War Memorials of St. John the Divine

War Memorials of St. John the Divine

World War I Memorials of St John the Divine

The memorial to the men of Felbridge who lost their lives in World War I is located in St John’s church. There is a large brass Memorial Plaque to the West of the sedilia, set in the recess of the blocked off priests’ door in the South wall of the chancel. The top of the plaque is inscribed: IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF OUR FELBRIDGE HEROES 1914 –1918. Running up the left hand side and down the right is inscribed: GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT HE LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS.

The names that appear are:

SAP. J. BONNY R. E. 12.3.15
PT. A. H. BINGHAM R. SX. 19.4.17
PT. S. BURCHETT R. SX. 8.8.17
PT. F. L. CREASY R. SX. 25.9.15
LNC. CPL. E. S. CREASY R. SX. 3.9.16
LIEUT. COL. A. V. COWLEY 9th KGS. OWN. 23.10.18
CPL. A. J. HILL R. SX. 1.6.17
PT. O. E. MEPPEM E. SY. 15.6.17
PT. H. C. PAICE R. SX. 14.11.15
PT. G. MARDEN R. W. SY. 25.9.15
PT. F. G. WHEELER E. KT. 26.1.16

Originally this memorial was situated on the North wall of the sanctuary and when visited by U Lambert, in 1925, was so dirty and high up that he could only read eight names, and he wrote ‘The brass badly needs cleaning and it may be said that it is wrongly placed since a war memorial should always be set up where it is accessible and legible to all’. At some point after 1925, the brass was moved to a lower position on the South wall of the chancel where the fifteen names can now be easily viewed.

Apart from the fifteen names remembered on the brass plaque who gave their lives in World War I, there are two men missing from the plaque who have memorial gravestones in the churchyard, PT. A V Brand and PT. E Harding, and one man who does not appear to have a memorial at all in Felbridge, Frank Brand, who was the brother of PT. A V Brand. The only memorial to his name is a pencil note on the back of an old school photograph that was taken in 1904. Mr Shaw the head teacher took the photograph of the children of Felbridge School, and Dora Wheeler who owned the photograph had written on the back the names of the boys who had been killed in the 1914-18 War. This then is the only record of the death of Frank Brand, as he does not appear either on the brass Memorial Plaque in St John’s church or on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

There are perhaps two other names that may need to be included here, Leonard Garfield Smith and his father, Capt. George Smith. Leonard died on 30th January 1915, aged thirty-one and was buried in the churchyard of St John’s in grave no. D10. 33-34 A North, and George died on 20th March 1915, aged sixty-nine, and was also buried in grave no. D10. 33-34, position B South. They both lived at Clarence House, Felbridge, and George was a Merchant Navy Sea Captain. There are no details about either of them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, or the circumstances surrounding their deaths, but it is possible that they too died in service during World War I.

A much larger memorial to all the men of Felbridge who lost their lives in World War I can be found in Copthorne Road, that of the St John’s (Felbridge) Institute. The Institute was opened in March 1924, by Lady Elveden and is now ‘Southways House’. It was designed by Mr Harry C R Nightingale of ‘The Jungle’, Baldwins Hill, East Grinstead, and built by Messrs. T and G Smith of East Grinstead, as a village hall. In the opening speeches, Mr C C Chorley, chairman of the Executive Committee, said he hoped the people of Felbridge would support it, as the Institute belonged to them. He also said that although the building was not strictly speaking a War Memorial, he urged the public not to forget in their gladness, the men who left Felbridge and never returned. ‘Let them therefore work in unity’.

PT. Alec Henry Bingham

Alec was born on 22nd February 1896, the second child, and first son, of Allen and Ellen Bingham, who lived at Chestnut Cottage, Crawley Down Road. Allen was the estate carpenter for the Felbridge estate and designed and made the original gate to Felbridge Place that hung near ‘Stone Croft’, formerly ‘South Lodge’, Copthorne Road. His gate lasted until 1999, when, due to its state of decay, it was replaced by a new one faithfully reproduced to the original design by the students of Crawley Technical College. Alec’s grandfather was Henry Bingham who had been the Farm Bailiff for the Gatty family of Felbridge Place, and the Parish Clerk.

When Great Britain declared war against Germany on 4th August 1914, Alec Bingham volunteered and signed up at the age of eighteen with the 12th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, enlisting at Horsham. Many of the young men from the Felbridge area signed up with the Royal Sussex Regiment, and unfortunately, the Royal Sussex Regiment witnessed the largest number of Felbridge casualties.

The Royal Sussex Regiment had been formed on 1st July 1881; the 1st Battalion had been the 35th (Royal Sussex) Regiment of Foot, raised in 1701, as the Earl of Donegal’s Regiment of Foot or the Belfast Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion had been the 107th Regiment of Foot (Bengal Infantry), raised by the East India Company in 1853 as the 3rd Bengal European Light Infantry and transferred to the British Army in 1862. Their nickname is ‘The Orange Lilies’.

The 12th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment was sent to fight in France and Flanders, and Private Alec Bingham, G/17787, lost his life on Thursday 19th April 1917, at the age of twenty-one years. He is buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, in grave no. XII.A.10. The cemetery contains 9,901 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, and 883 war graves of other nationalities. It is the second largest Commonwealth cemetery in Belgium. Ironically, the day on which Alec died in action, one of his brothers had written him a letter, it was never posted and has remained un-opened to this day as a mark of respect and there is no one now alive who knows its contents.

SAP. John Bonny

John was born in 1881, the son of George and Esther Bonny of 21, Imberhorne Lane, East Grinstead. George, his father, was a gardener by trade and had moved to the Felbridge area from Reigate, Surrey. John married Grace Stone and they set up home at 39, Copyhold Road, East Grinstead. Grace later re-married, Thomas Stone, on 2nd July 1921.

Like most men John Bonny volunteered to fight with the onset of World War I and signed up at the age of thirty-three, with the 56th Field Company, Royal Engineers. The first Corp of Royal Engineers was formed in 1717, and a Soldier Artificer Company was added in Gibraltar in 1772. In 1787, the corps was redesignated and the Corps of Royal Engineers and the Corps of Royal Military Artificers were created. In 1812, the Artificers were redesignated Royal Sappers and Miners and in 1856, the two units amalgamated as the Corps of the Royal Engineers, their nickname being ‘The Sappers’.

As a member of the Corp of Royal Engineers you could be sent to any area during World War I and in the case of John Bonny that was to France and Flanders. Sapper John Bonny, 9261, lost his life on Friday 12th March 1915, aged thirty-four years. He was reported missing in action, presumed dead, and his name appears on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, panel 9. The panel numbers quoted are dedicated to specific Regiments, so anyone appearing on panel 9, would have served with the Corps of Royal Engineers.

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders, which covers the area known as the Ypres Salient. The Salient stretched from Langemarck in the North to the Northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the South, with variations in shape throughout the war. The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. John Bonny was killed defending this position a month before the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, when the German forces released poisonous gas into the Allied trenches to the North of Ypres. This was the first time that either side had used gas and the result of the action forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence. There was little more significant action on this front until 1917.

There is also an iron cross to the memory of PT. John Bonny in the churchyard of St John the Divine, Felbridge. The cross, located at grave no. D7. 118, once had his name on it, but this has long since disappeared.

PT. Albert Victor Brand

Albert Victor Brand (pictured on page 1) was born in 1893, the son of John and Mary Brand. In 1901, John Brand is listed as a gamekeeper living at ‘Hart’s Hall Cottage’, Copthorne Road, Felbridge, and his family included George, born in 1884, John, born in 1886, Edmund, born 1887, Ada, born 1891, Albert and then Frank (pictured on page 1) born 1897. John and Mary also had an older daughter called Ellen Susana, born in 1881, who had left home by 1901, and who married Ernest Harding on 3rd July 1902.

