Service men, enjoyment and no surrender!
Brighton was bombed several times but was not especially targeted, London was the real target, but rather than take bombs back to base the Germans would drop their bombs anywhere. The little Spitfire planes would chase the German planes out to sea where they would have a dog fight. We would cheer our lads if they brought one down and the pilots would do a victory roll. The Royal Air Force worked so hard both day and night, as Winston Churchill said: “never was so much owed by so many to so few”
There were many service men stationed in and around Brighton, the Navy were at Courtney Gate and the King Alfred, the Air Force were in the Grand and Metropole Hotels and there were a lot of Canadians around including in Stanmer Park. My mother had five girls and she told us to be friendly to the overseas boys but not to get too close to them as they were out for a good time for who knows what will happen tomorrow. She said you could not blame them, but it’s you that gets left holding the baby! She told us it’s your life but it would be better to wait until our boys came home and marry someone you can get to know and love, and that’s what I did.
I married a soldier who served from Dunkirk to the Middle East under General Montgomery in the Eighth Army as one of the Desert Rats who chased Field Marshall Rommel. His family lived near my home which was in St Johns Place at the top of Carlton Hill and Sussex Street. John Whitington was in the same regiment with my brother, the 57th field Regiment Royal Artillery. John fell in love with me after seeing a photograph I had sent to my brother and said “that’s the girl I am going to marry” although I had not met him at that time! Bert Haymon (my brother) and John remained lifelong friends.
The pubs were very popular places and there was much laughter and singing which was a real morale booster. I remember going to find my mother and being told she was at the Burlington pub in St Georges Road, Kemp Town, where I learned that pubs would only be allowed a certain quota of beer and they only had a few bottles of sprits. The landlord would only serve them on the hour and the rush to the counter was like a hungry pack of wolves at the bar!
My mother was quite a character (she was part of the Mears family – a large Brighton family). She said (under the threat of invasion) that she would rather walk us all into the sea than surrender to the Germans. We pointed out this would be impossible as the beaches were all covered in land mines and barbed wire and the pier had been cut in two to hamper invasion. She said “well they had better give us guns to defend ourselves with”. The thought of my mother with a gun terrified us all let alone the Germans! But it summed up the sprit of the time. Winston Churchill had said “We shall fight in the streets etc. we shall never surrender” – and we did not.
Lord Haw Haw the German propaganda minister on the radio said that Hitler wanted to capture the Royal Pavilion for himself. Thank God that never happened.
I came home from work one day and my mother said that Grosvener Street had suffered a direct bomb hit – it was near to our home. A young mother and her child had been killed. Canadian soldiers who were stationed in St Mary’s Hall in Eastern Road were digging in the rubble with their bare hands to find survivors, their hands were bleeding and they were very upset. That sad memory has never left me.
Win Haymon was interviewed by Laine Greenland