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:

‘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

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


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.