The Bombing of The Kemp Town Odeon

Photo of Monica just before the bombing raid which killed her
Photo from the private collection of Trevor Duplock

In 1940 Brighton, like most of the South Coast of England, was ready for a probable invasion. The threat from the German air force a very real danger and the strong possibility of sea borne landings by the German army meant the town was heavily defended. The beaches were shut and covered in mines and barbed wire and anti aircraft guns were sited throughout the town’s parks. Children were of course evacuated as a precaution against bombing raids and invasion, but not all of them.

At that time my grandparents lived in Whitehawk. My father, their eldest child, had joined the Royal Navy, and as a gunner was stationed on a ship that was escorting convoys on the perilous North Atlantic route. That left his eleven-year-old sister Monica and nine year old brother Neil at home with my grandparents. They couldn’t face the idea of being parted from the children and had resisted the idea of evacuation believing they could keep them safe.

At that stage of the War very few bombs had fallen on Brighton, but that was about to change in a very dramatic way. On Saturday the 14th of September 1940 my eleven-year-old Aunt and nine year old Uncle had gone to the Odeon Kemp Town cinema to watch a matinee performance. As they sat in the cinema full of children, the most notorious bombing raid on Brighton during the War was about to take place.

At three-thirty that afternoon in the sky above Brighton, a Spitfire fighter plane was pursuing a German Dornier bomber that had become parted from the rest of its squadron. In a vain last ditch attempt to escape its pursuer, the German pilot decided to release all the onboard bombs, hoping the resulting decrease in weight would increase its maneuverability, and chance of survival. In this case the bomber did not escape and was later shot down. Twenty five-hundred-pound bombs rained down on Kemp Town, killing fifty-two people. The bombs straddled an area that included Edward Street and Upper Rock Gardens, two of the bombs hitting the Odeon cinema.

My aunt was one of the four children killed and dozens injured in the cinema that afternoon.She had been hit in the neck by flying shrapnel from the exploding bombs and was bleeding very badly from her wounds. In the midst of all this carnage her younger brother, in a desperate attempt to save his sister’s life, carried her to the nearby Sussex County Hospital, where she later died of her injuries.

In the whole of the War one hundred and ninety eight people died in Brighton from German bombing raids. The fifty two that died that day represent over a quarter of that total. A memorial service was later held at St Peter’s Church for everyone that died that day.

Comments about this page

  • A tear when I read your letter. A lovely picture of Monica with her doll. So many lives lost. It is nice that you have not forgotten them. And you are so right – St Peter’s is a lovely church. Let’s hope we don’t see the day when offices take its place. Again, thank you for your reading. I was born in 1946 but I will pass this on to my Mum as she will also remember this story.

    By Vivienne (22/01/2005)
  • My Dad, Ken McNeill, was one of the lucky kids pulled from the Odeon that day along with his mate, a boy named Sossall Upton. My Dad had a wound to the forearm with shrapnel and head and facial injuries. The scar is large and shiny. Imagine that on a 9 year old. Thirteen years ago, when Dad was 60, we gave him a surprise party at the Bombay Bar (Hanbury Arms, Kemp Town) and, as we partied the night away, the chilling thought came to me – what happened all those years ago just ten feet away across the pavement. I know that Dad was thinking about those kids at the Odeon. Thank you for this main story.

    By Ken McNeill Jnr (27/01/2005)
  • Two of my cousins were lucky enough to be pulled out alive and not that badly injured.They were Arthur & Connie Bishop. Arthur went on to join the police and Connie became a nurse. I think they both lived in Whitehawk at that time.

    By Patrick Collins(Catswhiskas) (24/02/2005)
  • My Dad, Patrick Daniel McDonald, was 13 years old in 1940 and he was in his garden playing when he heard a plane. He always watched the planes as they went over. He suddenly realised that it was a German plane and it was so close he actually saw the pilot, only to later learn that he had bombed the cinema.

    By Eileen McDonald-Sayer (06/08/2005)
  • Having made a previous entry on this page about the Odeon I wanted to share this odd experience with you all. Today is the 65th anniversary and I went out earlier today with a mate of mine. I was sitting there, having drink with my pal and I said ‘You know, Harry, it was 65 years ago today my Dad was pulled from the Kemp Town Odeon’. A man sitting on a table near us heard the conversation and said ‘I was in the Odeon that day’, and suddenly all these new tales of 65 years old all unfolded. The gent turned out to be one of my Dad’s mates from all those years ago, a chap called Ruben Brooks. They kept in touch through army days for a brief period. I found this all a bit spooky on the 65th anniversary of the bombing, but at the same time it was a very interesting afternoon. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who were lost at the Odeon and in Brighton in the raid.

