‘Glancing back through the curtain-fire of smoke it looked as though the room must be filled to its very utmost limits . . .’
Shoreham Camp Eastern Command Depot Concert. West Sussex Gazette, 18th January 1917 (Quote credit 3).
In 1914 the locals of Shoreham and Worthing, keen to support the boys who had volunteered, arranged concerts, activities and recreation clubs for the men.
Concerts were held in the tents by groups like the Young Liberals and the Royal Navy Ladies Orchestra. A range of evening classes were established including teaching languages, first aid and aspects of horse welfare.
In 1915 the arrival of troops recovering from injury led to the building of reading rooms, a library and indoor and outdoor games being provided. The locals raised money in December for the YMCA to provide a special Christmas treat for these soldiers, with food, comedy and music laid on.
In 1916, Sunday afternoon and evening concerts at the Worthing Pier Pavilion entertained the convalescing troops and Christmas was another grand affair at the YMCA hut with music, comedy and improvisation.
In 1917, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, now sharing the Camp, was treated to a special celebration in Shoreham on July 1st in honour of Canada Day. A great service was held at St Mary’s Church followed by music and a grand procession.
The troops themselves also put on a range of entertainments throughout the years for fellow soldiers and for locals. Some of the entertainers from Shoreham Camp became very popular – singer Sergeant Blakeney drew crowds of near 1000 at Worthing Pier. Concerts and shows were sometimes held in the YMCA hut in the Camp or down in Worthing in the ever popular Connaught Hall. The local towns were even treated to the music of professional military bands stationed at the Camp such as the Band of the 23rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. As well as musicians, there were comedians and Pierrot groups – such as the ‘Wromps’ and the ‘Big Bens’ – conjurers, illusionists, clog dancers and even Mr Tom Rysden – a ventriloquist!
In keeping with the Home Front spirit, many of the sports and entertainments were used to raise money for worthy causes such as the Prisoner of War Fund.
Shoreham Army Camp was touched by the lives of many entertainers. For example, Sergeant Stan Ward, a musician before and after the war, spent time recuperating at Shoreham and entertained troops and locals as part of the ‘Wromps’ concert party. Musician, Cecil Bonvalot, a Coldstream Guard, was a popular entertainer in Worthing in 1918 often conducting the Band of the London Command Depot (part of Shoreham Army Camp).
Find out more
The document below contains more details on entertainments found by volunteers in the local newspapers (West Sussex Gazette, Worthing Gazette and Horsham Times).
To view a selection of articles and find out how to search for more yourself, visit the West Sussex County Council’s website: Great War West Sussex 1914-1918.
Key Sources: West Sussex Gazette, Worthing Gazette and Horsham Times. Accessed at Worthing Library, Courtesy of West Sussex County Council Library Service www.westsussexpast.org.uk