Childhood memories of Brighton air raids
I attended Richmond Street Infants School until I was seven years old. I lived opposite the school in Ashton Street (between Richmond Street and Albion Hill). Our house was next door to the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, where I went to Sunday School.
The school’s air raid shelter was built beneath the playground. To reach it, we had to hurry down a flight of stone steps, then across the open, exposed playground. This was extremely dangerous, as the enemy planes would swoop down and the machine-gunners would fire on anything that moved! If insufficient warning was given, we would be kept inside the building, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the corridor, arms folded and made to sing at the tops of our voices, presumably to shut out the noise of the bombs falling and the ‘dog-fights’ taking place in the skies above!
While I was at Finsbury Road School, St Luke’s School was bombed, so we had to share our school with them until theirs was repaired. We only went to school on a half-day basis – alternately, one week mornings, one week afternoons. Our shelters there were built by the road side at the kerb edge. Each classroom had its own shelter.
The next streets up the hill from us were Cambridge Street and Dinapore Street, which were both badly bombed. I remember the black smoke from the fires caused by the oil bombs which were dropped on one occasion
On the 24 September 1940 (according to David Rowland’s book!) there was an air raid. We had no time to get to the shelter. Bombs dropped very close to the school. When the raid was over and it was deemed safe for us to go home, my friend Jackie and I (aged five), came out of school to find our street covered in dust, glass and rubble. The butcher’s shop at the top of the street (Albion Hill end), had received a direct hit which had killed the owner.
The entrance to the street was cornered off with a rope and manned by Air Raid Wardens. We stood at the rope wondering if we had homes left! We were asked what we wanted and replied, tearfully, that we wanted to go home! Asked where we lived, we each pointed to our houses which were opposite each other. The rope was lifted and we were allowed to go to our homes. We had no glass in our windows and a huge hole in the inside passage wall – Mum’s front room was covered in dust and rubble!
29th March, 1943
I remember the School Clinic in Ivory Place being bombed (Monday 29 March 1943) when several people were killed, including 3 children. On the same day, a bomb fell on Gloucester Place near the Astoria Cinema. Several buildings were destroyed. I can remember watching the remaining structure being pulled down by hand, with huge ropes tied to the pits of the wall, by Air Raid Wardens and volunteers.
War time as a child
On the corner of Cambridge Street stood the Cambridge Inn. My bedroom being at the back of the house, I could hear the jollity on Saturday nights at chucking out time (10.30 I think). There was a good old sing-song and dancing in the street – Hokey-Cokey, Roll me Over (in the clover!), Nellie Dean, plus wartime songs etc. The next street down, Richmond Buildings, had the Lennox Arms on the corner.
It was said that Richmond Street had a pub on every corner. At the bottom of the hill was the Richmond (now Pressure Point). A few buildings along from there, in Richmond Place (opposite St Peter’s Church) was the American equivalent of our Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). I believe it was called the PX. We used to casually hang about outside for the US servicemen to come out. They would give us chocolate, chewing gum, chiclets, lifesavers etc. Sweets were on ration to us!
I can also remember having my tonsils out in the Children’s Hospital in Dyke Road during the war. I was about seven or eight years old. We were wheeled in our beds every night down to the Air Raid Shelters which were under the hospital building. We were given jelly and ice cream, which we didn’t get otherwise.