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‘Lowther's Lambs’: Rural Paternalism and Voluntary Recruitment in the First World War

  • Keith Grieves

On the outbreak of war in August 1914 landowners in Sussex immediately started to employ their local leadership roles in the cause of voluntary recruiting and in doing so demonstrated the continuing utility of paternalistic social relations and the traditional rural structure to a nation preparing for war. The slow decline in social prestige provided by landownership was far from visible in the military sphere. As members of the military establishment – regular and territorial, past and present – landowners with clearly identifiable local economic, political and leisure interests attended to the search for recruits with the age old expectation that the deferential labourers would follow their ‘betters’ to war. As Alun Howkins has written,‘men were urged to go as much as part of their duty to the social structure of rural areas as to King and Country’.

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1. Thompson, F.M.L, English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1971 ed.) pp. 325–6.

2. Howkins, A., Reshaping Rural England: A Social History 1850–1925 (London, 1991) p. 224. This article has benefited from Alun Howkins' work on the remaking of rural England and seeks to suggest a similar, if delayed, process regarding the military function of landownership.

3. French, D. ‘The Rise and Fall of “Business as usual”’ in Burk, K. (ed.) War and the State. The Transformation of British Government, 1914–1919 (London, 1982), pp. 2027.

4. Sussex Daily News, 7th 10 1914; Census of England and Wales, 1911, Preliminary Report LXXI, Cd. 5705, County of Sussex, Table 5.

5. Sussex Daily Netvs, 21st 09 1914.

6. Ibid., 21st September 1914. For a discussion of the socio-economic significance of the Leconfield estate see Hugh Whitcomb's unpublished account Family Notes and War Memoirs (1979) West Sussex Record Office (WSRO) MP2413. As a Petworth boy he joined the 13th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (RSR) in December 1914, aged 16¾ years.

7. Sussex Daily News, 17th 02 1915. The death of Capt. the Hon. W.R. Wyndham was reported in the Sussex Daily News on 4th 02, 1915.

8. Sussex Daily News, 19th 09 and 12th 11 1914. Similarly Viscount Gage ‘set an example’ to the ‘close’ village of West Firle by joining the Royal Sussex Regiment.

9. Sussex Daily News, 2nd 09 1914.

10. Ibid., 3rd September 1914.

11. Information on principal landowners in Sussex has been obtained from Bateman, J., The Great Landotvners of Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1883 ed.); Pike, W.T., Sussex in the Twentieth Century: Contemporary Biographies (Brighton, 1910); Walford's County Families of the United Kingdom (Spottiswoode, London, 1912); Whitaker's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage 1916 (London, 1915), The County of Sussex and Many of its Family Records (privately circulated, William Pollard, Exeter, 1898).

12. Sussex: Historical, Biographical and Pictorial (London, 1907).

13. Gooch, J., ‘Haldane and the “National Army”’ in Beckett, I.F.W. and Gooch, J. (eds.), Politicians and Defence: Studies in the Formulation of British Defence Policy (Manchester, 1981), pp. 7680; Beckett, I., ‘The Territorial Force’ in Beckett, I.F.W. and Simpson, K., A Nation in Arms: A Social Study of the British Army in the First World War (Manchester, 1985), pp. 128–9.

14. The military membership of the Sussex Territorial Forces Association comprised Col. Earl Brassey (Normanhurst, Battle); Col. W.H. Campion, 4th Volunteer Battalion (Danny Park, Hurstpierpoint); Lt. Col. F.G Langham, 5th Volunteer Battalion, a solicitor in Battle; Col. Lord Leconfield (Petworth House); Col. the Duke of Norfolk (Arundel Castle); Col R.M. Rawson, Sussex Yeomanry (Gravenhurst, Bolney); Lt. Col. C.B. Godman (Woldingfold, Cowfold); Earl of Chichester (Stanmer Park); G.W. Loder (Wakehurst Place, Ardingly); Maj. Hon. H.B. Portman (Buxted Park, Uckfield) and Capt. Earl Winterton M.P. (Shillinglee Park, near Petworth) Kelly's Directory of Sussex 1915.

15. Seethe letter of Maj.-Gen J. Adye, Eastern Command to High Sheriff of Kent, 21st August 1914, quoted in Osborne, J.M., The Voluntary Recruiting Movement in Britain 1914–1916 (New York, 1982), p. 12.

