Horsham War Memorial - the stories behind the names
PUBLISHED: 10:00 25 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:03 20 February 2013
Amateur military historian Gary Cooper tells the poignant story of four Horsham brothers named on the town's war memorial
THE first family fatality was twenty-one-year-old Lance Corporal Charles Payne Dancy who served in the 8th (Service) Battalion of The Queens (the Royal West Surrey Regiment). He was killed in action on 25th January,1916.
Part of a large Horsham family of six brothers and two sisters, Charles attended the local school at Roffey. Three brothers, Alfred, Frederick and Hubert, were all serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment when Charles was killed.
Their elder brother Thomas did not serve in the Armed Forces during the Great War. He was married to Florence. The brothers had two sisters, Doris and young Mildred Joyce, the baby of the family, always known as Joyce. The youngest brother, Alan, was only a boy of 15 when Charles was killed.
The parents of this band of brothers and sisters were Thomas Dancy, head gardener at Holbrook Place, Horsham, and his wife Caroline. They lived with their family at The Gardens, a cottage in the grounds of Holbrook Park.
Charles, the third son, joined the army as a volunteer at Guildford in Surrey and, after training at Hythe and Aldershot, Charles was posted to the 8th Battalion of the Queens Regiment. On the 31st August, 1915, the battalion left Blackdown Camp at Aldershot, and sailed from Folkestone to arrive at Boulogne, bound for the Western Front.
An entry in the Battalion War Diary for 24th January, 1916, records the battalion positions were in Belgium at the Ypres town ramparts and trenches, on the eastern side of the town facing the Menin Road. They had a total strength of 612 officers and men.
It was a quiet day with only two casualties caused by an enemy sniper. The snipers position was located, but due to a dense mist the artillery was unable to respond. If snipers were located units would call down artillery fire to shell the enemy sniper position.
On the following day the sniper struck again - with deadly effect. Charles Dancy had lasted a mere five months before falling victim to the German marksman while walking along the front line trench on Tuesday 25th January, 1916.
The Battalion War Diary provides an interesting insight into the writers perspective for the day. Nothing of importance has occurred during the morning and afternoon. One casualty L/C (This being Lance Corporal Dancy) killed by Sniper in A.1. 4.00 pm Enemy trench mortared H.20 (position) but shell fell far to rear, our retaliation was very good.
It was not until Monday, 1st February, that Charles shocked parents received news of their sons death, having only received a postcard from him the previous day saying he was quite well. Charles platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Vipan, wrote to the parents on 31st January saying that he and Charles had played football together in the 6th Training Battalion at Hythe and later at Aldershot. Captain G.F. Clayton also wrote to the bereaved parents, he (Charles) was in my company, met his death by a chance shot of a sniper while walking about the trench.
In fact this was unlikely to have been a chance shot. Although British snipers were moved with their battalions German marksmen remained in one area and soon knew the most vulnerable places on their section of the British trenches.
Charles now lies buried in the Menin Road South Military Cemetery, Plot I, Row F, Grave 5, in the eastern suburbs of Ypres.
What of his brothers? Frederick won a Military Medal for bravery in the field while serving with the Royal Sussex Regt and survived the war.
Hubert, a private in the 13th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, was very lucky to survive. He was seriously wounded and his battalion all but annihilated when attacking the Germans at Richebourg on 30th June, 1916. Hubert was badly injured by an enemy hand grenade while sheltering in a shell hole out in No Mans Land. Fortunately he was picked up by German stretcher bearers and taken prisoner of war. While recovering at Osnabruck he was told he was lucky to be alive for a shrapnel sliver had passed straight between his windpipe and jugular vein.
Alfred, the fourth brother on active service, also paid the ultimate price. Before the war he was a private in the Territorial 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. In 1915 he was serving with the regiments 7th Battalion in France as a member of the Machine Gun Section.
Later in the war he volunteered, or was transferred, into the 35th Company of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC), which, on 1st March, 1918, became part of the 12th Divisions 12th Battalion MGC.
Sergeant Alfred (known as Jack) Dancy was killed in action on Wednesday 27th March, 1918, eight months before the Armistace. This was at the height of the Ludendorff Offensives rapid advance westward which burst through the British lines, leaving them in full retreat across the old Somme battlefields of 1916.