    By Ken McNeill Jnr (14/09/2005)
  • I am doing a history topic on the Kemp Town blitz and this is a vey useful site.

    By Clare Saxby (16/03/2006)
  • My respects go out to all of those who died.

    By JK (24/03/2006)
  • Thank you for sharing such a humbling story. I will think of Monica when I walk down St Georges Road. I moved to Kemp Town three years ago and am fascinated by the area and its architecture. There are a number of blocks of flats such as at the top of Eaton Place and on the corner of Chesham that look as if they were built in the 50s. Were these bomb sites? And are the mock Georgian houses opposite the church on the next corner to the Hanbury where the Odean stood? It is humbling to think what happened here all those years ago.

    By Amora (03/04/2006)
  • I was lucky enough to serve with Arthur (Tony) Bishop in the Police. He was a wonderful and honest man and sadly no longer with us.

    By Pete Gibson (05/06/2006)
  • Your story makes me feel very humble. I heard about the Kemptown bombings, but to actually read a story from a survivor is a fascinating insight to how the victims of war must have felt.

    By Suzanne Hilton-Wright (18/08/2006)
  • I also served with Tony Bishop (comment from Peter Gibson on 05/06/2006). I was 9 years old when the Odeon was bombed. I was lucky, having been refused the necessary admission fee by my mum, I couldn’t go to the pictures! For the information of anyone interested I recommend the book written by David Rowland (another ex Brighton policeman) entitled ‘The Brightion Blitz’. This book is dedicated to all those who were killed in Brighton between 1940 and 1944 (ISBN 1 85770 1240). I attended St. Mark’s School in Kemptown and remember the bombing of Whitehawk Road on Monday July 15th 1940 and again on Tuesday 25th May 1943, when one of the teachers at St. Mark’s School, a Ms De Witt, was killed together with two Brighton policeman. If anyone has any knowledge of the above bombings or attended St Mark’s School during the years referred to above I would be delighted to communicate. I lived in Hervey Road at the time of these incidents in the War.

    By David G. Osborne (05/09/2006)
  • I was sorry to read that my cousin Arthur Bishop has passed away, as I had not seen him for many years . I now live near Skegness in Lincolnshire. My favourite and most vivid memories of him are seeing him in his white policeman’s helmet on traffic duty in front of St Peter’s Church, and also directing traffic by the Aquarium probably in the middle 1950s.

    By Pat Collins(Catswhiskas) (26/09/2006)
  • Henry Stunell, my grandfather’s cousin, witnessed this incident and was motivated to join the RAF. He is the same man that survived an incident involving the Lancaster he was in. Of the Lancaster’s 7 man crew, only 2 survived. He appears in two books: ‘To Hell and Back’ by Mel Rolfe, and a book by the other survivor Ron Needle called ‘Saved by the Bell’.

    By Adam Dennis (28/02/2007)
  • This site is really great, it really helped me with my history homework.

    By Niamh Byrne-Roberts (04/12/2007)
  • My wife Wendy lived at 13 Princes Terrace, Kemp Town. On the 15th July 1940 her home was bombed at 6am by a plane flying from east to west. The house was badly damaged and her grandmother, Ettie Hargreaves, was killed.  It is possible that this was one of the first actions by the enemy over the mainland. Wendy was 11 years old and went to school that very morning at Brighton and Hove High School for Girls, and they were fortunately able to find accomodation in Hove. This attack received very little publicity. Several other people were killed that morning. Their father, Roland Hargreaves, worked in the Westminster Bank in Castle Square. Wendy and I now live at Rustington and celebrated our 61st wedding anniversary in April having been married at St Wulfrans, Ovingdean. [Editor: Congratulations on your 61 years together!]

    By John Glover (24/04/2008)
  • I refer to John Glover’s comment above. I, being the brother of Wendy, was also asleep in 13 Princes Terrace that July morning in 1940, and count myself extremely lucky to be in a position to make this contribution to the incident. I can confirm that my dearly loved grandmother, Ettie, who was killed in the attack, is documented in David Rowland’s book “The Brighton Blitz”, as being “the first Brighton person to be killed by a bomb”. Three other people were killed that day by this enemy action. I, like my father, went on to pursue a banking career. Mine however was in the Far East and I am now retired and living in the United States of America with my wife Margery.

    By Jeremy Hargreaves (27/04/2008)
  • The only person not mentioned in the Hargreaves story is their lovely mother who, clutching her two children round her, said those immortal words: “See if you can find the cat”.

    By John Glover (27/04/2008)
  • Regards the various comments about dear Ettie Hargreaves I would ask the following to please contact me: John Glover, Jeremy Hargreaves, Ken McNeil Jnr.and Trevor Duplock.  You all may be able to help me with wartime research.  Thank you.