16. On the ‘club’ atmosphere of Yeomanry regiments see Reader, W.J.‘At Duty's Call’. A Study in Obsolete Patriotism (Manchester, 1988), pp. 7981; Whitcomb, H.Family Notes and War Memoirs WSRO MP2413.

17. Lt.-Col. Powell-Edwards, H.I., The Sussex Yeomanry and 16th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment 1914–1919 (A. Melrose, London, n.d.), p. 18. Lady March and wives of the yeomanry officers organised parcels to the regiment, 1914–15, p. 21.

18. St Paul's Church Parish Magazine, Worthing. 08 1915.

19. Sussex Daily News, 25th and 29th 09 1914.

20. Ibid., 3rd September 1914.

21. Rutter, O.The History of the Seventh (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment 1914–1919 (Times Publishing Co., London, 1934), pp. 12.

22. Howkins, A., Reshaping Rural England, p. 248.

23. Brandon, P. and Short, B., The South East from A.D. 1000 (London, 1990), pp. 317–8.

24. News of a Petworth man at the front drew particular attention to ‘his father last year having celebrated his jubilee of work on the estate of Lord Leconfield’. Sussex Daily News, 24th 09 1914.

25. Gifts provided by the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel at the end of the 4th Battalion's recruiting march, West Sussex County Times, 14th 11 1914.

26. Broadly stated, Sussex resorts included a residential rentier class of metropolitan origin and numerous small scale ‘service’ enterprises. Brighton regained its status as a fashionable resort in the late Edwardian era. Eastbourne's pattern of growth reflected the Duke of Devonshire's aspirations in planning a middle class resort, but by 1901 patronage and economic control had largely passed to the municipal authority. Waller, P.J., Town, City and Nation 1850–1914 (Oxford, 1983), pp. 138, 143–4.

27. Census of England and Wales, 1911, Cd. 5705, County of Sussex, information from tables 5, 24 and 30. On the myth of ‘village England’ see Sillars, S., Art and Survival in First World War Britain (New York, 1987), pp. 138–9.

28. Belloc, H., The County of Sussex (London, 1936) p. 149. This text was an almost verbatim copy of an anonymous illustrated volume on Sussex in 1906 (and 1913). See also Waller, P.J.Town City and Nation p. 143.

29. Compiled from data in the Sussex Daily News, 10th 10 1914 and Census of England and Wales, 1911, Cd. 5705, County of Sussex, Table 5.

30. See, for example, W. Col. Repington, 1st January 1915, British Library, Add. Ms. 62419.

31. Sussex Daily News, 11th 02 1915.

32. Compare with the action of G.L. Courthope of Fair View, Hawkhurst, M.P. for Rye, who on rejoining the 5th (Cinque Port) Battalion took 15 of his estate workers with him. Horn, P., Rural Life in England in the First World War (Dublin, 1984) p. 28.

33. The Eastbourne Gazette, 14th 10 1914, quoted in Gibson, J.M. and Green, R.L. (eds.), The Unknoivn Conan Doyle. Letters to the Press (London, 1986) pp. 210–11.

34. Sussex Daily News, 9th 09 1914.

35. Conan Doyle wrote of the Imperial Yeomanry of 1900 ‘Noblemen and grooms rode knee to knee in the ranks, and the officers included many well known country gentlemen and masters of hounds’. Doyle, A. Conan, The Great Boer War (London, 1903), p. 155. Earl Winterton, Lord Cowdray of Midhurst and Sir Weetman Pearson of Paddockhurst, Worth joined contingents of the Imperial Yeomanry. However, the rural composition of the Imperial Yeomanry during the Boer War should not be overestimated. See Price, R.An Imperial War and the British Working Class (London, 1972) ch. 5. passim.

36. Beckett, I., ‘The Territorial Force’ in Beckett, I.F.W. and Simpson, K., A Nation in Arms, p. 131.

37. Magnus, P., Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist (Harmondsworth, 1968 ed.), p. 346.

38. Simkins, P., Kitchener's Army: The Raising of the New Armies 1914–16 (Manchester, 1988), p. 84. See also Hughes, C., ‘The New Armies’ in Beckett, I.F.W. and Simpson, K., A Nation in Arms, p. 106.

39. The only mention of Lowther's recruiting work in the literature on the New Armies is in Cassar, G.H., Kitchener: Architect of Victory (London, 1977), p. 205.

