When our county volunteered to go to war

Recruits for Lord Kitchener's Army leaving Shoreham-by-Sea, September 1914; ''Courtesy of Marlipins Museum,
Recruits for Lord Kitchener's Army leaving Shoreham-by-Sea, September 1914; ''Courtesy of Marlipins Museum,

In the summer of 1914, the British Army consisted of three distinct elements: the Regular Army, the Territorial Force and the Reserves.

The Regular Army comprised a total of some 250,000 men, the majority of whom were recruited and organised in county-based infantry regiments, each containing two battalions of approximately 1,000 men.

In Sussex, the 1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment was deployed in India in 1914 and throughout the First World War.

The 2nd Battalion formed part of the British Expeditionary Force which embarked for France in August, 1914 and served with distinction in the Battle of the Marne.

The mobilisation of the Regular Army proceeded in Sussex in parallel with the embodiment of the Territorial Force.

Territorials and Reservists mustered in Horsham, Worthing, Chichester, Arundel and Littlehampton, and entrained for Newhaven.

The attention of the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, then turned to the recruitment of a New Army of 100,000 men.

In West Sussex, the national recruitment campaign was supported locally by posters, articles in the local press and public meetings around the county.

Volunteers were encouraged to join up in the newly-formed 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions Royal Sussex Regiment and competition was encouraged between different towns to produce the largest number of recruits.

By September, 3,000 men had enlisted at Chichester depot. Kitchener then launched an appeal for a further 100,000 men and in Sussex the campaign for volunteers was led by Colonel Claude Lowther, the owner of Herstmonceux Castle, assisted by Colonel Harman Grisewood, of Bognor, and Hon. Neville Lytton, of Crawley Down.

The men joined the 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions Royal Sussex Regiment, which became known collectively as ‘the Southdown Brigade’, or more familiarly, ‘Lowther’s Lambs’, reflecting the fact that the new battalions acquired a lamb as their brigade mascot.

They had much in common with the ‘Pals’ battalions raised in other parts of the country, with men from the same area joining up, training, fighting and even dying together.

Voluntary recruitment continued through 1915, but did not produce the number of men needed to fill the gaps created by the number of casualties being sustained.

In early 1916, the Military Service Act introduced the conscription of all unmarried men aged between 18 and 41. The Act also provided for the introduction of military service tribunals empowered to grant certificates of exemption on the grounds of national interest, hardship, ill-health or infirmity and conscientious objection.

Conscripted men were posted to wherever they were needed and the county regimental system became less relevant. Altogether, some 50-60,000 men from Sussex fought in the First World War.

• Great War West Sussex: Commemorating the Centenary.

This article by Dr Godfrey is the first in a series which commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

A two year Library Service project to research how West Sussex was affected by World War One has now achieved all its aims.

It was paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved over 150 volunteers.

A new website is online at www.westsussexpast.org.uk

A travelling display continues its journey around local libraries and talks are on offer all over the county. See the website for details of these centenary events.

This is the first in a unique series of articles, each based on a chapter in a new book published as part of the project by West Sussex County Council: Great War Britain: West Sussex Remembering 1914-18 is a 272-page book describing how local people coped both on the home front and abroad.

You can save £2 on the recommended price by buying it from your local library for £12.99 or from West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.