VE Day 2020

Brighton had a semblance of being “all dressed up and nowhere to go this morning” when red, white and blue was draped on practically every person and building but the people did not seem particularly disposed to celebrate. Everyone seemed happy but not in a boisterous mood.’ The Evening Argus reports on VE Day scenes in Brighton on 8 May 1945

75 years ago, people in Britain started rebuilding, reopening and re-emerging after the devastation of the Second World War. People came out into the streets together thankful for the start of a new road to peace. A sense of relief rather than jubilation and a feeling that a new ‘normal’ would need to be built.

What are you doing this VE Day bank holiday? On this anniversary of VE Day we are unable to gather together in the same way. The Covid-19 crisis keeps us confined to our homes, separated from friends and family and trying to work out how we will rebuild our own worlds.

Everything we know about VE Day and Brighton and Hove during the war and after is from researching photographs, newspapers, diaries, oral histories and letters. Everyday personal testimony and stories from those who lived through such experiences are key to our understanding of the past and planning the future.

The same is true of the crisis we are living through today, in 2020. One day, people in the future will be using our diaries and photographs, letters and recordings to try and understand what we are experiencing. It is our opportunity to contribute to this future understanding. To find out more about organisations that are collecting our contemporary Covid-19 experiences visit Mass Observation Archive or Museum of Ordinary People


See and hear a unique take on the lockdown period with photographs by local photographer JJ Waller and a podcast capturing voices appreciating the outdoors by Growing Wild

Reflections on War blog

In a new blog, Beth Burr, Programming Assistant, revisits thoughts and feelings of visitors from the 2014 War Stories exhibition at Brighton Museum. Some of the feedback left on the exhibition Memory Tree resonates strongly with the strange times we are currently living through. Read it here


Did you know?

Some surprising facts about Brighton & Hove’s experience in WW2.

  • The first air raid warning in Brighton sounded at 11:17am on 3 September 1939
  • The first raid actually happened on 15 July 1940
  • There were 56 raids in total
  • The last raid happened on 22 March 1944
  • 381 high explosive bombs were dropped over Brighton and Hove, plus many, many incendiary bombs
  • The air sirens sounded 1058
  • 198 civilians were killed; 357 seriously injured; 433 slightly injured (988 total)
  • Over 5,000 houses were damaged and approximately 200 completely destroyed

  • Brighton’s Air Raid Precautions (A.R.P.) service led the way in Britain in their response to raids. They were the first to place observers on high points in the town to quickly identify the position of incidents, a practice that was soon copied elsewhere.
  • The town also pioneered setting up liaison centres near new bomb sites rather than making displaced people go to a central office.



The United Nations in Brighton & Hove

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the United Nations (UN) has issued a 6.7 billion dollar appeal to help at risk countries through the coronavirus crisis and avert possible famines. Since its formation in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UN has strived to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights.

Within weeks of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, Brighton welcomed delegates from all over the world to the latest International United Nations Conference. From 16 June to 9 July 1953, an ‘International Parliament of the Air’ gathered under the flag of the UN to discuss matters affecting the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and operation of worldwide air transport.

Buildings comprising the Royal Pavilion Estate including Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Dome and Corn Exchange were chosen as the venue.

Brighton Corn Exchange during United Nations conference, 1953

The Royal Pavilion too was requisitioned for the purposes of the conference, only after many of its contents were removed and stored safely away – quite the challenge for museum staff we suspect! The Duke of York’s and the Duke of Clarence’s bedrooms now became offices for the president of the ICAO.

Duplicating machines and a typing pool were set up outside the Prince of Wales’s bedroom. The King’s apartment was occupied by the UN’s Assistant Secretary General, the Minister Transport and Aviation.

Photographs taken by the Ministry of Works give an insight into how some of the buildings were used. Seeing the museum’s galleries laid out with tables and chairs complete with jugs of water and ashtrays is probably enough to give some of our conservation staff nightmares.

In all, 59 nations were represented at the conference. This reportedly rose to 60 when the Soviet Union sent a two-man observer team at the last moment,
apparently ignoring an invitation to attend in the months previous.

The city continues its associations with the UN. The Brighton, Hove & District United Nations Association Branch campaigns to promote the work of the UN and many organisations across the city celebrate Human Rights Day on 14
December, the day the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The University of Sussex has its own Model United Nations which simulates
debates that occur in the UN and alumni of the city’s two universities have gone on to work for the organisation.