Lindfield and The Great War



In 1914 Britain had a small volunteer Army of 247,423 regular officers and men. They were backed by a reserve of 145,347 ex-regulars, together with 63,933 men of the Special Reserve who had carried out six months training topped up by another two weeks a year. All of these men were available for service abroad.

Additionally, primarily intended for homeland defence, the part-time Territorial Force had 268,777 officers and men. They trained in the evenings and weekends and attended an annual summer camp. Members of the Territorial Force were not liable to serve overseas unless an individual had voluntarily accepted an ‘Imperial Service’ obligation. In the event of war they could be called upon for full-time service. Germany on mobilisation had 3.7 million men.


Lindfield men serving in the Regular Army and Navy were already away on military service. Following the mobilisation of the Naval Reserve, a proclamation was issued on 4 August 1914 mobilising the Army Reserve and Territorial Force, requiring the men to report to their headquarters. Immediately men started to leave the village uncertain as to their future.

In mid-August 1914, a notice was displayed in Lindfield Parish Church porch asking for prayers for ‘the following sailors and soldiers serving in connection with the present war, who are parishioners or relatives of parishioners’. Nearly all those named were from the village, and many were in A Company, 4th Royal Sussex Regiment, Territorial Force, as Haywards Heath, Lindfield and Cuckfield was its home district. At least 16 of those serving had been former members of the Lindfield Company, Church Lads’ Brigade.

Moral pressure to volunteer

Britain did not have the manpower to fight a prolonged war in Europe against Germany. To expand the Army, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, immediately established his New Armies and called for men to enlist.

Men were left in no doubt that it was their moral and patriotic duty to volunteer. The Government launched a massive poster campaign and pressure was exerted from all quarters. From mid-August onward men started to volunteer, many saw it as a chance for an adventure with the opportunity to visit foreign parts. It would be an escape from a menial job.

On the 3 September 1914, a recruitment meeting was held in King Edward Hall, Lindfield chaired by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Sampson, the Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex, who lived at Buxshalls, on the outskirts of the village. The purpose of the meeting was ‘to bring before the men of Lindfield the immediate necessities of the Army’. The meeting advertisement stressed ‘Every man in Lindfield (young or old) is urged to attend and hear how he can assist his country in the present crisis.’

All newspapers were extremely vocal in encouraging men to volunteer. The Mid Sussex Times published this exhortation on 8 September 1914 in its ‘War Bullets!’ column:

‘That your country is a-calling yer, a—calling yer, a—yer!

That there’s a uniform and a gun for every mother’s son who joins Lord Kitchener’s Army.

That if your eyesight isn’t “cocky” and your nerves not poor or rocky— go and do your duty like a man!

That while fighting for the Empire you are fighting for yourself and those near and dear to you.

That in the days to come, if you are spared, you—and yours—will be pleased to see your name on the Roll of Honour.

That many fresh names have been added since Tuesday last.

That very soon all fit young men who have not offered their services to their country in this her hour of need will be branded Rotters.

That one lady in Haywards Heath is urging her friends to “cold shoulder” Blue Funkers.

That the police were on the track of the “Hangbacks” last week—and did good business.

That one morning—it was Tuesday—­­P.C.Walker roped in eight Haywards Heath men before he breakfasted-and seven passed the doctor.

That when the constable set off to his meal his superior officer encouragingly said-You’ve earned your little bit of corn!

That the demand now is not for Terriers but for Regulars.

That Lord Kitchener needs all the recruits he can obtain between the ages of 19 and 35.

That it may be a good thing to love one’s enemies, but there are times when it is better still to know how to fight them’.

The column continued with a further 30 bullet points, all in a similar vain. In one, it noted that Messrs Charlesworth & Co, the large orchid nursery in Lyoth Lane, offered employees who responded to Lord Kitchener’s appeal two weeks wages, with the promise they would be re-employed.

