North Laine at war (part 2)

Photo:Piece of an 1808 map of Brighton showing the bottom of Church Street and the location of the infantry barracks that were erected in 1796 to house soldiers  that were part of Britain's defence against a possible invasion by the French. The barracks were demolished in 1869, to be replaced by the County Court, the Slipper Baths (now a nursery) and eventually the swimming pool.

Piece of an 1808 map of Brighton showing the bottom of Church Street and the location of the infantry barracks that were erected in 1796 to house soldiers that were part of Britain's defence against a possible invasion by the French. The barracks were demolished in 1869, to be replaced by the County Court, the Slipper Baths (now a nursery) and eventually the swimming pool.

Photo:Diary of the 6th Battalilan, the Queen's, to which Fred Briggs was attached when he died. The diary records the actions of the battalion  on that day and who else died with him. Briggs is recorded as 1 OR (other ranks) as only officers' names were mentioned in such diaries.

Diary of the 6th Battalilan, the Queen's, to which Fred Briggs was attached when he died. The diary records the actions of the battalion on that day and who else died with him. Briggs is recorded as 1 OR (other ranks) as only officers' names were mentioned in such diaries.

Photo:Daours Cemetery, where Fred Briggs was buried, not far from where he fell on 30 August 1918 near the town of Albert.

Daours Cemetery, where Fred Briggs was buried, not far from where he fell on 30 August 1918 near the town of Albert.

Photo:Plaque erected to commemorate the occasion on which the Sussex Regiment was granted the freedom of the Borough. It's at the entrance to a block of flats given to the regiment for their benefit at No 22 Gloucester Place. This building was badly damaged by an air raid on 29 March 1943, in which 7 residents were killed.

Plaque erected to commemorate the occasion on which the Sussex Regiment was granted the freedom of the Borough. It's at the entrance to a block of flats given to the regiment for their benefit at No 22 Gloucester Place. This building was badly damaged by an air raid on 29 March 1943, in which 7 residents were killed.

Several clues to its military past

By Peter Crowhurst, North Laine resident

Part 1 of this artlcle told how for over 150 years, from the 1790s to the 1940s, North Laine had strong links with the military, being home to army bases, providing men for war, and in Second World War being the target for German bombs.

Clues to this military past can still be seen and contribute to the area's Victorian townscape.

You can read Part 1 here. Now the story continues:

FIRST WORLD WAR

The Great War of 1914-1918 was waged at a huge human cost and many North Laine residents lost their lives fighting.

The reality of war began to hit

The summer of 1914 had been hot and Brighton continued in festive mood until the first casualties began to arrive. With the stories of German atrocities in Belgium and the heavy losses of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Mons and then the Battle of the Marne, the reality of what was happening slowly began to hit residents.

Campaign to recruit more soldiers

On 1st September 1914, 300 soldiers of the Royal Sussex (part of the BEF) arrived in the town to be sent to the Grammar School, Dyke Road, which had been transformed into a hospital. The loss of much of the regular army in August and September led to a nationwide campaign to recruit more soldiers and soon local residents began to join up.

Rudyard Kipling led the recruitment at the Dome

One of the first recruiting events in Brighton took place at the Dome on 7 September 1914. Sussex resident Rudyard Kipling packed out the Dome and the Corn Exchange to make an impassioned appeal for soldiers to help defend France and Belgium and local men like North Laine residents, Harry Harman and Fred Briggs, heeded Kipling's call to arms and joined up to do their duty.

Harry Harman of Blackman Street

Harry Harman was brought up at 3 Blackman Street (part of the original North Laine), one of six boys. His father was a fisherman and his mother died when he was a teenager. When  he left school at 14 he became an apprentice watchmaker at Lawson's in St James St. When war began he volunteered at the age of 19,  joining the 8th Battalion of the Sussex Regiment.

He died aged 20

After training his battalion crossed to France on 24th July 1915 and moved to the front line taking over trenches at Mametz on the Somme. Just two months after arriving in France, Harry was killed at the age of 20, on 25th September 1915 at Loos. On that day 183 men of the Regiment died and few survived from Harry's platoon. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Loos memorial.

William Clark of Frederick Gardens

William Clark was brought up at 5 Frederick Gardens, one of eight children and one of four brothers all of whom served in the Great War. William had joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1906 serving in the colours and the reserve, and when his time had expired in 1914 he emigrated to Australia. When war broke out he saw it as his duty to come back straight away and rejoin the Royal Sussex which he did on 1st November 1914.

