Memories of Brighton in the Second World War

This week, to commemorate Remembrance Day, our Heritage Volunteers have been exploring what life was like for ordinary people in Brighton during the First and Second World Wars and the part that Brighton Dome played in their stories.

During the Second World War, Brighton Dome played an important role in boosting morale in Brighton. Twice weekly dance lessons for allied soldiers provided an opportunity to focus their attention away from combat, to express themselves and have fun. Regular Saturday night dances provided an opportunity for soldiers and locals to ‘Dance Away Their Dumps’ as the advertisements for the events proclaimed, to escape from the worries of the times, into music, dance, enjoyment and perhaps a little romance.

Here is a selection of personal memories that paint a picture of daily life in Brighton and the role that Brighton Dome played in providing a little hope and joy in dark times.

Barbara Chapman b.1927, Brighton teenager, taken from Boxing Day Baby

''Milly and I started to go dancing, we were under age but no one took much notice. We used to enjoy going to the Dome, which had a lovely sprung floor. They had different bands, Joe Loss, Stanly Black, Douglas Reeve played our lovely organ, we also went to the Regent Ballroom, where Syd Dean played, and in Sherrys Dance hall…We met Australians, South Africans, Americans and French Canadian servicemen… Our English servicemen were very jealous of the foreigners who were handing out nylon stockings and chocolate to the women.''

From Brighton Behind the Front: Photographs and Memories of the Second World War

Phyllis Turner recalled

“We used to go to the Dome dancing sometimes when my husband came home on leave; a shilling, I think it was. It would be absolutely choc-a-bloc; you were dancing with all of them, not just your partner.”

“Douglas Reeve did a good job on his organ. Sometimes we used to have an orchestra but not very often. We did all kinds of dancing: ballroom, waltzing, jitterbug, the Charleston, everything if you had the space.”

“It was on practically every night. They used to have to keep the troops entertained; we had such a lot of Canadians. They were a jolly nice crowd.”

Dorothy Charwood remembers

“When the war came along my husband and I moved to Brighton and opened the Charwood School of Dancing; during the war I produced quite a number of shows at the Dome. There was a lovely dancefloor underneath all those seats you see when you go to a concert there now.”

“We started the formation dancing on the south coast. We would only take absolute raw beginners, and we taught them the formations at the same time as we were teaching them to dance. At first there were couples with the boys and the girls, then as each boy was called up there were less and less, so I turned it into an all-ladies formation. That was the only way I could keep the entertainment going for the general public.”

“I had to get someone to make the dresses. My mother made the slips, and the girls were useful by sewing all the sequins on; so between us it was a family affair.”

“It was well received; we used to get the place absolutely full the nights we put formation dancing on. It was like a cabaret during a general dancing evening. The dancers would stand back around the floor or go up into the balcony to watch. I also trained them to do other shows. I used to put on a special show on Wednesday evenings to entertain the troops when they were coming home. I put on a Hawaiian Night or a Rumba Night, and I used to dress them in the costume of the night, using the same girls of course.”

The following account is from Doreen Blake, née Bishop, taken from the BBC’s WW2 People’s War website. It recounts her time at the Royal Engineers Records and Pay Office, Brighton, between 7 September 1939 and 14 April 1943.

“But, out of working hours, we had a great social life, going dancing at The Dome, or The Regent Ballroom, and a good time was had, dancing the night away with so many partners to choose from! Servicemen from all over the world, Canadians, Poles, French, Australians, New Zealanders and our own ‘boys' in the Army, Navy, Merchant Navy, Royal Marines, and Air Force.”

“Syd Dean & his Band played at The Regent, and Alan Green & his Band, played at the Dome, with Douglas Reeve at the Organ, when the Band had a break. Non-stop dancing to tunes like, Tangerine, Room 504, Every Night About This Time, Amapola, and of course In the Mood, great for jiving!”

“Always a lovely happy atmosphere, not too many fights, as that often happened at ‘Sherrys’ which had quite a reputation. As well as dancing there were loads of cinemas to choose from and in spite of the Blackout we all found our way around in the dark, with our torch and gas mask, always at the ready.”

Written by Heritage Volunteer Alison Glasheen