The editorial column reinforced the message, saying, ‘Here and there we have heard of parents and employers cursing, instead of blessing, their sons and men for leaving them to serve their King and country. Their names are before us, and we should like to see them receive a bayonet, instead of a pen, thrust.’

The front page of the same edition carried a poem addressed to women imploring them to send their men to war.

To English Women

‘Mother, give up your brave young son,

Your pride and joy though he may be;

Think of the glory to be won.

Pray for him now on bended knee.

Young girls, be great and true of heart,

Be first to let your lover go;

Help him for his country’s sake, depart,

Cheer him, whate’er may be your woe

Sisters, use your best persuasion,

Speed your brother for England’s sake;

This is now your great occasion,

Do not miss it all’s at stake;

Wives, help your men great men to be,

Trust God when danger overtakes;

Spare them to serve on land or sea,

Be hopeful, strong, for their dear sakes’.

This is just one example of the pressure being placed on women to encourage their husbands, sons, brothers and boyfriends to volunteer. Even children were used on posters to prick a man’s conscience, with the question ‘Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?’

Editorial comment in local and national newspapers relentlessly carried patriotic messages and cartoons that reinforced the government poster campaign.


Answering the call to arms

Volunteers could choose between joining the Regular Army, the Territorial Force or Kitchener’s New Armies. They were free to enlist in any regiment, although the infantry structure was intended to create links between recruiting districts and their regiments. In Sussex this was the Royal Sussex Regiment.

Prior to war, the Royal Sussex Regiment had two Regular Battalions, the 1st Battalion stationed at Peshawar in India and 2nd Battalion at Woking, plus the 3rd Reserve Battalion headquartered at Chichester. The Royal Sussex Regiment’s Territorial Force comprised the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions; the latter was a Cyclist Battalion.

The recruitment district for A Company, 4th Royal Sussex, was Haywards Heath, Lindfield and Cuckfield. This was the army unit with the closest affiliation to Lindfield, it was supported by the local community and many village men had joined in the years prior to the war. A recruitment event, with music by the Brotherhood Band, was held in Haywards Heath on 26 August, and a strong appeal was made to members of football clubs, athletes and other able-bodied young men. It was advertised with the slogan ‘Young Men Do Your Duty’.

With the formation of new battalions, the 4th Battalion was re-designated 1/4th Royal Sussex and following mobilisation was initially garrisoned at Newhaven. Until conscription was introduced, the Recruiting Agent in Haywards Heath for the 1/4th Royal Sussex regularly advertised in the Mid Sussex Times for volunteers.

There was strong competition within the Army to secure recruits. The Royal Sussex battalions each separately placed their own advertisements in the Mid Sussex Times. Towards the end of August 1914, the 7th (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex, part of Kitchener’s New Army, advertised that it ‘is forming at Colchester and is short of Sussex men’ and appealed, ‘to all Sussex men including ex NCO’s and soldiers to come forward now, without delay, to join the Battalion and fill the ranks with Sussex men, who will sustain the honour of the Regiment abroad.’ In response to this appeal 26 Lindfield men volunteered to joined the Battalion during September 1914. Additionally, in answering Kitchener’s call for volunteers, a number of village men chose to join other regiments.

The number of volunteers slowed considerably following the initial rush to colours during the first few months of war. By the end December 1914, the Roll of Honour for Lindfield totalled 161 men, increasing to 165 by end January 1915 and stood at 220 at the end of 1915.

National Registration

By early 1915 it was obvious that Britain was locked into a long and very bloody conflict. Despite the ever present call to enlist, the reality of the war saw a decline in the number of Lindfield men volunteering. Likewise, nationally volunteers steadily continued to decrease and fearing a manpower shortage, the Government moved to increase numbers. To get an understanding of available manpower, the Government introduced the National Registration Act in July 1915. Everyone between age 15 and 65 had to register on 15 August 1915 by completing a form, giving age and occupation.

The Parish Council undertook this task on behalf of Cuckfield Rural District Council. A committee was appointed and five unpaid volunteers from the village were recruited as enumerators to deliver and collect Registration Forms from every house in Lindfield.

