Westham Memorial Bell

The parish church of St Mary in the Sussex village of Westham contains a somewhat unique war memorial.

Walking inside the church you see the two war memorial plaques on the North wall to the men from the parish who fell in the First and Second World Wars. However there is another memorial in the church that cannot be seen.

St Mary’s Church, Westham – Image courtesy of Rosalind Hodge

Hanging in the large 14th century tower is a ring of six bells of which the largest, the tenor bell weighing ten and a half hundred weight, is a memorial to five local bell ringers who lost their lives in World War One. It is not uncommon to have memorial bells but the tenor at Westham appears, according to the Sussex County Association of Change Ringers, to be the only bell in the county of Sussex on which is recorded only the names of bell ringers who were killed in WW1.

At that time the parish of Westham consisted of the village and also the outlying districts of Hankham, Stone Cross, Friday Street and part of Langley.

Following the war, an inspection of the bells in 1919, revealed they were in too dangerous a condition to ring. The frame holding them was on the point of collapse and several of the bells were split and held together with iron straps. It was decided to raise the money for a new frame and to recast the six bells. As five local young ringers had been lost in the recent war it was agreed the Tenor Bell should bear their names: George Burgess, Harry Burgess, Albert Hazelden, William Hobden and Robert Marchant.

The bells were re-cast from the metal of the old ones at the Croydon bell foundry of Gillett & Johnston and dedicated by the Archdeacon of Hastings at a special service on Saturday 14th May 1921.

The first two men named on the bell are brothers George and Harry Burgess. They were the sons of Edwin Burgess and Sarah neé Tasker. Edwin was a carter/ Waggoner and the family lived at 1 Spring Cottages Westham.

Edward George Burgess – Gunner 906200 Royal Horse Artillery and 336th Bde Royal Field Artillery enlisted at Eastbourne

Known as George he was born at Westham in 1892 the 9th of the 12 children of Edwin and Sarah. He was baptised at St Mary’s Westham 21 August 1892. George attended the village school and became a stockman on a farm. He was killed in action 1 May 1918 at Mesopotamia aged 25. George has no known grave and is commemorated on panel 3 and 60 of the Basra Memorial, Al Basra’s, Basra, Iraq.

Thomas Henry Burgess – Pte SD/2864 13th Bn Royal Sussex Regt. enlisted at Hastings

Known as Harry he was born at Westham the 8th child of Edwin and Sarah and was baptised Thomas Henry at Westham parish church 26 April 1891. His occupation was a farm labourer. Harry was killed in action at the Battle of the Boar’s Head at Richebourg on 30 June 1916 aged 25. According to the records of the Sussex County Association of Bell Ringers he is the only Sussex bell ringer to have been killed at the Boar’s Head.

Westham WW1 memorial – Image courtesy of Rosalind Hodge

He has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 69 to 73 of the Loos Memorial Pas de Calais France. Although his birth registration and baptism record him as Thomas Henry Burgess, he enlisted using the name Henry Thomas and is recorded as Henry Thomas Burgess in Commonwealth War Grave Commission records and other military records. Harry is also commemorated on the Panel for the 13th Bn. in the Royal Sussex regimental chapel at Chichester Cathedral.

Albert Hazelden AKA Burgess – Pte. 12165 8th Coy Machine Gun Corps. (Infantry)

Albert was born at Cooks Town an area of Ashburnham on 19 June 1885. He was the third of eight children of Charles Burgess/ Hazelden, Haiselden and Mary Elizabeth neé Delves. His father was a miller’s carter and the family lived in Mill Cottage beside the windmill at Windmill Hill later moving to Reid’s Cottage Wartling Hill Pevensey.

In recent years the identity of Albert Hazelden was a mystery as although the name was recorded on the memorial bell it was not on either of the two Westham WW1 memorials. Albert Hazelden was recorded on the handwritten roll of Honour in St Luke’s Stone Cross. Eventually it was noticed that whenever the name Burgess is recorded the name Hazelden is not and vise versa and this after much research led to Albert’s identification.

His birth was registered using the surname Burgess although other than for legal purposes his family had consistently used the name Hazelden for two previous generations. Albert’s great grandfather Benjamin Haiselden had married his great grandmother Harriet Burgess a widow after their son was born. That son used the name Haiselden although his legal name was Burgess and this continued for two further generations.

