The late Robert Fry’s widow, Christine, has let me have some of Robert’s papers and photographs, and among these was a photo of First World War wounded soldiers at the Rectory.
No-one had ever heard of the Rectory being used as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital and despite asking a number of people nothing turned up. I accessed a website detailing VAD hospitals and again, nothing turned up about the Rectory, so I was stumped.
I approached Lt. Col. Geoffrey Vesey Holt (Retired) MBE who is a member of the Danehill Parish Historical Society and is a specialist in researching about First and Second World War events. He told me the following:-
"As you will no doubt have already worked out the picture is of convalescing Other Ranks (the First World War term for soldiers who were not commissioned officers). They are wearing what I think (certain for the darker probably khaki coloured jackets) is the special convalescent uniform (the lighted coloured version is puzzling but was probably a summer variant). They are wearing ties which were only worn by officers and convalescent soldiers. The rear left hand soldier was a corporal (two stripe) and the soldier in front of him was a lance corporal. The rest appear to be soldiers. At least one of them belonged to a Scottish regiment and although I cannot make out the individual regiments from their cap badge there is a variety of cap badges.
Once they had recovered they would have had on the left hand sleeve of their jacket a cloth wound stripe to show that they had been wounded in combat. One very brave officer in the Tank Corps had at least five such stripes.”
A military website couldn’t help - so where to find out more? I then received a batch of further postcards - taken at the Rectory, but this time depicting a very colourful fete. Was there a connection? I accessed newspaper articles and from the Mid Sussex Times of 12th September 1916 I found the answer. Yes, there most definitely was a connection.
The write-up about the fete is as follows:- "A garden fete in aid of the British Red Cross Funds was held in the grounds of the Rectory at Horsed Keynes on Wednesday. The fete was well advertised in the surrounding villages, as well as in Horsted Keynes by Mr C Bingham and Mr R Baker, who paraded the locality in fancy dress with a vehicle bedecked with flags and drawn by a donkey, Mr Bingham making a good John Bull.
The amusements began with a flower pot race, which was very amusing, as competitors had to walk on two flower pots, one of which they had to move at each step while standing with one foot on the other. Master Norman Lester was winner of this race. A second race was won by Mark Martin.
This was followed by a pretty decorated bicycle parade, the riders being in fancy dress. The success of each competitor was decided by votes, as follows:- Kenneth Remmer [India], 1; Miss Naida Lester [Highlander], 10; Dennis Remmer [Scotch soldier], 1; James Wooberry [farmer’s boy], 11; Fraser Wilson [jester], 6; Miss Alison Wilson [sunflower], 4; Neill Lester [clown] 9, ; Norman Lester [Presso], 6.
The photo right, shows definitely the clown and, I think, then the Scottish Highlander with the farmer’s boy on the far right hand side. The next photo is another view of the contestants and I think you can probably make out the jester, and on the far right the Highlander.
In the first photo on the left is a distinguished gentleman with a long white beard - he also appears in another photo.
A tortoise race by the same competitors was won by Neill Lester, and a slow race by Dennis Remmer.
Here’s where the connection with wounded soldiers comes in. The newspaper article says “Then there were a baby show and a beauty competition, the competitors being members of the local Volunteers and wounded soldiers from Wych Cross Military Hospital. Their comic dress caused much merriment.”
In this photo John Bull is in the foreground, and to his right are, I think, soldiers in fancy dress. Is that the Rev. Stenton Eardley lurking in the background to the left, just behind the donkey in the first photo? The second photo is somewhat similar, but shows a fairly tall and heavy person on the poor donkey.
