War Graves Week tour in Worthing reveals personal stories of courage and sacrifice

Stories of courage and sacrifice were revealed when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission held its first War Graves Week tour in Worthing.

Friday, 4th June 2021, 11:38 am

Sarah Nathaniel, the organisation’s public engagement co-ordinator for the south east, led the sessions at Broadwater Cemetery on Friday, May 28, including the laying of wreaths to honour the fallen.

Sarah said: “When people think of war graves, they usually think of the row upon row of headstones in our cemeteries across the former battlefields of France and Belgium but, in fact, there are a great number of war graves in Great Britain.”

Broadwater Cemetery opened in 1863 and was the main cemetery for Worthing until the 1920s. There are 81 CWGC graves there, and all bar three are from the First World War, while Durrington Cemetery has 60 CWGC graves from the Second World War.

Wreaths were laid at the Cross of Sacrifice by East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton, Worthing mayor Lionel Harman, High Sheriff of West Sussex Neil Hart and Worthing Veterans Association

Sarah said: “The common soldier or sailor before the 20th century could expect little in death. Marked graves were rare, those that did exist were often untended and it was not unusual for families to not know what happened to their loved ones, as official records were few and far between.

“The driving force behind the Commission was Sir Fabian Ware. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he was too old to fight but became the commander of a mobile Red Cross unit. Whilst undertaking this work, he became concerned about the number of graves that he feared would be lost forever and so he and his team began recording as many of these as they could.

“This work finally led in May 1917 to the establishment of the Imperial War Graves Commission by Royal Charter. The Commissions’ work began in earnest after the Armistice when the enormous task began of locating the dead and formalising their burials in the cemeteries we have come to know today.

“We commemorate any man or woman who was a serving member of the armed forces, merchant navy or recognised auxiliary groups across the British Empire / Commonwealth, or a former member of these groups whose death can be attributed to their military service and who died within our dates of responsibility.”

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton laying his wreath

The tour started with Corporal Henry Charles Forrest, who was born in Bromley in 1893. He and his wife Constance were teachers at Ham Road School in Worthing and they lived at 18 Milton Street.

Henry joined the Territorial 4th Battalion Divisional Cyclist Company in 1912 and when war broke out, he agreed to serve overseas.

Sarah said: “The Cyclist Corps role was primarily reconnaissance and communications, such as delivering messages. Bikes are lighter, quieter and logistically easier to manage than horses.

“Henry served in France until March 1917, when he was released to the Reserves following a perforated ear drum. He was able to continue his work as a teacher.”

Sarah Nathaniel, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's public engagement co-ordinator for the south east, led the War Graves Week tours at Broadwater Cemetery on Friday, May 28, including the laying of wreaths to honour the fallen

Sadly, like many others, Henry succumbed to Spanish flu and died on December 5, 1918. The Worthing Gazette’s account of his funeral suggests he was very well thought of as there were many people in attendance and flowers from both current and former pupils and colleagues.

Private Houldsworth (Bob) Elphick was also affected by influenza, having caught TB, also known as consumption, during his war service. He died at home in Tarring Road on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

His service record states he was ‘a smart and willing soldier, clean and tidy – a handy and useful man for any kind of work’. He was discharged from service in France in 1916 and married Lydia Armstrong in 1917.

Sarah said: “He had been married only a year before his death. Although he had been discharged after developing consumption, he caught it as a result of his Army service and, therefore, as this caused his death, probably through influenza complications, he was eligible for a CWGC headstone.”

Lieutenant Frederick James Bravery, the son of Thomas and Eugenie Bravery, of Chapel Road, offers a beautiful example of a private memorial.

Sarah explained: “Not all families wanted a Commission headstone and they could choose instead to erect their own memorial. Lots of reasons why: they’ve lost their loved one and want to be able to commemorate them in a more personal way, our headstones are all the same, personal or political reasons – however, because they meet the criteria, they remain within our care.”

Frederick enlisted in the Army Pay Corps in 1914 before joining the air service in 1917. As an experienced pilot, he was attached to the Central Dispatch Pool and his duties included ferrying aircraft from France.

While out on a test flight in a Handley Page bomber from Castle Bromwich, the plane lost fabric from a wing and crashed at Maxstoke in Warwickshire. This was quoted as the worst accident in the first year of the newly-formed Royal Air Force and all seven crew on board were killed.

