In the Summer of 1915 and with the Great War in its second year, thousands of soldiers from Ireland arrived in Sussex for training before being transferred to the front. One of these men was Private McClure of the 15th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. I have not been able to trace any details about this soldier but he survived the war and left a hand written account of his service. A part of his memoirs relate to his training in Seaford and tell how he returned to the town after the war. This is the relevant section…
SEAFORD CAMP – SUSSEX
In the first week of July 1915 we said goodbye to Ballykinler and travelled by Dublin and Holyhead to our new camp at Seaford in Sussex.
Here among the quiet pleasant Sussex folk, we quickly made ourselves at home. Lined up outside the railway station at the bridge that fine summer morning, Lieutenant Colonel Ford Hutchinson DSO, our commanding officer gave us his famous cautionary word that he kept for special ceremonial occasions, before calling us to attention. All eyes were on us as we marched off.
In some quarters of this seaside town there was uneasiness of mind when it became known that the ‘Wild Irish’ were to be camped in their midst, for they had heard so much of the Irish and their ‘troubles’ !!
On the banks of the Cuckmere River we spent our nights digging trenches in the chalky earth. Some days were spent swimming in the same river and in the sea. My father lay in the North Camp at Seaford about a quarter of a mile from us.
The North Camp, Seaford
The boys in my platoon, being young and still growing, did not take too well, as you can guess, to the half-loaf per day on which we were rationed at this period and I must say that this allowance was not nearly enough for me or them. Mostly I ate the whole half-loaf at breakfast. So the boys in my platoon used to get me to go over to my father’s camp for a daily ration of loaves, butter, jam, tinned foods and meat. Father said we were great ‘scroungers’ but he did not mind in the least as they could get plenty and he was in charge of supplies and could get any amount. I must say that he was liberal with everything including money. He used to say that he made ‘Number 6 Platoon’ what they were the way he fed them.
I made a visit to Seaford Camp in 1921 but everything had changed. The place for me was hallowed with memories. In my mind’s eye I again saw the boys of the ‘Old Brigade’. My thoughts went back to the war years in France, Flanders and Belgium. How many of us ‘old hands’ survived the holocaust and where were they all now? I went to the railway station, again I heard the voice of ‘Hutchie’ calling us to attention with the most attuned tones of any commanding officer I have ever heard.
I wandered to the old stone church where we worshipped on Sundays. I went inside, for it is more interesting to me than the outside, and in my minds eye I again saw Captain Ryall in the pulpit reading the lesson. From here I thought I would go and look at the Cuckmere River over the chalk downs. As I stood on the bank and looked at the river I could once more see the boys splashing in the water. From the river I went to the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters as they were called and where we had fired our musketry course at the range.
The river drew me again and I sat on the banks and watched it meandering towards the sea. I fancy I again saw my father’s company of Engineers throw their bridges across it. Along to Alfriston and then to Hindover. I walked back once more to the downs where I had seen my first aeroplane crash one day in August 1915. We had raced over to the scene of the accident that was a tragedy for the pilot who had been killed in the smash.
The Cuckmere Rive was also the scene of tragedy for one Sunday morning, two of the Irish Fusiliers were drowned while bathing. While in the sea on another Sunday the ‘Skins’ also lost a couple of men. They went out too far and one man of the 14th Rifles lost his life attempting to bring them ashore.
Then came memories of July 11th when we paraded around the town with blankets nailed to broom-shafts for banners, playing drums, tin whistles and flutes.
Then Windover Hill where Sir Edward Carson had come to inspect us over , accompanied by Lord Kitchener who was well pleased with the division’s progress. It was around this area that we had fought our sham battles between the ‘Blue Army’ and the ‘White Army’ as they were termed because of the blue and white bands around our hats to distinguish friend and foe. At the camp at night we sang the old Ulster Division songs. They came from the Liffey, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Belfast, Londonderry and old Donegal.
Two months we spent here and what happy months they were. We then left for Bramshott, another stage in our journey overseas. And how the townspeople were sorry to see us go. Chocolate, cups of tea etc was handed to us by the good Seaford people and everything good showered upon us as we marched to the station.
The Commanding Officer George Higginson Ford-Hutchinson (1863-1933) served in North Africa (Egypt and Sudan) Awarded the DSO for his actions at Khartoum which was presented by Queen Victoria herself at Windsor. He later served in the Boer War and was present at the siege of Ladysmith. He was the Commanding Officer of the 15th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles from 8th October 1914 to 1st December 1915.
Lord Kitchener and Sir Edward Carson visited Seaford to inspect the Irish troops on 20th July 1915. The playing fields of St Peter’s School, Alfriston Road were used for the inspection.
In July 1915 Private Thomas Pollock drowned near the Buckle on Seaford Seafront whilst attempting to rescue a fellow soldier, Robert Wilson. Private Joseph Topley was drowned whilst swimming across the Cuckmere River in August 1915. All three men are buried at Seaford Cemetery.