Frank does not appear on either the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, or on the Memorial Plaque in St John’s church, in fact there is no official recording of Frank’s death in World War I, save a pencil not on the back of the Felbridge School photograph of 1904. However, there is a memorial to Albert in the churchyard at St John’s. His memorial appears on his parent’s stone cross, with clinging ivy and a dove, in grave no. D13. 54-60. The inscription to his parents reads:


The inscription on the other side of the cross, dedicated to Albert reads:


From the available details it would appear that Albert Victor Brand signed up to fight in World War I at the age of twenty-six. He was killed in action and interred at St Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, France, (Div.62. III. O.7).  Private Albert Victor Brand 25693 served with the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment.  Information on Frank is very scant. He would have been only seventeen at the outbreak of World War I so the earliest he could have signed up to fight would have been 1915. At present there are no details available on which regiment he joined or where he went missing or is buried. It is also not known why only Albert appears on his parent’s cross and why Frank was omitted.

PT. Sidney Burchett

Sidney was born in 1883, the son of Ezekiel and Anne Burchett, of North End, Felbridge. Ezekiel was the son of Charles Birchett who is listed of Hackenden Farm, East Grinstead, in 1851. By 1855, the Birchett family had moved to East Grinstead Common where Charles is listed as a shopkeeper and farmer in1855 and 1862. Apart from Sidney, Ezekiel and Anne had Edgar, born in 1866, Ernest, born in 1868, Horace, born in 1872, Lily, born in 1877, Laura, born in 1879, then Sidney, and finally Elsa, born in 1888.

In 1901, Ezekiel is listed as a general labourer, Lily and Laura are listed as laundresses, possibly working at the North End laundry, next to North End School, and Sidney is listed as a domestic groom.

Sidney signed up to fight in World War I and was enlisted with the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment at Tonbridge, Kent, at the age of thirty-one. Being part of this Battalion meant that he was part of the Third Battle of Ypres that was mounted by the Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further South. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a success, but the main assault North-Eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a struggle against a determined opposition and deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to an end in November 1917, with the capture of Passchendaele. Unfortunately, Sidney Burchett did not live to see this as he was killed in action, aged thirty-four, as part of the Expeditionary Force on Wednesday 8th August 1917.

Private Sidney Burchett, G/5411, is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, on panel 20, the panel dedicated to those who lost their lives as part of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Ypres, now Ieper, is a town in the Province of West Flanders. The Memorial is situated at the Eastern side of the town on the road to Menin (Menen) and Courtrai (Kortrijk), and it is the gate through which most soldiers passed on their way to the battlefields. Sidney’s parents were unaware of his fate as his mother Anne had died in 1916, and his father Ezekiel had died in July 1917, just a month before his son Sidney.

LIEUT. COL. Albert Victor Cowley

Albert Victor Cowley was born in 1861, in Windsor, Berkshire. In 1881, he is listed as an Assistant Master, tutoring at ‘Salt Hill’ Grammar School, Farnham, Buckinghamshire. Albert married Eveline Fanny Edenborough on 28th August 1888, at Egham, Surrey, and in 1913, the Cowley family were living at ‘Leaping Well’, Crawley Down Road, Felbridge. It is said the property took its name from a racehorse of the time. Ironically, the property later became a riding stables and then a private house called ‘Patbarossa’ before being damaged by fire and demolished, the site is currently awaiting re-development.

On the death of Eveline in October 1913, Albert Cowley moved to Camberwell House, Camberwell, and with the onset of World War I, in 1914, took up war service, at the age of fifty-three, as Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th King’s Own Regiment. Little is known about his active service as he does not appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, although he is listed on the Memorial Plaque in St John’s church that states his death date as 23rd October 1918, aged fifty-seven. Albert was buried with his wife, Eveline, at St John’s churchyard on 28th October 1918, in grave no. D11. 25-31. The inscription reads:


The other side of the cross reads:

LNC. CPL. Ernest Stanley Creasey

Ernest Stanley was born on 24th November 1894, the third son of John and Fanny Creasey, who were of 7, Model Cottages, Felbridge, at the time of his death in 1916. John Creasey was born in 1860, the son of George and Amelia of 25, Imberhorne Lane, and who later lived at Fir Tree Cottage, Crawley Down Road, one of ten children. John and Fanny had five children, Olive Elsie, born in 1883, Arthur George, born in 1888, Frederick Leonard, born in 1890, (who was also killed in World War I), then Ernest Stanley, and finally, Minnie Lillian, born 1899.

In 1881, John is listed as a carter, as are his brothers Thomas and James, working for either the Felbridge Place estate or the Imberhorne Manor estate. Ernest worked as a nurseryman and did not initially volunteer for war service with the outbreak of World War I. His army career started when he was twenty years and ten months old, enlisting at Horsham on 14th September 1915. He joined the 14th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, but was transferred to 11th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment on 31st December 1915. At his enlisting he is described as 5 ft 8ins (1.7m) tall, was considered to be fit with very good eyesight, and three distinguishing marks from vaccinations on his arm.

On 20th January 1916, Ernest achieved his II Class musketry, and was appointed acting Lance Corporal (unpaid) on 8th August 1916. Unfortunately, Ernest Creasey, SD/4899, went missing in action, presumed dead, on Sunday, 3rd September 1916. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission and the Memorial Plaque in St John’s record him dying as a Lance Corporal. Ernest lost his life as part of a joint attack launched by French and Commonwealth Forces on the line from North of Gommecourt to Maricourt. The Forces met with unexpectedly fierce resistance from the German defences, and the initial attack of 1st July 1916, was a failure, and losses were catastrophic. Eventually, by September, the French and Commonwealth Forces had captured the village of Thiepval. Attacks North and East continued throughout October and November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme eventually ended on 18th November 1916.

The name of LNC. CPL. Ernest Creasey, SD/4899, appears on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, on pier and face 7 C, and like the Menin Gate Memorial, each panel is dedicated to a specific Regiment. The Thiepval Memorial is dedicated to those who went missing in the Battle of the Somme and bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918, and who have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated, like Ernest Creasey, died between July and November 1916. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

After the war had ended, John and Fanny Creasey received the Commemorative Roll for their son Ernest, on the 12th January 1920, but unfortunately, John died in March 1920, so it was Fanny who received Ernest’s War Medal on 19th July 1920.

PT. Frederick Leonard Creasey

Frederick Leonard was born on 2nd January 1890, the second son of John and Fanny Creasey, and brother of Ernest Stanley Creasey who was also killed in World War I on the 3rd September 1916. There is little information regarding the life of Frederick, or his war service. What is known is that he enlisted at Chichester, with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment and lost his life on Saturday 25th September 1915, aged twenty-five, eleven days after his brother Ernest had enlisted with the 14th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.

The name of PT. Frederick Leonard Creasey, G/1494, is remembered on the Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, panel 69 to 73. Loos-en-Gohelle is a village about three miles Northwest of Lens. The Loos Memorial commemorates over 20,000 officers and men who fell in the area, between the first day of the Battle of Loos to the Armistice, on 11th November 1918, and who have no known grave, and forms the side and back of the Dud Corner Cemetery where over 1,700 officers and men are buried, the great majority of whom fell in the Battle of Loos.

After the war had ended, John and Fanny Creasey received the Commemorative Roll for their son Frederick, on the 12th January 1920, but unfortunately, John died shortly after, so it was Fanny who received Frederick’s War Medal.

PT. Albert Arthur Garwood

Albert Arthur was born on 26th May 1878, the second son of Daniel and Annie Garwood of ‘The Coach House’, Felbridge Place. Daniel was born in 1837, and in 1866, is listed as a coachman for the Felbridge Place estate. Daniel and Annie had eight children, Alfred, born in November 1866, but who died aged seven months in June 1867, Alice, born in April 1871, Edith, born in April 1872, Kate, born in January 1874, Emily, born in July 1875, Frances, born in October 1876, then Albert Arthur, and lastly Ernest born in 1880. Unfortunately, Annie died two years after the birth of Ernest and was buried in St John’s churchyard on 31st August 1882, aged only thirty-nine. Daniel then re-married, on 26th June 1886, Frances Elizabeth Godley, and they had a daughter called Ella, born in March 1887, and Ethel Mavis, born 26th September 1892

Albert Arthur (known as Bob) married Charlotte Browning, and on 6th August 1898, they had a daughter Dorothy Louisa, son Albert Neville, born 26th November 1902 and daughter Mabel Annie, born 11th October 1905. In 1908, the family is recorded as living at ‘Bude Cottage’, Oakleigh, East Grinstead, where they had a son Arthur Reginald in January 1908, but unfortunately he died ten months later in October 1908. They also had another daughter Margaret Adelaide, born 20th October 1911.

