Community project explores Chichester’s war past

The Royal Sussex Regiment Memorial Chapel in Chichester   Cathedral, unveiled on November 11, 1921, showing some of the panels naming the fallen of the First World War
The Royal Sussex Regiment Memorial Chapel in Chichester Cathedral, unveiled on November 11, 1921, showing some of the panels naming the fallen of the First World War
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A NEW research project based in Chichester is exploring the role the city played during the First World War.

Led by a team of researchers and volunteers, ‘Chichester in the Great War: Mobilisation, Care and Compassion and Memorialization’ aims to emphasise the important role the city played during the conflict.

The menace of Zeppelin bombers was turned to propaganda purposes early in the Great War. This recruitment poster depicts a squadron of the airships destroying Chichester Cathedral. In fact no such raid took place. Another poster in similar vein showed the bombers blasting Brighton Town Hall. Copies of these posters are in Seaford Museum. SUS-150428-143904001

The menace of Zeppelin bombers was turned to propaganda purposes early in the Great War. This recruitment poster depicts a squadron of the airships destroying Chichester Cathedral. In fact no such raid took place. Another poster in similar vein showed the bombers blasting Brighton Town Hall. Copies of these posters are in Seaford Museum. SUS-150428-143904001

The project is being directed by Dr Ross Wilson, the project’s principal investigator, along with Dr Maureen Wright, the research associate, both from the University of Chichester.

A team of volunteers, led by Ross and Maureen, will be researching and developing the project around its three themes: mobilisation, charity and care, and commemoration.

Maureen said: “I have been exploring the issue of mobilisation in Chichester - not just military mobilisation in terms of the barracks, but also the other areas of mobilisation within the city.

“It’s important to recognise the contributions of the volunteers, the role of the pupils at Lancastrian School, and the contributions from the Chichester Girls Club and St John Ambulance.

Territorials, probably 4th battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, leave Chichester on August 5 1915     Picture: West Sussex Record Office RSR/PH/4/38

Territorials, probably 4th battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, leave Chichester on August 5 1915 Picture: West Sussex Record Office RSR/PH/4/38

“I’m hoping to be able to work with members of the Royal Sussex Regiment and Tangmere Museum to continue this project’s research.”

Ross said: “The issue of mobilisation during the First World War is an important thing to consider.

“The First World War was a total war - it affected the community on an intimate level. We became a society organised for the conflict, altering landscapes, buildings and people. Chichester played an important role in this.”

The project is aiming to provide a ‘community history’ of the conflict for the city, exploring how the war reached all parts of residents’ lives and still persists through memorials today.

Maureen said: “We’re interested in getting as many people involved as possible.”

“We now have a sub branch of the project which we are working on with the Prebendal School in Chichester.

“Tom Bromfield, history and religious studies teacher at the Prebendal School, has been running project workshops as part of an after school project.

“The schoolchildren have been researching the school’s roll of honour.”

Chichester played an important role during the First World War, and had a significance that the team behind the project feel has been neglected in previous histories of the conflict.

Chichester was the location of the headquarters of the Royal Sussex Regiment, which meant that the city was at the forefront of operations at the outbreak of the conflict in 1914, as regular soldiers were deployed and local men volunteered for service in the British Army.

As the conflict developed, Chichester’s Graylingwell Hospital also played an important role in the war as it served as a military facility for injured soldiers from the front.

The Chichester in the Great War project will also explore how the city became a place for care, charity and recuperation, as well as a site of remembrance.

The war was commemorated in Chichester in official, religious, community and personal memorials to commemorate the lives lost and the sacrifices made.

The project is supported by Gateways to the First World War, a centre for public engagement with the First World War which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by the University of Kent.

The centre was launched in May 2014 with the aim of encouraging and supporting public interest in the centenary of the First World War through a range of events, activities, advice and expertise.

Ross said:“Gateways has five regional centres across the country which supports research into the First World War, and they enable direct academic involvement with research projects.”

The project’s results will be demonstrated in a series of public talks at the University of Chichester during the spring and summer of 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme and the arrival of wounded soldiers from the battlefield to Graylingwell Hospital.

The project will also be producing a heritage trail, which will available online and through printed leaflets, an online resource hosted by the University of Chichester, and an exhibition held at the university.

The project will run until July 31 next year, and the resulting resources and exhibitions will be available for everyone to experience.

Maureen said: “Although our personal output will include academic papers, we hope that the volunteers will be able to talk about what they’ve learned during their research.”

Ross added: “We’re hoping that the volunteers will be able to study the conflict from a new perspective, and see the city.

“We are aiming to produce a tour guide map around Chichester, which will highlight some of the places in the city which played particular roles during the First World War.

“For example, the map will show where people registered to sign up.

“I hope that this project will show people how Chichester was transformed by the war.”

The project team are also appealling for memorabilia, letters, photographs, and stories associated with Chichester during the First World War.

If you have anything that you would like to share with the project, or if you would like to find out more about Chichester in the Great War, email Dr Ross Wilson on R.Wilson@chi.ac.uk.

The Chichester Community Development Trust is the project’s non academic partners.

Find out more about the CCDT at chichestercdt.org.uk.

To find out more about Gateways to the First World War visit the centre’s website: www.gatewaysfww.org.uk or email gateways@kent.ac.uk.