The Register facilitated the Government’s introduction of Lord Derby’s Group Scheme and later the National Service Scheme to organise labour on the home front, it also provided information for conscription.

Lord Derby’s Group Scheme

Lord Derby’s Group Scheme, introduced in 1915, strove to encourage men from age 18 to 41 to voluntarily enlist for call-up in age groups or when required. Married men formed separate groups to be called up last.

To persuade Lindfield men to enlist, Cuckfield Rural District Council requested the Parish Council to undertake this task for Lindfield.  In what had become the Council’s standard approach to matters relating to the war, a Recruitment Committee was formed chaired by Mr E Stevens, the Council chairman. Its role was ‘to carry out the canvass business under Lord Derby’s Recruitment Scheme’. Volunteer canvassers were appointed by the Recruitment Committee. The Council reported that ‘every case has been investigated and every eligible man has been canvassed and the response was very good indeed’. All eligible members of the Lindfield platoon, Volunteer Training Corps and the Lindfield Fire Brigade enlisted.

On enlisting under the Scheme, the volunteer was medically examined and, on completing the attestation process, was deemed to have joined up and given one day’s pay and a grey armband with red crown to wear, signifying his willingness to fight when needed. The recruit was then sent home to await his age group being called up.

Even as late as early January 1916, the 4th Royal Sussex was advertising for local men ‘called up under Groups 2,3,4 & 5 who wished to join 4th Royal Sussex Regiment’ to make contact with George Clarke, Sydney Road, Haywards Heath, the local recruiting agent and join immediately. This was almost the last opportunity men had to choose the battalion in which they would serve.

By the beginning of 1916, the Rolls of Honour published in the Mid Sussex Times listed nearly 280 Lindfield men serving in the military. Sadly, by this time, 19 men had died and about 12 men reported missing.


Lord Derby’s Group Scheme failed to get sufficient numbers of men enlisting and consequently the Government introduced the Military Service Act on 27 January 1916. All voluntary enlistment ceased and conscription was introduced.

All unmarried British men aged between 19 and 41 years were deemed to have enlisted on 2 March 1916, subject to being passed fit. As the war continued, age limits were extended, and the married status concession removed and fitness requirements relaxed.

The introduction of conscription saw a renewed exodus of men from the village which was to continue until the end of the war. The numbers and timing of men being conscripted is not known, as the Mid Sussex Times ceased publishing the Roll of Honour as men now serving included those forced to go.

To ensure men did not ‘slip through the net’ employers were required to display a list of men of military age working on their premises and to make monthly returns to the local Recruiting Officer. Failure to comply could result in up to a £100 or six months in prison. Police would visit and check the records to confirm that any military aged men employed was either awaiting call up or had an exemption.

Shortly after this regulation came into effect, Haywards Heath magistrates heard, at one sitting, 45 cases of failure to keep and display a register of employees of military age on the premises. Six were Lindfield employers, Leonard Broadbridge, Herbert Box, Charles Masters, Richard Brown, Richard Humphrey and Col Dudley Sampson. All pleaded guilty, except Dudley Sampson, the cases were dismissed but served as a warning for the future and to others.

Should a man not report as required in his call up papers, instructions were issued to Police for his arrest, as William Reed, a butcher’s assistant working in Box’s shop, soon discovered.


In conjunction with conscription, Tribunals were established to decide a man’s right to be exempt from war service on grounds of health, occupation or conscience.

The Cuckfield Rural District Tribunal comprised a panel of councillors plus a military representative and sat weekly or fortnightly to hear applications; as many as fifty cases could be considered at a sitting. William Knowles, a Lindfield councillor was a panel member, until he took an Army commission.

A man seeking exemption would either appear in person or be represented by someone acting on his behalf such as his employer, parent or solicitor. Many applications were made by employers citing how essential the man was to their business. The Tribunal’s usual response was, ‘Where would your business be if the enemy invaded’ or ‘Employ a woman to do the work’. Exemptions could be absolute, conditional or temporary for a specific period that depending on circumstances could be renewed. As the Army’s demand for men increased, tribunal guidelines tightened and exemptions reduced.

