Brighton 1939-1945

Despite this young pilot's rather disastrous start, he earned himself further press coverage in the subsequent war for shooting dowm enemy aircraft.
Sussex Police Forces
Unknown WW2 Canadian Airman and English bride on their wedding day.
Mrs Pitt, wife of the landlord, pours a pint of beer for a naval officer in the saloon bar of 'The Cricketers' pub in Brighton 1944
Firewomen dispatch riders, Bognor Regis, c1939
Early on in the war, the Regina Rifles were chosen to be an assault unit for the invasion of Normandy, France, known as Operation Overlord. They spent the next three years in England, training for this seemingly impossible battle.
The term 'Cadet Rating' was applied to successful candidates for training for a commission at HMS King Alfred
From the private collection of Stuart Crane
Sergeant William James Avis
Sussex Police
1939. the sandbags were eventually replaced by a blast wall
Sussex Police
This 1942 photograph the Police ambulance with three women drivers of the war time Women's Auxilary Police Corps
Sussex Police
The police and other services deal with a bombing incident at a block of flats off Lewes Road.
Sussex Police
Police Constable Goad instructing police families in gas mask training in 1939.
Sussex Police
Police Constable Frank Moppett leading a Home Guard Parade in Northiam.
Sussex Police
A police presence was required at the apprehension of this Luftwaffe pilot rescued from the sea.
Sussex Police

In July 1939 an RAF plane crashed at Rottingdean, hardly the most auspicious of omens, and war was declared on 3 September 1939. The police forces of Sussex and the other services were immediately called into action but very few could imagine what lay ahead.

Sussex Police Forces Amalgamate

During 1943 all the Police forces in Sussex were amalgamated under the Defence Regulations to become part of the wartime Sussex Police Force under the command of Major John Ferguson, who came from the Metropolitan Police. Sussex Police was disbanded in 1947 and all Forces reverted back to their original status except for Hove Police Force which was never to regain its independence and became part of the East Sussex Constabulary.

Air Raids

Air raids were widely expected; police stations and public buildings were quickly protected by sandbags, anti aircraft guns appeared, the blackout was rigorously enforced, the beaches were placed off- limits and rationing was introduced. What the Sussex public was blissfully unaware of was that the Nazi invasion plans envisaged the dropping of thousands of paratroopers behind the Downs. Fortunately they were equally blissfully unaware of the thousands of Canadian, Allied and American troops who would shortly sojourn on the south coast.

Air Raids, Bombings and Casualties.

During the war there were 56 air raids on Brighton and 381 high-explosive bombs were dropped. 198 people were killed and 357 seriously injured. The heaviest casualties occurred on the 14 September 1940 when a German bomber flew over Kemp Town towards Hove, dropping bombs in its wake, destroying the Kemp Town Odeon, houses and shops in Upper Bedford Street and severely damaging the Hove County Cricket Ground whilst the match was in progress. 55 people were killed and many more injured.

Ex-Police Officers come out of retirement

In 1942, 248 Special Constables were regularly employed on duty with an average of 70 officers on duty each evening. Many ex-police officers were brought out of retirement to replace those destined for the armed forces. William Scales, who joined the Brighton Police Force in 1913 and retired in 1937, was returned to active duty and welcomed the opportunity to notch up a few extra years on his pension. Unfortunately, like so many others, he soon discovered that his extra years in the force contributed nothing towards his pension because they were classed as War Service.

Evacuation from “Bomb Alley”

In Eastbourne the evacuation caused the population to drop from 55,000 to 10,000 in one week. Just as well, perhaps, because the town was on ‘bomb alley’ and a favourite target for returning German bombers to jettison their unused load. Air raids caused over 200 deaths and 1200 injuries. In Hastings 154 people were killed in air raids. The police were also responsible for providing ambulances until the formation of the Borough Ambulance Service in 1948.

The people of Sussex suffered along with the bulk of the population and were perhaps better off than those who coped with the nightly visits of the Luftwaffe. However, as late as July 1943 children were still being evacuated from Brighton and the final raid over the town was on 3rd June 1944. Brighton averaged around one alert every day throughout the four year period.

Royal Navy

Buildings requisitioned

On the outset of war the RNVR mobilised and several buildings in Brighton and Hove were immediately requisitioned for use by the Admiralty, including the newly built (but not yet opened) Hove Marina complex. This building and the adjacent RNR Battery, was commissioned as His Majesty’s Ship King Alfred, and on 11 September an RNVR officer training establishment, the first of four naval units to operate in the area during WW2.

As the Second World War progressed the establishments expanded into other buildings and sites around the area. Numerous hotels, rest homes and private houses were requisitioned by the Admiralty for the accommodation and training of naval personnel. Many local companies came to rely on business from the naval bases for their livelihoods.

Roedean School

By the time it ceased operations in Hove on 7 January 1946, HMS King Alfred had trained 22,508 Officers, who were to form the backbone of the Royal Navy’s sea-going officer strength. HMS Vernon at Roedean had seen over 6000 officers and men, including over 1200 WRNS personnel, attend training courses in torpedo and mine warfare.

Source  The RN in Brighton & Hove 1798 to the present day, an overview By Tony Drury

Many local people remember the two sentry boxes outside the main gate of Roedean School. The Royal Navy kept guard with fixed bayonets. The young ladies of Roedean School sadly missed out on the young sailors as they were all evacuated to Lancashire.