40. The Times, 3rd 09 1914.

41. East Sussex Record Office (ESRO) Chichester mss, CHR/19/6/13 Frederick Jones, Land Agent to Lord Chichester, 20th January 1907; Statement of account, year ending 31st December 1906 and Report on Sussex estates, F.G. Burroughs, 22nd April 1907; CHR/19/5/12 Ian Whitbread to Lord Chichester 4th July 1907; CHR/19/5/29 F.G. Burroughs, Visiting Agent, to Lord Chichester, 20th May 1914.

42. ESRO Chichester mss. 21/4 Sale particulars, Herstmonceux Castle Estate 1910, p. 1.

43. Hare, A.J.Sussex (London, 1894), p. 75.

44. ESRO Chichester mss. 21/4, Sale particulars, Herstmonceux Castle Estate, 1910, p. 1.

45. Channah, I., The Sussex Coast (London, 1912), p. 318.

46. Memorial tablet, All Saint's Church, Herstmonceux. See also the Sale catalogue of The Valuable Contents of Hurstmonceux Castle, 5–6 November 1929, British Library, S.C. Christie.

47. The Times, 18th 06 1929; Martineau, G.D., A History of the Royal Sussex Regiment (Moore and Tillyer, Chichester, n.d.), p. 183.

48. For example, the planting of Leonardslee, Lower Beeding by Sir Edmund Loder Bt. in 1887 and Borde Hill Gardens near Haywards Heath by Col. Stephenson Clarke from 1893. In 1910 Herstmonceux Castle was recommended as a site ‘for the establishment of Old-World Pleasure Grounds of the Most Perfect Description’. It remains today one of the missing picturesque pleasure grounds of Sussex.

49. Hare, A.J., Sussex, p. 75.

50. Howkins, A., Reshaping Rural England, p. 55.

51. 113 H.C. Deb. 5s, Col. 1716, 17th March 1919.

52. Lowther received many guests at Herstmonceux Castle including Winston Churchill in mid-August 1916, during his period of painful disengagement from political involvement in the war. He wrote, ‘I can hear the guns here quite plainly thudding away’, Gilbert, M., Winston Churchill Vol. 3 1914–1916 (London, 1971), p. 799. See also Carter, V. Bonham, Winston Churchill as I Kneio him (London, 1965), pp. 462466. She provided much evidence of the way the castle's restoration captured Lowther's imagination.

53. 82 H. C. Deb. 5s, Col. 184, 4th May 1916; The Times, 5th 05 1916.

54. The Times, 27th 08 1914. William Wood noted that shepherds received 15s. per week (and rarely paid for their cottage), Wood, W., A Sussex Farmer (London, 1938) p. 66. See also Horn, P., Rural Life in England in the First World War, p. 8.

55. Sussex Daily News, 3rd 09 1914.

56. Ibid., 9th September 1914.

57. See Wood, W., A Sussex Farmer, p. 63.

58. See Wood, F.F., Round About Sussex Downs (London, 1925) and, particularly, Becket, A., The Spirit of the Downs (London, 3rd ed. 1923). He became founder President of the Society of Sussex Downsmen in the same year. For a visual renditon of the rural idyll in semisentimentalised form see Robert Gallon's (1845–1925) ‘On the way to Church, the South Downs’ in Wood, C., Paradise Lost: Paintings of English Country Life and Landscape 1850–1914 (Vermont, 1988), plate 1.

59. Whitechurch, V., Download Echoes (London, 1924), p. 221.

60. On the diminishing wartime significance of Southdown flocks see Porter, V., The Southdown Sheep (Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, 1991), p. 36.

61. WSRO RSR MS 11/60 Sussex Marching Song ‘Lowther's Own’, words by A.W. Busbridge and music by James Dear, n.d. It was played at a patriotic smoking concert at Lambs Hotel, Eastbourne on 11th November, 1914.

62. These figures were calculated from entries for Sussex born men in 11th Battalion, (1st Southdown) in the publication, Soldiers Died in the Great War: Part 40 The Royal Sussex Regiment (HMSO, London, 1921), pp. 4652.

63. On smaller land holdings voluntary enlistment was constrained by harvest time and the financial implications of the loss of family farm workers. The initial loss of men from the land has been exaggerated, as shown by Dewey, P.E., ‘Agricultural Labour Supply in England and Wales during the First World War’, Economic History Review, 18, 1975, 103.

