The MIDDY November 19, 1998
Heavy toll suffered by a village
A memorial to the post office rifles
A visit to Cuckfield churchyard will take you past the War Memorial.
Walk a little further round to the north lychgate and you will see another lesser-known memorial dedicated to the second battalion of ‘The Post Office Rifles’.
The battalion, composed mainly of Postal Service volunteers, was in Cook field on training exercises between the end of 1914 and May 1915.
Daisy Rhodes was a young girl of seven when post office rifles were billeted at her grandparents home in Whitemans Green.
She recalls: “We had six ‘rifles’ sleeping at the house and we used to do very well out of corned beef and sugar”.
Young men caught up in a wave of jingoism at the outbreak of war were eager to sign up to the rifles. Among them was Alfred Uwins Pennifold, a young gardener from Cuckfield.
He went out to France with the second battalion in February 1917. Less than five months later he was dead – killed at Buller court on June 16, aged 22.
Eighteen hundred men from the rifle battalions died in the war and four and a half thousand wounded.
Daisy’s father Albert Keep was killed at the Somme in July 23, 1916.
Richard Bevan, 'The father of Cuckfield' ensures local casualties are remembered
As you walk into Cuckfield Museum you will see the names of 463 men who left their homes to fight “for justice and freedom” in the Great War.
Of the men who joined up, 81 were killed including four sons from one family and three sons and a cousin from another.
Richard Bevan ,one of Cuckfield’s elder statesman, was determined to ensure that the men who paid the ultimate sacrifice should never be forgotten.
In 1916, aged 82, he began collecting photographs of the Cuckfield men who died. He had them mounted and framed and you can see them today – each face, a haunting reminder of a lost generation.
The photographs are in Cuckfield Museum in the Queens Hall, built as a memorial to Queen Victoria's reign with generous funding from Bevan, a partner of Barclay, Bevan and Tritton - the forerunner to Barclay’s Bank.
'Stuck in the mud up to their waists' - Cuckfield soldiers write home of terrible conditions at the front
Through the war some of the letters written by Cuckfield soldiers from France appeared in the Mid Sussex Times:
“The weather is something awful out here now. A few weeks ago the ground was covered with snow for several days. The trenches are in an awful condition. Nearly everywhere, men are well over their knees in water and mud. It is nothing to see some poor chap stuck in the mud up to his waist, with full pack on.
The other day… The Germans started to shell us. They landed twenty whizz-bangs all around us, but I'm glad to say nobody was hit. They are rotten things. You get no warning at all when they are coming.
This makes nearly 5 months out here for our battalion, and we have held this line for four months. So it should not be long now before this division is relieved.
Well, I must close now I have plenty more to tell you, but haven't the time to write, as I have to pack up my things for the trenches.
Today is Sunday, but out here all days are alike – you hardly know one day from the other."
Corporal M. Anscombe of the 8th Royal Sussex Pioneers.
Tragic letter home
On February 14, 1915, Cuckfield soldier Thomas Mitchell wrote to his mother from a clearing hospital in France after being wounded by a German shell.
Dear mother - just to say my wound is going on fine. I think I'm on my way to England today or tomorrow. I had to have my leg off but I am receiving every attention.
He died, aged 19, before the letter reached England.