St John’s Church in Meads is to open its tower for the first time in decades to celebrate a research project which forms part of its Festival of Remembrance.
The research details the 69 men from the parish of Meads who lost their lives in World War I. It coincides with the centenary of the end of World War I.
Local researchers Auriol Cumming, Neil Cumming and Colin Russell have formed part of a larger team and have worked to find out more about the men who never came home to the parish and where exactly they lived. They have created a map, which pinpoints where they lived and a book of their findings. The research features information about each man and their families, where they lived, telegrams received by the families and extracts from the parish magazines back in 1914.
Auriol has a personal interest as her great-uncle, her grandfather’s brother, is on the roll of honour for Meads. She has a telegram sent to his 23-year-old wife to tell her he had died at war.
Auriol’s great-uncle Frank Johnston forms just a small part of the research they have done and the team is calling for any families to get in touch with more information and photographs of the 69 to add to their research, which is currently open leaf.
Auriol said, “It has been a wonderful thing to be part of but we would still like to add to it and to hear from the families of these men who may have some more information.
“We haven’t found any other relatives.”
Auriol’s husband Neil is a parish councillor and the couple felt it important to find out as much as possible on the important anniversary of World War I.
Colin Russell, despite only moving to Meads two years ago, has done much genealogical research and has family in Meads dating back to the 1600s. He explained his great-grandmother took the name Bradford and there were many Bradfords on the WWI Eastbourne Roll of Honour.
The research, which forms an 89-page book and a map, will be on display with the memorial plaque which lists the names of the fallen soldiers in the tower for the church’s Festival of Remembrance between November 5 and 11. A display of 69 handmade poppies created by the children at St John’s Meads School will be displayed alongside the research.
Apart from the odd summer fair, the tower at St John’s Church which is home to the memorial, has been closed for many decades but is opening for the Festival of Remembrance before undergoing a restoration and then opening next year for a large exhibition called Eastbourne Through the Wars.
During the Second World War St John’s Church was destroyed in a bombing raid in May 1942; the church tower is the only remaining part of the original building. Next year’s restoration of the tower has been made possible following donations from the congregation and funds from charities such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The research team is excited to see the tower open and their research on display.
Auriol said, “I think people will be surprised it is here. I imagine people don’t really know about it.”
The research team has described the project, which they have been working on every day since June, as ‘fascinating’ and ‘humbling’.
They recalled the Diplock family, who had 11 children, losing three sons in WWI and then another in WWII.
Neil said, “Almost every day, or certainly every week, they were getting news.”
Auriol added, “It would have thrown the community out.”
And Colin said, “They used to come to church each Sunday waiting to hear who had died next.”
The youngest solider to die from Meads was 15-year-old Geoffery George Gore-Browne, who would have been one of the youngest to die in the World War I. The oldest soldier from the parish was 49-year-old Ernest Richard Ingles Chitty.
They will all be remembered at the week-long Festival of Remembrance. The tower is open daily from noon to 2pm. There will be a 24-hour vigil in the tower, art exhibitions, storytelling, drama, a memory workshop day with Age Concern, talks on war, remembrance and reconciliation, school concerts, choirs, and the start of a Community Remembrance Quilt, which is being made to mark this significant point in the history of our nation.
The formal Remembrance Service, which includes the two-minute silence at 11am on November 11, will be followed by a community peace party from 3.30pm to 5.30pm, to be opened by the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex.
The main part of the church is also being refurbished but will open again in time for the festival.
A full programme of events is now available from the church.
Visit www.eastbournethroughthewars.org.uk for more information.