Air Raid, Rationing and More

Photo of canon shells dropped by a lone German plane
Photo supplied by Leslie Richards

The best place to watch a dog fight between British Spitfires and German Planes was on the top of the Brighton Race Course. As kids we would slide down the hill on anything that slid, like a piece of cardboard, an old mat or the back of a wicker chair. Boy! It was fun.

We often went home with torn green pants, which resulted in a clip around the ear from our mum. We realized as we got older how difficult it was to replace them as clothes were rationed with clothing coupons. If you had a new overcoat and shoes, that was your clothes ration for the year. Hand-me-downs were welcome gifts. What would the kids do today eh? When the sirens went, all play stopped and we sat down to watch the enemy planes come over. Along would come the spits and the fight was on. “Get those Jerries,” we would shout and a loud cheer would go up as a Jerry was hit and downed in the English Channel.

Air Raids – no lessons!
War wasn’t a serious thing to us. Almost everyday and sometimes at night the sirens would go off. Of course during the day we were in school and would file out to the school air raid shelters and wait for the all clear. These times were exciting, no lessons, we would read or just kind of hang out. I remember one day when we were on our way home for lunch; this lone German plane came from nowhere and let loose on us with cannon shells. We all dropped to the ground like we had been told to do. Lucky for us that Jerry was a bad shot and missed us. I guess we were scared, but after, all we could think of was collecting the empty cannon shells. I still have 2 of them, solid brass they are, 20mm dated 1944. I polish them up and have them sitting on the front windowsill. Another collectible item was shrapnel, which we proudly showed each other, sometimes doing a swap.

A local pub “The Clyde Arms” in Bristol Gardens was damaged during one air raid and one of the patrons was so upset he stood there and cried like a kid whose favourite toy was broken. Many businesses were damaged during the raids, some badly, but the owners didn’t let it get them down. They boarded up the windows and it was business as usual. Later on in the war came the doodlebugs. These were flying bombs; they looked like a small plane with fire coming out from the tail. You were safe all the time you could hear them but when they went silent, down they came exploding on contact. They caused mass destruction. Most of them were timed to reach London. I don’t think we had any fall on Brighton. Sometimes the RAF had success in tipping the wings before they got very far inland sending them out to blow up at sea. Next came the V1 and V11’s. These were huge rockets and far deadlier than the doodlebugs. The people in London and surrounding areas were on the receiving end of these monsters.

Food rationing was a big part of war life. Everyone had a ration book. The pages were printed out like a grid and listed weekly with headings of Butter, Eggs, Bacon, Meat etc. I think each person was allowed 2oz butter, 1 egg (not often available) and 4oz meat. The grocer or butcher would mark the appropriate grid for the item you bought. There were a certain number of points in the book which were used for tinned goods, such as fruit, Spam, corned beef etc. If you saw a queue outside of a shop, you joined it, most times not knowing what scarce item they had, but it had to be something good or why would people queue?

Games with the gas masks
We carried our gas masks everywhere as it was compulsory. Most of the kids had theirs in a round tin canister. We had a couple of games we played with them. One was to line the canisters up at the top of a hill and on the count of 3 give them a push to see who’s reached the bottom first. Or we would hold the canister by the shoulder strap and whirl them around and around then fling them to see whose went the farthest. Luckily we never had occasion to find out if they still worked. It was a good game though.

The black market with the Canadians
In Whitehawk Road where the library and community centre now stand, the Canadians had their trucks and other vehicles parked, usually with 2 guards on duty. Rolls of barbed wire went around the perimeter. Now here was an interesting place for kids to go to, chatting to these soldiers that had a strange accent and chewed gum. The game here was to crawl through the rolls of barbed wire without tearing your clothes. A successful kid would be rewarded with a stick of gum or the ultimate prize, a bar of chocolate. Needless to say there were many have-a-goers as sweets were rationed as well. As kids do, we started asking for more and it wasn’t long before a small black market existed between the Canadian soldiers and the kids, with our mothers supplying the money or doing some washing and darning in exchange for sugar, butter, tins of fruit, meat and Golden Syrup. I knew one lad whose mother was a dressmaker. He asked the Canadians for a couple of blankets, and his mother made a coat out of them for herself. Sometimes people came into possession of a parachute, these were silk and by unpicking them the girls made slips and French knickers. Very sexy.

Sleeping at school
Living in a seaside town we all had identity cards which had to be carried and could be asked for by a Police Officer in uniform or a member of H.M. Armed Forces. It contained name, address and a number – no photograph though. At the top of Dukes Mound two anti aircraft guns were mounted. These guns were also to be used to blow up the centre of the Palace and West Piers to prevent them being used for an off shore landing. The blasting lasted all one night. It was a school day the following day and we were allowed to put our heads down on our desks and sleep.

Comments about this page

  • Very interesting account of childhood memories of WWII. A worthwhile inclusion.

    By Patrick O'Connor (03/03/2005)
  • Lovely memories of WW2 – it also helped with my research in a project! Many thanks.

    By Megan (16/03/2006)
  • My friend Megan told me about this site because she said it might be useful with this project we’re doing and I didn’t think it would be as good as she made out. But I looked anyway and it is brilliant. Thankyou-thankyou-thankyou!!

