Monday, June 10, 2013

Smiths in Brighton

It always seemed to me that my parents had a high old time during the war, a great adventure. It also seemed this was their impression, at least in retrospect. They were young, history was being made, the world was topsy-turvy. Exciting stuff. Of course, they didn’t have to fight.

It was a lot different for many others, including Tom Smith, who went ashore at Normandy on or shortly after D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And for Ralph Yull who rode dispatches on the Italian front and saw some of the blitz, and for Robert Smith who, as noted in a previous post, was killed in Italy.

But even those who fought, weren’t fighting all the time, and there was opportunity in England for overseas service people, especially settled office workers, to travel and learn, and cut loose – as many of Betty Smith’s pictures from this period make clear.

On one occasion, three of the four overseas Smiths hooked up in London, probably in 1944. They also took a jaunt to the Channel-side resort of Brighton, along with Betty’s roommate, Pat. Jack and Tom appear to be dressed in identical uniforms in the two sets of pictures, so presumably both occasions were at about the same time.

Was this Tom’s last leave before going to fight? The photos unfortunately aren’t dated. The trees are in full leaf, which could make it any time from April to October. (D-Day was June 6, 1944.) Here’s a selection of the pictures.

This one of Tom, Betty and Jack was apparently taken in London, perhaps just before or after Brighton. I’ve tried to deduce where it was shot, with no luck so far. It appears they’re just standing in the street, with nothing of any particular interest in the background – so maybe near Betty’s flat, or Jack’s or Tom’s billet. There are other pictures of Tom and Jack together and just Tom in the same location.

Now they’re in Brighton. The inscription on the back of the first, in Betty’s hand, reads, “Some park in Brighton. P.S. I think we found a few.” (Jack appears to be checking Tom’s head for lice – presumably as a joke, but maybe not if he’d just come back from the front.)  The inscription on the second, taken at the same time, reads, “Note the blouse, suit and shoes you sent me.” Which confirms these were pictures Betty sent home.

We finally get a glimpse of Brighton in this one. I think that’s the famous pier in the background. The inscription on the back reads, “Brighton in the background – me looking about 6 months gone!” None of the Smiths looks particularly cheery here. Ditto for the next one, apparently taken by Jack, with Betty, Tom and Pat, who would have been the photographer for the other pictures that day. Inscription: “Brighton again!”


  1. Toby Albertson sent this comment, an interesting coda: "My mom often talked about the day that photo of Betty and the boys sitting in the grass with their arms around each other arrived at 2 Horn St. Big boost for the family at home to see three of 'theirs' safely together overseas. It's funny, I have an emotional attachment to that scene, just via osmosis from my mom's remembered pleasure in it."

  2. Dear Gerry,
    Thank you so much for posting your photos. I am a local primary school teacher, and my class and I have been looking at and talking about them with lots of interest. We have a Canadian teacher at our school, and the children were excited to show her that Canadians had visited during the war! We also set to work trying to locate some of the places as an activity.

    I thought you might like to know the locations of the photos of your family taken in Brighton. the 'park' that they are sitting in shows the fountain that stands at a place called the Old Steine. The town's war memorial stands opposite this now. They are sitting to the south-west of it. The photo of the seaside is taken at the steps from Madeira Drive above what was the Brighton Aquarium, which is now a Sea-Life Centre. As a Brightonian, I must tell you that the famous pier you can see is the Palace Pier, and was one of two at the time (the West Pier being the other). Locals regularly argue with the modern owners, who tried to rename it 'Brighton Pier', after 'someone' burnt down the other! The final Brighton photo is taken in 'Hove Actually', east along the seafront past Hove Lawns, where a series of bowling greens and tennis courts are located.
    Rob Whatman,
    Fairlight Primary School, Brighton.

    1. Thanks so much, Rob. Great information to have. I'm saddened to have to report that Canadian school children do NOT learn much about WW2, or at least not when my now grown daughter was there. Cheers.