For years the family thought Alfred (Jack) was commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. He was killed many miles away on the Somme and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial .
The 12th Division was instrumental in halting the attack of six German divisions within the Aveluy Wood, in the Hamel area north of the town of Albert. But the division suffered 1,634 casualties in its determined struggle to contain the enemy from 26th to 29th March and was eventually forced to withdraw westwards. It was somewhere in this location that Sergeant Dancy died.
Second Lieut. H. Jackson told Mrs Dancy in a letter dated 3rd April, 1918: It is with much regret that I have to inform you that your son Sergeant Dancy of my section has been badly wounded and is now I fear in the hands of the enemy, at least I hope he is, you see during a withdrawal he was wounded in the ankle and was carried by one of our officers for some distance and then laid down for a bit and whilst on the ground he was hit again by a bullet in the body. Two men were left to take care of him both of whom were wounded. The Boche came on so quickly that they had to be left as there were no stretcher bearers at hand. The hope that he was reached in time by German stretcher bearers is very small I fear. We all deplore his loss very much & I as his section officer regarded him as much a personal friend as a sergeant. He was very popular with the men & officers & did excellent work all through. Please accept on my behalf and the rest of the Company our heartfelt sympathy for your loss.
Like so many of the large number of British casualties of this critical, confused period nothing more is known about Sergeant Dancys death. He was probably killed as the enemy sped over the vacated British positions. Very few casualties of this period have known graves. He is one among many of his comrades commemorated on Panels 90 to 93 of the Pozires Memorial.
The memorial and cemetery lie to the south west of Pozires on the north side of the main D.929 road, approximately five kilometres north east of Albert town centre.
A white marble plaque mounted on the north wall within The Holy Trinity Church, Horsham, commemorates Charles and Alfred Jack Dancy and 73 other servicemen of the parish who died during the Great War. The initial J was used for Alfred Dancys inscription, as he was known by his middle name of Jack all his adult life.
About the book
Horshams Heroes of the Great War 1914 - 1919
The book provides a mass of information about Horsham society during the Great War, including details of family life and the experiences of personnel serving in the Armed Forces.
It includes individual profiles of the 359 casualties commemorated on the town memorial and the details of some additional 60-plus service casualties not named on the memorial but were from Horsham.
It also includes numerous letters from service men and women, accounts of major battles and actions, many taken from official unit war diaries, battle maps, verse from Siegfried Sassoons war poems and popular forces songs of the time.
As an insight into war-time Horsham society, the book will be of particular interest to relatives of the fallen, family historians, those who have an interest in the social and military history of the period, research students, educational authorities and people who have a genuine regard for Horshams past.
A limited edition of 360 copies, the book is A4 in size, contains 862 pages and 390 photographs. Price 30.00.
Postage & packing 8.23 at standard rate (due to the size and weight pf more than 2kgs). Free delivery is provided within the Horsham area.
Friends of Horsham Museum, c/o 3, Hills Manor, Guildford Road, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 1LZ.
Phone: 01403 241620.
About the author
Gary Cooper was born in Kingston-upon-Thames where he received the latter half of his education before being employed at the Lebanese Embassy in London. At the age for military service, he joined the Armed Forces and served in the Royal Artillery, stationed in Germany.
Returning to civilian life he pursued a career in production engineering, followed by twenty-five years in construction industry technical sales and marketing. Now retired, he is able to devote time to military research.
A Horsham resident for more than 40 years, Gary has a wide range of community interests. He is a member of a number of local organisations and societies, including the Horsham Society, National Trust, Natural History Society and Friends of Horsham Museum. He is also an executive committee member of the international Orders & Medals Research Society, and Sussex Branch committee member of the Western Front Association.
Having spent his early childhood, during the Second World War, in a small, bustling West Country garrison town, Gary has maintained an active life-long interest in military matters, especially those relating to the First and Second World Wars.
Gary is a keen amateur military historian. Over a period of 20 years he has frequently toured the battlefields and cemeteries at Gallipoli and on the Western Front as well as other European areas fought over in two World Wars. He is currently researching the military and civilian history of Horsham in the Second World War, 19391945.