MUSIC AND DANCES That popular artiste Miss Batten, LRAM, favoured the company with the following violin solos, Allegro, F H Trocco; Old Folks at Home; Gavotte, A Von shu Casse and others. Mrs Battern was the accompanist. The Misses Phillips, who are staying at Great Oddynes, gave duets and solos, Mrs Phillips being the accompanist: - Solo ‘Love Divine,’ Miss Phllips; solo ‘Thank God for a Garden, Miss Marjory Phillips, duet, ‘Good-night Pretty Stars,’ the Misses Phillips; besides other items. These young ladies, who have taken part in entertainments here before, are very popular locally. That favourite dance Miss Norah Comber contributed a scarf dance and another dance, and Miss M Headley recited ‘Nini, Ninette, Ninon.’ Miss Merry had spent a good deal of time and trouble in arranging a concert by village children and soldiers from Forest Row, but at the last minute the soldiers’ leave was withdrawn. This is to be regretted, as it affected the programme on which Miss Merry had bestowed so much labour, and thanks are due to the Misses Phillips and other for filling up the gap. Miss Merry’s children were responsible for ‘Wraggle and Taggle’ [Gipsies] and ‘Mowing the Barley’.
The following sports were arranged by the local Volunteers:- Tug of War; potato race [winner Mr Cox] ; Tilting the Bucket was won by Mr R Baker, Mr C Bingham wheeling the barrow-.
When I received the next photo I couldn’t really make out what it was, but on reading the newspaper article I feel sure it is the race Tilting the Bucket?
STALL AND HELPERS The following were stationed at the stalls; Mrs and Miss Hawkes, flower stall; the Miss A Chatfield, Devereux, Fower, Trollope and Gardiner, fancy stall; Miss L Simpson, Mrs Friend, Mrs Awcock and Mrs Hofman. Mrs Comber, the Misses Comber, Chatfield, Coad, Reeves, Briggs, Baker, Friend and House gave good help. Mr M Ford was at the ‘gate’. The fete was organised by Mrs Cautley at the request of Lady Brassey, and was managed by a committee with Miss F M Simpson as Secretary.
It proved a huge success, as no less than £118 (in today’s terms this would be around £9,000) was available for the Red Cross Fund after all expenses were paid. On the morning of the fete Mrs Cautley had received three donations of £10 each, and smaller donations amounting to nearly another £10. The above figures include the gate money [£1 11s. 6d] collected at an American tennis tournament held at Keynes Place on Thursday last, when the winners were Miss Brenda Sanderson and Neill Lester, who gave back their prizes to the fund. Messrs Bingham and Baker also helped to raise money with their donkey chaise. On the call of Mr Deverreux hearty cheers were given to the Rector and Mrs Wigan for the kind permission to hold the fete in the Rectory grounds, and cheers were also raised for the workers.”
From the log-book of the Twyford School, one of the teachers, Miss Neal - who lived along the Beaconsfield Road, Chelwood Gate, on the 14th October and 21st October 1914 attended a Field Day of the VAD at Wych Cross Place, which also supports that Wych Cross Place was used as a VAD Hospital. This photo is of Miss Neal - she is the small lady to the back left of the photo - taken at Twyford School.
The photo right is of Wych Cross House, around 1908.
It’s no surprise that the fete was requested by Lady Brassey. She owned Chapelwood Manor along the Beaconsfield Road, towards the Nutley end, and this property was equipped as a VAD hospital for wounded soldiers. It was here that Seigfreid Sassoon spent time convalescing and wrote some of his work. In the Sherston Trilogy, Nutwood Manor is a pseudonym for Chapelwood Manor. This photo of wounded soldiers is courtesy of Stephen Wood, whose great grandfather built the property. Lord Brassey also turned his home at 24 Park Lane, London, into another convalescent home for wounded officers.
This final photo is from the archive of the Historical Society and is of a stool ball match at Ashdown Forest Cricket Club and shows a team of local ladies and wounded soldiers, from either Chapelwood Manor or Wych Cross House. The men are wearing hospital ‘blues’ uniform. [photo 12]
It therefore appears the Rectory, Horsted Keynes, never was a hospital, but simply that wounded soldiers from Wych Cross Place attended the fete held to raise funds for the Red Cross and their photo was taken in the Rectory grounds.
My thanks to Christine Fry and to Stephen Wood for the photos of Wych Cross House [also known as Wych Cross Place] and Chapelwood Manor, and to the Historical Society for the stool ball photo.