Idea for part of Alt Brighton graphic novelBy Donald Shier
One part of Brighton's history that is perhaps not so well known as it might be, is the often amazing and horrifying events that took place in World War Two. My idea for a story is based on appaently real events although brought together into one short period of time, for the purpose of drama and narative convenience. I believe this tale will work well because of the extreme and unlikely nature of the events, and the dramatic contrast with the popular image of Brighton as a generally safe and peaceful place.
The story describes an afternoon if the life of three urchins; A brother and sister from Brighton; 12 and 7 respectively and another girl aged 12 who is an evacuee from London. (children were initially evacuated to Brighton before the authorities realised that it would be a target for bombing and worse). They live in a slum terrace off Carlton Hill. Their family has saved up for them to go to the cinema. The three children set off for Kemptown. But on the way they realise that one of them has seen the film before and the others are persuaded to instead go for a walk on the downs. They detour up to the race course.
At the end of this they come to the barbed wire fence that has been erected around Brighton by the government, and have to turn back ( unbelieveably the authorities penned the people into the town to keep them from leaving in the event of an invasion!) At the top of Sheepcote Valley they hear a loud engine noise that increases mysteriously since there is nothing in sight to cause it. Suddenly a small German aeroplane zooms up out of Sheepcote valley, so low that it causes them to throw themselves to the ground in terror. This was apparently an regular occurance. The plane then wheels down over Kemptown, machine gunning the streets as it goes; apparently also a regular event. A sequence of images of these occurances would be quite dramatic. The plane drops it's bomb in Kemptown, hitting the cinema the children would have been in. They discover this as they walk home via Kemptown, where considerable death and destruction was caused in this incident.
What is bizarre about these apparently true events was that they were allowed to occur. Why were people in a cinema during a bombing raid? How could a government fence in it's own citizens to keep them in a place that was being invaded?
After passing by the scene of the destruction of the cinema, the children return home to Carlton Hill. Their mother is frantic having heard of the cinema disaster and then massively relieved at their safe return. Being poor, she sends the children out again to go the municipal vegetable market, down the road in Circus Street, to scrounge some cabages for dinner. Some comic scenes are played out here where one child distracts the market workers while the others run off with the veg.
On the way back another plane zooms overhead and releases a bomb. The children this time watch as the bomb bounces off a roof of a house on the corner of John Street and then flys in through the first floor window of the market (This incredible incident is in a little book of the history of Brighton in the War, as are some of the others mentioned above). The bomb then proceeded to skid along the whole lenght of the building without exploding, to fly out of the window at the other end and then blowing up a house in Morley Street ( As I type this I am wondering if I imagined reading the account of this incident, since it seems most unlikely) The market building is about 100 meters long and this would provide a nice sequence of images of people sorting vegetables one after another watching the bomb skid past them.
The narative of the children's adventures could do with more development and is more a device to allow for the dramatisation of some of the horrifying events that took place in Brighton during the war. And the seemingly upreparedness or ruthlessness of the authorities. One possilbe ending to the story could be the parents going to the town hall to demand that the children be evacuated, and it could end with them setting off for Yorkshire or somewehere like that.
Even if this is not good enough to be included in the book, I hope that some of the amazing stories and images from the war will be put in.
This page was amended on 09/04/2014