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1928: The 'War' in Cuckfield ends ...

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Friday 21 September 1928


Clever Tactics in Final Battle.


Sussex is no longer an armed camp. The last blank round in the army manoeuvres has been fired, and the men of the Aldershot Command who have conducted themselves with considerable credit, have taken the long trek back to Aldershot. After the continuous noise of battle the county of the Downs seems strangely quiet. One misses the robust cheerful fellows of Britain’s new army, who have sung their way to the hearts of the villagers as they marched from one battle area to another.

This morning the fighting ceased with an abruptness that left behind an almost uncanny silence. The jingle of harness, the penetrating noises of the tanks, and the booming of guns of all calibre are already things of the past. It is difficult to realise that well after breakfast time this morning 23,000 troops were still engaged in warfare, scrambling over the wooded countryside and blazing away at each other with the greatest possible zest.

Soldiers march through Cuckfield on the last day of War manoeuvres in September 1928; (colourised photograph, Andy Revell's collection)

The struggle between the armies of Eastland and Westland finished, appropriately enough, in vigorous style. In the West Grinstead area there was quite a battle royal with all the diverse armies of the land forces plus those of the air. Infantry attacked infantry, tanks opposed tanks, and the battle line see-sawed backward and forward in really thrilling fashion. That was the situation when the director of the scheme (Lieut.-General Sir David Campbell) ordered the “cease fire.”

Change of Plan.

For four days the scheme had provided a battle of wits between Major-General Sir Edmund Ironside, who commanded the Westland forces, and Major-General Sir John Duncan, G.O.C. the Eastland army. In brief the former had to prevent at all costs the crossing of the River Arun, while on the contrary General Duncan’s task was to endeavour to carry out these crossings. The position last evening was that the 6th Infantry Brigade of the Westland army was at Wisborough Green, the 5th Brigade was in front of Billingshurst, while the 4th Guards Brigade were occupying the quaint wayside hamlet of Coolham, having driven out the opposing cavalry.

General Ironside was fully aware of the dispositions of the 2nd and 3rd Brigades of the Eastland forces, and also knew that the 1st Guards Brigade were in reserve. Profiting by this knowledge he decided to threaten the Eastland forces with the 4th Guards Brigade, and so induced the commander of that force to put his 1st Guards Brigade in the line. Having accomplished that, he planned to turn Eastland flank with the aid of the 6th Infantry Brigade. The manoeuvre would have met with success, but for the fact that General Duncan by a stroke of good fortune changed the orders issued to the 1st Guards Brigade. He placed the 3rd Infantry Brigade at a spot where they could push kapok bridges across the Arun, and forced the passage of the Arun at dawn.

The 1st Guards Brigade were ordered to leave their buses at Knepp Castle, and be ready to counter-attack towards Billingshurst.

Value of Cavalry.

General Ironside instructed the 5th Infantry Brigade and the 4th Guards Brigade to advance in the early morning but if seriously attacked to go away slowly to the south. He also decided to send his 6th Brigade in buses from Wisborough Green through Arundel and on to Partridge Green, a distance of fifty miles, in order to be ready to strike inland and get round Eastland’s left flank.

Had General Duncan’s original plan been carried into effect General Ironside’s manoeuvre would undoubtedly have been successful. Valuable information of the intended offensive came into General Duncan’s possession, however, and with the aid of his Guards he successfully squashed the flank attack.

It was then that the order to cease operations was given. As a result of the present manoeuvres in Sussex the cavalry have demonstrated that despite aerial reconnaissance and the value of mechanised forces mounted troops are indispensable in war, particularly in country of the Sussex type. During the operations fog handicapped air reconnaissance very considerably, but the cavalry were able to scour the country and secure information of great importance.

It is anticipated that the Aldershot Command troops will be in Aldershot at the week-end. The manoeuvres of the Southern Command in conjunction with the armoured force are still progressing in Wiltshire, and are expected to end in a big battle on Friday night.



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