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Changing Times | Soldiers of the First World War

NOT ALL the men from this area who served in the Army were in the Royal Sussex Regiment. Many men were drafted in to specialist units or other regiments.


When the Military Act came into force on March 2, 1916, conscription was introduced for the first time, ensuring that every unmarried (or widowed) man between the ages of 18–40 could be compelled to serve in the armed forces. By this stage, some men had left Chichester to work elsewhere and were drafted into other regiments.


Private Alfred Faith was serving with the Devonshire Regiment when their line sustained a heavy bombardment on December 30, 1916. He was killed and is buried in Richebourg, France.


Company Quartermaster Sergeant Robert Ernest Keast Hodge was born in Chichester but, at the outbreak of war, had been living in New Zealand for ten years. Although initially rejected on medical grounds, he was later accepted and served with Auckland Regiment. He was killed on February 5, 1918, his 30th birthday.


The captain of his company wrote to Hodge’s sister telling her that Hodge was killed instantly by a shell at 8.15 in the morning as the men were coming out of the line to move back to the support trench. He was a very popular man with all ranks.


Frank Cutten, of the famous Chichester coach-building family, served in the Essex Regiment. Frank had previously had a successful football career and had moved from Chichester to play for Fulham’s first team (which he did between 1906-07).


He was killed on the morning of March 23, 1917, during the Battle of Arras. His widow was notified about his death in a letter from his commanding officer and was informed that he was killed during a raid on German trenches. His death was ‘instantaneous and painless’. His body was recovered that same night and later buried by the chaplain in a nearby cemetery.


Soldiers sent to the front fell into a routine of being rotated around and undertaking different roles. These included placement in the front line trenches from where offensives were launched and spending time in the reserve trenches where work parties were deployed to maintain the trench systems and repair damage caused by shelling.


In February, 1917, the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment had been at Arras, an area that saw fierce fighting. Diary entries about this time record that because of shelling and sniper fire near the front, a lot of the repair work needed in trenches was carried out by work parties at night.


When soldiers were not in the trenches, they were sent back to billets for some respite but were expected to clean their kit for inspections and parades and train for future action. Diary records from the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment record that the regiment were visited by King George V and Prince of Wales on August 10, 1916, and on March 6, 1917, they were inspected by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.


When men were away from the trenches, behind the lines, leisure activities such as football matches between different battalions were encouraged. One such match took place on December 27, 1916, between the 8th Royal Fusiliers and 7th Royal Sussex Regiment, with the 8th Royal Fusiliers winning the match.


A few men from Chichester were offered commissions. On December 1, 1915, Lieutenant Rowland Thorowgood received a commission. At the outbreak of war, Thorowgood had been among the first to volunteer and by July, 1917, had been promoted to full lieutenant. In November of that year, he was awarded the Military Cross. He died, aged 24, in August, 1918, in France.


Private Terrance Fitzsimons, who was serving in the 9th Hampshire Regiment, was commissioned and received training at Cambridge and Hythe. He was sent to the front but was killed in action, aged 20, near Loos, in April, 1916.


Not all men were killed as a result of direct fighting. Disease and other occurrences contributed to the death of many servicemen. Private Charles Purchase and Private Edgar Jarman were both taken prisoner during the war and died while in captivity in 1918.


At the end of the war, there were many men who returned home injured and traumatised from their experiences at the front. There were many men who had lost limbs and were helped by an organisation started by Field Marshal Earl Haig in 1921 which became the Royal British Legion. However, those who suffered badly with ‘shell shock’ were kept behind locked doors at institutions such as Graylingwell, where they lived out the remaining decades of their lives.


Some men, due to injuries sustained during war, had their lives shortened because of ongoing health conditions. These included Walter Dew, a local postman, who joined the 13th (Service) Battalion in 1915. He was discharged in 1917 due to ‘sickness’ and, despite treatment at Royal West Sussex Hospital, died of his injuries in 1919.


In Chichester, remembrance of the fallen was marked by the erection of the war memorial, originally in Eastgate Square. Between the end of the First and the start of the Second World War in 1939, on November 11, at 11am, the two minute silence was observed to the extent where all traffic came to a stop. The then Duke of Richmond also gifted Priory Park to the city as a memorial to the fallen.


By Pat Saunders, volunteer and Amanda Rogan, learning officer at the Novium Museum


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