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.
A Volunteer Aid Detachment Worker of the time describes the traumatic experience of witnessing the young victims in the Royal Sussex County Hospital:
‘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.
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.
Memories of WW2 from Brighton resident Una Wilson.
Born in 1922, Una Wilson and her family moved to Woodingdean in 1931. Her father ran an exhibition of architectural models at the Royal Pavilion.
On leaving school, Una was invited by the Brighton Corporation to train and join a team of tractor drivers to clear areas of Brighton for agricultural use during the war and later they were incorporated into the Land Army. Una also volunteered as an ambulance driver. She lived in Woodingdean throughout the war and was very active in local drama at the Little Theatre.
Memories of wartime Brighton from Tony Simmonds, who grew up in the town.
Born in 1929, Tony was living in Winchester with his family at the beginning of the war before moving to the Kemp Town area of Brighton in 1942. He attended Xaverian College in Brighton until leaving in 1944 to become a clerk at Lloyds Bank for the remaining years of the war.
Over 470 bombs landed on Brighton and Hove, killing over 200 people.
Although the effects of German air raids were reported, security restrictions meant that the precise locations could often not be published. As a result, we cannot confirm the locations of many of these photographs.