Little is known about Albert’s war service, only that he was originally enlisted with the 99th Company, Training Reserve Labour Corps, but transferred to the 13th Company, Training Reserve Labour Corps. PT. Albert Arthur Garwood, TR/10/40425, was killed on Wednesday 9th January 1918, aged forty, and is interred in Duhallow Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery in Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

The Duhallow Advanced Dressing Station was a medical post 2 ½ miles (4km) North of Ypres. The cemetery was begun in July 1917, and from October until the end of the war in November 1918; the 11th, 36th and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations used it. The cemetery contains many graves of the artillery and engineers and forty-one men of the 13th Company Labour Corps who were killed when a German aircraft dropped a bomb on an ammunition truck in January 1918. Albert and the other forty men are buried in plot ll. F. 6.

PT. Ernest Garwood

Ernest was baptised on 25th July 1880, the last son of Daniel and Annie Garwood, and brother of Albert Arthur Garwood who also lost his life in World War I. Little is known about the life of Ernest or his war service. What is known is that he served with the 26th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) was raised in June 1685, by Lord Dartmouth from two companies of Tower Guards in London as the Ordnance Regiment or Royal Regiment of Fuziliers and were transferred to English service in 1688. Their nickname is the ‘Elegant Extracts’.

PT. Ernest Garwood, 20115, was killed on Monday 18th September 1916, aged thirty-six, and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, pier and face 8C 9A and 16A. Ernest Garwood would have been part of the same offensive that cost LNC. CPL. Ernest Stanley Creasey his life in July 1916, and neither lived to see the successful capture of the village of Thiepval at the end of September, nearly three months after July 1st, the original date of the objective.

LNC. CPL. Ernest Harding

Ernest Harding was born in 1877, and married Ellen Susanna Brand on 3rd July 1902. Ellen was the daughter of John and Mary Brand, and sister of Albert and Frank Brand who both lost their lives in World War I. Ernest and Ellen had John Ernest, born April 1903, Edith Nellie, born March 1904, and Evelyn, born December 1913, who unfortunately died at thirteen days and was buried on 27th December 1913, in grave no. D13. 54-60, the same plot as her grandparents, John and Mary Brand, whose son Albert Victor was killed in August 1916, and who also has a memorial cross erected to his memory in D13. 54-60.

In 1903, Ernest is listed as a gardener at ‘Shovelstrode Beacon’, Ashurst Wood, but by 1913, he and his family had moved to ‘Imberhorne Farm Cottages’, East Grinstead. Little else is known about Ernest’s personal life, but it is known that for his war service he served with the 16th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.

The 16th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment were part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. By January 1917, the British troops had pushed the Turks back from the Suez Canal, through the Sinai Desert and were poised on the Southern borders of Palestine. Two attempts were made in the spring of 1917, to take the Turkish held town of Gaza, and both failed, alerting the Turks and enabling the Germans to construct a barrier of fortified positions inland from Gaza to Beershaba. General Sir Edmund Allenby then took over the offensive and Gaza was finally taken on 7th November 1917, unfortunately LNC. CPL. Ernest Harding, 315387, did not live to see this victory, as he was killed in action the day before, on Tuesday 6th November 1917, aged forty-two. He is buried in the Beersheeba War Cemetery, Israel, in grave no. M. 18. The cemetery contains 1,241 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, sixty-seven of whom are unidentified.

Ernest Harding does not appear on the brass Memorial Plaque in St John’s, but his wife Ellen had a headstone erected in his memory in the churchyard in grave no. D13. 54-60, the same plot as his daughter Evelyn, and that of the memorial cross of his brother-in-law, Albert Victor Brand. Ernest Harding’s stone reads:

There is a discrepancy in the rank of Ernest Harding, as he is recorded as a Private in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and he does not appear at all in the list of the Royal Sussex Regiment lost in World War I. At the time of Ernest’s death, his wife Ellen is recorded as living at Marsh Green, Hartfield, Sussex, but it is not known if Ernest had resided there before his enlistment.

CPL. Alfred James Hill

Alfred James was born in 1894, the first son of James Terry Hill and his wife Jane née Langford. James was born in 1854, the son of Anne Hill, formerly of Crawley Down, and James Terry of ‘Park Farm’, Hophurst Hill, now Milborrow Chimney Sweeps. In 1851, James Terry, aged twenty-seven, is listed as the farmer of ‘Park Farm’, of twenty acres, employing two people, Anne Hill, aged nineteen, as a house servant, and William Arnold, aged sixteen, as an agricultural labourer. It was whilst in service at ‘Park Farm’ that James Terry Hill was born. Jane, the wife of James Terry Hill, was born in 1861, in Slaugham, Sussex, the daughter of Harry and Catherine Langford, who moved to Felbridge and lived in Crawley Down Road.

James and Jane Hill lived at ‘Acacia Farm’, Crawley Down Road, and their family consisted of, Alfred James, born in 1894, Horace, born in 1897, Harry Langford, born in 1901, and Catherine, born in 1903. Horace and Harry never married, but Catherine married William Pentecost, known as Tom, and descendants of their family still live in the Felbridge area.

With the outbreak of World War I, Alfred James enlisted with the ‘D’ Company, 8th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. During his service he progressed up the ranks to Corporal. Unfortunately, CPL. Alfred James Hill, G/2669, was killed in action, aged twenty-three on Friday 1st June 1917, in Boisleux-St Marc, and is buried in the Sunken Road Cemetery, Boisleux-St Marc, Pas de Calais, France, grave no. I. E. 8. The village of Poisleux-St Marc was occupied by British troops in March 1917, during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but by March 1918, the village was in enemy hands. Sunken Road Cemetery had at one time been called Boisleux-au-Mont British Cemetery and was begun in May 1917 by the military hospitals, and was used until July 1917, when it began to be shelled. There are over 400 war casualties commemorated in the cemetery.

PT. George Marden

Little is known about George Marden, and there are three possible candidates that appear in the 1901 census. One is living in Lingfield, Surrey, aged twenty-two, making him thirty-five at the out break of World War I, another is living in Leigh, Surrey, aged ten, making him twenty-three at the outbreak of the war, and the last one is living at Gulledge Farm Cottage, East Grinstead, Sussex, aged twenty-three, making him thirty-six. All that is known about the George Marden that appears on the brass Memorial Plaque in St John’s church, is that during World War I he served with the 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment).

The Queen’s Royal Regiment was raised in 1661, as the Earl of Peterborough’s Regiment of Foot or Tangier Foot. This was redesignated in 1684, as the Queen Dowager’s Regiment of Foot, then in 1703 as the Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot, then in 1715, the Princess of Wales’s Own Regiment of Foot and in 1727, as the Queen’s Own Regiment of Foot. They were ranked as 2nd Battalion of Foot in 1747, and redesignated 2nd (The Queen’s Royal) Regiment of Foot in 1751, and then as the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) in 1881. Finally being named the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) in 1921. The 2nd Battalion existed between 1857 and 1948. Their nicknames are, Kirke’s Lambs, 1st Tangerines and Sleepy Queen’s.

PT. George Marden, G/4328, went missing, presumed dead, on Saturday 25th September 1915, and his name appears on the Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, panel 13-15. This is the same memorial that bears the name of PT. Frederick Leonard Creasey, who was also killed on 25th September 1915, both lives being lost in the Battle of Loos.

