1928: Crowds see thrilling night battle in Cuckfield

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 05 September 1928

CROWDS SEE THRILLS OF NIGHT BATTLE.

Thirty Hours’ Fighting.

VALUABLE LESSONS FROM THE MANOEUVRES.

(From a Special Correspondent.)


CUCKFIELD (SUSSEX), Tuesday.

The battle that began oh Monday morning in the Sussex manoeuvres area did not end until noon to-day.


In that time the troops of the two Divisions Aldershot Command, the 4th Guards Brigade, the 5th and 6th Infantry Brigades, together with Artillerymen, Royal Engineers, and the personnel of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Tank Corps, displayed a stamina that must have been very gratifying to the higher Command.


The men concerned were paraded before seven o'clock yesterday, fought throughout the day a strenuous action, carried out raids or repelled them until the early hours of to-day, engaged in a big battle shortly before three o’clock, and at dawn began another action in which the Guards and tanks fought a rearguard battle terminating to the north of Horsham. In all, the troops were actively engaged for over thirty hours, and covered approximately forty miles. Having regard to their excellent morale and fitness at the conclusion hostilities it was a praiseworthy achievement.


Soldiers troop through Cuckfield centre en-route to 'battle' in field opposite Cuckfield Park

Crowds of Spectators.

A remarkable feature of the operations in the neighbourhood of the Rivers Rother and Arun was the unflagging interest of the villagers. During the day crowds of people followed the troops close as circumstances permitted, and when action took place during darkness dozens of them rushed from one ’vantage point to another. Fully two hundred spectators witnessed the attack on the hills fringing Bury Houghton and Westburton before dawn to-day. Women and children predominated.


There was much of a really thrilling nature for them to see, and the setting could not have been more appropriately arranged. From a sky in which twinkled many stars and in which there was not a vestige of a cloud, the moon shone resplendently, giving added charm to the beautiful countryside near the Sussex Downs. In the distance Verey lights burst, lending a weird and ghostly appearance to the well-wooded land. An occasional shot reverberated through the atmosphere, breaking the uncanny silence.


Then in a flash the tranquillity was shattered. Forty-eight monster tanks, resembling nightmare beetles, made their way along the roadway to the foot of the Downs, scaled the heights with surprising facility, and, with three-pounder guns flashing forth destruction, rushed in search of enemy machine-gun nests and advance posts. There was an answering boom from opposition artillery—red, green, and white Verey lights soared into the sky, machine-guns rattled, and infantrymen attacked and counter-attacked vigorously.


An Advance and a Retreat.

The defending forces were beaten back to a strongly entrenched position in the rear, the noise and bustle subsided and died and again there was comparative peace. For the time being victory rested with the Guards.


At the first glimpse of dawn, however, the fortunes of war were completely changed. News was received that Chichester, to whose succour the Guards had been rushing a convoy of supplies, had been heavily attacked with gas bombs, and that the garrison had fallen. It was thereupon decided to withdraw the convoy under the covering rearguard action the Guards. The defenders took the aggressive, and the Guardsmen, who had fought so strenuously day and night, had to make a particularly gallant effort to resist the onslaught and prevent the capture of the convoy.


It is learned that the exercise provided valuable information on the best way of using Tanks in operations and of emphasising the difficulties of crossing a river line with a convoy, of any sudden change in a plan, and the use Tanks in a rearguard action.


The troops the First Division Aldershot Command also had all-night operation, and returned to camp about nine o’clock this morning.

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