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Changing Times | Chichester soldiers of the First World War

When WAR was declared on August 4, 1914, many local men readily volunteered to serve in one of the armed forces. They came from all walks of life and were all eager to serve their country.


At the outbreak of the First World War, Britain was the only major power not to start with a conscripted army. However, it soon became evident that the current British Army was not large enough for a conflict of this scale. Although many men volunteered at the outbreak of war, it was suggested that more recruits would be gained if men could enlist and serve alongside their friends, relatives and workmates in what became known as a ‘battalion of pals’.


A local ‘Pals’ Battalion was the Southdowns Battalion which was raised by Claude Lowther, owner of Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex. He raised the 11th, 12th and 13th (Service) Battalions, which became part of the wider Royal Sussex Regiment. More than 4,500 men from across East and West Sussex served with the Southdowns Battalions, known as ‘Lowther’s Lambs’ throughout the war.


At the declaration of war, many Boer War veterans returned to the colours. However, the reality of trench warfare saw a change from their training and experiences. Weaponry had become more advanced, especially with the development of machine guns, gas and tanks.


The Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was formed in October, 1915, in response to the need for more effective use of machine guns on the Western Front. Corporal Arthur Earnest Fletcher served in the MCG and was just 22 when he died at the Battle of the Somme


The German Army first used poisonous gas in 1915 and, although its use was condemned by British authorities, it would later be used by the British due to its effectiveness. Private Gordon Hotston and Corporal Harry Hall of Chichester both died of injuries sustained following gas attacks in France.


Lance Corporal George Sydney Hopkins had joined up in September, 1914, and later served in the Tank Corps, which had been established in 1916 thanks to the development of the newly armoured vehicles for use in battle. In August, 1917, he sustained shrapnel wounds in battle which required the amputation of both his legs and later died of his injuries. His parents received a letter from a nurse at the clearing hospital where he died stating “he was such a splendid fellow”, and “so good through it all”.


The brutal nature of trench warfare meant that the bodies of those killed were often unable to be recovered for formal burial. Private William Harper died in 1915 and is commemorated on The Le Touret Memorial, while Private William Clarke died in August, 1918, and is remembered on the Vis-en-Artois memorial. Both memorials are located in the Pas-de-Calais region of France and commemorate soldiers with no known grave.


The Royal Sussex Regiment raised a total of 23 battalions for the First World War and were involved in several major battles including The Battle of Ypres, The Battle of the Somme and The Battle of Cambrai. Around 7,000 men from the Royal Sussex Regiment were killed throughout the duration of the war.


At the Battle of Ypres, the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment earned the title of “The Iron Regiment” in recognition of their determination and distinguished service as reported by German prisoners of war captured during the battle. Private Ernest Blackman, Lance Corporal Francis Hurst and Private Edward Marshall were all killed during this offensive.


The names of 46 men who were killed at the Battle of the Somme are listed on the Chichester war memorial. One survivor of this battle, and of the war, was Charles Tullett. He served with the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and fought at the Somme in July, 1916. Charles had been part of the group of men from the Shippam’s factory that had signed up in 1914. Unfortunately, 12 men from Shippam’s were killed during the course of the war.


At the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 Sergeant Archibald Cooper won the Military Medal. Cooper had enlisted at the outbreak of war and served in both France and Belgium. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry during a battle in which he was also shot in the hand. He was later transported back to a convalescence home in New Haven, before joining the Royal Defence Corp.


Archibald Cooper died of influenza and pneumonia in November, 1918, at Dover Military Hospital, his body was later interred back to Chichester and buried at Chichester’s Portfield Cemetery. Cambrai Avenue in Chichester is named so in commemoration of this battle. Private Sidney Arthur Ede and Private James Harper, a veteran of the Boer War, were both killed in action during the Battle of Cambrai.


Continued next week


By Pat Saunders, Volunteer and Amanda Rogan, Learning Officer at the Novium Museum


Posted in Lifestyle.