Lowther’s Own

In August 1914, war was declared and Colonel Claude Lowther, owner of Herstmonceux Castle and MP for Eksdale (Cumberland) was granted permission by Lord Kitchener to raise the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Southdowns Battalions, who went on to become the 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment.[1] In the following months Lowther’s name was more closely associated with recruiting in Sussex than that of any other public figure.[2]

On 9th September 1914 the first men joined Lowther’s Battalions. Lowther’s success in his recruitment efforts lay partly in the established age-old expectation that the lower classes and agricultural labourers would simply follow their ‘betters’ to war.[3] However, Lowther also won over his recruits with his campaign to pay all enlisted men one pound per week in addition to the separation allowance.[4] Lowther’s support for minimising the financial implications of local men going off to war was recognised throughout the county.[5]  The Battalions raised by Lowther soon became known as ‘Lowther’s Lambs’ and a local Sussex farmer, Mr Passmore, gave them a young sheep named Peter as their regimental mascot.[6]

‘Lowther’s Lambs’ with their mascot Peter the Sheep, image available under the Creative Commons Licence.

As part of Lowther’s recruitment drive the song Lowther’s Own was composed. The sheet music for Lowther’s own sold hundreds of copies and it was played in houses and pubs across the county. As part of our research project the students at the BISC, directed by Dr Shelley Katz (Musician in Residence), have recorded, for the first time, a performance of the piece. The concept behind the recording was to re-create what the song would have sounded like when played in a local pub and performed by ordinary people. Dr Katz used specialist software to re-create the sound of a ‘honkey-tonk’ upright piano and layered the voices of the singers to create depth. The recording of Lowther’s Own can be listened to below.

A performance of Lowther’s Own by BISC students, arranged by Dr Shelley Katz.

The 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions raised by Colonel Lowther went on to form part of the 116th (Royal Sussex) Brigade of the 39th (New Army) Division. On 30th June 1916 the Brigade was sent to Richebourg l’Avoue as part of a series of diversionary attacks in preparation for the Somme offensive. Just like the catastrophic first day of the Battle of the Somme, this attack, which became known as the Battle of Boar’s Head, was poorly planned and resulted in  tragic consequences. In the space of just five hours, seventeen officers and 365 men were killed with another c. 1,000 men injured. This event became known as ‘The Day Sussex Died’: the horrors of the massacre touched families across the county.[7]

When considering the fate of Lowther’s Lambs, the lyrics of Lowther’s Own take on a much more sombre tone:

We have come from shop and sheepfold

We have come from desk and store

We have left our peaceful callings

To be taught the trade of war;

For our hearths and homes and honour

As a bulwark we will stand

Fighting hard for England’s glory

And pleasant Sussex land.

A.W. Burbridge and James R. Dear, Lowther’s Own (1914).

Dr Claire Kennan, History Lecturer and Research Coordinator at the BISC.

[1] Keith Grieves, ‘Lowther’s Lambs: Rural Paternalism and Voluntary recruitment in the First World War’, Rural history: Economy, Society, Culture, 4:1 (1993), 55-75 (p. 60); The Times, 3rd September 1914. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, p. 55. 

[4] Ibid, p. 62; The Times, 27th August 1914.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, p. 63.

[7] For more information see ‘A History’, The Royal Sussex Regiment The Regiment | The Royal Sussex Regiment (theroyalsussexregt.org.uk) [last accessed 07/10/21].