    By David Rowland (Brighton Blitz) (22/06/2008)
  • Does anyone have any information on George Debonnaire who was killed in the Kemp Town bombing, but I cannot find him in the records?

    By John Dann (24/05/2009)
  • I have only recently been referred to this site by a friend who recognised my brother Ruebens name when he read the piece by Ken McNeill. I was talking to my brother about the war years a few weeks ago and he recounted the story of the Kemp Town Bombing to me. He had in fact gone to the cinema with Arthur Bishop and my mother Esther (Kit). After the bombing, Rueben and Arthur were frantically searching amongst the debris for my mum only to discover that she had calmly walked to the hospital with a piece of shrapnel embedded in her head having entered through her temple. I worked with Arthur Bishop for many years in Brighton Police without knowing this story. Unfortunately my mother passed on many years ago, but Rueben is still going strong and lives in Peacehaven

    By Norman Brooks (29/05/2009)
  • My grandma was in the cinema too and she lost her best friend. Very interesting to hear her story but at the same time very scary; we are all very lucky to live in peace in the UK.

    By anon (07/08/2009)
  • I am now 70 years old and all these years I thought my foster sister Monica Duplock was holding me in that theatre. If what you say is correct, then I guess I was not there and have been suffering for the wrong reason. Thanks for clearing this up for me, your Uncle Peter.

    By Peter Haber (21/09/2009)
  • This is the first picture I have seen of Monica Duplock. She was my mother’s cousin. Trevor you could fill in some family history if you would like to contact me on

    By Brian Duplock (17/07/2010)
  • I have just seen David G Osborne’s post. My mother, Joyce Marchant (nee Laws), was in the Odeon bombing with her sister Winifred. Mum’s best friend died, but I’m not sure of her name. Mum’s family also lived in Hervey Road.

    By Sally Atkinson (13/01/2011)
  • Hello Trevor, thank you for your item about Monica. Neil was my father who unfortunatly died in februrary 1996 aged 60. He very rarely spoke about the tragic events of that day, but carried a triangular scar below his left eye from shrapnel that hit him. I think he blamed himself for the loss of Monica as he pestered Nan Duplock for Monica to take him to the Odeon. He told me that he was sitting at the back of the cinema with his mates when the bomb hit the building & Monica was down the front with her friends. Basically he came to in the Sussex County but unfortunately Monica didn’t survive. I am a resident in Whitehawk & live very near the old family address of Whitehawk Avenue. I found this site by the off chance & thank you for your input. Best wishes. Martin Broughton.

    By Martin Broughton (02/08/2011)
  • I now live in Cavendish Court on the actual site where the Odeon Cinema stood. We have a photo of the old cinema in our residents lounge.

    By David Barker (15/09/2011)
  • I once worked with a girl who had been in that cinema when it was bombed. She told me she had gone with her cousin that day and they sat side by side. Suddenly the bomb came down and so did a lot of the building. Her cousin was killed and she sat there buried knowing her cousin was dead beside her. She had to be dug out and she said it seemed ages that she had to wait. She seemed not to have been badly injured – except that she was full of shrapnel. Every now and then it came to the surface and had to be removed. I wish I could remember her name.

    By Mrs Stevie Hobbs (16/09/2011)
  • My Mum lived in Mile Street. The Amex is there in its place now. She says that this street was badly hit during the war and most of the houses were bombed, and that a lot of people died including a baby that was blown up onto a chimney and two elderly ladies. Mum recalls a woman’s hand being found- she was wearing a wedding ring, very sad. My family name was Booker.

    By Ann Dowsett (22/01/2012)
  • My name is Henry Wood and my parents lived at 55 Whitehawk Avenue, 3 doors away from Monica Diplock who was killed at the cinema. Both families were very friendly with Sid Diplock who was always in our house with my brothers, Doug and Harold. On the morning of the bombing another neighbour, Olive Beal, asked were we going to the pictures that afternoon? I said no as we were playing football on the local pitches. When the bomb dropped we all ran home not knowing where the bomb had dropped. When the No 3 bus came up the road we were told the cinema had been hit. All the parents of the cinema goers went to the Odeon and the hospital to find all the children. Olive Beal came home and said Monica had been taken to the hospital, the last she saw of her. Mr Diplock came home and said Monica had died. Such a shock – we all lost a good playmate.

    By Henry Wood (11/02/2012)
  • Hello Henry. I am related to the Beal family, my mother had 9 brothers and Olive was probably a sister-in-law. There was talk in the family of my nan, Alice Beal, being in the cinema and helping some people. I will ask a cousin of mine to verify this.

    By Mary Underdown (06/04/2012)
  • Hi Trevor, how’s Barry. I recognised Monica`s photo (Dol Dol) on my daughter’s computer. I stayed with your nan for three years- your nan was my mother’s sister. It was very sad. My Auntie Gert never got over losing her daughter Monica.

