Bexhill Remembers explores Bexhill’s contribution to the Great War and investigates what life was like for the residents of Bexhill during the War. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is part of the Imperial War Museum’s First World War Centenary Partnership.
At least 2000 Bexhill men joined the armed forces, of which 253 were killed, 330 wounded and 33 missing. Although initially slow to enlist, they fought in all theatres of war, from the Western Front to Mesopotamia, Salonika and Gallipoli. As well as serving in the army, Bexhill men also served in the Navy and in the Royal Flying Corps (later RAF). The first Bexhill man to fall was Bombardier Clement Whyborn of the Royal Field Artillery who was killed in action on 15th September 1914 aged 22. The last Bexhill man to die in battle was Private Frederick Barker who died on the 4th November 1918 aged 29.
Bexhill women were also involved in war work. Bexhill nurses such as the Bray sisters Evelyn, Ethel and Mary treated soldiers in field hospitals, on hospital ships and in the various Red Cross and VAD military hospitals in the town. Other women such as Kathleen and Dorothy Beard became munitions workers, and Inspector Cooke and Sergeant Braddon became the town’s first female police officers.
Other residents formed a Volunteer Training Corps, and worked on the land. The people of Bexhill also contributed financially to the war effort by raising thousands of pounds for various “War Savings” fundraising appeals. So successful were these appeals that the town even ended up with its own tank called Muriel! Some Bexhill residents were also Conscientious Objectors or Pacifists including the future 9th Earl De La Warr, Herbrand Sackville and Bexhill businessman and grocer Sidney Wickens.
The town welcomed over 200 Belgian refugees and with the creation of Cooden Camp also became home to various troops from the locally raised Lowther’s Lambs to South Africans, Australians and Canadians. In January 1918 the Canadian Engineers transformed Cooden Camp into the Princess Patricia Red Cross Hospital for convalescent soldiers, which added to the other military hospitals already located in the town. Various events were put on to help boost the recovery and morale of the wounded soldiers including a cricket match, Nurses Vs Patients!
The term “homefront” was coined for the first time and in January 1918 rationing was introduced for the first time in British history. People were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables to help combat the food shortages caused by German submarine warfare on merchant shipping. Street lighting was dimmed or switched off ad hoc throughout the War due to fears of bombing raids from Zeppelins, which no doubt intensified in Bexhill after a zeppelin was sighted in 1916. Naval ships were often spotted sailing past, and there were regular reports of residents hearing the rumble of shell fire coming from the Western Front. The entertainment venue the Kursaal was renamed the Pavilion and the Bijou Cinema became St. Georges as Bexhill tried to lose its “Germanised” character and prove its patriotic credentials.
Following the end of the War, the Government were keen to control how the war was remembered to justify the deaths and to provide meaning for the men’s sacrifice. They did not want the British public questioning the war, and in turn questioning the government who had taken them to war.