Update from accross the country #1: West Sussex

This is the first in update in a new series of blog posts on what is happening in local studies units across the country. First up is Martin Hayes in West Sussex. If you have some news you want to share, e-mail Tony.Pilmer@tiscali.co.uk and I’ll publish your piece.


West Sussex & The Great War Project

In the autumn of 2012 West Sussex County Council Library Service was given an Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost £90,000 to launch a project charting the impact of the First World War on residents. In January 2013 a Project Manager, Emma White, was appointed and she signed up & trained over 120 volunteers to help with research. Archivists at West Sussex Record Office played a key role in this training. 

About 80 volunteers have listed important events & people in 1914-18 using local newspapers from all parts of West Sussex, which have been digitised and are keyword searchable. Complete sets of these 10 newspapers are available on DVD at West Sussex Record Office and Worthing Library, and other titles will be lodged at other relevant town libraries later in 2014.  

Another 70 volunteers are researching case studies of individual servicemen including boy soldiers, nurses and home front topics such as airships, coastal defences, conscientious objectors, egg collection, fund-raising, military tribunals (appeals against conscription), rationing and treatment of enemy aliens.  

B.A. History students from the University of Chichester on placement with us used  original documents such as handwritten diaries made in the trenches, contemporary photographs, newspaper cuttings and other records to study the lives and experiences of individuals caught up in the war, including VC winners and the Watson sisters, military nurses from Steyning.  

West Sussex Record Office is our main partner and has been providing great support, training volunteers and giving access to the Royal Sussex Regiment archive, one of the finest County military collections in Great Britain. Another group of volunteers has used a digital camera to capture over 19,000 pages of documents from this fine archive. The documents include lists of soldiers, official day by day accounts of the fighting, unofficial handwritten diaries. All of these contain valuable information for family history research. The RSR battalion war diaries will be made available free online – see the url below.
The project will delve into the family backgrounds of local people involved, and try to discover their fate. Domestic issues such as will be explored. So will the effect of the war on the towns and villages of the county.  We have already worked with Worthing schools, that is Davison High School for Girls, Durrington Middle School and Thomas a Becket Middle School, and are looking for more West Sussex schools to get involved.   

All of the above will culminate the publication of a Great War West Sussex website and  travelling display at an all day event (22nd June), plus a WWI booklist and a new book Great War Britain: West Sussex (The History Press, 4th August).   
Although most of the research work has now been done, you can still help by giving or lending us for scanning, photographs of West Sussex servicemen nurses, women war workers, POWs, and also general street scenes and events showing Worthing and other places in the County during 1914-18.  

Contact:  Emma White, Heritage Project Manager digitisation.unit.libraries@westsussex.gov.uk       Telephone 01903 704836 
West Sussex Past websites, including the Great War (live 22/06/2014): http://www.westsussexpast.org.uk/