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

September, 1940
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.

Comments about this page

  • I remember the School Dental Clinic when it was bombed. I was 7 years old and had been to the clinic early that morning. When the air raid warning sounded my Grandma and I went into the Public Library shelter and when the all clear came we were on our way home and saw that the clinic had gone. Quite a few children died and that is something I will never forget.

    By Jennifer Goddard (nee Norrell) (31/01/2007)
  • I was born in 1940 and was too young to remember this. One day in North Street, where my mother worked for a chartered accountant, she was allowed to take me to work on occassions, when walking up the road during her lunch break, a German fighter plane flew up the road, machine-gunning the people. She threw me into a doorway and layed on top to protect me! There was a cinema behind the accountants on the north side of the road between Bond St and Ship St turning. It was gutted by bombs early in the war and many people were killed. Does anyone know its name?

    By Ralph Packham (09/05/2007)
  • Message for Ralph Packham: the cinema halfway up North Street on the right hand (north), side just above Bond Street was called Theatre De Luxe (it was a cinema). The building was originally the South Eastern Banking Company. It opened around 1908 and continued until the 1950’s when it closed after a fire!

    By Peter Groves (16/07/2007)
  • A personal request… My late grandfather, Wilfred Winter, who lived at 74 The Avenue, was an ARP warden at the bottom of The Avenue in Moulscombe during WW2. Can anybody remember him or even a photo? My email contact is

    By Robin Winter (23/10/2007)
  • Hi Robin. I’ve emailed you a photo of an ARP group from that general area. Long shot I know – but you might be lucky.

    By Ron Spicer (26/07/2008)
  • I remember my dad taking me and my sister to a house opposite St Peters, about three houses past the Richmond. He was on leave I think, but it was called the ‘Canadian Red Shield Club’ I believe, I know he smoked Canadian cig’s called sweet caporal, is this the same place you thought was a american px Beryl? There were many Canadians billeted in Brighton but I don’t know of any Americans billeted here. Just a thought.

    By Jim Dorrington (03/12/2009)
  • Hi Beryl Tucknott – I suddenly spotted your name! We lived next door to you in Sutton Close at No. 10. Would like to keep in touch, old friends are getting thin on the ground nowadays. We are living in Australia. My email address is as follows.

    By Ken Burt (04/06/2010)
  • My Gran lived in Albion Hill and a bomb fell on the pub across the road from her house and she was at the back of the house and because she was stone deaf she did not know what had happened until two kind old ‘Bobbies’ came to see if she was alright. The front of her house was a wreck from the blast!

    By Ken Burt (04/06/2010)
  • Hello all on the page. Tarner Stories are looking for people who have memories of Tarner to share stories about life in Tarner. The project is a lottery Funded Project and all stories will be included within a book and on a website. Please Contact Chloe or Jess on

    By Chloe Howley (11/06/2011)
  • Pete Scholey asks about the Clinic that was bombed. In my research for the history of St John Ambulance in Brighton, I have two photos that I am using in my forthcoming book, showing the damage done in the bombing of the Sussex Street clinic which, incidentally, was our headquarters in 1943. It has been rebuilt as the Morley Street Clinic. The bombing took place 14th March 1943 which caused a move to temporary headquarters in the Pelham Street schools. I had recently spoken to someone at the clinic, whose father had been killed in the raid. If you would like any more details I could send a copy of these photos.

    By David Shelton (27/04/2012)
  • I was born in 1938 and lived with Mum,  Dad and my elder brother Rod during the early 1940s at the Mackie Avenue Wine Stores, Patcham where Dad was the shop manager. We used to go under the stairs when doodle bugs were heard above, then the motors stopped and we waited for the explosion. On one occasion one exploded in a empty plot of land a few yards from our house! Anyone remember this?

    By Anthony Seaborne (20/10/2013)
  • I also remember the clinic being bombed. I was returning from school on the tram which terminated at St Peter’s because of the bomb damage and had to walk the rest of the way. As I passed by I recollect seeing the bomb damaged building near the Astoria cinema and the trees opposite it with curtains, sheets and other materials hanging from them which had been blown there from the explosion.

    By Tony Crapnell (22/11/2014)
  • Come on, Tony, the last tram ran on 1st September 1939! They were replaced by trolley buses and what a relief from the noisy trams. In May 1943 the railway viaduct carrying the line to Lewes was bombed and a span collapsed (although the rails and sleepers still spanned the gap). It was an amazing sight. Within a few days a temporary support was laid across the gap and trains edged cautiously over it. A man in a little hut watched the delicate process. John Taylor and I used to walk up to Brighton Station and buy a penny single to Preston Park Station just to experience the thrill of going over the gap. Hope you are well, Tony, we go back a long way – 1942 at Ditchling Road School.

