Discovering Your Family History - The First World War


One aspect of genealogy that has always attracted interest is that of the First World War. This we expect to intensify as we approach the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war in 1914.

At West Sussex Record Office in Chichester we have a range of sources that would help you to trace the wartime experiences of servicemen in your own family. Not only our own records, such as the archives of The Royal Sussex Regiment, but also those electronic databases that now enable you to access online the sources which hitherto would have required a trip to The National Archives at Kew.

Key amongst our own sources, whether your interest is family or local history, are the Absent Voters Lists for 1918/ 1919. Arranged place by place, they name all those serving overseas, with their service number, regiment, ship or air squadron. For Yapton, 88 men are listed as still serving abroad in 1918. Of these, 18 were in the Royal Navy, 4 in the RAF and the rest in various Army units.

Several were with the 4th (Territorial) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, including Sergeant Leonard Hughes, one of three serving members cf the Hughes family whose home was at Black Dog Cottages in the village. A bricklayer by trade, muster rolls show that he had joined the battalion in 1912, aged 18, and had gone out to Gallipoli in July 1915, later seeing action in Egypt and Palestine, before being transferred to the Western Front in June 1918. His medal card, on the Ancestry subscription website, records his entitlement to the three campaign medals, the British War & Victory Medals and the 1915 Star; or ‘Pip, Squeak & Wilfred’ as they were nicknamed.

Sergeant Hughes survived the war but many were less fortunate. The regimental chapel in Chichester Cathedral has panels listing the names of over 7,300 men of the county regiment who gave their lives in the war.

A 1914 reruiting poster for the
7th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment,
which a number of Yapton men joined

ln November 1922 a faculty was obtained for a war memorial to be erected in the parish church at Yapton. lt took the form of a tablet of oak designed by Gustavus J. Burridge. Chris Comber has recently researched 25 of the names listed on the memorial. This information will be found on his website, Roll of Honour - Lest we Forget, which is an excellent source. lt reveals that three Yapton men - Privates Edward Bacon, Robert Hill and William Pratt of the 7th (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment - died within a month of each other at the Battle of The Craters in the Hohenzollern Redoubt in the Loos Sector in March-April 1916. This was a ghastly campaign with mines being detonated under trenches.

War Memorial tablet in St Mary's Church, Yapton

Regimental records show that Private Pratt was particularly unfortunate. He was killed by a sniper's bullet when due for transfer behind the lines to work on communication roads as a steam-roller driver, his job in civilian life. One can only imagine the grief that must have descended upon the village when news of these three deaths reached the families at home in Yapton.

Researching service in the First World War is indeed a humbling experience. This generation sacrificed so much for us. lf your interest is family or local, do visit the Record Office to start your research. We are open six days a week including Saturdays and there is no admission charge. You will be very welcome and our expert staff will be ready to help you. 

Alan Readman

Alan Readman is the County Archivist based at the West Sussex Record Ofiice, Orchard Street, Chichester. PO19 1DD. Tel: 01243 753602. Email:

(Originally published in Yapton News, January 2013)