Over the years some of Westham parish records were unfortunately destroyed and it was forgotten that the family used the two surnames. Albert Hazelden used his legal surname of Burgess when he enlisted in the 7th Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment G/7612 at Eastbourne in July 1915. By the end of that year he had been transferred to the 8th Coy Machine Gun Corps. He was wounded during the Battle of Albert the first of the battles of the Somme.

He was transferred to one of the military hospitals at Champ de Courses on the southern outskirts of Rouen where he died 22 July 1916 aged 32. He is buried in grave A.32.2. In St Sever Cemetery Rouen. No relationship between Albert and the Burgess brothers Harry and George has been found. As Albert was known locally by the surname Hazelden it was this name used on the tenor bell.

William James Hobden – Pte 229354 44th Bn. Canadian Infantry New Brunswick Regt

William was born 1 January 1889 at Plumpton, the 2nd of 8 children of William Hobden and Mary neé Finnis, their eldest son.

He was baptised at St Michael and All Angels Plumpton 25 January 1889. The family moved to Westham in 1891 where his father became foreman at Kemp’s brickyard. The family originally lived at the brickyard but by 1901 they had moved to ‘Geerings Cottage’ Langney Westham.

Shortly after leaving Westham school, his family moved to ‘Mapleton’ Westham and William became a domestic gardener. On 13 October 1910, aged 21, William sailed from Bristol bound for Quebec, Montreal on the Royal George of the Royal Canadian Northern Steamship line, master James Harrison. He arrived in Quebec on 19 October 1910.

Roll of Honour – Image courtesy of Rosalind Hodge

Following the outbreak of war William enlisted at Winnipeg on 10 June 1915 in 61st Oversees Bn. 460748. On 2 April 1916 he sailed from Halifax on SS Olympia arriving 11 April. By 12 May 1916 he had arrived at Shorncliffe Army Camp near Folkestone for training and by 16 May he was at Bramshott camp and had been transferred to the 44th Bn. Canadian Infantry.

He embarked for Le Havre France 10 August 1916. On 24 October he was reported evacuated wounded. He was again reported wounded on 9 November. A month later on 9 December it is recorded that although he was previously reported wounded he was now reported wounded and missing but on 16 April 1917 he was reported as having been killed in action.

By this date the family home was 3 Gordon Terrace and his parents stayed at this address until their deaths, his father in 1951 aged 92 and his mother in 1955 aged 91. William aged 27 was buried at Adanac Military Cemetery Miraumont in Grave V.G.19.

Thomas Robert Marchant – Pte G/27841 12th Bn Royal Fusiliers city of London Regt, transferring to the 24th Bn

Known as Robert he was the only child of Robert Marchant and Selina neé Wilmshurst. He was born in1895 at Westham where his father’s family had lived for several generations and was baptised at the parish church 9 May 1895.

The family lived in the High Street, his father being a grocer’s assistant and his mother a dressmaker. Robert attended the village school and when aged 18 enlisted in the 12th Bn Royal Fusiliers serving from 9th August 1916 to 21 August before being transferred to the 24th Bn in which he served from 22 August 1916 until he was killed in action on the Somme on 17 February 1917.

Westham Ringers commemorate the men on the memorial bell – Image courtesy of Rosalind Hodge

He was 19 years old, the youngest of the men commemorated on the bell. Robert was buried in grave I.E.19 at Regina Trench Cemetery Grandcourt, the Somme France. Robert’s parents are buried in Westham churchyard and his name is inscribed in their headstone.

These five men are commemorated on the WW1 Memorial in Westham Church and on the granite cross situated beside the cross roads outside St Luke’s Church Stone Cross. This cross was placed there as being at the centre of the parish of Westham before St Luke’s Church was built and the parish of Stone Cross was created. Albert Hazelden is recorded on both these memorials as Albert Burgess. Their names are recorded in the Rolls of Honour of the Sussex County Association of Change Ringers and the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers in St Paul’s Cathedral.

On the hundredth anniversary of each of their deaths the Westham bells have been rung in a Quarter Peal to Honour the memory of these former bell ringers. The exception was Albert Hazelden’s hundredth anniversary as he had not then been positively identified until early 2018. A Quarter Peal was rung in his memory on 22 July 2018, the 102nd anniversary of his death.

This story was submitted by Rosalind Hodge, Archivist, Willingdon Parish Church