The photo of the ‘mystery ship sunk at Newhaven’ in the Looking Back section of the Sussex Express (July 18) immediately rang a couple of alarm bells with me.
Firstly, I knew that the picture wasn’t at Newhaven, as we’ve never had that style of dockside crane at the port.
Secondly, I knew that I’d seen that picture, and others, like it before. There was nothing in the Our Newhaven files, so I headed off to Newhaven Museum to check there.
As I thought, the photo was there, but there were others and much more information to go with them.
The ship shown is the Brighton (V), which was one of the most elegant steamers ever to grace the Newhaven-Dieppe route.
Built at the famous yard of W Denny, in Dumbarton, she entered service in 1933 as ‘flagship’ of the British half of the service.
In 1939, she was brought into war service as a hospital ship. Newhaven Museum’s records include a transcript of her Master’s record of events in May 1940. Captain B Shaw reports that the ship was in Dieppe from 18th May. There were frequent bombing raids near the ship and it was decided to leave harbour.
However, the lock gates leading to the sea would not open fully.
Local tugs tried and failed to open them, and an offer from Captain Shaw to use Brighton’s own capstan to help winch them open was not accepted.
Brighton was trapped in the basin and was berthed alongside ‘a foreign ship’ (which is clearly seen in the photo).
Captain Shaw’s record then describes more bombings over the next few days.
On 28th May he wrote the following: “6.0pm. Heavy bombing attack without warning; ship was damaged and sunk.
“I do not think she was hit, but that her sides were opened out by concussion of the bombing, which I think bears that out.”
A very sad and premature end to a fine ship, and she was not the only casualty in Dieppe at that time, as the Dover-based steamer Maid of Kent, also serving as a hospital ship, was hit by bombs and sunk alongside the quay in the main harbour.