Rye Harbour War Memorial & Church of the Holy Spirit Churchyard

Down on the Sussex coast, about as far south as you can get, there’s a little church,…

…unfortunately locked, as it turned out, on this particular day,…

…although luckily for us,…

…it’s the lych gate that we have primarily come to see.

The panel on the left here contains the names of the dead, that on the right the first of three panels listing those who served, the other two to be found on the opposite side of the gate (below).

Personally, I am unconvinced that these panels have always been sited here in the lych gate, primarily because the panel listing the dead has a familiar half-finished sentence at the bottom, the remainder of which, if you look very closely, has disappeared at some point, presumably when the board itself was shortened for some reason.  The answer to that might be as simple as the bottom of the board rotting over time, but to my mind there’s something not quite right about the way these panels are fitted.

Memorial to the Rye Harbour lifeboat crew, all of whom perished one terrible November morning in 1928 in conditions among the worst, they said at the time, in living memory.


With tragic irony, the crew of the Latvian steamer S.S. Alice had already been rescued before the Rye Harbour lifeboat even set sail, the recall message reaching the lifeboat station just five minutes after the boat had been launched.  However the appalling conditions ensured that all efforts to contact the crew by flare failed, and ultimately, although the exact circumstances must remain speculation, all were drowned.

There’s a single CWGC grave in the south western corner of the churchyard.

On 21st February 1916, the hired trawler H.M.T. “Carlton” struck a mine laid by the minelaying U-boat UC-6 off Folkestone in the English Channel and sank with the loss of nine of her crew.  One of these was Trimmer Thomas Stevenson, aged 36, whose body was later recovered and interred here.


A few miles away, down on the beach, and no horrendous conditions on this day, the view looking out across a benign-looking English Channel.  If you were a crow and you were to fly about ninety miles roughly in that direction, you’d arrive at a picturesque little Belgian city known, these days, as Ieper.

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23 Responses to Rye Harbour War Memorial & Church of the Holy Spirit Churchyard

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    Wonderful! what a fabulous little church. And a superb Lych gate to boot. I think you’re absolutely spot on about the tablets being moved their later. In part because the writing on the gate itself refers to the tablet “in the church”, which is presumably the tablets now in the gate. Very unusual to see a list not only of those who fell, but also of all those who served in the Great War.
    Awful to read of the Lifeboat tragedy. Such a terrible waste of life.
    Fantastic post MF, really enjoyed this one

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers Nick. There is a Roll of Honour in the church according to http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Sussex/RyeHarbour.html
      but did that replace the tablets or is it much later or what? I simply don’t know.

      • Nick Kilner says:

        Thats a great little little site for info, thanks for the link.
        Just as a further matter of interest six of the seventeen man crew of the Mary Stanford had fought in and survived the First world war:
        Herbert Head, who’s two sons were also lost in the disaster
        Joseph Stonham
        Henry and Robert Redvers Cutting (brothers)
        Albert Ernest Smith
        Walter Igglesden.
        Tragic to have survived all that only to be killed in an unnecessary rescue attempt.

        • Magicfingers says:

          That is tragic indeed. I should have checked, really. But then I don’t have to with you there to bail me out! Thanks!

          • Nick kilner says:

            I would never consider it ‘bailing you out’ my friend. The work you put in to these posts is extraordinary, and in point of fact I very much enjoy that you leave these ‘edges’ for us to explore. This has been a tremendously interesting post, really superb

  2. Steve Oliver says:

    Hi MF, long time ! How are you?

    Ive been away from the blog at least a year. My 94 year old Mom died July 19, 2019, almost a year. Anniversary next Sunday. I had to move her to long term care we call it in Canada, March 2018. So i have been extremely busy and stressed with selling her home, emptying its contents, then her decline and further suffering but I enjoyed helping her and visiting almost every day, especially the last few months. As executor of her estate, another long twisting road. It will soon be done, leaving me with a study area table of boxes of her photos, letters and other personal items. I miss her dearly and will visit her gravesite next week, in the lake country of Ontario, a four hours drive.

    I was booked on a cancelled trip to the Netherlands in April to celebrate the Canadian Liberation of it in 1945. But COVID spoiled our plans and we have lost all our money paid as the travel insurance carrier refuses to pay. Over $9000 Canadian dollars. The travel agency has been forced by the industry regulators to offer a replacement trip but I am skeptical it will happen next year. It may be even more risky for travellers then.