There’s little evidence that naval personnel contributed greatly to the crime statistics, however they certainly made their presence felt as one unfortunate American found to his cost when he threatened a passing petty officer with what he claimed was a concealed gun. The sailor put him down with one punch, followed by several more before it transpired that the only thing in the robber’s pocket was his hand.

Crime – counting pigs

The disruption, deprivations and shortages of war, offered opportunities not only for the criminal fraternity but anyone else who was struggling to get by. The black market thrived and the Police Officers whose beat included Freshfield Road in Brighton had to count the pigs on the local farm to prevent rustling. Strangely as long as the numbers were right, whether or not they were the right pigs didn’t seem to matter. Reported crime levels in Sussex did not rise dramatically during the war although juvenile crime did rise significantly. Vandalism, petty theft, shoplifting, looting and under-aged drinking, especially amongst young girls, caused considerable concern.

Murder at Rottingdean

There were not many murders during the war in Brighton, although one particular murder in Rottingdean is particularly sad. A young man strangled his girl friend and as the police closed in to make the arrest he leapt over the cliffs at Peacehaven to his death.


The arrival of around 200,000 Canadian servicemen brought fresh challenges for the local constabularies and sparkling opportunities for the locals which did not come without a cost. Many of the side effects associated with the Canadians revolved around drinking, brawling, and lovers tiffs which could and did on occasion end in violence and death. However, the Canadians were generally well liked, especially by the women of Sussex, 40,000 of whom accompanied their new husbands back to Canada along with 20,000 children.

1.1 Million Canadians Enlisted

Between 1939 and 1945, 1.1 million Canadians, more than 40 per cent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 45 enlisted. Most joined voluntarily in the first years of war. But as the war continued, Canada suffered great losses, and the government finally brought in conscription.

45,000 Canadians married whilst abroad

Between 1939 and 1945, close to half a million Canadian soldiers trained in Britain. Some 45,000 of them married young war brides while living abroad. The Canadian government did not condone these marriages at first, but eventually provided some support to these young families. The government set up a Canadian Wives’ Bureau and distributed booklets such as Welcome to War Brides, Canadian Cook Book for British Wives and How to Deliver Your Own Baby.

The Americans arrive

The Americans arrived in preparation for the D Day landings in 1943 and the only real significant difference in criminal activity was the use of firearms which unsurprisingly escalated as the war progressed.

Friction between Canadian and American Soldiers

Unfortunately there was no love lost between the Canadian and American military personnel and this frequently lead to fights and scuffles, especially in or around the dance halls. Any event which attracted a significant number of young girls automatically attracted plenty of young men so it’s not surprising that towards the end of the evening the police would gather in large numbers expecting trouble.

Black Market

The Americans were relatively highly paid  and well stocked with provisions and as a result children would gather outside their social club, opposite St. Peter’s Church and beg for chocolate, sweets and empty ‘ Sweet Caporal’ cigarette packets. Such activities no doubt fuelled the flourishing black market.

Police Officers Killed

By 1943, 61 officers of the Brighton Force were on active service and three of Brighton’s policemen were killed by enemy action. Eight West Sussex officers lost their lives during the conflict.

Sergeant William James Avis

Sergeant William James Avis was killed in the course of his ordinary police work. On 26 February 1942, Sergeant Avis of Bognor Regis was called to an empty house in Aldwick, where it was believed an army deserter was hiding. The information was sadly correct and Sergeant Avis found himself confronted by the deserter who pointed a gun at him. He tackled the gunmen and was shot through the head.

Four Brighton officers were killed on the streets of Brighton.

Lawrence Holford

War Reserve Lawrence Holford was on duty in the Lewes Road area on 30 April 1941 and went to visit Allen West’s security guard in his hut in Natal Road. In the course of the evening two overhead aircraft collided and the engine of one of the aircraft crashed down on the hut killing both men.

Harold Stone

PC Harold Stone, aged 40, was a Metropolitan Police officer who had transferred to Brighton Police in 1942. He lived with his wife in Saltdean and was on duty in Rottingdean on 18 December 1942 when he was severely injured by a falling bomb and died later the same day from his injuries.

Frank Barker and Kenneth Grinstead

PC 187 Frank Barker, aged 33 of Manor Road, Brighton and PC 111 Kenneth Grinstead, aged 31 of Freshfield Road, Brighton were both killed in Arundel Road on 25 May 1943 by an exploding 1,000 lb bomb.

William Scales

After the war, William Scales slipped back into retirement on exactly the same pension he had in 1939. In fact the amount of money he received each week was exactly the same as it had been in 1937 and remained so until 1972 when it was finally index-linked.

Historical Consultant David Rowland


Brighton David J Boyne

About 5 or 6 pictures down. You have a Luftwaffe pilot from the sea.’ That is totally wrong, it certainly isn’t a Luftwaffe Pilot, someone assumed it was a Luftwaffe pilot. The pilot is from my favourite Squadron – 602 City of Glasgow. I flew up to Glasgow in 2000 and celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain with them. I am a member of the Association and know a fair bit about them. It needs changing. The pilot is in fact: – Cyril Frederick Babbage, home town being Hay on Wye, close to where I was living in 1985.He was a sgt. pilot and was really involved in the battle of Britain. He was 23 years old when he was shot down twice, once he got hit over beachy Head and crash landed just south of Lewes. Then on the 18th August 1940 (when that picture was taken Babbage was shot down over Selsey Bill by Klauptmann Mayer of 1/JG53 and parachuted into the sea. The picture shows him being rescued and brought ashore at Bognor Regis.

David Rowland

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