of the car and drove off,” he said. “That was it – we never saw him again!”
Now a 66-year-old father of two and grandfather of four, Bernie was in the eye of the storm – literally – when hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc across the south east on the night of October 15, 1987.
He said: “I was on duty, and normally we’d get the odd call-out about a pothole or some flooding, but my pager started beeping at 10.30pm and it never stopped all night.
“It was absolutely horrendous – there was hardly a road without a tree across it and no-one could get anywhere, but everyone – highways, emergency services and the public – just pulled together.
“Luckily we knew we were in for a rough night so we’d told the crews to take the chainsaws home with them so they could literally cut their way into work.”
Other memorable moments include the time Bernie was called out to a ‘pothole’ in Jevington and found 100m of road had been washed down a ravine.
Bernie – who also managed to fit in a stint with the Territorial Royal Engineers – says he has no plans to retire.
Dale Poore, East Sussex Highways contract manager, said: “Bernie is a great guy and to dedicate half a century to one organisation shows tremendous loyalty and commitment.”