A TWO-year Library Service project to research how West Sussex was affected by the first world war has now achieved all its aims.
It was paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved more than 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 fourth 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. More than 1,200 copies have been sold since August and you can save £2 by buying it from your local library for £12.99 or from West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.
The First ‘Dad’s Army’: Civil Guards and Volunteer Training Corps
Once war was declared a nationwide movement of local defence associations which wanted to protect their communities appeared, spurred on by reports of German atrocities in Belgium, and fear of spies and saboteurs. These groups were formed from men not suited to military service throughout autumn 1914.
The mayor of Chichester, a Sussex barrister and a Worthing lady restaurateur were among those organising local units.
The size and enthusiasm of the response caused the War Office to form these units into a more official national organisation known as the Volunteer Training Corps.
Protecting the Coast: Land, Sea and Air
The war years saw the German threat change from one of direct assault to attack from the air and destruction of shipping by submarines. Although West Sussex was never attacked directly, the county was used as a base for parts of comprehensive national defence systems. An experimental early warning ‘Sound Mirror’ against air attacks was built at Selsey and added to a chain of posts manned by the Royal Observer Corps. Submarine attacks off the Sussex coast led to the expansion of airship patrols along the south coast with a new base constructed at Slindon. A plan to eliminate the submarine threat saw Shoreham used as a construction site for so-called ‘mystery towers’ to anchor a vast channel barrage by the end of 1918.
Local Authorities, Police and Blackouts
In October 1914, the government advised local authorities how to maintain civil order in the event of invasion and emergency committees were set up across the county. West Sussex Police Force was tasked with implementing these emergency duties at a time of falling manpower. Some 94 West Sussex Police officers joined the regular army. The Special Constables Act of 1914 allowed part-time officers to be recruited and men across the county volunteered in large numbers. In February 1918, West Sussex Police Force recruited its first women, as Special Constables.
A night-time blackout was implemented to avoid giving navigational assistance to enemy aircraft.
The first restrictions were put in place in Worthing in October 1914. By the later stages of the war, the restrictions were also a means to conserve fuel stocks.
Defence of the Realm Act and Enemy Aliens
The British government granted itself sweeping powers through the Defence of the Realm Act and the Aliens Registration Act of August 1914.
Within a fortnight, 60 aliens, including 50 Germans, were registered with police in Worthing and more than 100 in Chichester.
In late October, the whole of West Sussex became a restricted area for ‘alien’ men of military age and many people were expelled for the duration of the war.
These new powers sometimes led to amusing misunderstandings, Haywards Heath police rushed to intercept apparent German spies in 1915. The district surveyor was not pleased to be interrupted while planning the site of a new cemetery!