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Cuckfield Museum reopens with World War One display

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Cuckfield Museum reopens today (Saturday) after its winter closure with a display entitled ‘A Small Town at War’ looking at the effects of the First World War on those living in the village and how Cuckfield could be seen as a microcosm for the country as a whole.

The title comes from the book by Alan Miller, on sale in the museum, which looks at Cuckfield in 1917 using local resources such as the Mid Sussex Times of the day.

Parish magazines show the changes in the village month by month. By March 1915, as in many other communities, so many men had volunteered that there was a shortage of labour on the land and parents could apply for labour certificates for their sons to leave school at 12 instead of 14. By April 1916, a creche was being set up to allow women to help with farm work.

Many women who would before have gone straight from home to marriage, now had the chance to train for work.

The museum has photos from the album of Olive Turner, the daughter of a well known family, who became a nurse at the VAD hospital set up in the Queen’s Hall, Cuckfield.

The photos show a hall entirely recognisable today but with beds down the side and tables in the centre. The reading room upstairs, which is now the museum, became a recreation room for the convalescing troops.

While there was a shortage of village men, there was an influx of Belgians in the first months of the war as refugees poured into the country after the German invasion of Belgium.

The parish magazines record that some were nursed at the Queen’s Hall while others were given sanctuary in the village.

The Post Office Rifles were also billeted in Cuckfield while they trained nearby before going to France. Their stay was short – six months from November 1914 – but they were warmly welcomed.

The museum curators have located an invitation to the Rifles’ Christmas party and an interesting billeting sheet for the villagers listing the food which would be provided daily to households for their soldiers: 1lb meat and 1lb flour seems generous!

Some 50 years later some of these men returned to the village to express their thanks. There were still people living in Cuckfield in 1968 who remembered them and a plaque was erected in the churchyard.

As time went on the death toll of village men became ever more acute. The parish magazines list the memorial services which by 1916 were held almost every month for those who had been lost.

The museum’s display includes a handbill for a service in 1916 where, between the time of printing and the service itself, two more names had to be added by hand.

A look is taken, in particular, at Lance Corporal George Botting, a Cuckfield man who was killed in 1917. A few years ago, the museum had the great fortune to be given the ditty box containing his most personal possessions which he took to the war and which was returned to his widow, May, after his death.

On display are all the things which brought solace to a man at the Front: his pipe and tobacco pouch, his last two cigarettes in their case, letters and cards from his wife.

The curatorial team has created a tableau around the fireplace in the museum, inspired by the scene on one of the postcards sent to George by May.

Team member Andrea King said: “We have been lucky enough to have been loaned some fascinating objects by local residents. Lin Wood has lent the pocket sized sketch book which her father, Geoffrey Squire, took to war at the age of 19. Already enrolled as an art student and later to become a commercial artist and illustrator, he showed great humour and skilled observation in recording what he saw as a gun team driver with an East London Regt. in

the Royal Field Artillery.

“Two albums of postcards from Dr Arthur Osborne to his daughters, Una and Kathleen, show the range and popularity of this brief and simple way of communicating at this time. Cards were of all types: sentimental, factual with views of the devastation in Northern France or wryly humorous.”

A silver cigarette case was one of the few objects which the family of Pte Archibald Crouch had to remember him by when he was killed in a shell blast on the Somme in September 1916. He has no known grave and the case has been loaned by his nephew, Roger Crouch.

The display at the museum will continue until June. The museum is open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 12.30pm and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.

More information can be found on the website at www.cuckfieldmuseum.org.

The museum’s next talk is about the role of the Royal Sussex Regiment in WW1 and will be at Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield on February 27 at 2.30pm.

 

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