West Sussex’s vital role in war push

This is the latest in a series of articles published as part of a two-year Library Service project to research how West Sussex was affected by the First World War.


Entrance to the army camp, Slonk Hill, near Shoreham-by-Sea, c1914 Picture: Courtesy US Government; Imperial War Museum

Entrance to the army camp, Slonk Hill, near Shoreham-by-Sea, c1914 Picture: Courtesy US Government; Imperial War Museum

The billeting of troops was welcomed locally for patriotic and financial reasons.

From 1914, accommodation was found at Chichester, Horsham and Worthing in particular, with large buildings and pubs temporarily requisitioned, and local residents took in soldiers at 2s 3d per soldier per day. Arundel, Bognor and Littlehampton promoted themselves as having accommodation available for the troops. Less popular was the imposition of several hundred Middleton-on-Sea aircraft factory workers (see below) on hard-pressed householders from 1917.

Military camps

Huge military camps to train new army recruits were established at Shoreham-by-Sea and Roffey. The former was a vast tented camp on Mill Hill and Buckingham Park, with parade ground, wooden huts, church, post office etc..

Slonk Hill became a mock battle zone for training. Five divisions were trained in total, beginning with 35,000 men from the 24th Division drawn mainly from the South East.

Roffey Camp, north of Horsham, was built near All Saints Church, on land owned by Colonel Archibald Innes, commanding officer of the 22nd (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers, its first occupants. Men were initially billeted with local people and transferred to wooden huts as the camp grew.

Large estates, such as Goodwood Park, were also used for training men.


Britain’s oldest airport (1911), Shoreham was taken over by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in 1915 when 3 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron arrived, followed in 1916 by 21 Reserve Squadron and later 53 Squadron. Various two-seater light bombers and reconnaissance biplanes were used for training and then flown to France. Regular crashes are reported in newspapers and some involved Canadians who’d signed up as pilots.

Tangmere Station, RFC, was established in 1917 after a Shoreham pilot in difficulties landed on in a farm field (part of the Goodwood estate) just east of the village. The 200 acre site was initially used by RFC training of squadrons 91, 92 and 93 but for the last four months of the war was used by the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force.

Two other American air training bases were built in West Sussex. Ford, for Handley Page 0/400 twin-engine bombers, was operational by November, 1918.

A Rustington air base had largely been completed, on land north and south of Station Road when the war ended. The Sea Estate now occupies the site.

White and Thompson 
Aircraft Works

Before the war, aircraft enthusiast Norman Arthur Thompson, engineer E.W. Lanchester and funder Dr J.D. Campbell White created a factory producing experimental aeroplanes off Middleton-on-Sea foreshore. The most successful was the N.T.2B, which became the Royal Naval Air Service’s main flying-boat trainer. Around 240 aircraft were produced and 700 to 900 people employed.

The Sussex ports were constantly in use by the Royal Navy throughout the conflict. By 1916, Littlehampton had been taken over by the military.

Enormous quantities of weapons, equipment and assorted supplies passed through the port and Hubert Williams built flying boat hulls for White and Thompson.

Shoreham Harbour experienced similar military activities and one of the most ambitious, top secret wartime projects.

From summer 1918, 3,000 workers, housed in huts on Southwick Green, built two massive, so-called ‘mystery towers’, each 190 feet high and weighing 1,000 tons. The plan was to sink 16 towers right across the Channel and string steel anti-U-Boat nets between them.

The war ended before they were finished.

A two year Library Service project to research how West Sussex was affected by World War One has now achieved all its aims. It was paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved over 150 volunteers. A new website is online at www.westsussexpast.org.uk

A travelling display continues its journey around local libraries and talks are on offer all over the county. See the website for details of these centenary events.

This is the third in a unique series of articles, each based on a chapter in a new book published as part of the project by West Sussex County Council: Great War Britain: West Sussex Remembering 1914-18 is a 272-page book describing how local people coped both on the home front and abroad.

Over 1,100 copies have been sold since August and you can save £2 on the RRP by buying it from your local library for £12.99 or from West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.