    Do you remember me sharing with you about a man in Saltwood Kent who researched the West Sandling training camp of WW1 and created a website about the camp and practice trenches? I visited him to see the area in Sept 2017. What a glorious visit that was following my trip to Vimy in April 2017 to celebrate the 1917 battle and Canadian victory. I remained in touch with him ever since and learned just 2 weeks ago he developed advanced pancreatic cancer. He died 4 days after I became aware, his diagnosis was on May 7. I am stunned and in shock right now. He was so passionate about the Canadian soldiers who trained in the Saltwood, Hythe, Sandgate, Folkstone areas. He did so much work and archiving and now Ive lost my friend I discovered through my passion about my wife’s grandfather who fought in the war and trained at West Sandling. Fortunately, he developed a tremendous website and produced a 34 page paper in 2016 on the trenches and Sandling Camps and the Canadians living there.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Steve mate! A while indeed. All okay here, thanks. Your experience with your Mum rings many bells with me – had a very similar one with my Dad a few years prior (I too was executor, but Dad lived 120 miles away in Somerset so that was tricky) – he died in 2015 at 97. Mind you, his advice to me was that 97 was a bit too old. He didn’t advise it!! Lol!
      I too have had a cancelled trip, in May (and also like yours WWII; the Surrey regiments in the retreat to Dunkirk), although mine was just a few days nipping across the Channel, not coming halfway across the world. We shall now plan to go next year, but I am as sceptical as you.
      I always worry about what exactly happens in instances like your man in Kent (I do remember, and it is sad to hear). How long will his website remain now that he has gone?
      Good to hear from you. Loads to catch up on here, should you so wish.

  3. Margaret Draycott says:

    Interesting post M, in my ignorance were Lych gates built for a specific purpose do they have a special meaning? I have seen in a number of churches I’ve visited, searching for the returned crosses of ww1, panels to those who died and those who served, which I think is good to see they were also acknowledged. Absolutely love these village churches they contain so much history. Sadly many are closed because of thieves stealing what little treasures they have. Noticed many familial names among the lists and an A Caister stuck on the end as an afterthought?
    The courage of those lifeboatmen is awe inspiring and such a tragedy as the vessel had already been rescued.
    Don’t know you Steve but welcome back to the forum, sorry to hear of your loss.

    • Magicfingers says:

      As far as I know, lych gates were simply gates with a roof under which you could place a coffin before burial without it getting wet (because it always rains in England when there’s a funeral). But there may be more to it than that, I really don’t know. A. Caister was either accidentally missed out or his name only came to light later, I would think, and his name was added later.

      • Epsom Girl says:

        “The lych gate marks the division between consecrated and unconsecrated ground, and was the place where the bearers sheltered with the coffin before a burial. The name derives from the Anglo Saxon word ‘lich’ – meaning corpse. Lych gates typically had seats, a cross and a stone slab on which the coffin rested.”

  4. Margaret Draycott says:

    Thankyou so much for that Epsom Girl very interesting piece of information which I shall stun the family with one day, in such a casual way they will think I always knew it ha ha. It seriously thanks I’ve often wondered about the and the style/design can vary so much.

    • Epsom Girl says:

      Margaret, I do have to thank Google for the full explanation, although I did know that it was where the coffin was placed before a burial. And now I also know the full information to possibly stun my family with one day!!

  5. Margaret Draycott says:

    Should say But not It even the i pad is auto correcting these days.

  6. Magicfingers says:

    You’re such a gent, Nick! Funnily enough, sometimes the missus says to me about something I’ve written “You should expand on that” and I say “They can do that for themselves”, so it sounds like I’ve got it about right.

  7. Margaret Draycott says:

    Is this the mutual appreciation society lol. But he’s right M you do do a tremendous amount of stuff research and writing an d monitoring it’s a full time job. And Nick I love the stuff you come up with padding out and filling in where required. A sterling job by both of you

    • Nick Kilner says:

      Thank you Margaret, tbh there’s nothing I love more than a little research. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before I can commit more time to such things.

    • Magicfingers says:

      The world needs a bit more mutual appreciating going on if you ask me.

  8. Margaret Draycott says:

    Yes but I’m afraid it’s all about me these days.

    So does that mean your retiring Nick? Or? agree research is fascinating that was one of the things I loved when we were doing the returned crosses project, the things we found out and we were only scratching the surface, to have the luxury of time and to know where to look

    • Nick Kilner says:

      Not retiring (though I probably don’t have too many more years left in me shoeing horses in truth), I’m currently in the throws of moving house. I’ve been spending just about every spare minute lately working on one place or the other, so all the fun stuff has had to take a back seat. Hopefully a few more weeks and I’ll have a bit more time on my hands again

  9. Margaret Draycott says:

    So your a farrier Nick how interesting, yes you did mention about moving house, sure it’ll be worth it when it’s done, then you can sit back and enjoy. Hope you’ve included a little den for yourself to enable your love of research.

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