A Small Town at War
Contributed by Phillipa Malins
Cuckfield Museum’s special display looks at the effects of the First World War on those living in the village. To reflect the great public interest in this centenary year, this display will be extended until December with new additions in the form of fascinating loans from local people. The display’s title, ‘A Small Town at War’, comes from the book by Alan Miller, which examines Cuckfield in 1917 .
By March 1915 so many men had volunteered that there was a shortage of labour on the land and parents could apply for labour certificates for their sons to leave school at 12 instead of 14. By April 1916, even a creche was being set up to allow women to help with farm work. Women now had the chance to train for work.
We have photos from the album of Olive Turner, the daughter of a well known family, who became a nurse at the VAD hospital set up in the Queen's Hall, Cuckfield. The photos show a hall entirely recognisable today but with beds down the side and tables in the centre.
While there was a shortage of village men, there was an influx of Belgians in the first months of the war as refugees poured into the country after the German invasion of Belgium. The parish magazines record that some were nursed at the Queens Hall while others were given sanctuary in the village. The Post Office Rifles were also billeted in Cuckfield while they trained nearby before going to France. Their stay was short – six months from Nov 1914 – but they were warmly welcomed.
As time went on the death toll of village men became ever more acute. The parish magazines list the memorial services, which by 1916 were held almost every month for those who had been lost. We have a handbill for a service in 1916 where, between the time of printing and the service itself, two more names have had to be added by hand. We look in particular at Lance Corporal George Botting, a Cuckfield man who was killed in 1917.
We have created a tableau around the fireplace in the Museum, inspired by the scene on one of the postcards sent to George by May, and using costume loaned by Worthing Museum.
On display is a pocket sized sketch book which Geoffrey Squire took to war at the age of 19. Already enrolled as an art student and later to become a commercial artist and illustrator, he showed great humour and skilled observation in recording what he saw as a gun team driver with an East London Regiment in the Royal Field Artillery
Two albums of postcards from Dr Arthur Osborne to his daughters Una and Kathleen show the range and popularity of this brief and simple way of communicating at this time. Cards were of all types: sentimental, factual with views of the devastation in Northern France or wryly humorous.
A silver cigarette case was one of the few objects which the family of Pte Archibald Crouch had to remember him by when he was killed in a shell blast on the Somme in Sept 1916. He has no known grave.
The museum's current display shows the effects of the First World War on those living in the village and how Cuckfield could be seen as a microcosm for the country as a whole.
If you are interested in this or any other Cuckfield topics, why not visit us in the museum. Click here to see our opening hours.