The Chichester in the Great War project ran from September 2015 to August 2016 and brought together cultural institutions in the city and the wider community in exploring how the conflict shaped Chichester and its citizens a century ago.
The Project Team was led by the University of Chichester under Dr Ross Wilson and was comprised of volunteers from the local area. The project worked with the Chichester Community Development Trust, the Prebendal School, the West Sussex Record Office, the Novium Museum and the New Park Cinema to provide a series of events which examined how the city mobilised for the conflict, provided charity and care during the war and then how citizens commemorated the conflict.
The project held a series of workshops and training days in early September before the research began. All members of the project team examined the archives and newspapers from the West Sussex Record Office from September 2015 to March 2016 to develop biographies of individuals, studies of institutions and accounts of city life during the war and in its aftermath. Dr Maureen Wright guided the volunteers with their project work.
As this assessment developed, the project also worked with the Prebendal School through the Head of Humanities, Tom Bromfield. This focused upon examining the history of the old boys and teachers of the school who had fought in the war. Dr Ross Wilson organised a research day in February 2016 for current pupils to examine the service records available to assist in this work which helped Mr Bromfield provide a detailed history of the school throughout the war.
By April 2016, the members of the Project Team had provided numerous reports on the city during the First World War. From accounts of the actions of members of the Royal Sussex Regiment, detailed assessments of notable figures such as Mayor and Mayoress Garland and examinations of the response of shops, clubs and churches to the war, the volunteers had thoroughly investigated how the war shaped and created communities in the city.
From the presence of Belgian refugees in Chichester, the role of wartime propaganda, patriotic endeavour, food shortages, government controls, conscientious objectors and arguments over commemoration, the war brought citizens together in new ways. The busy market town had also been transformed by the conflict with the presence of Chichester Barracks and Graylingwell War Hospital both placing the city on the front lines of the war effort.
To promote the work of the project, three main activities were planned:
• A heritage trail
• An exhibition
• A resource website
The heritage trail was designed during the spring of 2016 and launched in June through the Visit Chichester tourism initiative and through printed copies which were provided to local schools, hotels, museums and visitor centres. The trail provided a guide through the city, highlighting important parts of Chichester’s wartime history.
The exhibition was unveiled in the Novium Museum in July 2016 until September 2016 with 7 panels covering the project’s themes. Thousands of visitors attended the museum over the summer and the success of the exhibition has ensured it will be displayed again in the city library from February 2017.
The website was also launched in July 2017 and features detailed reports on the history of the city during the war by all members of the Project Team - https://chichesterinthegreatwar.com/.
Through July 2017 to September 2017, the project also provided a number of events for the Chichester Community Development Trust. From film nights, history days and family history workshops, the project team used the experience of the city during the war to create stronger ties in the present through these community engagement activities.
The project’s final activity was organised with the New Park Cinema in Chichester. A screening of 1916 film, The Battle of the Somme, was organised for October 23. This was exactly a century on from when the film was first screened in Poole’s Pictures in the city. The project provided leaflets detailing the history of the film and the role of cinema in wartime Chichester for all members of the audience.
Through working with organisations and volunteers in the city, the Project Team has ensured that the First World War can be remembered and researched in Chichester at the community level. As the centenaries of the war are marked, the value of project is in its assessment of the conflict as an event that was extensive and international in scope but local and personal in effect.