64. Sussex gentlemen were able to enlist in the 1st Sportsman's Battalion (later 23rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers) ‘for one day only’ at the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton on 1st October 1914. Thirty-five gentlemen enlisted.

65. Sussex Doily News, 9th 09 1914. In January 1918 Lowther expressed admiration of ‘old athletes, ex-cricketers, football players, policemen and blacksmiths’ who, he said, were ready to enlist in a veteran's army to ‘stiffen’ the conscript soldier on the Western Front. 101 H.C. Deb. 5s Col. 1242, 24th January 1918. See Simkins, P., Kitchener's Army, p. 92.

66. Veitch, C.Play up! Play up! and Win the War. Football, the Nation and the First World War 1914–15’, Journal of Contemporary History 20; 3, 1985, 363–78.

67. WSRO Oral history tape (OH25) R. Whitley.

68. Sussex Daily News, 12th 11 1914.

69. Lytton, N., The Press and the General Staff (London, 1921), p. 7.

70. Suggestive of its separate identity was the carefully compiled Roll of Honour in the West Tarring and Salvington Parish Magazine. In December 1914 one parishioner enlisted in ‘Lowther's Regiment’.

71. Sussex Daily News, 15th 09 1914. Like other raisers Lowther was better placed than the War Office to make local arrangements to overcome the inadequate hutting programme. Billetting in Bexhill-on-Sea reduced the time his ‘lambs’ spent under canvas in bleak winter conditions.

72. WSRO RSR MS 7/85 Reminiscence of Mr. J. Pannett, born in Eastbourne, in the Bexhillon-Sea Observer, 12th 09 1964.

73. WSRO MP 1335. Recruiting poster for the Southdown Battalions (copy) undated.

74. French, D., British Economic and Strategic Planning 1905–15 (London, 1982) p. 124.

75. WSRO MP 2426, Brig.-Gen. O'Brien to the Duke of Norfolk, 31st March 1915.

76. WSRO RSR MS7/23 Official War Diary of the 11 th Battalion, RSR. Blunden's arrival is noted on 14th May 1916.

77. Blunden, E., Undertones of War (Harmondsworth (1928) 1982 ed.), p. 38. In the preface to his second edition Blunden noted ‘uncertainties of time and situation’ in his prose memoir, but his chronology bears a close resemblance to the battalion's Official War Diary. The haunting shadow of war and Blunden's inability to say ‘Goodbye to all that’ is well documented, for example O'Prey, P. (ed.), In Broken Images: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1914–46 (London, 1982), p. 173; Webb, B., Edmund Blunden: A Biography (New Haven, 1990), p. 210. The strength of his attachment to the ‘Southdowns’ as ‘a remarkably united trio of battalions’ was clearly apparent in his memorial of 1954, reprinted in the programme of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Southdown Battalions Association, Worthing, 19th September 1954. WSRO RSR MS 11/73.

78. Priestley, J.B., English Journey (Harmondsworth, (1934), 1977 ed.) p. 159.

79. Blunden's literary pastoralism, which afforded him ‘Arcadian’ moments, stemmed from his formative poetic influences, not from any residual rural distinctiveness apparent in the battalion. See Fussell, P., The Great War and Modern Memory (London, 1975), p. 263. Apart from his self-image of the ‘harmless young shepherd in a soldier's coat’ (p. 242), references to men ‘from many an English farm’ (Battalion in rest) and the exhortation to Sergeant Hoad to live – ‘Think of Eastbourne and your dad’ (Pillbox) were examples of poetic lines which reflected service with a Southdown battalion, Undertones of War p. 255 and p. 260.

80. Ibid., p. 39.

81. Lytton, N., The English Country Gentleman (London, 1924), p. 184.

82. Ibid., p. 185. Dakers, C., The Countryside at War 1914–18 (London, 1987), pp. 25–6.

83. West Sussex County Times, 14th 11 1914. Lytton canvassed the tenantry of his father-in-law Wilfred Scawen Blunt, Arabist, anti-imperialist and inhabitant-enthusiast of Sussex, who regarded the battalion ‘as a replica of Falstaff's volunteers’ and noted, ‘I advised them all to surrender on the earliest occasion’, quoted in Longford, E., A Pilgrimage of Passion: The Life of Wilfred Scawen Blunt (London, 1979), p. 401.