PT. Ormond Edwin Meppem

Ormond Edwin was born on 9th February 1882, the son of Ormond Edwin Meppem snr. and his wife Isabella née Banister, and brother of Sydney Clarence who was also killed in World War I on 8th October 1916. Apart from Ormond and Sydney, Ormond snr. and Isabella had at least eight other children, Samuel Edgar, born in 1884, Hubert John, born in 1885, Eleanor Bethia, born in 1890, Bessie Matilda, born in 1890, Serena Mahalath, born in 1892, Ada Isabella, born 1894, Sydney Clarence, born in 1895, Adelaide Isabel, born in 1898 and Cyril Thomas, born in 1899. Ormond snr. and Isabella lost only two children in childhood, Ada aged three months and Cyril, aged three years, and two in World War I, Ormond and Sydney.

Ormond snr. and Isabella moved to the Felbridge area with their family some time between 1899 and 1908, when Ormond snr. came to work as Estate Bailiff at Felbridge Place. They lived first at ‘Harts Hall’, now the site of Felbridge Court, and then bought ‘Rose Cottage’, Imberhorne Lane, now the site of Treck Diagnostics Systems Ltd. The family was well established there before the First World War, to the extent that during the war a shop and bungalow were built, within the grounds of ‘Rose Cottage’, for Ormond Meppem on his return from war service. The bungalow was called ‘The Hawthorns’ and the shop was to be a butcher’s, for Ormond, however this was not to be.

Ormond married Lillian Annie Creasey on 17th February 1917, who was born on 5th March 1896, and was the daughter of Fred and Salome Creasey. It is unclear as to whether Ormond and Lillian married before he was conscripted into war service, as conscription had been introduced in Britain in January 1916, or whether they married when Ormond was on leave. What is clear is that Lillian was a widow after only four months as a wife.

Conscription was introduced for the first time in British history because by January 1916, Britain no longer possessed an ‘army’ in France, and the flood of volunteers had dried up, so in January 1916, the Military Service Act was introduced, and in May 1916, this was extended to include all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-one, and in April 1918, it was again extended to include all men up to the age of fifty. The action resulted in 2,504,183 men being conscripted into the army between January 1916 and November 1918, giving a total service of 4,907,902 British men during the war. This coupled with the armies from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, put a minimum of one million men on the Western Front.

There is a discrepancy in the war service of Ormond Meppem between the brass Memorial Plaque in St John’s church and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The brass Memorial Plaque records his regiment as the East Surrey Regiment, whereas the CWGC, records that Ormond had enlisted with the 12th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, and served with the 1st Battalion of the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers). PT. Ormond Meppem, 225100, went missing, presumed dead, aged thirty-five, on Friday 15th June 1917, and his name appears on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, on panel 52. Other Felbridge men to be remembered on this memorial include, John Bonny who died on 12th March 1915,and Sidney Burchett who died on 8th August 1917, killed in the Three Battles of Ypres. Ormond, like Sidney Burchett, was involved in the Third Battle of Ypres, an offensive mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further South, which ended with the capture of Passchendaele.

The Menin Gate Memorial records 54,000 soldiers with unknown graves, and each night at 8 pm, the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate while members of the local Fire Brigade sound the Last Post in the roadway under the Memorial’s arches. Ormond Meppem is also remembered on the headstone of his sister Adelaide Isabel who died on 21st January 1927, and who was buried in the churchyard of St John’s, Felbridge, grave no. D2. 141-143. The inscription reads:
In Loving Memory of
DIED 21ST JAN. 1927
ORMOND – 1917
SYDNEY – 1917


PT. Sydney Clarence Meppem

Sydney was born on 28th January 1895, the son of Ormond snr. and Isabella Meppem, and brother of Ormond, who was killed in World War I on 15th June 1917. Unlike his brother Ormond, Sydney was single for the duration of his war service. Like his brother there is a discrepancy between the brass Memorial Plaque in St John’s and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission details. The brass plaque lists Sydney as enlisted with the Queen’s Regiment, but the records of the CWGC detail him as enlisted with the 22nd Battalion, London Regiment. However, as the Queen’s Regiment was not formed until 31st December 1966, so the Queen’s Regiment referred to may have been the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey).

PT. Sydney Clarence Meppem, 6192, was killed, aged twenty-one, on Sunday 18th October 1916, and is buried in the Warlencourt British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, grave no. V. F. 4. The two villages of Warlencourt and Eaucourt-L’Abbaye, along with the village of Butte, were the scenes of very fierce fighting in 1916. Eaucourt was taken by the 47th (London) Division in October 1916. The 47th and other Divisions also attacked the Butte, but it was not relinquished until the 26th February 1917.

Like his brother Ormond Meppem, Sydney is also remembered on the gravestone of their sister Adelaide, grave no. D12. 141-143, and the inscription reads:
In Loving Memory of
DIED 21ST JAN. 1927
ORMOND – 1917
SYDNEY – 1917


PT. Herbert Charles Paice

Herbert Charles was born in 1895, in Penge, Surrey, the son of Charles Herbert and Alice Sophia Paice. Charles Paice moved to Felbridge and took over the blacksmith forge and wheelwright shop at the Star junction from Horace Young, at the end of the 19th century. The forge and wheelwright shop stood on the site of the Tool Hire Centre, with the blacksmith’s cottage to the South. Herbert was one of several brothers, and his brother Cecil George, born in 1897, eventually took over the blacksmithing business, which later became Paice’s Garage, now the site of Kwik-Fit.

During World War I, PT. Herbert Charles Paice, 1353, served with the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment, and lost his life on Sunday 14th November 1915, aged twenty. He was buried in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt, in grave no. D. 194. There are 2,056 Commonwealth war graves from the First World War located in this cemetery.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Cairo was headquarters to the United Kingdom garrison in Egypt. Along with Alexandria, Cairo became the main hospital centre for Gallipoli in 1915, and later dealt with the sick and wounded from operations in Egypt and Palestine. In February 1915, a naval attack was launched to bombard the Turkish gun batteries of the Dardanelles in the belief that ships alone might force a passage through the narrows of the Darsanelles, so linking the Aegean and Black Seas. It became apparent very quickly that this strategy would not work, so an amphibious landing was made on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25th April 1915, a total of 28,000 British troops, plus 30,000 Australian s and New Zealanders, and 17,000 French landed on three beaches along the peninsula. However, the previous naval activities, had by then, alerted the Turks, and by the time of the landings of the 25th April, extra division of enemy forces and new defences had been moved into position, with inevitably high Allied losses. The result of this offensive was a deadlock, with little advancement made over the next year. It was during the attempts to push forward that Herbert was killed, in November 1915, and after almost a year of stalemate, and failure to break the Turkish line; the British troops were withdrawn from Gallipoli.

Apart from the Herbert’s grave in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, he is also remembered on the brass Memorial Plaque in St John’s church, and on the gravestone of his father and grandparents in the churchyard of St John’s, grave no. A7. 6-9. the inscription reads:

PT. Sydney Albert Summerfield

Sydney Albert Summerfield was born in 1894, and came from the Newchapel area of Felbridge. Little else is known about Sydney and there is a discrepancy between the brass memorial plaque in St John’s church and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in that the brass plaque records that he served with the 21st Lancers, and the CWGC records that he served with the 7th Reserve Cavalry Regiment during World War I.

During World War I, to ensure a supply of horses, privately owned horses were requisitioned for war service. There is a point of interest here relating to Mrs Rudd who lived at Newchapel House and owned Felbridge Place during the war years. She was a keen horsewoman and when the officials came to inspect her horses for war service they chose several of them. The chosen horses had an identifying mark painted onto their shoe for collection at a later date. Mrs Rudd, understandably, did not want her horses to face the traumas of the battlefield and had them shot in preference to war service. Their bodies were said to be buried beside their stable block, now Felbridge Copse, London Road, Felbridge.

