Tale of Chichester in WWI told online for the first time

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

The story of how Chichester was transformed by the First World War has been published online for the first time.

Historical accounts of residents and soldiers were uncovered following a year-long project by a volunteer team led by the University of Chichester.

The reports of how the Great War influenced the city have been released online to help residents engage with the conflict on its centenary.

Dr Ross Wilson, a Senior Lecturer in Modern History and Public Heritage at the University, was responsible for the Chichester in the Great War research project.

“The Great War sometimes appears to be an event that we are very familiar with - we learn about it in school, we watch films and read books about the war, but what happened on the streets of cities, towns, and villages is sometimes forgotten,” he said.

“Chichester was, prior to 1914, a relatively small market community that was transformed by the declaration of war - a conflict fought at home as much as it was on the battlefields.

“The new website details this forgotten history and reveals the cost of the conflict on ordinary Cicestrians who experienced a political, social, and economic change unlike anything before.”

The research project, which concluded last month, reveals how Chichester was mobilised on the outbreak of the war as schools, churches, and businesses were all brought into the conflict.

Archive material unearthed in the West Sussex Record Office also shows that all parts of the city were affected which became a centre of care for wounded soldiers with the formation of Graylingwell War Hospital.

Dr Wilson and colleague Dr Maureen Wright, also from the University’s Department of History and Politics, worked with the Chichester Community Development Trust and a dedicated team of volunteers: Diana Barnes, Coral Botteley, Graham Dewsall, Robert Morris, Nicola Paterson-Brown, Eilís Phillips, Nicholas Shaw, and Kathy Sykes.

The project was funded by the Gateways to the First World War: a centre for public engagement with the Great War centenary which is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Dr Wilson added: “We have uncovered fascinating evidence about wartime Chichester which, from August 1914, was busy with soldiers, territorials, and volunteers who had responded to the call to serve their country.

“This was a war that was brought home to Chichester - the threat of Zeppelin raids made it very real while propaganda films such as The Battle of the Somme was screened in 1916 to show the reality of the conflict.

“We are still very interested in hearing from residents and community groups who may have stories to tell passed down from family and friends about Chichester during the Great War.”

The outcomes of the research project were recently presented at an exhibition in the Novium Museum alongside the launch of a heritage trail map detailing the significant areas of the city which housed the war efforts.

To read more about Chichester during the Great War, including the historical accounts unearthed by the research project, visit

www.chichesterinthegreatwar.com

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