For more information on the Brighton Blitz read Target Brighton by David Rowland
The most notorious bombing raid on Brighton took place on a warm Saturday afternoon on September 14, 1940.
Argus Jan 2013
At around 3.40pm a German bomber was seen being hotly pursued by a Spitfire over Brighton. Over Kemp Town, in an effort to escape, the raider released his deadly bomb load.
There had been no time to sound the alarm, no time to run for the shelters.
In the ensuing carnage 52 people lost their lives. The seven bombs fell in an east-west line on Kemp Town Place, the Odeon cinema in St George’s Road, Upper Bedford Street, Hereford Street, Upper Rock Gardens and Edward Street.
Inside the cinema, more than 300 film fans had been enjoying the afternoon matinee.
Tony Bishop has traumatic memories of that dreadful day. His mother had told Tony and his sister Connie they were forbidden from going to the pictures, but they had gone anyway.
He recalls: “I remember there was a good audience. In the seat in front of me was a soldier. The film was at a point where a door opened and a hand and forearm appeared.
“The hand was about to grab hold of a bottle of milk when there was a terrifying rattle, almost like a shower of giant hailstones landing on the roof of the cinema. In a split second the rattle was followed by an enormous explosion and I saw the soldier in front of me had no head.”
‘Siren going off’
Mr Bishop then remembers sunlight streaming in through the caved-in roof and rescuers grasping to save the survivors.
Ken Brown, 89, was working in a newsagents in Upper Rock Gardens.
He remembered: “I heard the siren going off so I went to warn one of my friends. The next thing I knew there was a huge blast and I was blown behind the cash desk.
“When I came outside there was a man lying there who I believe later died.
“After a while I had to go to the Sussex County Hospital to have glass taken out of my face. There were mothers there looking for their lost kids who had been in the cinema. It was horrendous.”
Machine gun fire
Two years later Brighton endured its deadliest day of the Blitz. It was just after 11am when four Focke-Wulf 190s made a sudden low level swoop from the sea as the sirens sounded. The town centre streets were raked with cannon and machine gun fire before bombs began to rain down.
One struck the municipal fruit and vegetable market in Circus Street. It travelled northwards through the building, killing Stanley Bowles, smashed through the north wall, crossed the street and exploded in the school clinic in Morley Street.
Inside there were a few expectant mothers and a handful of children waiting for dental treatment. Three children were killed instantly in the blast along with the dentist’s clerk.
Fifteen others died that day and buildings including a motor showroom, a cafe and a small block of flats were reduced to rubble.
Spitfires from the Biggin Hill airfield were soon pursuing the raiders. One of the German planes, piloted by 21-year-old Joachim Koch, was shot down over the sea 500 yards off Brighton beach.
Koch’s body washed ashore at Ovingdean nearly a month later. He was buried with full military honours at Bear Road cemetery.
For more information on the Brighton Blitz read Target Brighton by David Rowland, available at David’s Books in Sydney Street and from Finsbury Publishing.