The 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s), were raised in 1858, by the East India Company as the 3rd Bengal European Light Cavalry, and then transferred to Crown control in 1859, becoming part of the British Army in 1862, as the 21st Regiment of Hussars, converted in 1897 as the 21st Lancers, and being redesignated the 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers in 1898. Their Battle Honours include, Omdurman, North-West Frontier, 1915-1916.

What is known for certain is that PT. Sydney Albert Summerfield, 23177, died on Wednesday 15th March 1916, aged twenty-two, and was buried in the churchyard at St John’s, Felbridge, on the 20th March 1916, in grave no. D7. 27. Given the short time between his death and burial it would imply that Sydney died in England. His gravestone, made by Lynn & Son, East Grinstead, is inscribed:

PT. Frederick George Wheeler

Frederick George was born on 14th March 1890, the eldest son of Thomas Wheeler and his wife Betsy Susannah née Baldwin, who lived in Rowplatt Lane before moving to Fir Tree Cottage, Crawley Down Road, Felbridge. Thomas worked as a carter and Betsy was the sister of PC James Baldwin who was murdered whilst on duty in London, and who is also buried in the churchyard at St John’s in grave no. D3. 84-87. Thomas and Betsy had two other children, apart from Frederick, Charles, born on 19th June 1891, and Emily Ellen, born on 20th June 1895. Charles married Dora Pattenden, and Emily married William Henry Barton.

Frederick served with the 9th Battalion The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), as a driver. This Regiment was formed in England as the Holland Regiment in 1665, tracing its origins to Thomas Morgan’s Company, raised in 1572, for service in the Low Countries. It was redesignated in 1689, as the Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot, but by 1708, it was known as The Buffs. In 1747 it ranked as 3rd (The East Kent) Regiment of Foot (The Buffs), and in 1881, as The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Their nicknames include, Buff Howards, Old Buffs, Nutcrackers and The Resurrectionists.

PT. Frederick George Wheeler, G/8574, died on Friday 28th January 1916, aged twenty-five, and the obituary that appeared in the local paper states:


Fred Wheeler, son of Mr and Mrs T Wheeler, of this village [Felbridge], died recently in hospital at Brighton, and was buried here on Wednesday with military honours and amid many evidences of deep sorrow, which has been aroused by the sad event. Some five and twenty of his comrades, forming a fife and drum band and a firing party, came up from Shoreham Camp and paid a last tribute of respect to one, who, but for his premature decease, bade fair to become an excellent soldier. He passed most creditably through the school here, and was a young fellow liked and respected by all. With his bereaved parents the deepest sympathy is felt by all who knew him.

Frederick was buried in the churchyard of St John’s in grave no. D7. 4-5. The gravestone, in the form of a cross, is inscribed:


Facts and Figures, and the impact of World War I on Felbridge

To date there are eighteen men recorded as having lost their lives in World War I in Felbridge. Of these eighteen, only fifteen appear on the official Memorial Plaque in St John’s church, with a further two remembered on memorials erected in the churchyard, and one who has no memorial. Of the eighteen men, there are four pairs of brothers who died. The average age of the Felbridge men who died was thirty, with 53% being single, 29% being married and the remaining 18% widowed or unknown. Although the men served with a variety of regiments, the largest percentage, 41%, served with the Royal Sussex Regiment, which lost a total of 6,800 men, and of this figure 0.1% came from Felbridge. The highest loss of Felbridge lives occurred in 1915 and 1916, both years being 29%, with 24% lost in 1917, and 18% lost in 1918, the majority of lives being lost in France.

The impact on the community of Felbridge has to be considered in relation to the population figure of Felbridge at that time. The Felbridge Place estate, although no longer a manorial estate as it had started to break up in 1911, had not grown due to the intervening war years. This meant that the population figure was about the same as it had been during the time of being a manorial estate, which in 1913, was listed as 293. On this basis, Felbridge lost 6% of its total population during World War I, and presuming that about half of the population were males, Felbridge lost 12% of its male population. Considering the average life expectancy in Felbridge in the early 1900’s was 60 (from burial data) and the age for conscripted service was 18 to 50 by the end of the War, Felbridge lost 2 in every 9 males who were eligible for war service.

Chronology of World War I
4th August War declared on Germany
23rd August Battle of Mons
23rd August Bridge at Nimy held by PT. Sydney Godley, VC
5th-9th September Battle of the Marne
20th Oct-22nd Nov First Battle of Ypres
21st November Landing at Basra (Mesopotamia)
10th March Battle of Neuve Chapelle
22nd April-24th May Second Battle of Ypres (first use of gas by enemy forces)
25th April Landing at Gallipoli
25th September Battle of Loos
8th Dec-29th April Siege of Kit-el-Amara
9th January Evacuation of Gallipoli
1st January Conscription first introduced
1st July First day of the Somme
15th September Battle of Flers-Courcelette (first use of tanks)
13th November Battle of the Somme ends
9th April Battle of Arras/Vimy Ridge
7th June Messines Ridge taken
31st July-4th Nov Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)
9th September Mutiny at Étaples
20th November Battle of Cambrai
9th December Jerusalem captured
21st March Ludendorff Offensive begins
8th August Battle of Amiens
19th September Damascus captured
11th November Armistice, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

World War II Memorials of St John the Divine

There is no memorial to the Felbridge men and women that lost their lives during World War II, although there are a pair of credence tables, (the table designed to hold the bread and wine during the Eucharist or Communion), dedicated to the memory of AGF Cheesewright, one found against the South wall of the chancel in the church. All remaining World War II victims are either buried in the churchyard, remembered in the inscriptions found on the graves of other relatives or in a margin note in the burial register. There are even some Felbridge people that lost their lives in World War II that have no memorial within the village of Felbridge at all. There are also several victims of the bombing of the Whitehall, East Grinstead, on 9th July 1943, who came from the Felbridge area and who are not buried at St John’s. These include:

Joyce Constance Coomber aged twenty-four years of 24, North End, who was buried at Mount Noddy on 13th July 1943.
Mrs Eunice Meyers aged forty-two years of 3, Stream Park, Felbridge.
Miss Molly Iris Lillian Stiller aged fourteen and a half years of 86, Sackville Gardens, East Grinstead.
Miss W D Catterick, of Pixie Wood, Stream Park, Felbridge.
The last three victims were buried on 14th July 1943. Eunice Meyers was buried, along with thirteen other victims in the communal grave no.1 at Mount Noddy, and Molly Stiller and Miss W Catterick were buried along with six other victims in communal grave no.2.

Apart from victims of the Whitehall bombing, there are those who died in active service, that have no memorial in Felbridge, these include:

One man, name now forgotten, who went down with HMS Hood.
Roy Keel, of Fir Cottage, Crawley Down Road, who was killed in service with the RAF – Royal Air Force.
Mr Gould, of ‘Tanglehedge’, The Limes, who was killed in service with the ATA - Air Transport Auxiliary.
John Seymour Pears, of Newchapel House, Newchapel, who was killed in active service with the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons), RAC – Royal Armoured Corps.

The above victims of World War II have no memorials in Felbridge and in all probability there are others that have been over-looked. However, some victims from the Felbridge area do have memorials to their lives and these can be found in the church and churchyard of St John the Divine, Felbridge.

FO. Albert George Frederick Cheesewright

There is a pair of carved light oak credence tables, one of which stands against the South wall of the chancel in the church of St John’s. Each of these tables has a plaque that is inscribed with the same memorial that reads:


4TH MAY 1942



The hymn ‘O Valiant Hearts’ is usually entitled ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’. It was written during the First World War by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright (1872-1954), a descendant of Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the ‘Spinning Jenny’. The complete hymn is as follows:

O Valiant hearts, who to your glory came,
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.

Proudly you gathered, rank on rank, to war,
As who had heard God’s message from afar:
All you hoped for, all you had, you gave
To save mankind – yourself you scorned to save.

Splendid you passed, the great surrender made,
Into the light that never more shall fade;
Deep in your contentment in that blest abode,
Who wait the last clear trumpet-call of God.

Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still,
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human clay,
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self-same way.

Still stands His cross from that dread hour to this,
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.

These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyred Son of God;
Victor He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of sacrifice.

O risen Lord, Shepherd of our dead,
Whose cross has brought them and whose staff has led,
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to Thy precious hand.

Albert George Frederick Cheesewright was born in 1901, unfortunately little else is known about his personal life, except that he was married to a lady called Dorothy, who at the time of his death in 1942, was recorded as living at Earls Court, London.

Flying Officer, Albert George Frederick Cheesewright, 65030, served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves during World War II, and died on 4th May 1942, aged forty-one. His name appears on the Singapore Memorial, Singapore, column 412. The Memorial stands in the Kranji War Cemetery, and bears the names of 24,000 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces that have no known grave. The airmen who are commemorated died during operations over the whole of Southern and Eastern Asia and the surrounding seas.

SAP. Harold Curtis

Harold was born in 1916, the son of Frederick and Florrie Curtis, of ‘Trevore’, Copthorne Road, Felbridge. With the outbreak of World War II on 3rd September 1939, Harold signed up with the No. 2 Bomb Disposal Section of the Royal Engineers. However, it was not defusing a bomb that caused the death of Sapper Harold Curtis, 1888425, on Thursday 31st October 1940, at the age of twenty-four.

Harold had been on leave and returned to Barracks. On his arrival he was requested to take a message, by motorbike, and it was whilst on this duty that he was involved in a fatal accident.

His body was returned to Felbridge and he was buried in the churchyard of St John’s in grave no. D4. 157, and the inscription reads:
OCT. 31ST 1940, AGED 24.


LT. C Francis Drake

C Francis Drake was born 7th September 1911, the son of John Bernard and Beatrice Louisa Drake. John Drake was the son of Anne Louisa and C Bernard Drake, making Francis their grandson. C Bernard Drake, MA, was Rector of Leverington, Cambridgeshire, and some time after his death Anne, who was born in 1851, moved to The Limes, Felbridge, naming the house Leverington. C Francis married a lady called Dorothea, who at the time of his death was recorded as living in Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa.

Francis served with No.12 Squadron of the South African Air Force rising to the position of Lieutenant. LT. C Francis Drake, 102340, died in active service on Thursday 4th June 1942, aged thirty. He is buried in the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery, Egypt, in grave no. 12. C. 7. All the graves in the Halfaya Sollum Cemetery were brought in from the surrounding area to centralise them and give them a safe location in a sensitive area, being only a short distance from the Libyan border. The cemetery contains 2,046 Commonwealth burials of World War II, of which 238 are unidentified.

Francis is also remembered in the churchyard of St John’s, on the grave slab of his grandmother, Anne Louisa Drake, who at the time of her death was aged ninety-one, and was buried on 18th September 1942, in grave no. C2. 123. Also recorded on her gravestone is the name J Randal Drake, another grandson and brother of Francis, who also gave his life in 1942, Agnes Winifred Drake, who died in May 1951, aged seventy-three, Mary Augusta Jane Drake, who died in March 1956, aged eighty-one, both from Leverington, The Limes, and Mabel Drake who died in November 1991, aged sixty-eight, who was living at 53, Northfield Avenue, Cambridge, at the time of her death.

The grave slab is located abutting the West wall about half way along and the inscription reads:

BORN MARCH 28, 1851

BORN JULY 19, 1909



FO. John Randal Drake

John Randal was born on 19th July 1909, the son of John Bernard and Beatrice Louisa Drake. John Bernard was the son of C Bernard and Anne Louisa Drake, making John Randal their grandson. C Bernard was the Rector of Leverington, Cambridgeshire, and some time after his death Anne moved to The Limes, Felbridge, naming the house Leverington. John Randal married a lady called Sonia, who at the time of his death was living at Victoria, London.

John Randal served with the 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves during World War II, rising to the rank of Flying Officer. FO. John Randal Drake, 115207, was killed in active service on Thursday 1st October 1942, aged thirty-three, and his name appears on the Runnymeade Memorial, Surrey, that overlooks the Thames, panel number 66. The Runnymeade Memorial stands on Cooper’s Hill, at Englefield Green, between Windsor and Egham, and commemorates the names of over 20,000 airmen lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe.

The circumstances of John Randal Drake’s death are not known, and as well as the Runnymeade Memorial, his name also appears on the grave slab of his grandmother Anne Louisa Drake, along with Francis Drake, his brother, who also died in 1942. Anne Louisa Drake is buried in the churchyard of St John’s in grave no. C2. 123, and details of the inscription are listed above.

Ellen France

There are very few details about Ellen France, of Green Platt, Copthorne Road, Felbridge, a victim of the Whitehall cinema bombing in East Grinstead on 9th July 1943, only that she was aged sixty-eight at the time of her death which means she was born in 1875.

A contemporary report of the bombing appeared in The Courier, which reads:

Women and Children Among Many Victims
Fine Services by Civil Defence and Soldiers

Four death dealing blows were struck at the heart of a quiet South-East town soon after 5 o’clock on Friday, when one of about ten enemy raiders swept in from the coast to cause havoc in the shopping centre, and a large number of casualties among men, women and children. The majority of the casualties were in a cinema, where a bomb scored a direct hit. It was there that the death toll was heavy – very heavy for a single raider. From this cinema most of the dead were taken, and a large number of seriously wounded were rescued and removed to the hospital in the town and to other hospitals in the neighbourhood.

Three other bombs were dropped and a number of incendiaries which brought disaster and damage to many shops in the same street. Immediately after the attack on street resembled a shambles with wreckage, glass and plaster covering the road and pavements and fires burning at some of the establishments. But within a few minutes of this ruthless attack on an open town Civil Defence workers, including Police and NFS, as well as troops and members of the Home Guard, were on the scene effecting rescues which became fantastic spectacles. Members of the public also helped in the heroic task, while members of the London Transport Passenger Board gave much valued assistance with buses for the transport of casualties. The combined services accomplished many feats of skill and daring, and worked feverishly throughout the late afternoon and night.

The attack on this quiet little country town will long be remembered for the manner in which defenceless women and children were massacred, and the viciousness of the attack by the Nazi raider on a locality which had not military pretensions. The attacking plane first circled round a near by station in an attempt to machine-gun a London train just as it was running into the station. There were no casualties or damage in this attack. The raider then circled the town twice before releasing its cargo. Bombs were dropped, also a number of incendiaries. The one high explosive which caused the greater number of casualties was that which penetrated the roof of the attractive cinema. It actually dropped among the cheaper seats in front of the auditorium, which were mainly occupied by women and children. Included amongst these were five WAAF’s who had been sitting together. There were also a number of soldiers who had come into the town from the surrounding district. The cinema, which has seating accommodation for 400, was fairly full at the time. Most of the children in the audience had gone to the cinema straight from school, a regular Friday night ‘habit’ among them. Instantly the whole place was in ruins. Masonry and heavy girders crashed on to the audience and buried them in a mass of rubble. There were many who were almost blown to pieces, but others lay pinned in the debris suffering from wounds of a ghastly character.


In the dust ladened atmosphere it was a pitiful sight. With all possible speed Rescue and Demolition Squads and First Aid Units were rushed to the scene. Other calls went out for further assistance, which was soon forthcoming and everyone worked feverishly in their attempts to bring relief to the sufferings of those trapped among the fallen masonry and plaster. The work went on in relays. The workers toiled unceasingly, and several who were ordered to take a rest refused to do so and worked on until they were at the point of collapse. At the same time as rescue work was carried on in the ruins military and other ambulances were rushed to the spot, as well as special casualty detector. Buses also came to the rescue, helping to take many of the wounded to hospital.

One by one, two by two, pale faced and lifeless children were brought out of the ruins. Some were found almost naked with their clothes blasted from them. Then there was a woman without shoes or stockings. There were others who were also devoid of much clothing and soldiers in battledress who were brought out in the same manner as might have been the case had they been in action against the enemy and across the road they were taken and gently lowered on to the floor of a local newspaper office which had been blasted.