    By Melissa (20/03/2006)
  • Leslie’s account is a good one. Another good place to watch the overhead action was the Dyke Road Park and the adjacent playing fields of the Brighton Hove and Sussex Grammar school. If we were nearby when the sirens went off, we would go there and watch the ack-ack guns at work in the school field. The large chunks of glistening shrapnel that thudded down were prized items. We knew the danger but the temptation was too great. The attraction of watching the guns, the planes overhead and the puffs of smoke at great height proved simply too interesting. At times we were chased off by the ‘parkies’, police or air raid wardens but given the chance we would return. Our parents didn’t know of this activity. Later in the war, the Canadian army set up camp in the field a couple of times. I remember the military vehicles parked under the trees at Preston Park and in many other places around town in preparation for D-Day. They disappeared overnight … you know the rest.

    By Dudley Seifert (07/07/2006)
  • I found this a very interesting account as I lived in Whitehawk Road oposite the bus station. I was due to start school at St Marks but because of the bomb damage I actually started at Whitehawk School, the Head Mistress at that time I believe was Miss Reditch. Incidently the doodlebug was actually the nickname of the V1, this was powered by a pulse jet. I understand from my brother ( Stationed at Woolwich) that they had a bigger affect on morale than the more devastating V2 this being because of the nerve racking pause between the engine cutting out and the explosion. The V2’s were so fast that the sound of their arrival came after the explosion. No V1’s or V2’s landed on Brighton.

    By Dave Cresdee (20/09/2007)
  • I was about 4 years old when I came down from Glocestershire to visit, with my mother and grandmother, a relative, Christina Buckley (nee Duggan). The first night we were there the Germans decided to drop in and I’m sure this night was referred to as the “Brighton Blitz”. Next day we returned home – I understand no visitors were allowed to stay during the bombing. Could anyone verify this?

    By Ron.Heslop (25/09/2007)
  • At the start of the war I was nine years old and living at Sunninghill Avenue, Hove. I attended Elen St school. On my way to school I walked past the well known land mark in West Blatchington, The Windmill, which then was in a field, now a housing estate. Quite often we would arrive at school at 09.00 when the sirens would sound and we could be in the air raid shelter all day. If by 16.00 the all clear had not sounded the teachers had to take us home. One night in 1940 or 1941, I can not remember which, at around 04.00 there was a terrible noise of aircraft engines. Thinking it was the Germans I put my head under the pillow and went back to sleep. In the morning my mother said to my father she was sure that a plane had landed in the field at the back of our house. Father went out to investigate. On his return he said that a bomber, I think it was a Whitley, had landed in the field. It was returning from Germany when it ran out of fuel. All seven crew got out unscathed. It frightened the occupiers of a nearby house because as the tail of the bomber swung around it finished up in their back garden with two machine guns pointing at them from the rear turret. We lads enjoyed watching the R.A.F dismantling it over the next few days and taking it away.

    By Sidney Griffiths (09/01/2008)
  • I have just found this page and it set me thinking.
    My grandad, William Albert (known as Bert) Alexander was in the ARP – probably in Hove where he worked or Portslade where he lived. When we cleared the house we found an old air raid warning siren, a rattle (which he had taken to football for 40 years) a fire bucket and stirrup pump – so we think he brought his work home with him! I was wondering whether anyone who knows more about wartime Brighton might be able to suggest places where I could find out more about his ARP service such as what unit he was in. Also the process by which he came to be exempted from the military which we know was on military reasons as he was only 36 in 1940 and a clerk with the housing dept of Hove Corporation. Any useful pointers would be appreciated.

    By Jill Alexander (17/02/2008)
  • I was born in 1934 and went to East Hove Infants. I remember the experience of getting off the bus at the bottom of Farm Road in Hove one day in the late 1940 as the street machine gunning started and my hiding behind some milk churns belonging to the dairy at the bottom of the road, and copping a piece of shrapnel for my pains. After the all clear I ran up to number 22 where I was living with my mother and some of her family (the Gales) semi pleased with my “war wound”. My dad heard about what was going on back home (by then he was abroad) and said “take John up to Scotland to my sisters”, so off we went to the safety of Clydebank!! There, about a month after arriving we were caught in the Clydeside Blitz 13/14th March 1941. So I have very clear memories of two areas of the War. Hope this may be of some interest.

    By John Tester (08/04/2008)
  • I found this article very interesting as I am 10 and have a good thirst for knowledge. I have a small amount of knowledge of WWII and know that the doodlebugs were actually nicknames for the V1’s.

    By Reece Longden (27/09/2008)
  • Leslie Richards passed away in Toronto, Canada with his family by his side on February 19th, 2008. Dad loved telling his stories of his childhood during the war and we hold these storys close to our hearts, as we miss him dearly.

    By Sandra Ebrahimi nee Richards (08/10/2009)
  • During the Battle of Britain we used to stand in Queens Park Road, my parents’ house was in Islingword Place, and watch the ‘dog fights’ going on overhead and every time a plane fell from the sky we would cheer (it just had to be a German plane). Of course sadly without us knowing it, it was somtimes an English plane of course!

    By Ken Burt (01/06/2010)

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