A talk by Ian Everest
On the 20th September we were treated to a revealing and informative talk most excellently presented with many slides and one short film clip. Ian told us that he was brought up on a farm near Seaford and became interested in the history of the First World War, when he began studying his own family history. He visited war cemeteries to follow up the deaths of his own great uncles.
The Western Front. The battle of Mons was the first battle of the war on the 23rd August 1914. The British Expeditionary Force (The BEF) under General Sir John French was part of a much larger French force and dismissed by Germany’s Kaiser Willhelm11 as the “contemptible little army”. They proudly called themselves The Old Contemptibles thereafter. The result of this battle was little more than a delaying action against a much stronger German Army. The French and English forces then fell back to within 60 miles of Paris. There followed a successful counter attack by the French with BEF support, resulting in the Battle of Marne. The Germans withdrew northward from the Marne and made a firm defensive stand along the Lower Aisne River. This marked the real beginning of trench warfare on the Western Front. This line was 460 miles of meandering fortified trenches stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss border, which would take another three years and countless lives before the German army capitulated leading to the Armistice of 1918.
Sussex Involvement. The distance from Sussex to the Western Front was only about 100 miles and therefore Sussex was a key player in servicing the Western Front. Arthur Conan Doyle had come to live in Crowborough; he was 55 and tried unsuccessfully to enlist whereupon he set about forming a Home Protection Brigade to guard bridges and ports. The Home Protection Brigade trained in Maresfield Park which had been owned by Prince Alexander Munster. The main ports used were Newhaven and Littlehampton. Twenty ships a day went out from Newhaven, where 2,500 dockers were employed, these ships carrying munitions, horses, hay and military supplies. Because of the railway line Newhaven was the more favoured. In the early years of the war enlistment was voluntary, many farm workers enlisted some apparently for the incentive of bettering themselves and being issued a decent pair of boots, believing the war would soon be over. One notable recruiter was Claude Lowther who lived in Herstmonceux Castle. At the outbreak of war he raised the “Southdowns” who became the 11th, 12th, and 13th Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment. In all, Claude Lowther together with some notable friends raised 1,100 men for the three Battalions. As well as using posters they went from house to house, often with a doctor, persuading suitable men to join the Southdowns. They became known as Lowther’s lambs. Also in Sussex there were twelve airship stations and many hospitals where the wounded from the Western Front were taken to be restored to health and 90% returned to the Western Front to fight again.
Feeding the Nation. Before the war two thirds of the country’s food had come from overseas and great effort was made by the Germans to sink our merchant ships. In 1917 alone 3,700 merchant ships were lost to U boat action with as many as 40 U boats operating in the Chanel. We were shown a slide of a massive German U boat washed up on the beach at Hastings. In 1917 the Women’s Land Army was set up, agriculture was put on a war footing, horses had for the most part been shipped to the Western Front so oxen were used in a big way for ploughing and hauling carts. Tractors were generally very few and far between, but eventually 5,000 tractors which had been made in Chicago were imported from America. We were shown a delightful short film clip of circus elephants which had been trained to pick up bales of hay and throw them onto hay carts at a farm on the Downs.
The Sacrifice from Wadhurst. The population of Wadhurst at the time of the First World War was three and a half thousand. No less than a hundred and forty nine men from the village were killed during the war, by far the majority from the 5th Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment. A particularly black day was the 9th May 1915 when 24 men died at the Battle of Aubers Ridge.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM