Rock Street

Rock Street, Brighton.

Bombing on 14th September 1940

Ken Brown: interviewed by Andrew Doig

In 1940, Rock Street Kemp Town, was a thriving local shopping street complete with chemist, greengrocer, fishmonger, and a butcher’s shop. These local businesses served the surrounding streets, including the big houses in Sussex Square, Lewes Crescent and Chichester Terrace.  At that time, many well-known people were living there, including the film actress, Anna Neagle and her husband Herbert Wilcox, the film director and producer.      

16 years old in 1940
Ken Brown moved from Lewes in 1935 when his father took the newsagents shop at 4 Rock Street. Ken sat the scholarship examination at St. Mark’s School and got a place at Varndean College. In 1940, he was 16 years old. At 3 Rock Street, next door to Ken’s family’s newsagents, was Cyril Voke’s butchers. They had an ice box with a motor so noisy that they couldn’t hear the air raid siren go off. George Avis, the manager, had an arrangement with Ken that he would warn them when the siren went off.

The fateful day
That Saturday afternoon, Ken ran next door and called out, “George, the blower's gone!” At that point there was a terrific bang and Ken was thrown from the front of the shop, twelve feet to the cashier’s desk at the back of the shop. Olive Morgan, the cashier was sat there behind her glass window. A bomb had gone off outside 16 Rock Street, which was opposite. There was a terrible smell. “You alright, Olive?” Ken asked, seeing Olive with one side of her face red and the other green. Two bottles of coloured ink on her counter had ended up over each side of her face, but other than that, she was unhurt  

Mum was unhurt
Ken picked himself up and hurried back next door to check that his Mum was alright. Fortunately, his Mum had been in the lavatory at the moment of the blast and was unhurt but dazed from the two bomb blasts, one each at the front and back of the house. Another bomb had fallen at the same time in Kemp Town Place, a mews behind the south side of Rock Street. There at number 8, Jim Rush had been killed along with his 17 year old daughter Marjorie and an 11 month old baby. Josephine Clancy aged 36 also died from injuries in that mews house bombing.

Injured man on the doorstep
There was a man badly wounded on the doorstep of Ken's home. He was a chauffeur for one of the families up in Roedean Crescent, possibly the Earl’s. He went down to the newsagents every other Saturday to pay the newspaper bill, and had been caught on the front step of the shop when the bomb went off. This was probably, the Leonard Jones from 24 Sussex Square, who, according to David Rowland in his book ‘The Brighton Blitz’ (S.B.Publications, Seaford, 1997) died later that day at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.  

All the windows blown out
At the hairdressers shop at 5 Rock Street, the reverse blast had sucked the barber from outside the shop through the window injuring his hip. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life.  Ken’s face was peppered with glass fragments from the blast. All the shops and houses had their windows blown out. 16 Rock Street, where one bomb had gone off, had lost its front wall which had collapsed into the basement leaving exposed the living room which, like a stage set had everything in place, including a vase of flowers undisturbed on the piano.

Chasing off the children
There was broken glass everywhere. Ken had to chase off children who were trying to retrieve sweets from the ground where the 40 large sweet jars from his father’s shop had been smashed and were lying on the floor, along with all the books from their Foyle’s circulating library shelves. Some of these books had holes left by shrapnel passing right through them.

The hospital like 'Bedlam'
Two young American women, twins named Bingham, who lived in Sussex Mansions, were passing in their car and stopped to see if they could help. They took Ken to the Outpatients Department of the Royal Sussex County Hospitalwhich operated as the casualty clearing station. Here, lying on stretchers on the floor and crying in pain and distress, were children taken from the scene of the bomb that had dropped on the Odeon cinema. Parents were frantically searching for their children. It was like Bedlam in there.  

Seven bombs dropped that day
After a VAD nurse had taken all the glass out of Ken’s face with tweezers, he was checked over by a doctor who noticed a lump of shrapnel lodged behind his left ear. They admitted him overnight to remove the shrapnel   It emerged that a German bomber had been chased by a Spitfire and had jettisoned its bomb load over Kemp Town to speed its escape. Seven bombs had dropped in Edward Street, Upper Rock Gardens, Hereford Street, Upper Bedford Street, the Odeon cinema in St. George’s Road and of course, Rock Street and in Kemp Town Place. Several of the sites of these bombings are now occupied by post-war buildings. Twelve people died in the bombing of the Odeon right opposite the Hanbury Ballroom.

Father was a volunteer fireman
At around the same time the bombs dropped in Kemp Town, Ken’s father, a volunteer fireman, was over in Hove where he saw an oil bomb drop. He called the Auxiliary Fire Service control room at Manchester Street to tell them of this, whereupon they told him to get home sharpish as a bomb had dropped on Rock Street. He made the journey to Rock Street in his Hillman Minx in record time.  

This page was added on 30/11/2009.
Comments about this page

Another very interesting story of that terrible day of 14th September 1940. Three bombs also dropped on Chesham Place which is very close by, you can read it here:http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/category_id__1596.aspx. It would be good if someone could piece together all the bombing stories of that day, it would be a very interesting read.

By Peter Groves (01/12/2009)

I would like to express my appreciation for this and similar sites - they are a real treasure trove. I have recently been trying to fill in some of the gaps in my family history. One such gap was the death of my grandfather Leonard Henry Jones. After much trial and error, I finally narrowed it down to a death in Brighton in 1940, although the family had lived in Teddington, Middlesex for many years both before and after the war. Cause of death was "due to war operations", so I had a fairly good idea what that would mean. I skim read this page and got the overall scene, but failed to pick up the most interesting detail. I then Googled - chauffeur Brighton 1940 - and it pointed me straight back to this page and the paragraph 'Injured man on the doorstep'. Now I need to find out who was 'The Earl' and see if I can track down a copy of David Rowland's book - might be tricky from Australia. Thanks again!

By Philip Jones (08/08/2010)

I too have been trying to piece together some family history. My grandmother was Josephine Clancy, who died that day. My father and grandfather had headed to the bomb shelter, but Jospehine stayed behind a moment, warming up some milk for my aunty Mary, only 8 months old at the time. She was under the stairs in her pram, and survived. My grandfather and dad, along with neighbours, dug through the rubble with their bare hands trying to save Josie. My father was only seven, he was shipped off to Yorkshire as an evacuee, the baby was raised by a step-mother, and my grandfather, who was disabled, was sent to Southampton to work in the war effort. Hitler's men quite literally blew this little family apart. When they reconvened after the war, the three of them were strangers. If anyone has any more information on Josie, I would love to know more about her. Obviously I never got to meet my grandmother.

By Lucie Clancy (16/09/2012)

Like so many others on here, I am piecing together the stories of how my family got through the wars.  

These accounts of the Chesham Place bombs fit in well with what my Dad told me.  I don't know the date of his incident, but this fits in well with it.

He was a bus driver going along Eastern Road towards the gas containers, with a conductor on board and an empty bus.

Approaching Chesham Place one bomb dropped in front of the bus and another behind it somewhere.  Both he and the conductor were knocked out for a little while and came to uninjured.  

They carried on driving to the terminus and back to Pool Valley, where they were reprimanded by the inspector for being a half hour late.  

They must have been on remote control - keep calm and carry on. I wonder if there are any accounts of this anywhere?

By Mary Funnell (07/02/2016)

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.