It was a sickening scene, one which brought tears even to the stoutest hearts among the gallant lot of rescuers who toiled on through the night. It was an eerie sight during the night with four candles stuck round the cash desk to give light to those ascending and descending the plush carpet steps leading to the auditorium of death.

A representative of the ‘Courier’ who visited this town of sorrow saw the interior of the cinema. Here and there one came across a shoe, a khaki cap, a man’s hat and a woman’s dress. The seats were torn to ribbons, seats which only a short time earlier had been occupied by lighthearted men, women and children. In a moment their joy had been turned into death or painful injury. In the rescue work a chain of soldiers handed out the much damaged seats which had to be removed, together with chunks of masonry and twisted girders before the majority of the killed and maimed could be reached by the rescuers.


In turn the bodies were taken from the newspaper office to a garage to await an identification parade. A mere glimpse at some of the victims made one realise what scenes of pathos would be forthcoming when processions of tearful mothers and fathers, brothers or sisters or sweethearts would make their way to that mortuary to see if they could establish the identity of someone who had been dear to them. By the following morning most of the bodies had been recovered, including 16-years-old Mollie Stiller, the little usherette. Among some of those who had miraculous escapes was the assistant operator, William R Henn, who was leaving the box when the roof crashed. He escaped with a few minor injuries. The senior operator, Tom Wickenden, was badly injured.

In the indescribable mass of ruins inside one could distinguish the screen curtain above which was a plaque of the Prince of Wales feathers. The curtain was in ribbons. Attached to the cinema was the Rainbow Ballroom, where dances were held with fairylike lighting effects. The dome shaped roof hung down in one great massive piece stretching to the floor, while the room itself was just another lot of rubble. And the same can be said of the room generally used by the Rotary Club for their usual weekly gatherings, but curiously enough the restaurant on the ground floor facing the street was hardly damaged.


The attacking plane is believed to have been a Dornier 217. It has been established that one-third of the total casualties were women, one-third children, and the rest mainly soldiers who had come into the town. [Abridged]

The only memorial to Ellen France is a margin note found in the burial register. She was buried on 15th July 1943, in an unmarked grave, no. D5. 113, now just a patch of grass, located to the North West of the grave of Charles James Valentine Hewitt.

SAP. Mark Heselden

Mark was born on 7th March 1916, the son of William Mark Heselden and his wife Edith née Cosson. Mark joined the family building firm of W M Heselden & Sons Ltd. in 1930, working as a carpenter. On 4th April 1940, he married Winifred Emily Alison Potter, and they had one son called Keith, born in 1942.

Also in 1940, Mark was called up under the Government’s direction of labour policy for World War II to carry out duties working on aircraft engines. He worked first at Gatwick and later at Southampton, and whilst in Southampton the Germans bombed his unit heavily. Later Mark joined the 174 Workshops and Park Company of the Royal Engineers, and was due to take part in the Normandy invasion of 6th June 1944, but Sapper Mark William Heselden, 14379084, was fatally injured just a fortnight earlier when an army lorry in which he was travelling was involved in a road accident. Mark died the following day on 23rd May 1944.

His obituary in the local paper reads:

Felbridge Soldier’s Death

Much sympathy is felt with the widow and parents of Sapper Mark William Heselden, whose death occurred while on military operations in this country. Deceased, who was well known in Felbridge, was before joining the Royal Engineers in 1940 employed by his father, who is a builder. He was 28 years of age and leaves a widow and son aged 18 months. His wife is the daughter of Mr and Mrs H Potter, former residents of East Grinstead and now of Leicester. Deceased was popular both in Felbridge and East Grinstead, and the news of his death came as a great shock.


Military honours were accorded at the funeral that took place at Felbridge Church on Monday, when a large number of relatives and friends attended. The service was conducted by the Vicar (the Rev WH Hewitt) and six of his Army comrades acted as bearers. [Abridged]

Mark was buried at St John’s, in grave no. C1. 136, which bears the inscription:


Clara Louise Mitchell

Clara Louise was born in 1883, she married and had a son, and a daughter named Ena. Clara and her husband ran a small nursery garden behind their bungalow, ‘Hollybush’, in Rowplatt Lane, Felbridge, now the site of the Tithe Orchard estate. Their daughter Ena married a Mr Parks and they ran a small farmstead near the Lincoln Imp, now Fresco’s, at the bottom of Woodcock Hill.

Like Ellen France, Clara was killed in the Whitehall cinema bombing on 9th July 1943. The original report of the bombing did not give any figures for the dead and wounded, and although it wrote graphically about the scenes of devastation it was reported in the typical ‘war style’ that did not give much away that could be used against the country and its people by the enemy. Later articles on the event put the death toll at 108, and the injured at 235, but Mr Lewis Bennett, who was the deputy Civil Defence chief for East Grinstead at that time, stated that he issued 123 death certificates and logged 393 people as being injured. One of the original statements that ‘The attack on this quiet little country town will long be remembered for the manner in which defenceless women and children were massacred, and the viciousness of the attack by the Nazi raider on a locality which had not military pretensions.’, is also slightly inaccurate. The area behind the old Whitehall cinema was, during the war, being used as a depot for Canadian Army vehicles and was more likely to have been the intended target. Also, not more that two miles North in Felbridge, was the Hobbs Barracks, yet another military target.

There was also controversy about the identity of the aeroplane that dropped the bombs. It was reported as a Dornier 217 and twenty-seven years after the bombing the wreckage of a Dornier 217 was found buried in a wood near Bletchingley, Surrey, believed to have been the plane responsible for the attack. However, an eyewitness believed the plane to be a Junker 88. On further investigation with the RAF Air Historical Branch, it was discovered that two Dornier 217’s were shot down on the day in question but that they had been operating over Croydon, Orpington and West Malling, with one being shot down over Bletchingley and one near Kenley, all in the Surrey area. There are no records of a Junker 88 being brought down on that day, and German records claim only two planes were lost out of ten sent on the raid. Based on this information it would seem likely that the plane responsible for bombing the Whitehall cinema returned safely.

Again, like Ellen France, the memorial to Clara Louise Mitchell is a margin note in the burial register as she too was buried in an unmarked grave on 13th July 1943. The grave, no. D5. 117, is located on the second row North of the raised area at the lower South end of the churchyard, in a central position.

SIG. Cecil Morris

Cecil was born in 1909, the son of Herbert and May Morris of Maicot, Crawley Down Road, Felbridge. Cecil married Emily Selina, and lived in East Grinstead, Sussex. Little else is known about Cecil’s personal life.

In World War II, Cecil was called up and served as a Signalman, with the 18th Division of Signalmen, in the Royal Corps of Signals. The Royal Corps of Signals was formed in 1920, from the Corps of Royal Engineers, and like the Corps of Royal Engineers could be sent anywhere.

Signalman Cecil Morris, 2354987, died a Prisoner of War, on Tuesday 25th January 1944, aged thirty-four. He is buried in the Chungkai War Cemetery, Thailand, in grave no. 3. E. 3. This cemetery contains the remains of the Commonwealth and Dutch prisoners of war that had been forced to work by the Japanese on the notorious Burma-Siam railway. The railway was a project to improve communications to support the large Japanese Army in Burma. During its construction approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway, later moved to the Chungkai Cemetery. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar). The two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma, worked from opposite ends to meet in the middle. The Japanese aimed to complete the project in fourteen months and work began in October 1942. The line, nearly 263 miles (424km) long, was completed in December 1943.

The Chungkai Cemetery was started by the prisoners of war of the Chungkai Camp, which was one of the base camps on the Burma-Siam railway, and it contained a hospital and church built by the Allied prisoners of war. Most deaths, including those forced to work on the railway, were due to malnutrition, malaria, dysentery and pellagra, a vitamin deficiency disease. There are 1,427 Commonwealth burials in the cemetery from the Second World War. It is unclear whether Cecil Morris was one of those forced to work on the Burma-Siam railway as his date of capture is not known, but if he did work on the line, he survived that only to die of one of the previously mentioned causes of death.

