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Brighton in the World Wars

Whilst the early years of the 19th century had brought peace and prosperity to Brighton, the start of the twentieth would, sadly, bring war and destruction.

During World War I, about one and a half million Indian soldiers fought against Germany. 12,000 were injured in battles at Loos and Neuve Chapelle in France. These men were brought to Brighton for treatment, with a number of sites, including the Royal Pavilion and the grammar school, serving as hospitals. 72 soldiers died in Brighton and, according to their religion, were either buried at a specially-built burial ground near the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking or cremated on the south downs north of Patcham, with their ashes subsequently scattered into the sea.


An Indian war memorial (the Chattri, which means 'umbrella' in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu) was built in 1921.

There is an official website at www.chattri.com

If you fancy visiting the Chattri, note that you can't park anywhere near it and it's quite a long walk (uphill) across fields - in wet conditions, you will need boots. The exact location is here. When I last visited it in early 2009, the grounds were being re-landscaped and was, consequently, a bit of a mess.

picture of the Indian war memorial

The Chattri

After the war, many former soldiers decided to become Brighton cab drivers, spending their savings on 2nd-hand cars. The 1920s depression caused the council to restrict licenses, a restriction that remains in place today, although people have tried (and failed) to get around it.

The economic depression wore on and in the 1930s the council decided to create some employment by building the Cliff Walk, a sea-front path from Hove Lagoon to Saltdean. While it did create employment (and a nice walk that we can still enjoy today), it didn't end the depression. That was brought to an end by..

World War II

Brighton used to have a tram network, but it was abolished on September 1st 1939. This was probably the talk of the town and would, perhaps, have distracted Brightonians from events elsewhere in Europe; namely, a bad-tempered Austrian corporal improbably ordering the German army to invade Poland. Britain, of course, would declare war two days later and Brighton, ignorant or otherwise, was not going to come through it unscathed.

Somewhere in the region of 500 German bombs were dropped during 80 air raids on Brighton in the Second World War, causing significant fatalities and extensive damage, including knocking-out a span of the railway viaduct over the London Road.

Even pedestrians weren't spared - just as the French navy had taken pot-shots at Brighton's residents in years gone by, some 17 people walking around town were machine gunned to death by Luftwaffe fighter pilots, which seems a bit off. All of this must have rather miffed the children who'd left their families in London to be evacuated to Brighton to avoid the Blitz.

Despite all the bombs dropped on Brighton, not one hit the Royal Pavilion, leading some to speculate (erroneously) that Hitler planned to use it as an HQ in the event of Operation Sealion, the German invasion of Britain.

Brighton's beaches were fenced off (some of the old gun emplacements can still be seen) and, I have heard, the beaches were mined (although for the life of me I don't know how one goes about mining a pebble beach that changes shape with every tide). The piers were dissected to prevent a German invasion-force using them as landing platforms (although this website reports that the German Luftwaffe tried to blow them up).

Finally, just to really ruin the tourist industry, the military took over the Aquarium.

Still, as they say, it all turned out well in the end. Except for Poland.

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