At the beginning…
On the outbreak of war many thousands of men flocked to enlisting centres to sign on for service in the army, air force or navy. The population was confident that the war would be won and optimistic that it would be short-lived. Colonel Claude Lowther, owner of Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex, immediately set up recruiting offices in major south coast towns in order to raise a battalion of Sussex men. There was a patriotic fervour and men rushed to enlist and eventually three battalions were formed, initially called 1st, 2nd and 3rd South Downs Battalions, later renamed 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions Royal Sussex Regiment. They were nicknamed ‘Lowther’s Lambs’ and were the closest thing to a ‘Pal’s Battalion’ for men of Sussex. Sadly many of Lowther’s Lambs’ were slaughtered and their names are recorded on village and town memorials throughout Sussex. Out of a total of 54 men named on Keymer and Clayton’s war memorials 16 men were from the Royal Sussex Regiment.
Within weeks of the start of the war the local weekly newspaper The Mid Sussex Times began printing lists of those who had joined up as well as the first casualties. Eventually the enlistment details ceased to be published as the fatalities list grew ever longer over the ensuing weeks, months and years. Parishioners of St Cosmas and St Damian Church at Keymer were encouraged to record the names of their loved ones who had pledged to fight ‘For God, King and Country’. A tablet was erected in the south aisle and a temporary list of those serving was added.
At the end…
In the final days of the war the local Elizabethan mansion, Danny House in Hurstpierpoint, became the regular meeting place of the Imperial War Cabinet. Meetings were held in the Great Hall, where on 13 October 1918 terms of the armistice to be offered to Germany at the end of the Great War were decided.
Peace finally came on 11th November 1918 and the Mid Sussex Times reported:
When the news first came through yesterday morning that the Allies’ armistice terms had been accepted, some people were inclined to doubt it and the question ‘is it true?’ was frequently put. As mid-day approached it was officially ascertained that the news was true, and very soon the Church bells were ringing and flags were hung out everywhere.
To know that the voices of the guns had been silenced and that no longer were our gallant men being called upon to lay down their lives in their country’s defence was like lifting a ton-weight from the mind.
Villagers turned out in force to celebrate with a Victory March.
Even towards the end of the war people were already considering how best to commemorate those who had died during the conflict. On a local level consideration was given to church rooms, parish rooms, recreation grounds, plaques and war memorials.
It wasn’t long after the Armistice was signed that communities began in earnest to make decisions about how they could commemorate those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. The Mid Sussex Times of 10th December 1918 reported on a parish council meeting at Keymer at which the suggestion was made that: ‘something ought to be done in that place to perpetuate the memory of the 30 young fellows who had ‘gone under’ in the war.’
A suggestion was made that : ‘they should go back to the old idea of having a recreation ground and they might have a tablet or something of that kind erected. A recreation ground was badly needed especially for the children.’
An alternative suggestion was for ‘a Parish Room so that they might have it for meetings, thoroughly independent and undenominational and let it and use it for the recreation of the young.’
Neither suggestion was taken up and a silver granite cross was erected below the church in a prominent position by the Keymer Road. The procedure for having a name added is unclear but presumably villagers were asked to submit details to a body, probably the Parish or Church Council. Some men are recorded on both Keymer and Clayton memorials. Clayton chose a lych gate and the names are inscribed on the cross beams of the roof.
Garden of Remembrance, Adastra Park
Hassocks resident Edward Stafford lost his eldest son Ewart in 1917 and at the end of the war he drew up plans for a Garden of Remembrance. In 1999 the Mid Sussex Times re-printed an article from 1924:
He chose a strip of land fronting Keymer Road that had once formed part of the garden to his villa. Mr J Charlton from Tunbridge Wells was selected as the designer and the garden opened to the public in 1924. No expense was spared. A finely carved lych gate was reflected in a shallow pond by the western entrance and a central path through the garden led to an Italian pergola covered with roses and wisteria. In the centre of the pergola, was a bird bath with a bronze figure, whose hand held a bird poised for flight. Carved around the rim of the bird bath were the words ‘The bird of life is on the wing’ and ‘Ewart Stafford, Abbeville, 1917.’ Further along the path was a sundial, bearing the message, ‘After darkness, light.’ The pathway ended with a large wooden shelter containing seats. The names of the fallen were carved in the timber, with the inscription ‘When peace returns to the countryside, our thanks shall be to the lads who died.
‘a central path through the garden led to an Italian pergola covered with roses and wisteria’
‘A finely carved lych gate was reflected in a shallow pond by the western entrance’
‘In the centre of the pergola, was a bird bath with a bronze figure, whose hand held a bird poised for flight. Carved around the rim of the bird bath were the words ‘The bird of life is on the wing’ and ‘Ewart Stafford, Abbeville, 1917.’
‘The pathway ended with a large wooden shelter containing seats. The names of the fallen were carved in the timber, with the inscription ‘When peace returns to the countryside, our thanks shall be to the lads who died.’
The wooden shelter was vandalised and not much remains of the original structure. Only 18 names remain carved into the wooden supports of the shelter and even they are swiftly being eroded. Sadly Ewart Stafford’s name is not one of them. New brick seating has been built with stone tablets showing those who died.
There is a partially eroded inscription on the wooden shelter which I have used as the title of my research. ‘ Live Ye For England, We For England Died’
Edward Stafford’s generosity did not stop there. He donated his villa to the Salvation Army as an ‘Eventide Home’ calling it Villa Adastra, and it is still sheltering the elderly today. He also donated six acres of the garden to the village for the creation of a recreation ground, called Adastra Park, which is the green lung of the village today. The name ‘Adastra’ was created from the motto of the Royal Flying Corps ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’, (Through Adversity to the Stars). He later left another of his homes, Stafford House, to the village too.
St George’s Chapel in Chichester Cathedral was rededicated as the Memorial Chapel of The Royal Sussex Regiment on 11th November 1921. Panels on the south and west walls of the chapel record men of all ranks and all regiments who fell in World War I, a total of 6,800 names.
The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey
During my research I discovered an interesting link between Hassocks and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, London. The link is through Ewart Stafford whose uncle, Frank Owen Salisbury, was an artist of great national repute. Over the years he painted royalty and many other famous people. He was known as “Britain’s Painter Laureate”.
He painted a portrait of his nephew Ewart in the uniform of the Royal Flying Corps.
Another sitter was Alderman J E Stafford, Mayor of Brighton, Ewart’s grandfather.
After the end of the war a national memorial was built, namely the Cenotaph, on Whitehall in London. Frank Salisbury was, by Royal Command, commissioned in 1920 to record a solemn occasion of national importance, the burial in Westminster Abbey of the Unknown Warrior. The body, service and rank unknown, had been disinterred from where he had fallen and brought to England. On 11th November 1920 his coffin was taken by gun carriage through the streets of London accompanied by Field Marshalls and Admirals. At the newly erected Cenotaph the procession paused while the King unveiled it at 11am.
The procession then proceeded to Westminster Abbey which was filled with Royalty, Members of Parliament and members of the Military. The vast majority of the congregation though was made up of widows and mothers who had lost their husbands and sons. One hundred holders of the Victoria Cross lined the nave. The coffin was placed in the grave together with hundreds of bags of earth from all the main battlefields and the grave was completed with a black granite slab, a gift from Belgium.