Seaford’s Saddest Day

TODAY 100 years ago 3rd September 1916 was one of the darkest days in Seaford’s history with five local men being killed within 24 hours.

They were all members of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Four of the men were members of the 11th (South Downs) Battalion.  Known as Lowther’s Lambs as they had been recruited a year earlier by Lt Col Claude Lowther, MP and local land owner.

On 3rd September 1916 the South Downs men were fighting besides the River Ancre near Beaumont Hamel.   As a result of this action 8 officers and 105 men were killed. A further 123 men were recorded as ‘missing’  and many of this were later known to have died.

The Battalion Diary is held at the West Sussex County Records Office.  The diary reads… (spelling and punctuation verbatim)

3rd September 1916

05.10am  Operations commence.  Artillery barage opens. The companies left assembly trenches and reassembled in No-Mans-Land. First wave succeeded in entering Enemys front line but owing to Enemys barage across No-Mans-Land the 2nd and 3rd wave suffered many casualties especially amongst the Officers.  T.Capt Michell of the Reserve Coy  saw that some disorganisation would occur to these waves without leaders, quickly went forward and rallied them & took them forward. 2nd Lt Cassals greatly assisted in this work.

Some of the part succeeded in entering the German 2nd line lead by T Capt NORTHCOTE and remained there throughout the day in spite of the great odds. Capt. MITCHELL took up position between the Enemys wire & Front line parapet and consolodated a line of shell holes there.  They had many casualties from shrapnel and bombs but hung on until ordered to withdraw by the C.O.   Capt NORTHCOTE hung on in his precarious position all day and withdrew at 6.30pm but was killed leading his men across No-Mans-Land. Only one survived this party and he was wounded.

05.30pm The Battalion was relieved by the Cheshire Regt and went into billets at ENGLEBELMER.

4th September 1916

Battalion rested. Rolls called and casualties estimated.

5th September 1916

Battalion rested. Owning to the Heavy casualties the Battn was made into two Coys A & D making No 1 Coy and B & C making 2 Coy.  Billets shelled at intervals throughout the day & night – no damage done. Showery all day.

Among the men who were killed in this action were Seafordians John Burgess, Hedley Burton, Jesse Stanford, and Fred Cosstick.  Also killed was Maurice Lawrance of West Dean.

John Charles David BURGESS

John was born in Fulham, London in 1895 the son of Charles and Elizabeth Burgess.   His parents moved to Seaford where they lived at 4, Richmond Terrace (off Blatchington Road) and he worked as a Baker’s Assistant.  He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as Private SD/294 on 7th September 1914 in Eastbourne.  He was unmarried and was a short man, just 5’3’’ tall.  He went to Cooden for training where in May 1915 he was punished for having an ‘untidy berth’

John attended a musketry course in January 1916 and on 3rd March was posted to the front. Although originally posted as ‘missing’ he is known to have been killed in action on 3rd September 1916.  He has no known grave but is remembered on the massive Theipval Memorial in northern France and also on Seaford War Memorial.

In a letter sent to the army after his death his mother wrote “My son was almost one of the first to answer his Country’s Call at Seaford”

Burton HJ letter

Hedley John BURTON

Hedley was born in Alfriston in 1890, the son of John and Mary Burton. John was a farmer and in 1911 the 21 year old was shown on the census as ‘Farmers Son working on farm’  He worked on farms in Claverham, Arlington and in Etchingham.

He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as Private SD/1006 at Hastings.

Hedley was killed in action on 3rd September 1916.  He was 24 years old.  His connection to Seaford is not known but he is listed on the Seaford War Memorial. Probate records show that on his death he left £500 to his father.

His is buried at Ancre Military Cemetery at Beaumont-Hamel in northern France and is remembered on Seaford War Memorial.

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Seaford War Memorial

Frederick COSSTICK

Fred was born in Seaford on 22nd October 1888, the son of William and Ellen Cosstick.  In 1901 William was Fly proprietor (taxi driver) living in Broad Street and 14 year old Fred was an Errand Boy.   The 1911 Census shows the family living at the Sutton Field Dairy Farm with Fred shown as a Dairyman working for his father.

On 7th September 1914, Fred was with John Burgess and joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in Eastbourne.  He gave his address as Firle House, Broad Street, Seaford. He became Private SD/300. He attended Cooden for training with other members of Lowther Lambs and a few weeks later on 23rd December 1914 was promoted to Lance Corporal.   He attended a musketry course in January 1916 was posted to the front in March. In July 1916 Fred was promoted to Corporal.  Frederick was killed in action on 3rd September 1916. He has no known grave but is remembered on the massive Theipval Memorial in northern France and also on Seaford War Memorial.

Jesse STANFORD

Jesse Cyril Stanford was born in Ringmer in April 1885, the son of Henry and Sarah (known as Sally)  Stanford.  He was baptised in Ringmer Church but as his father was a farm worker he lived and worked in various Sussex farms. In 1891 he was living in 33, Ocklynge Road, Eastbourne.  10 years later he was at the same address and, at the age of 15 was working as a Butcher’s Assistant.

Jesse married Edith Pieraccini in Luton on 20th November 1912 and they had two children, Robert and Clara.   They moved to 30, Brightland Road, Eastbourne.

Jesse joined the Royal Sussex Regiment at Eastbourne on 10th September 1914.  He became Private SD/364,  He attend Detling, in Kent for training and in August 1915 was confined to camp and docked two days pay for going A.W.O.L. For one day.  His military record shows that on 3rd September 1916 he was killed in action or died of wounds aged 31years.  This information took some time to reach his wife as in December 1916 she wrote to the Regiment asking if they had any information about him.

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Jesse’s connection to Seaford is not known but he is remembered on Seaford War Memorial. He has no known grave but is also remembered on the Theipval War Memorial.

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