Frederick, who was 22, was buried in Worthing with full military honours.

Sgt Major Percy Harry Hawkins answered his country’s call just days after war was declared. He was assigned to the Royal Army Service Corps and served in Salonika, where he was hospitalised twice, once for malaria and once for neurasthenia, often shellshock. However, despite this, he volunteered for another year’s service rather than be demobilised in 1919. He was admitted to the Pavilion Hospital in Brighton on February 18, 1920, and died of heart disease two days later.

Sarah said: “This is a story where you can really feel the human tragedy for the family left behind. His wife Mildred, who lived in Milton Street, was left upon Percy’s death with twins not yet one year old and a daughter from Percy’s first marriage to care for.

“In his service record I also found letters from Mildred to the War Office written in 1928 and 1929 asking for information from their records in support of educational grants she was applying for in order to give their twins a good education.

“The fact that she chose, 47 years later, to be buried with him, with a headstone designed to look like his, seems to show the depth and strength of this relationship, further supported by the beautiful inscription ‘In proud and ever loving memory, dearest of men, sweetest of memories’.”

Boy Sailor George William Sandell is the youngest CWGC burial in the cemetery. George was the son of William and Mary Sandell, of 27 Southfield Road, Broadwater.

He was based at HMS Ganges, a Navy training centre in Shotley, Suffolk. George had previously been employed as a railway porter and had joined up only on February 5, 1919, but a month later, he was dead from Spanish flu aged just 16.

Sarah said: “This headstone provides a good example of our dates of responsibility, as although George joined up after war in 1919 and served only for a month, he is still commemorated by us.

“Our qualifying dates are the First World War from August 4, 1914, to August 31, 1921, and for the Second World War, September 3, 1939, to December 31, 1947. As you can imagine, this did and still can cause some upset where casualties fall just outside these dates.”

Major Thomas O’Reilly is another good example of dates of responsibility. He is the most highly-decorated soldier buried in this cemetery, having received the Military Cross and Bar for the part he played in the action to push the Germans back from Ypres in the last couple of months of the war.

The citation reads: “For great gallantry and devotion to duty near Ledeghem, on October 14, 1918, during the attack which led up to the capture of the line of the Lys. He commanded his battalion with skill and determination, and under very heavy fire led them forward gallantly to the attack.”

He was wounded two days later and sent home. The memorial states he died of these wounds in 1920. His widow, Lilian May O’Reilly, lived in Woodlea Road and was later buried alongside her husband.

Private Olive Moore was the only female to have a CWGC grave in this cemetery. She attended Davison High School and joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a driver. She was married to Victor Moore of the Essex Regiment and lived in Victoria Road. Sadly, after only three months of marriage, she was knocked down by a bus crossing the road in the blackout while walking home from the Dome Cinema with three friends on April 24, 1942.

The CWGC also preserves the memory of civilians who died as a result of enemy action in the Second World War and their names are recorded on the Civilian Roll of Honour in Westminster Abbey.

Sarah said: “During the Second World War, Worthing, suffered air raid incidents almost continuously between September 1940 and the end of the war. There is a memorial to the 81 victims in Beach House Park and two of these are buried in Broadwater Cemetery.”

Miriam Agnes Barns, who lived in Park Road, died of injuries sustained on September 30, 1942, following enemy action. The Lyndhurst Road area was often under attack, as it was easily identifiable from the air and near key targets, such as the hospital, Town Hall and gas works.

Barbara Frend was killed when a landmine was dropped by German aircraft and destroyed several houses in Grove Road, Broadwater. She died on March 14, 1943, aged 74.

Sarah said her talk was a brief overview of some of the 81 casualties commemorated at Broadwater Cemetery.

She added: “Every one of those is a family tragedy and just because we can’t find out now about their lives doesn’t mean that they weren’t important and had their own story to tell. It is by telling these stories that we keep their memories alive and I hope you have been able to get a sense of the wider ripple effect across families and our Worthing community.”

War Graves Week was aimed at connecting communities with the world war heritage on the doorstep. The new online tool at www.cwgc.org/wargravesweek enables people to search by postcode to discover those who lived in their area who died.