He died fighting at Ypres

He went to France in January 1915. He died in fighting in Polygon Wood during the third battle of Ypres on 26 September 1917. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the wall at Tyne Cot. Of his brothers James was also in the Royal Sussex winning the Military Medal in France but he did survive the war. Meredith the youngest brother was in the Royal Army Service Corps, was sent to India and whilst there was accidentally killed on 7th May 1919.

Fred Briggs of Gloucester Terrace

Fred Briggs was brought up in Gloucester Terrace and in 1916 enlisted in Hove. At the time he was 23 and married with two children. Fred served with the Royal Sussex and then with the 6th Battalion, the Queen's, with whom he was serving near the front line near the town of Albert when he died on 30 August 1918. He is buried close to where he fell in Daours.

Florence, wife of Fred Briggs

Fred's wife, Florence heard of her husband's death by telegram the same day. During the war she worked on the trams first as a conductress and then as a driver on the Lewes Rd route. On his death she got a pension of 50p for herself and 65p for her children. At the end of the war she lost her job on the trams and took jobs at a dance hall in Gloucester Place as a dance hostess earning 2d a dance and also taught dancing. Florence later remarried, having met a soldier from the Preston Barracks, and had a further nine children.

SECOND WORLD WAR

The Second World War had a much greater effect on the town than the First World War had had. Whereas the 1914-1918 war saw more military casualties and left deep scars on those involved, the 1939-1945 war took a heavy toll on civilians. Between July 1940 and 22nd March 1944 Brighton suffered 56 air raids, during which 381 bombs were dropped on the town killing 198 people and seriously wounding another 357. More than 280 houses and businesses were destroyed and 894 badly damaged.

Bombs with heaviest impact were not in North Laine

The raids that had the heaviest impact were raids on the Odeon Cinema, Kemptown, and the viaduct across London Road, neither of which impacted on North Laine directly although the Odeon bombing was a huge moral blow as it happened early in the war on 14th September 1940. A total of 52 people died in these raids.

Bomb load dropped to gain height

A German Dornier became separated from its squadron and was being chased by a Spitfire when it dropped its bomb load of 20 bombs to gain height. Two bombs hit the cinema with 300 people inside, killing eight children and six adults.

Viaduct hit in 1943

The viaduct was hit on 25th May 1943 when a bomb was dropped which landed in a nearby road and then went into and out of a window of a house before hitting one of the piers of the viaduct destroying one of the arches. Rails and sleepers were left hanging across a gap but no-one was hurt. Within a day steel girders allowed vital traffic to move again and within a month the arch had been rebuilt.

Gloucester Place apartments hit

In North Laine the raid that had the heaviest impact was on 29th March 1943. The clinic in Circus Street and an apartment block in Gloucester Place were both hit. The clinic at the time was full of children visiting the dentist and pregnant women visiting the pre-natal clinic whilst at 21/22 Gloucester Place  seven North Laine residents (Florence Bettersworth, Philip White, James Eade, Muriel Eade, Hugh Miller-Mackay, Eliza Parr and Verena Newgeritz) were killed. The block was rebuilt after the war and the site given to the Royal Sussex Regiment with all proceeds going to the Regiment's Benevolent Fund.

The station was a target

This bomb was the only bomb to land on North Laine that killed anyone. The station area was a target but only five bombs landed. Kathleen Harman (whose husband Alfred lost a brother in the First War) remembers one of these for at the time she was working at the station unloading goods from trains. One day she was loading jam onto a train and just as it left the station a bomb hit it. Kathleen had to clear up the sticky mess when the train returned to the station. Kathleen lived in Blackman Street just below the station and because her brothers worried about her living so close to the station she agreed to move in with one of them in Carden Avenue. She was soon back in Blackman Street though as her sister-in-law did not make her welcome, and then a few days later a bomb hit Carden Avenue.

A bomb in Elder Street

A bomb also landed in Elder Street near Preston Circus but it must have caused little damage as in an interview for 'Backstreet Brighton' Harry Mitchell just mentions a bomb damaging the street without mentioning any casualties.

Muted celebrations after end of war in Europe

When war in Europe ended on 7th May 1945 there were muted celebrations. The war in the Far East was still going on and people were tired of war. There were, however, some street parties in the area, notably in Upper Gardner Street, but attended mainly by women and children.

 

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 237, November/December 2015]

 

This page was added on 23/12/2015.

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