First Drowning

Brighton beach, packed with holiday makers during the spring of 1940, the beach was closed to the public in June 140 when work on anti-invasion defences began. Palace Pier can be seen in the background, a section of the walkway has already been removed to prevent the pier being used to land troops; the beach was soon blocked with obstacles and mines as part of the anti-invasion defences.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Photograph taken around 1950
Saltdean. This photograph was taken in about 1938.
Present day Brighton Coroners Court
Photograph taken soon after the undercliff walk was completed in 1933. Because of the high tide, the flint shingle beach is mostly submerged.

The beaches in Brighton were opened after the war on the 24th March 1945, once they had been cleared of the mines that had been buried there for the war.

The local people thronged down to the beaches, enjoying their new found freedom. It wasn’t very long before they were joined on the beaches by many holiday makers who were making their first visit to Brighton for about five years. The trains were soon bringing hundreds of holiday makers to Brighton. As the years went by it would be thousands of visitors coming to Brighton either for a holiday or just as a ‘day tripper.’

Many children under the age of 6 years who lived outside of Brighton had never seen the sea and they just stood and stared at first, in total bewilderment, not really believing what they were seeing. However, they could be forgiven for not knowing the dangers the seaside hold.

This, sadly, led to the first drowning at Brighton after the war.

On Monday 16th April 1945, less than a month after the beaches had been opened, this sad event occurred. The family had looked forward to this visit to the seaside for a long time, the parents telling their children that they would take them to Brighton to enjoy a ‘day at the Seaside’.

Major Bewes and his wife, together with their four children and one of their niece’s, travelled down from Ruislip in Middlesex to spend the day in Brighton. Firstly, they made their way to Rottingdean to look around the village and to visit the famous pond. After that they enjoyed a walk along The Undercliff to Saltdean. The children were enjoying their time on the beach. The two adults had explained the dangers the sea could cause and every so often warned the children about getting too close to the sea.

It was close to high tide when the sea is at its most dangerous, and during the afternoon the sea developed some large waves which started to get a bit rough. Arriving at Saltdean, the family made their way onto the beach and settled down. They again warned the children not to go too near the water’s edge. The children were enjoying just sitting on the beach at first and throwing beach stones into the water.

However, that became a little boring. Then Paul, aged 9 years and his elder brother John, ventured down towards the water’s edge. The adults once again warned them not to go too close to the water and kept an eye on them.

Don’t go too close to those larger waves.

Later the father reported that he watched the children as they played and they appeared at that stage to be quite safe, but after a few minutes the waves started to appear larger. The children would run up the high beach to avoid getting wet and were laughing and enjoying themselves. Again the Parents warned them not to go too close to the larger waves.

The father, by this time had stood up and was closely watching the children. He was still watching them when a large wave caught them and they got quite wet. They didn’t laugh so much this time as, apart from feeling uncomfortable, they wondered if they would be told off for getting so wet.

They started to laugh at each other remarking just how wet the others were. They ran back down the beach and just as they did, an exceptionally large wave caught Paul and dragged him into the sea. John, the older brother, immediately went into the sea to help Paul, calling for dad at the same time. But John was also dragged into the sea and out of his depth. A bystander, Mr. David Briancourt, immediately went into the sea and succeeded in saving the older boy, John and getting him back to safety. There they performed resuscitation on him. Mr. Briancourt was too exhausted to go back into the sea for the younger boy. Various people, including the boy’s father, tried but it was all in vain. The boy had disappeared from sight. He was lost. His body was later recovered from the sea.

The full story was later recalled at the Inquest, held at Brighton Town Hall, when the Coroner, Mr. Charles Webb said that the accident occurred at the time of an exceptional high tide, with large and heavy waves.

It was reported that there were no warning signs along that stretch of beach warning people of the dangers. The Coroner, at the end of the Inquest, expressed his condolences over the sad events and told the family they had his sympathies. The Inquest then concluded with the result being ‘Accidental Death.’

David Rowland – Author and Researcher.


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