NOSTALGIA: Bellringer and war hero remembered at his church

A fitting tribute was paid at St Mary's Church, Westham
A fitting tribute was paid at St Mary's Church, Westham

St Mary’s Church, Westham, paid a special tribute to one of its former bellringers, Henry Burgess, who was always known as Harry, writes Owen Visick.

He was a farm labourer and lived in Peelings Lane, learning to ring the bells before joining the Royal Sussex Regiment.

He fought in the 13th Battalion on the Western Front in France and on June 30 1916, aged just 25, he went “over the top” at Richebourg, and was killed, along with 364 other Sussex men.

His name is recorded in the Roll of Honour for Bellringers in St Paul’s Cathedral.

While the whole world was remembering the horrors and heroism of the forces in the Battle of the Somme, St Mary’s bells were rung in a quarter peal of “Cambridge Minor” by Alan and Christine Baldock, Pauline Kennard, Sandra Titherley and Frances and Peter Bradford, supported by St Mary’s tower captain Angela Long.

The tenor bell, recently re-installed in the tower is engraved with the names of Harry Burgess and for other Westham bellringers who all died in the same war.

Tom and Trudy Drummond, the chairman and secretary of the Westham and Pevensey branch of the Royal British Legion, were present to pay their respects to the memory of this brave young man of a century ago, 
and will lead the members of the branch to continue in their work locally to support the many service men 
and women who have served their country in wars throughout the centuries.

According to historical records, Henry Thomas Burgess was the son of the late Edward and Sarah Burgess and was born in Westham.

He was a private in the Royal Sussex Regiment’s 13th Batallion.

His death is recorded as killed in action in the “Theatre of War: Western European Theatre”.

Private Thomas was one of thousands of men from Sussex who died in June 1916.

The 11th, 12th and 13th (Southdowns) Battalions were all raised in late 1914 as part of the 116th Brigade of the 39th Division during the First World War.

All three battalions landed at Le Havre in France as part of the March 1916 for service on the Western Front.

Once there, all three battalions took part in the Battle of the Boar’s Head in June 1916.

After a bombardment of the German trenches, the 12th and 13th Battalions went over the top and, under heavy fire, attacked the enemy trenches, bombing and bayoneting their way in.

The 11th Battalion supplied carrying parties.

They succeeded in taking the German front line trench, holding it for some four hours, and even briefly took the second line trench for about half an hour, beating off repeated counterattacks, and only withdrew from the shortage of ammunition and mounting casualties.

In regimental history it’s known as The Day Sussex Died and several commemorations were held in June.

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