VIDEO: Personal stories uncovered from First World War camp

VOLUNTEERS have been delving through the archives for a Heritage Lottery funded project on Shoreham Camp in the First World War.

The year-long Training for War project is being organised by Worthing Museum, with the help of Worthing College and adult volunteers.

Julie Wade with one of the photos she found in the Marlipins Museum archives D14501738a

Julie Wade with one of the photos she found in the Marlipins Museum archives D14501738a

They are researching technical aspects of the camp on Slonk Hill, uncovering personal stories and finding out how the soldiers were entertained while stationed there.

Project co-ordinator Gail Mackintosh said: “You can find out about the background to the camp and how it came together in 1914 with Kitchener’s volunteers.

“By 1916, it was a convalescent camp and the same year, there were a lot of Canadian soldiers there.

“What we have been looking at is the individuals, bringing out the stories from the camp.”

A gathering at the YMCA hut at Shoreham Camp

A gathering at the YMCA hut at Shoreham Camp

They are finding out the soldiers’ impressions of Shoreham, as well as how the soldiers were perceived in the town.

“The vicar wrote in the parish magazine, basically saying lock up your daughters because the soldiers are coming,” said Gail.

Much has been said about the famous First World War football match, but in Shoreham, it was boxing that caught the attention.

Bombadier Billy Wells was a famous boxer based there and there were many boxing matches arranged in the middle of the war, said Gail.

Christmas at Shoreham Camp during the First World War was made better thanks to the efforts of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

The first year was rather traumatic for the recruits, as they were flooded out of their bell tents on Mill Hill and Slonk Hill in Christmas 1914.

Hamish MacGillivray, curator for arts and exhibitions at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, said: “They had to be billeted in Worthing and Brighton while the military command made proper huts.”

But the following year, the Worthing Gazette of December 29 reported on a jolly Christmas gathering at Shoreham camp, organised by the YMCA with the help of the Worthing Ladies’ Committee.

It told how Christmas evening in 1915 was spent in No.2 (Worthing) Hut, where 350 men assembled at 6pm for ragtime Christmas carols, old English rounds and ballads.

Then at 7pm, a pair from London, singer Miss Olive Hall and entertainer Mr Stanley Bell, a versatile conjurer, ventriloquist and humorist, took to the stage for an hour and a half.

Afterwards, the men tucked into apples, oranges, nuts, mince pies and tea. They were also liberally supplied with cigarettes.

By 1916, the camp was packed with Canadian soldiers.

The Worthing Gazette reported on December 27, 1916, that more than 200 Canadian soldiers from the camp formed a ‘festive throng’ at Connaught Hall, in Chapel Road, Worthing, on the invitation of the mayor, Alderman James White.

He met them at the railway station and the men marched to the hall, headed by the brass band and pipers of the Canadian Highlanders.

Dinner consisted of roast beef, roast pork and Christmas pudding, with a ‘plentiful supply of mineral waters’, followed by crackers and fruit.

Before a toast to ‘absent friends’, the company ‘stood in solemn silence for a few moments in honour and memory of the fallen ones’.

Performances included the champion hand bell ringer of Canada, Private Fisher, and a Highland fling with bagpipe accompaniment.

The soldiers presented the mayor with five £1 notes as a thank you, to be given to the poor and needy of the town.

A year later, the YMCA made an appeal in the Worthing Gazette,on November 28, 1917, again asking ‘for funds to provide Christmas festivities for the men at Shoreham Camp’.

R.F. Torrington, secretary of the Brighton and Shoreham sub-district, said: “There will be a larger number of men who will be detained in Camp in the performance of their Military duties, and it is our desire to make this season as happy for them as possible.”

An exhibition of all the findings will go on display at Worthing Museum for four weeks from April 25 next year and at Marlipins Museum in Shoreham next September.

People can keep up-to-date with their efforts at