History: The effects of war, home and away

Crawley Cottage Hospital
Crawley Cottage Hospital

“It will all be over by Christmas” is a phrase long associated with the First World War.

The feeling seemed to be there was nothing to worry about and that the British and our allies would soon beat back the hated enemy .

Such an attitude accounts for the lack of interest in early recruitment drives.

Crawley newspaper cuttings of the time expressed disappointment that so few of our young men were stepping up to fight for King and country.

A meeting at The George in the early months of the war, saw only two men sign up.

A later meeting added 16 names to the list, although four were rejected on medical grounds.

The names of the rejected men were printed in the paper which could initially be seen as the worst kind of humiliation – the men who were unfit to fight.

With further thought, though, perhaps the publication of their names was a kindness – they were the men who desperately wanted to join their brothers on the front line but, through no fault of their own, were unable to do so.

As the war raged on, 
Crawley was forced to adapt to the changes in the world.

One cutting details the use of the town’s cottage hospital for the war effort.

It read: “Cottage Hospital – The War Office has accepted the offer of eight beds for 
the wounded at Crawley Hospital.

“It is now fully equipped and ready for use at any moment. The committee feel sure that there are many in Crawley and district who would like to show their appreciation of the bravery of our men.

“Names can be sent to the hospital of those willing to help daily or weekly with gifts of provisions, luxuries or money to purchase the same when the need arises.”

Arrangements were also made for the accommodation of refugees - though sometimes it didn’t go as 

Under the headline ‘Belgian refugees’, one article read: “Arrangements were being made for the accommodation of several Belgian refugees in Crawley, but owing to the circular which has been sent out by the authorities, dealing with the precautions necessary to prevent German spies coming into England disguised as Belgian refugees, the matter is at present in abeyance.”

The war came very close to home with the movement of troops through the district. Some 200 Hampshire Carabiners billeted in Crawley overnight before marching on to East Grinstead the following day.

Meanwhile, the legendery Sgt Capelin continued to round up deserters.

One article told of a gunner in the 4th Territorial Howitzer Brigade RFA, who was charged with being an absentee without leave.

When he was arrested by PS Capelin, he had a six-chambered revolver in his possession and three of the chambers were loaded. He also had 20 rounds of ammunition on him. He was remanded for a military escort.

A soldier from the Royal Garrison Artillery gave himself up to PS Capelin having gone absent without leave from their camp in Newhaven.

He too was remanded to await the arrival of a military escort.

What became of either man is not known.

As the war progressed, families in Crawley continued to receive news of fathers, sons and brothers who were injured or killed in battle.

Among the reports coming in were those of Prvt W Wright, of the County of London Rifles, son of Mrs Wright, of Victoria Road, Crawley, who was wounded at the Front “though happily not dangerously”.

The report continued: “Prvt Hibberd, who returned to Crawley wounded a short time since, is mending splendidly; but Prvt Allen, of Ifield, who is in a London hospital, is, we regret to hear, in a serious condition.”

Another read: “Wounded at the war - Harry Pullinger, a private in the Rifle Brigade, whose father is at Ifield Park Farm, has returned home suffering from a wound sustained in one of the battles on the Aisne.

“Pullinger was shot through the hand and is happily making good progress.

“Intimation has been received that one of Mr C Sprake’s sons has been injured at the war, but details have not yet come to hand. All will hope that his injury is only slight.”

For some, though, the news was worse, with some of the town’s fighting men losing their lives while still in their teens.

One such man was Prvt Edward Gregory Sangster, who died on November 6 1914, aged just 19.

The report read: “Death at the Front - It is with much regret we announce the deaths at the Front of two Crawley men in the persons of Corpl Edgar Gorringe, who lived in Ifield Road, and Prvt Edward Gregory Sangster, whose parents, formerly of Crawley, now live at Povey Cross.

“Both belonged to the Royal Sussex Regiment and were killed in action, the former being 30 years of age and the latter 19.

“The sympathy of many friends will be extended to the bereaved relatives, who are widely known and greatly respected in the district.

“Corpl Gorringe was killed on October 31 and Prvt Sangster fell on the 6th November, but the news was not officially communicated to the parents until this week. Fortunately, both were single men.”

Dreams of making a life together once the fighting ended were shattered for one couple on November 23 1914.

Lieutenant-Colonel George Kelly, 44, had been due to marry Mrs Masson, of Crawley, but he fell in battle in France.

The news was relayed to the town in the following article: “Death at the Front - This week the war has cast a deep shadow on Mrs Masson and her many friends in Crawley, by the death, in action, of Lieut-Col Kelly, to whom Mrs Masson was engaged, and would, had fate not interspersed, have been married on the very day upon which the sad news of his death reached her.

“The gallant officer fell in North France, during the 24 hours’ fight for the trenches on November 23.

“The action had been raging furiously all day with uncertain results, when about 10.30pm, the Army Corps 
reserves arrived on the scene, and British and Indian 
regiments side by side, wholly undeterred by two unsuccessful assaults, renewed the attack.

“For a long time the issue was in the balance, but about 6am on the morning of the 24th it became evident that the assailants could no longer be denied, and by 6.15 they were once more masters of the trenches, for the possession of which such bloody sontroversy had been waging for nearly 24 hours.

“Col Kelly was shot on the very verge of the trenches, but he lived long enough to have the happiness of knowing that the brave Indians who he led so valiantly had once again proved their worth in this kind of work.

“His loss is felt deeply and deplored by the whole regiment, to which he had greatly endeared himself.”

Lieut-Col Kelly was honoured with an obituary in The Times which said he had earned “five medals and many clasps for active service”.