    By Chris Strick (03/02/2016)
  • Chris surely you mean London Rd station not Preston Park. I was born on the 7th February 1943 in Buckingham Road maternity hospital. My mother told me I was born to the sound of air raid sirens as a possible attack was imminent. The planes did not come to Brighton, but attacked Eastbourne where they bombed the Fire station killing 6 fireman inside.

    By Dan O Shaughnessy (04/02/2016)
  • Mr O Shaughnessy, there was and still is two rail viaducts I recall, the one that spanned Preston Road (the London road viaduct), and the one from Brighton Station that spanned New England Road that ran up westwards of (the west side of Preston Circus). I think that it would be the latter that lead to Preston Park Station on its South to North transit and not the London Rd viaduct? Incidentally, you will see by this letters page that those planes certainly did come to Brighton, (maybe not at the moment of your birth though) and what’s more those dastardly pilots did drop their bombs upon the town.

    Regards, Dennis Stevens. 

    By Dennis Stevens. (05/02/2016)
  • My apologies, gentlemen – it was of course London Road Station and not Preston Park. Incidentally there was church near the damaged viaduct where Cubs and Scouts used to meet. After the raid it was unusable and we moved to Stanford Avenue Methodist Church. I believe it was subsequently used as a College. Does anyone remember the Church Youth Club? We had some great holidays – Lynton in 1949 and Colwyn Bay the following year. They were good times!

    By Chris Strick (05/02/2016)
  • Stanford Avenue Church was used by the Americans during the war. My brother and I would hang around for chewing gum, tin bully beef, evaporated milk and anything else we could scrounge which my grandmother was grateful to use! The hotels along Brighton front were all used by the Australians, Kiwis, Canadians and Americans as bases. The Ghurkas were also billeted in Brighton. Does anyone remember the prisoners, possibly Italians, in the camps somewhere in Hollingbury on the Downs? We kids would call them names and throw stones at them and run away.

    By Jennifer Goddard (Norrell) (05/12/2017)
  • I have only just found this site and would like to relate a recurring dream I had for many years way into my adult life.  I was born in 1940 and until 1949 lived at 15 Hollingbury Rise, Hollingbury. My dream was always situated at the top of Hollingbury Rise where the street ended and the country started with the Brighton Golf Course accessable from the pathway.  The dream, always the same, was of being in this area with an older girl who used to like to take me for walks and there is an air raid and people being killed all around us and we had to step around the dead and wounded to get away.  Does anyone know if any bombs were dropped in this area to account for this dream  I used to have it until I was in my 40s.

    By Olive J Sant (Knight) (28/07/2018)
  • I have seen the comments about the Viaduct being damaged in an air raid. The Civil Defence had a training ground on a council site near the church referred to. On the evening of that raid, I was with a group being trained in how to search a smoke filled property. A large Nissen hut was filled with smoke and we had to crawl on the floor and find our way out the other end. I had been through that and a group of us were standing in the yard when the sirens sounded. Almost immediately aircraft were over the town dropping bombs and machine gunning. The target was the railway station and workshops. One bomb hit the viaduct and debris fell into the yard. The instructor shouted so we laid on the ground. Some of the debris from the damaged viaduct fell among us but nobody was injured. I cannot remember the name of the church but must have attended the youth club, because I remember one harvest time we made model aircraft and ships depicting a war scene on the channel. I was in the civil defence until the end of the war and was then called up. I served in the RAF for three years but did not return to Brighton.

    By James Hardy (14/10/2019)
  • I discovered today that my grandfather was a dispatch rider in Brighton during WW2 whilst serving in the Home Guard July 1942-Dec 1944. He was also the manager of Sainsbury’s in Brighton and my Grandmother taught at Shoreham grammar school in 1946 (and probably for some years before) as well as working at the hospital. My mother studied at Brighton technical college in 1946/7 before working at the Grand Hotel. If anyone has any information/history/relevant experiences to share, I would love to hear from you. My grand parents were Charles and Gladys Clarke and my Mother, June.

    By Christine Alcock (03/11/2019)
  • Hi from Canada,I was just reading a history of my fathers artillery battery that was billited in Preston Park December 1942.

    The military activity throughout Sussex must have been overwhelming or perhaps a great adventure for the children of the area.

    By James Bly (21/04/2020)
  • Hi I remember the dòogle bug in patcham field, sometime after my father was in a minstrel show in adjacent field and I paid a few pennies to go and see the remains before the show which was in a large marquee.
    It rained like mad all night.
    Warwick Butler.

    By Warwick Butler (10/07/2020)

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