84. Lytton, N., The English Country Gentleman, p. 187. Apart from Lytton the social origins of battalion officers lay in the professions, not the rural gentry.

85. WSRO RSR MS. 7/23 Official War Diary, 11th Battalion, RSR, 24th June 1916; Lytton, N., The Press and the General Staff, p. 39. In 116 Brigade Lytton noted that the battalion commanders were treated like company commanders, which was illustrative of the gulf between senior ranking regular officers and the units of the New Armies.

86. West Sussex Gazette, 17th 11 1921; A Short History of the Royal Sussex Regiment (Aldershot, 1927), p. 80.Who's Who in Sussex (Worcester, 1935) provided no trace of former Southdown battalion officers resident in the county, which is unsurprising since, for example, Capt. II. Rose, Vicar of Ditchling, was the sole survivor of the original complement of officers of the 13th Battalion.

87. Williams, B., Raising and Training the New Armies (London, 1918) p. 74; James, E.A., British Regiments 1914–18 (London, 1978), p. 78.

88. Blunden, E., Undertones of War, p. 95.

89. WSRO MP2413 H. Whitcomb. John Bourne has drawn attention to the plight and tragedies of the locally raised battalions of December 1914, which was certainly reflected in the short coherent existence of the Southdown ‘pals’. Bourne, J., Britain and the Great War 1914–1918 (London, 1989) pp. 160–1.noted, John Keegan, ‘The promise of tragedy which loomed about these bands of uniformed innocents was further heightened by reason of their narrowly territorial recruitment’, The Face of Battle (Harmondsworth, 1978 ed.) p. 226. ‘The original ethos of the Southdown battalions was substantially lost within six months of their arrival in France’

90. WSRO RSR MS7/23 Official War Diary, 11th Battalion, RSR, 3rd September 1916.

91. Lytton, N., The English Country Gentlemen, p. 193. See also his The Press and the General Staff, p. 52.

92. WSRO RSR MS7/23 Official War Diary, 11th Battalion, RSR. The drafts arrived on 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th September 1916.

93. Imperial War Museum (IWM), Bickerton, T.A., The Wartime Experiences of an Ordinary “Tommy”, unpublished typescript, 1964, p. 7. See also IWM 87/33/1 C.P. Harris, manuscript diaries from his departure from Watford, 15th December 1916.

94. During 1916 the base ‘wastage’ level on the Western Front was 75,000 casualties per month. Grieves, K.The Politics of Manpower 1914–18 (Manchester, 1988), p. 34.

95. Blunden, E., Undertones of War, p. 45.

96. These conclusions are based on information on the 11th Battalion, RSR from the publication Soldiers Died in the Great War, pp. 4652.

97. WSRO RSR MS7/23 Official War Diary, 11th Battalion, RSR. An insight into battalion HQs' perception of ‘wastage’ levels was provided on 22nd October 1917, ‘our casualties were not unduly heavy – other ranks, killed 25, wounded 71, missing 30’.

98. Grieves, K., The Politics of Manpower, p. 213.

99. Blunden, E., Undertones of War, p. 220. For a summary see Blunden, E., ‘An Infantryman Passes By’, in Panichas, G.A., Promises of Greatness: The War of 1914–1918 (London, 1968), pp. 34–5.

100. WSRO RSR MS7/23 Official War Diary, 11th Battalion, RSR, 31st October 1916.

101. Ibid., 17th December 1917. In 1930 The Rousillon Gazette recorded that on 29th March, 313 of 533 survivors of all Southdown battalions mustered at Brighton. Vol. 18/1, May 1930.

102. Short History of the Royal Sussex Regiment, p. 76; James, E.A.British Regiments, p. 78.

103. Lt. Col. W. Colsey Millward (1886–1956), chairman of Pevensey Parish Council, Sussex County Book (London, 1938).

104. Andrzejiwski, S., Military Organisation and Society (London, 1954).

105. G. Dallas and D. Gill provide a reminder of the essential starting point, namely the mutual antagonism between the urban worker and military service in the pre-war era. The Unknown Army: Mutinies in the British Army in World War I (London, 1985) pp. 1721. The War Office recognised that ‘enlistment into a localised unit, or one connected with a particular interest, appeals to a large number of men who do not take advantage of the ordinary method of joining the Service’. Reginald Brade, Secretary, War Office to Lords Lieutenant of Counties, 26th March 1915, WSRO MP 2426.

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