Henry Provey Warton was born in the workhouse in Honeypot Lane, South Chailey in 1875. His mother, Mary Ann was a 23 year old unmarried domestic servant who had been born in Newick (South Chailey was the local workhouse at the time). The main workhouse buildings, later converted into a hospital, survive as private residences in Shepherd’s Way and Pouchlands Drive, near the school.
Henry’s birth certificate does not name his father, but in 1878 Mary Ann married William Martin, an agricultural labourer who was also born locally. By the time of the census of 1881 Henry was living with his mother and his stepfather ironically in The Old Workhouse, a building that still exists at the north-east corner of Cricketfield, now called Cuttings. Henry attended the village school from 1880 until 1888. By 1891, the family were living in the same property, and Henry was still living at home, with William, Mary Ann and five of their other children, a son William Jnr. and four daughters named Mary Ann Jnr., Charlotte, Emily and Annie. The census record for that year does not record a trade for him.
He had enlisted in the local militia in 1893 when he was 18 years old and surviving papers show that he was 5ft 4in in height and weighed 127lb, and that he had grey eyes and brown hair. He attended annual camps until 1899 when his agreed period of service was completed.
By 1901 he was living with his family in a bungalow close to Goldbridge Farm. He is described as a ‘boarder’ and his occupation is given as ‘bricklayer’. His stepfather is described as a ‘stockman’. Henry re-enlisted in the militia in Brighton in March of the following year, by which time he was apparently ⅜in taller and 27lb heavier. He sailed for South Africa in April with the 3rd Volunteer Company of the 1st Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He returned home after the end of hostilities and was discharged at his own request in July 1902, receiving the South African Campaign Medal and a £5 war gratuity.
Henry’s mother died in 1903, but by 1911 he was still living at Goldbridge, his stepfather was still working as a ‘stockman’ and William Jnr. was living there with his wife Ellen and daughter Ellen May. Henry was still single and his occupation is listed as a ‘van man for corn dealer.’ According to a newspaper article published after his death (see below) he worked for Alfred Tidy at Mitchelswood for many years before the war.
Henry re-enlisted with the Royal Sussex Regiment in August 1914 at the outbreak of the war. Surviving records give his army number as GSSR880 confirming that he was a former militiaman (GSSR stands for General Service Special Reserve - following reforms in 1908, the militia were reclassified as the Special Reserve). He was posted to the 2nd Battalion, and sailed for the continent on 11th January 1915. A number of other men from Newick sailed with him. The 2nd Battalion had been in France since late August 1914, and had gained the nickname ‘The Iron Regiment’, and a reputation for never having lost a position to the enemy.
Their War Diary shows that a draft of 210 men arrived at 2.10pm on the 13th January 1915, while the battalion was holding partially flooded trenches near Cuinchy in northern France. They were described as ‘All Kitchener’s August recruits. They seemed to be a good lot’, and immediately took their places in the front line. Most of the men were indeed Kitchener’s volunteers, arguably some of the first of the new army to see action. Although Private Warton (and perhaps other Reservists sent to France as replacements) did have some military experience, it could not have been an easy introduction to trench warfare. The first days were spent ‘improving’ the trenches and avoiding German hand grenades (‘bombs’). The battalion was relieved on 16thJanuary and was billeted at Annequin behind the line.
The battalion returned to the same positions on 18th January to find them in a poor state following snowfall on the previous day. They were relieved on 20th, and marched to Bethune, where many of the Sussex men were billeted at Montmorency Barracks, which was found to be in such an unhygienic state that ‘five rooms had to be closed altogether for disinfecting’. The men stayed at Bethune until 25th January enjoying such activities as rifle practice, church parades and having their clothes deloused. At 9.30am orders were given to return to Cuinchy at once following a successful German attack in the area. The battalion arrived early in the evening and two companies were involved in a counter-attack that regained much of the lost ground. An officer of the Black Watch observed that the Sussex men ‘were advancing in capital style’.
Much of the 26th was spent digging a new trench system that incorporated ‘The Keep’, a brick-built fortification hastily thrown up during previous fighting in and around a brickworks. Casualties for the 25th and 26th were 3 officers and 64 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. An article in The East Sussex News of Friday 12thMarch 1915 records that Henry was badly wounded on the night of the 25th January and was removed to hospital. A letter written home by another Newick lad, Aubrey Brooks records that Henry had been wounded ‘in the guts and knee’.
Private Henry Warton died of his wounds on the 1st February 1915 in a military hospital in Boulogne. His military records and the newspaper article give his age as 40, although he was actually 39 years old at the time of his death. His middle name is also incorrectly spelt as ‘Proucy’ in all of the official records.
Henry is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, part of one the town’s civilian burial grounds, used between 1914 and 1918 to bury men who had died in the military hospitals set up in the area. The Commonwealth plot contains the graves of 5,577 servicemen from the Great War, and a further 224 from the Second World War when British military hospitals were again set up in the Boulogne area for a short time. Unusually, owing to the soft sand on which the cemetery was built, the Commonwealth gravestones are laid flat. There is no personal inscription on his grave, (chosen by the next-of-kin and officially limited to sixty-six characters includingspaces). His military records describe him as the ‘son of the late Mary Ann Martin of Goldbridge Farm, Newick, Sussex’ but do not list a next-of-kin, perhaps explaining the absence of any private message on his gravestone. Henry was entitled to a 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, although it remains unclear where they were sent.
His name appears at The Green, on the school memorial, the church memorial, and in the village’s Roll of Honour and Book of Remembrance. He is also remembered at St. George’s Chapel, Chichester Cathedral. The chapel was rededicated as the Memorial Chapel of the Royal Sussex Regiment on 11th November 1921.
The names of the 6,800 men from the Regiment who fell during the Great War are listed there in battalion order. They include nineteen men with connections to Newick. The names of the 1,024 men from the Regiment killed during the Second World War, including one from Newick, Private Wilfred Anger, killed in action near Monte Cassino in 1944, are recorded in a Memorial Book kept beside the chapel’s altar.
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