    By Pamela Prince (08/12/2012)
  • I lived in Walpole Road during the war and the Odeon Kemp Town was my local picture house. We boys always referred to it as the “Titchy” Odeon to distinguish it from the “Big” Odeon in West Street. I used to walk from Walpole Road to the Odeon Kemp Town. The whole town was “blacked out” and one had to use a torch (shining downwards) to see where one was going. There were no lights showing from the Odeon and one had to open the outer door, then close it before opening the inner door. During the performance a notice came up on the screen if an air raid siren had sounded. Then when the “pips” went another notice appeared on the screen saying “enemy raiders imminent”. As I remark in my comment on the Odeon, the audience did not leave the cinema. It was far more dangerous outside with hot, jagged pieces of anti aircraft shells falling out of the sky.

    By Tony Simmonds (27/02/2013)
  • My uncle, Stanley Baldwin, was in the cinema and was killed on this sad day. The family lived in Whitehawk. He was 14. Does anyone know how many survived and are there any living survivors?

    By Jean Jones (17/06/2013)
  • My Grandmother was working as an usher in the Kemptown Odeon the afternoon of the bombing. She was one off the fortunate ones to survive.

    By Simon Smith (26/10/2013)
  • I was in the Odeon when it was bombed. I survived with a piece of shrapnel in my head. I am now 83 living in NZ. I remember playing football with Henry Wood although I don’t have an e/mail address for him.

    By Terry Shorter (24/09/2014)
  • My Nan, Doris Peacock, was the landlady of the nearby Masons Arms, at the time of the bombing. Medical staff from the Royal Sussex County Hospital ran to the scene and Nan supplied them with an armful of tea-towels for use as bandages.  Her customers helped with the rescue operation.  Bus drivers stopped and used their buses as make shift ambulances, ferried the injured up to the hospital.  It must have been a scene from Hell.  Little children had metal springs from cinema seats that had been blown to pieces embedded in their bodies.  One badly injured boy, Alan West from Whitehawk, later became my Nan’s son-in-law. Does anyone remember Doris Peacock, Alan West or The Masons Arms?

    By Suzie S (26/09/2014)
  • I lived in 23 Sudeley Street in 1940 when the Odeon was bombed. The house is opposite the back of the cinema where the bomb exploded. I was in my pram on the street and survived! My father told me he helped survivors to the hospital at the top of Paston Place. I went to St John the Baptist Primary School and then to Varndean Grammar.  I now live in New Zealand.  I have lots of memories of Brighton.

    By Derek Hawes (27/01/2015)
  • I am very pleased to read these stories about my cousin Monica, It must have been horrendous at the time for my Aunty and family and all of those families that lost loved ones. Having lived in Australia for the past 46 odd years I have lost contact with various family members, but appreciate this story being revived and an ongoing remembrance.

    By Sheila King (19/02/2015)
  • Came across this site. My Dad, Robert Matthews, was young projectionist working when the Odeon was bombed. He volunteered the next day; his mum was not best pleased! He said “well the Germans put me out of work!”, so he went into the R.A.F

    By Michael Matthews (09/03/2015)
  • Hello everyone who follows our great web site, I know I have made a few entries on the bombing but today is the 75th year. My father, also Ken Mcneill was one of the lucky ones this day 75 years ago. Yesterday it was his 84th birthday, he still gets about and we all had a great birthday meal with him. The subject of the Odeon was the topic he told me he will never forget, it seems it was only yesterday. God bless those kids and other patrons at the Odeon.

    By Ken Mcneill (14/09/2015)
  • My name is Lawrence Flowers and at the time of the Odeon bombing, in which poor Monica died, my mother Christine Alexander lived in Whitehawk Road with her parents and her sister June and brother Geoff. Mum would have been aged 10 then and I remember her mentioning a friend from the time named Eileen Diplock(?) – was she a relative of Monica’s? Mum unfortunately passed away in 2014.

    By Lawrence Flowers (15/02/2016)
  • Hello everyone, it’s been a long time since my first comment on the Odeon raid but as family this is a much spoken topic. My dad Ken Mcneill was one of the lucky ones this very day 14 sept, 81 years ago he had his 90th birthday yesterday 13th sept & we had small gathering to mark this occasion. Dad lives with us in Shoreham-by-sea still and has a car which he loves.

    By Kenneth Mcneill (14/09/2021)
  • My Mother was in the Cinema at the time of the raid along with my Elder Sister. My Mother nearly lost her left leg as a result of the Bombing and her knee cap had to be removed. Despite a lifelong limp she was stoical about what happened, my Sister fortunately although only six was not injured physically but had Nightmares about the incident for years afterwards.

    By John Lee (07/04/2024)

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