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The Grammar School during WWII (Part I)

View towards the rifle range and the Sacred Heart Convent
Original artwork by Anthony Martlew c.1940

Born in Prestonville

I was born in 1928, and lived in Reigate Road in the Prestonville area of Brighton.  Initially I went to Montpelier College, which was in Montpelier Crescent.  In 1937 our family moved to a brand new house in Woodland Avenue Hove, which had just been built. It was soon after this, in 1940, that I started at Brighton Hove & Sussex Grammar School. At this time all the younger masters had been called up for active service, and so elderly retired teachers were recalled to take their place. I am ashamed now to admit it, but most of us young lads took full advantage of their poor hearing and failing eyesight. In spite of this, the headmaster, W. A Baron, known as ‘Pa B’ still kept a tight rein on discipline.

An unpardonable sin

I remember one incident early in the ‘phoney war’ when, during morning break, a Walls Ice Cream man with his pushbike, stopped outside and alerted us to his presence by ringing his bell. A few of us who were fortunate enough to have some pocket money took full advantage of what we though was very slack supervision by the older masters, and nipped through the school gates and purchased some of his wares. However, unfortunately for us, this incident was not missed by ‘Pa B’ who telephoned the Walls depot in Davigdor Road.  He complained to their management, of the unpardonable sin, of selling ice-cream to his grammar school boys.  All of us who had indulged were given a severe ticking off during assembly the following morning.

View from the art room window

Of course the school has been developed and enlarged since the 1940s. At that time the art room window looked out over the playing field towards the rifle range and the Sacred Heart Convent, now Cardinal Newman School, in the far distance. It was during the art class that I sketched the view shown here, with the armoury building on the left and the boarding house on the right. The school air-raid shelter had been dug in the playing field, just beyond the open gate. In the centre of the playing field was a radar installation, which worked in conjunction with the ‘ack-ack’ guns, which were situated behind the trees to the left of the boarding house. 

During the air-raids

Whenever there was a raid, we ran down to the shelters, and sat on wooden benches, as all hell was let loose from the ‘ack-ack’ guns just behind us. Only once did the gunners manage to hit anything. At that time a huge cheer went up from all the boys as we thought it was an ME210. Our joy quickly turned to dismay, when we realised it was a Mosquito, which crashed on the corner of Amherst Crescent and Aldrington Avenue. We were further saddened when we heard that the pilot was an ex grammar school boy, who died some time later of his injuries.

You can read Part II here

Comments about this page

  • I have recently begun researching my uncles life story.  John Brian Cother commenced at Brighton Hove and Sussex Grammar School on a scholarship in 1927. Brian as he was known to all, excelled in singing, and was featured in many operas.  Apparently he also excelled in rifle shooting, and upon his death in WWII 1941, as a member of 72nd Regiment, Royal Artillery, in Cyprus, my grandparents after the war gave as a memorial a silver cup for top shooters.  This cup has since disappeared as the school changed to what it is now known.  I have been in contact with the archivist in an attempt to discover where the cup might be tucked away along with others that are deemed now, not needed.  Would anyone have a clue for us to follow up on?  I know there would be few old pupils left alive nowadays, I have been in contact with the son of one who sang with Brian in the operas.  I visited the college last year, and had a walk around.  The hall is magnificent in it’s windowed memorials, my uncles name is there.  The montage of painting around the hall are one of Brighton/Hove’s best kept secrets, I believe. 

    By Veronica Bentley/Bonny Cother (04/02/2015)

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