Brighton’s Deadliest Bombing Raid of WW2

If you look at a map of where bombs landed in Brighton during WW2, you can see that a high proportion of them hit the east of the town. 20 of those bombs struck on a single day: 14 September 1940.

The air raid

The raid took place at around 3.30pm that afternoon. A German Dornier bomber was chased by two British Spitfire fighter planes over the town. It is believed that the German pilot dropped his remaining bombs in quick succession in order to lose weight and outrun his pursuers.

The bombs hit the Kemp Town area of Brighton. Two hit the Odeon cinema, which was full of adults and children watching a matinee movie.

Scene of bombed interior of a cinema. collapsed roof and debris on the floor.
Interior of Odeon cinema after 14 September 1940 bombing.

A Volunteer Aid Detachment Worker of the time describes the traumatic experience of witnessing the young victims in the Royal Sussex County Hospital:

Transcript
‘The worst thing we had, really, was when they hit the cinema for children on a Saturday morning. That was horrid.

‘Because the ‘Alex’ was full we had four on our ward. And [I said] to my shame, ‘I can’t look after the children’. You could see the soldiers and that — it’s silly really — some of them were only six years older, they were quite young, about twenty. But to see little kiddies, you know, with bits blown out of them and that…

‘I don’t think, to my knowledge that we didn’t lose any children, other than those who were dead at the time. The County was very good. We must have had a marvellous staff there.’

52 people were killed in the raid, including several children. The youngest victims were two eleven month old babies.

The Odeon rebuilt

Remarkably the Odeon cinema in Kemp Town was rebuilt and back in business by the end of the year. The cinema reopened on 26 December 1940.

View of interior with seat facing the cinema screen
Interior of rebuilt Odeon cinema, December 1940

The rapid reopening of the cinema was encouraged by the owner of the Odeon chain, Oscar Deutsch. Although it clearly brought in revenue and provided a source of entertainment to the people of Kemp Town, it was also a sign that life would be rebuilt after such a traumatic attack.

Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager

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