Cecil’s father Herbert did not live to know the outcome of his son’s fate in World War II as he died in February 1941, and was buried in St John’s churchyard in grave no. D9. 157. A memorial to Cecil Morris was placed on this grave by his mother May and wife Emily in the form of a square block-shaped stone urn engraved ‘Cecil’ and the gravestone was inscribed to read:

JAN 25TH 1944, AGED 35 YEARS


CPL. John Henry Stone

John Henry was born in 1916, the son of William and Mary Teresa Stone of ‘Talacre’, Copthorne Road, Felbridge. William was born in 1882, the son of Henry and Ann Stone who lived at Gullege Farm, circa 1913, and who then moved to Brookhurst Farm, Lowdells Lane, East Grinstead, circa 1920. John’s uncle, and William’s brother John, was a military policeman and married Caroline Baldwin, sister of PC James Baldwin who was murdered whilst on duty in London and is also buried in the churchyard of St John’s in grave no. D3. 84-87. The Military Police were formed by the amalgamation of the Military Mounted Police, which were formed in 1877, and the Military Foot Police, which were formed in 1885. They were nicknamed the Cherrynobs or Redcaps.

John Henry was called up to serve with the 2nd Armoured Division of Ammunition Sub-Park, the Royal Army Service Corps during World War II, rising to the rank of Corporal. This Division was in the vicinity of Greece in early 1941, at the time when the German and Italian troops were advancing towards the Egyptian frontier, and invading Yugoslavia and Greece. Between 24th April and 1st May 1941, nearly 51,000 British and Commonwealth troops were evacuated from ports in Southern Greece, leaving behind 7,000 prisoners as well as a quantity of valuable equipment. Some of those saved were sent to Crete where, in late May, they fought a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful battle against invading German airborne troops, and a further 12,000 became prisoners of war.

CPL. John Henry Stone, 188552, died on Saturday 26th April 1941, aged twenty-five, and his name appears on the Athens Memorial, Greece. This memorial stands within the Phaleron War Cemetery and commemorates nearly 3,000 members of the Commonwealth land forces, with no known grave, who lost their lives in Greece and Crete in 1941, and again in 1944-45, and those who lost their lives in the Dodecanese Islands and Yugoslavia between 1943-45. John Stone is also remembered on the gravestone of his parents, William and Mary Stone, in grave no. G19, in the churchyard of St John’s, the inscription reads:

Facts and Figures, and the impact of World War II on Felbridge

There is no official War Memorial to those who died in World War II in Felbridge, although amongst the faculty papers of St John’s church there are documents and letters relating to the possible erection of one. There is also a letter requesting the names of those to be included on the memorial, this amounted to just one having been submitted.

World War II appears to have had less impact on the serving population of Felbridge during the war, but had a far greater impact upon the civilian population in comparison with the impact felt during World War I. There are six memorials to those killed in active service in the churchyard of St John’s and one in the church itself. Of these seven memorials, only two are actual war graves, the remaining five are memorials only. However, there are at least four other men who served during World War II, from the Felbridge area, that do not have memorials in Felbridge, bringing the known total of men who lost their lives during World War II to eleven.

Along side those who died in active service, there are two graves in the churchyard of St John’s of civilians who lost their lives through enemy action, both female, and a further four females from the Felbridge area who lost their lives in the same enemy action that are buried at Mount Noddy Cemetery, East Grinstead. All six ladies died in the Whitehall cinema bombing on 9th July 1943, accounting for 38% of World War II casualties from Felbridge.

Of those who died in military service, one was in the Navy, 50% were in the Royal Air Force, and 40% were in the Army, and the average age was thirty-one. The majority lost their lives in 1942, when 33% were killed, followed by 1943 and 1944 with 23% each and 1940 and 1941 with 11%. Most lost their lives in the Middle and Far East, with at least two as victims of the Prisoner of War camps.

By World War II, the population of Felbridge had greatly increased and in 1940 it was listed as 718, rising to 1,000 by 1947. Using these figures the impact on the community of Felbridge was less severe than that felt in World War I, as Felbridge had only lost about 2% of its total population compared to more than 12% of just the male population during the First World War.

Chronology of World War II
3rd September War declared on Germany
12th October British Expeditionary Force deployed to France
9th April-8th June Campaign in Norway
10th May-22nd June Defeat in France and the Low Countries
26th May-4th June Evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk
10th June Italy declares war
4th July Italians invade Somaliland
13th September Italians invade Egypt
27th September Junker 88 comes down on Simpson’s Garage, North End
9th December British attack in Egypt, operation ‘Compass’
19th Jan-18th May British take Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
7th February Battle of Beda Fomm, the end of operation ‘Compass’
6th April-31st May Defeat in Greece and Crete
April-July Campaigns in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria
18th November Operation ‘Crusader’ begins in N Africa
8th December Japanese attack Hong Kong and Malaya
25th December Hong Kong falls
15th February Singapore surrenders
27th/28th Feb Bruneval Raids, (first use of Paratroopers)
8th March Rangoon falls to the Japanese
26th May Rommel attacks Gazala
21st June Tobruk surrenders
1st–27th July First Battle of Alamein
13th August Montgomery takes over the 8th Army
30th Aug-2nd Sep Battle of Alam Halfa
23rd Oct- 2nd Nov Second Battle of Alamein
8th November Allied landings in N Africa, operation ‘Torch’
17th December British advance into Arakan, Burma
8th Feb-24th Mar First Chindit Operation
6th March Battle of Medenine
7th May Fall of Tunis
9th July Whitehall bombing
10th July Invasion of Sicily
3rd September Invasion of Italy, Italy surrenders
9th September Landing at Salerno
9th January British attack Arakan
22nd January Landing at Anzio
5th February Second Chindit Operation begins
5th Mar-26th June Battles of Imphal/Kohima
18th May Capture of Monte Cassino
4th June Liberation of Rome
6th June D-day Landings in Normandy
13th June Doodlebug shot down in London Road, East Grinstead
18th –20th July Operation ‘Goodwood’ in Normandy
3rd September Liberation of Brussels
17th-25th Sep Operation ‘Market Garden’/Battle of Arnhem
4th December British troops cross the River Chindwin
8th –21st Feb British advance to the Rhine
21st March Liberation of Mandalay
23rd/24th March British crossing of the Rhine
25th March Last V1 bomb to come down in the whole of Britain, exploding in the North End area
9th April- 2nd May Final campaign in Italy
3rd May Liberation of Rangoon
4th May German surrender, Lüneburg Heath
8th May VE Day
2nd September Japanese surrender, Tokyo Bay
Sept-Oct British involvement in Indo-China

St John the Divine
Burial Register of St John the Divine, FHA
Notes on St John the Divine, Felbridge, by U Lambert, 1925, FHA
St John’s (Felbridge) Institute, Local Newspaper article, 19.3.1924, FHA
Burial Register for Mount Noddy Cemetery, EG Council Offices
The British Army by J Pimlot
Royal Sussex Regiment, article in FHA
The Supreme Sacrifice, Evergreen, Autumn 2000, FHA
Commonwealth War Graves Commission,
Soldiers Died in the Great War, http://www.naval-military-press.co.uk
Burnt Papers for E S Creasey, PRO, Ref: WO/363-C969/970
Crockfords Directory
Obituary of M Heselden, Local Newspaper article, 1944, FHA
Murderous Attack on South-East Town, The Courier, 9.7.1943, FHA
50th Anniversary of Whitehall bombing, article from The Courier, 9.7.93, FHA
Did the bomber get away on that day of tragedy?, local newspaper article, FHA
Genealogical research by R Bingham, M Heselden, L Phillips and J Wilkins, FHA
Obituary of F Wheeler, Local Newspaper article, 1916, FHA
PT. Sidney Godley VC, Factsheet SJC 03/00

SJC 07/02v