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.
“We didn’t have the kind of machinery we have today so a lot of it was done by hand,” he says. “It was hard, physical work, but when you’re young it’s enjoyable and it 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 WW2 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 says. “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 says: “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, and dealing with the devastating floods which hit in Lewes in 2012.
Currently working on a project delivering superfast broadband to East Sussex, Bernie – who also managed to fit in a stint serving with the Territorial Royal Engineers – says he has no plans to retire.
“The best thing is the people I work with,” he says. “We’re all like-minded people who like looking after the public. I like working for a local organisation and I enjoy the challenge of each new job I take on.”
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. We’re lucky to have him and hope to benefit from his vast experience and expertise for many years to come.”