There was an appeals process for those who were dissatisfied with the Tribunal’s decisions, but with Army’s increasing demands for manpower the Appeal Panel was generally unsympathetic. The military also lodged appeals against exemption decisions they considered lenient.

The press reported all cases anonymously, but with Lindfield being a small village the identity of those seeking exemption would be known and often not well received.

The following are a cross section of Tribunal proceeding relating to Lindfield men reported in the Mid Sussex Times.

A chauffeur in the employ of a village doctor was granted a conditional exemption. This was extended following the doctor having broken his legs in France.

The Captain of the Lindfield Fire Brigade applied for three members of the Brigade, a newsagent, laundryman and bricklayer’s labourer. Asked the number and type of fires attended each year, the Captain replied, two rick fires. Exemption was refused, with a tribunal member commenting, ‘that the most useless thing in a country district was a fire brigade’.  

A prominent Lindfield resident obtained a conditional exemption in June 1916 for his head gardener, a married man aged 39 with 7 children under 12 years. The tribunal was advised that half the vegetables grown in the garden were sent to the Fleet and supplies also sent to local hospitals. Mr Higgs, a panel member, described the applicant as ‘one of the most generous men round here’. On applying for an extension in November 1916, the applicant advised the Tribunal, the garden was three acres in extent and there was now only three men and a boy on the estate. Women gardeners, strong enough to dig, had been sought but without success. It was suggested an approach should be made to Lady Wolseley (Vice President, East Sussex Women’s Agricultural Committee) who had ‘lots of women on her list’. Exemption was granted to 1st January 1917, with no further appeal to be made without leave.

At the July 1916 Tribunal, exemption was granted to a general dealer and market gardener, who was described as ruptured. Also a gardener at Lindfield, aged 30, with one leg shorter than the other.

The owner of a large general store in the village applied for the exemption of his manager. Tribunal members questioned whether a woman could take over the position. The applicant said the manager had technical knowledge and was trusted with keys to the cash box. He further explained a male assistant was joining up, leaving one assistant and five women or girls. An exemption for two months was granted with the indication that an appeal would not be allowed.

The Salvation Army, the owners of the steam laundry, applied for the further exemption to the six months granted in June 1916 for their engineer, aged 37, who had been passed fit for general service. The manageress said ‘if the man went the laundry would have to close down’. The chairman retorted, ‘And if we don’t get men for the Army the nation will have to close down’. As no effort had been made to find a substitute during the six months exemption previously granted, the application for an extension was refused. An appeal against the decision was made and a final two months temporary exemption was granted by the East Sussex Appeal Tribunal, Western District Committee.

A Lindfield firm of butchers applied for the renewal of the exemption for their roundsman and assistant slaughterman. The applicant said there was no butcher now at Horsted Keynes or Scaynes Hill. Tribunal members questioned whether it was necessary to deliver meat and commented ‘less meat would be eaten if it had to be collected which would be for the better. People who wanted meat should fetch it’. A further exemption was refused.

The mother of a grocer’s assistant, aged 19, applied for the renewal of his exemption certificate. She told the Tribunal four sons had joined up early in the war. One had been killed, one was wounded and in hospital, one was a prisoner and the other was on active service. As she had no other children, she wanted to keep this son at home. A further six month exemption was granted. Following an appeal by the military, although sympathetic to the mother’s request, it was felt that as the lad was 19 years old, passed for general service and not engaged in work of national importance, he could not be kept from the Army. A final exemption of 16 days was granted.

An electrical supply company applied for exemption of a man, aged 35, who worked as an electrician and fitter covering Burgess Hill, Crawley and Steyning. The company described him as indispensable and their work force had been reduced from 33 to 17 men. Exemption was refused and the company appealed but was unsuccessful.


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