£90,000 grant for a Sussex First World War project

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West Sussex Library Service is being given a grant of almost £90,000 to launch a project charting the impact of the First World War on residents. The grant comes from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and coincides with the approaching centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The Library Service will be working with the County Record Office plus volunteers, teachers, schoolchildren and students to create a vivid picture of how towns and villages, families and individuals were affected by what was called ‘the war to end all wars.’

A major focus of the project will be to create 40 case studies telling how the war affected people in different ways - from servicemen to those on the home front. The project will delve into the family backgrounds of local people involved, and try to discover their fate. Domestic issues such as recruitment, home defence, morale and dissent, internment of foreigners, rationing and the threat of zeppelin air raids will be explored. So will the effect of the war on the towns and villages of the county.

West Sussex schools will be involved in putting together teaching packs to aid further study. County newspapers covering the period 1910 to 1925 will also be digitised, to cover the years leading up to the War and its aftermath

The results of the project will mean a new a dedicated website to help researchers and residents trace family histories, a new book entitled West Sussex at War 1914-18, and a travelling exhibition that will tour county libraries during the summer of 2014.

“We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this grant,” said county council deputy leader Lionel Barnard, who oversees the Library Service. “It means we can respond to a growing public interest in World War One, and the increasing number of requests for information about how local people were affected.”

Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, said: “As we approach the centenary many people want to learn more about the individual stories that will make this world-shattering event relevant on a personal level.”

Volunteer researchers will be scouring accounts from the County Record Office, local newspapers from the period and the extensive archives of The Royal Sussex Regiment. Records show that four servicemen from the county regiment won Victoria Crosses.

Parochial recruitment brought huge losses to local communities during the key battles of the trench war on the Western Front. The regimental history records the heavy casualties suffered by the three Southdown battalions during the attack on the Boar’s Head near the Rue de Bois which was staged as a diversionary tactic on June 30th, 1916, the day prior to the Battle of the Somme. It has been referred to as ‘The Day Sussex Died.’

The Battle of Boar’s Head was fought on June 30th, 1916, at Richebourg L’Avoue. Three battalions from the Royal Sussex Regiment took part and over a period of five hours lost at least 17 officers and 349 men killed. A further 1000 men were wounded or taken prisoner. The following day the Battle of the Somme claimed 20,000 allied lives on the first day.