A Cuckfield Private's progress in the Boer War: life and death in South Africa

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Frank Bleach

Private, 1st Battalion, Active Service Volunteer Company. died at the Hospital, Bloemfontein, of enteric fever, on 14th March 1901, the day before his thirtieth birthday. Resident of Cuckfield. He wrote from Port Elizabeth on April 5th, that on their arrival at Cape Town on the Tintagel Castle they were transferred to the Urmston Grange, to sail for East London. He wrote again on April 26th on his way from Bloemfontein to Glen. In September 1900 he wrote again "We left Pretoria to go Boer hunting, and found a lot at Diamond Hill". In February 1901 he sent home No 1 of The Soft-Nose, a weekly paper published by the Sussex Regiment in Bloemfontein.



The Cuckfield Parish Magazine followed the progress of local volunteers…..


‘Cuckfield is no different to any other town or village in the country in being proud to honour those who died for their country in times of war’.


The following excerpts from the parish magazines record the events of Cuckfield’s soldiers.


March 1900

Our Volunteer, Frank Bleach, will sail next week with the other Sussex Volunteers, and we feel sure that no one will better uphold the credit of our Cuckfield Company.

"the tobacco and chocolate came in very useful indeed in the march up country, and so did the clothing, as we were only allowed to take one shirt and a pair of socks, and blanket, and since we have been in this place we have had three wet days and nights. We are having it rather rough as regards food, having been on half rations for the last five days. Dysentry is prevalent, and I have had a slight touch of it myself."

Our Volunteers are having a most enjoyable voyage in the Tintagel Castle: "fine weather, sea calm, good provisions, plenty of amusement," so Frank Bleach writes.


May 1900

Frank Bleach, our own Volunteer, writes from Port Elizabeth on April 5th, that on their arrival at Cape Town on the Tintagel Castle they were transferred to the Urmston Grange, to sail for East London …..

Sergeant Fred Rogers is with Lord Dundonald’s Cavalry Brigade, and was with his regiment (14th Hussars) when it entered Ladysmith……

Alfred Attwater was sent to the hospital ship Orcana, at Durban, on March 21st, to get up his strength……

Edgar Hazeldean (Buffs) gives this account of the surrender of Cronje:- "……. The Buffs had thirteen killed and any amount wounded, but I escaped for a wonder; but, worst of all, my boss asked me to make him a drink of tea, and I got some wood and water and made a fire: my boss and I were sitting by the fire talking, somehow a round got into it, and when I stirred the fire off it went and blew a lump off my heel, so I was carried to the hospital, where I have been for eight days; but I shall go up to the fighting line to-morrow……"


June 1900

E Bleach, writes from Berthulie that he saw his brother and some of the Sussex at the station as they passed through to Bloemfontein.

F Bleach writes on April 26th on his way from Bloemfontein to Glen.


July 1900

Sir M R Burrell, Cuckfield people will be rejoiced to hear, reports himself as "very well and fit," on the way to Van Reenan’s Pass.

Second-Lieutenant Erle (12th Imperial Yeomanry) is in hospital, having been shot in his left arm.

Alfred Attwater was still at the Depot in Pietermaritzberg in May, "enjoying good health".

Ernest Cooper writes from Newcastle on May 25th.

Arthur Dancy on May 30th had just come from Kronstaadt to Bloemfontein.

William Ferguson writes from Sands River on May 27th, "by the light of our camp fire"..

Charley Randell is on H.M.S. Terrible at Hong Kong."


September 1900

Frank Bleach, Volunteer:- wrote …"We left Pretoria to go Boer hunting, and found a lot at Diamond Hill....


November 1900

"Sir M Burrell writes on 24th September from Rooi Pynt.

M Gravett writes …… "I remember so well when I was a boy how we used to march through Cuckfield waving little flags and carrying the school banner; well, I am still helping to keep a little flag flying – the Union Jack of Old England, and now there is no mistake about its flying out here now."


February 1901…

Our Volunteer Frank Bleach has sent home No 1 of The Soft-Nose, a weekly paper published by the Sussex Regiment in Bloemfontein. We gather from it that our friends are in capital spirits….


April 1901

Frank Bleach. "Our Volunteer," died at the Hospital, Bloemfontein, of enteric fever, on March 14th, the day before his thirtieth birthday…….

We have good news of our other soldiers, save of Lieutenant C Erle, who after an attack of fever is sent back to England."


August 1901

"The Whereabouts. Of some of those for whom we are praying.

ATTWATER, A. Kitchener’s Kop, Newcastle, has been escorting convoys: sharp frost at night.

BLEACH, E. In Hospital with enteric fever since April 1, now in Convalescent Hospital, Bloemfontein.

BOX, T. At the Hospital, Wynberg, in attendance on a sick officer.

BROOKSHAW, B. Krugersdorp, with Dickinson’s column……..

CLARK, H. Springfontein, has been in hospital.

COOPER, E. Pretoria, resting after hard marches and several small engagements.

GASSON, J., R.A. With Pom-poms at Mafeking.

GRAVETT, M. Paarde Kop Camp, has been very useful as cook for his company at Elands Laagte, the regular cook being disabled…..

HAZELDEAN, E., writes in excellent spirits, but does not metion his whereabouts……

MITCHELL, P. Barberton, has been laid up with fever.

MORLEY, A. Kroonstadt, flourishing.

ROBINSON, A. Edenberg, flourishing.

ROGERS, F. Newcastle, flourishing.

STONER, H. Wynberg Hospital; owing to having put out his right shoulder he has been unable to write."


March 1902

"We are anxious about F Moody, Royal Scots, whom many of us remember in the Horsgate Gardens – he is in hospital at Pretoria with fever.

Of the others we can only say that we hope "no news is good news." Even of Mark Gravett, whose name is now added to the list of Cuckfield soldiers who have laid down their lives for their country: he was a good lad, and we all liked him: he was wounded at Colenso and lay for hours on the field of battle praying with the help of a book our Vicar had given him."


May 1902

"A letter has come from E Dann (whose uncle, Edwin Dann, some of us recollect as the first photographer in Cuckfield), in which he says that he saw Mark Gravett two days before he died, and that he and A Morley were making a cross for his grave. A comrade writes "Mark was looked up to and liked by all in our company."


June 1903

"Captain Sergison unveiled on May 7th a tablet erected in our boys’ schoolroom bearing the following inscription:-

To the honour of those educated in this School who served in the War in S. Africa, 1899-1902.

Bleach, Ernest

Bleach, Frank*

Box, Thomas

Brookshaw, Benjamin*

Cooper, Ernest

Dancy, Arthur

Ferguson, William

Gravett, Mark*

Haylor, Trayton

Hazeldean, Edgar

Lingley, Ernest

Mitchell, Peter*

Mitchell, Samuel

Morley, Arthur

Rogers, Frederick

Stoner, Horace

Randall, Charles, H.M.S. Terrible

*Died for their Country."

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