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Cuckfield training for 1914 War in France

2nd Battalion of the 8th City of London Regiment Post Office Rifles in Cuckfield High Street

This postcard must portray many local men who failed to return from the First World War. They were so unaware of the horrors that lay ahead. The picture was taken at a time when the men were training in Cuckfield in 1914/5.

Phillipa Malins, Cuckfield museum curator, recalls that the postcard was one of a collection belonging to Sylvie Gray, who was evacuated to Cuckfield during the Second World War. She and several other evacuees return to the village every year for a reunion lunch.

The card was given to her by her brother Ray Newton, a postcard dealer. It was sent in December 1914 and the wording made it likely the sender was a soldier billeted in Cuckfield.

Phillipa added: ‘We knew that the 2nd Battalion of the 8th City of London Regiment Post Office Rifles were in the village for six months between November 1914 and May 1915, training before leaving for France.’

The sender of the card was George Gates. He was 20 when the Great War started and had been working in the Post Office as a telegraph messenger boy, hence joining the Post Office Rifles. He had a sister Helena who could have been the Nellie in the card as the name was frequently shortened.

George survived the war and worked all his life for the Post Office. He married and had two children and died in 1970.

The diaries from the front line

Two diaries from the Gallipoli campaign of 1915/16 were discovered recently in a house clearance in London Lane and had belonged to Col Robert Sayer, who had been a Gunner at Gallipoli in the 26th Battery RFA, 17th Brigade, 29th Division. One is the official military diary for the battery and the other is the personal, pencil written diary of one of the officers, 2nd Lt Ralph Chalkley.

Museum curator Phillipa Malins, before a special exhibition of the diaries, said: ‘We are displaying the pages in the diaries which describe the terrible chaos of the retreat from Gallipoli in January 1916 when equipment had to be abandoned, efforts to blow up the equipment failed and horses had to be shot.

Ralph Chalkey, second from the left in the front row

‘The battery subsequently moved to Flanders where Ralph Chalkley was Mentioned in Dispatches and Robert Sayer was awarded the DCM and granted a commission in 1917. He went on to become a career soldier and was awarded the OBE as Regimental Paymaster for the Royal Army Pay Corps.’

Research into Ralph Chalkley’s life revealed he attended Sherborne School and was a member of the school’s Officer Training Corps in 1912, aged 16. Two years later he was fighting a war.

Phillipa said of the Regiment: ‘Because they were billeted in families, the village became very attached to them. The Regiment put on entertainments for the children at Christmas. The villagers were allowed daily rations by the Army for the soldiers and we have the billeting letter which went out.

‘The amounts of meat and bread were generous (1lb meat and 1 1/4lb bread respectively) and families benefited from the extra food.’

Source: Mid SussexTimes website written Wednesday 5 November 2015

Contributed by Malcolm Davison, with thanks to Cuckfield Museum.



The Post Office Rifles assembled in Cuckfield High Street.



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