From Sussex to Passchendaele and back again

Kelly van Doorn

“A plate of porridge, 2 cups of tea, bacon, bread, butter… cup of cocoa, steak and chips… Roast beef, roast potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cup of tea… 2 [more] cups of tea, bread, butter, pancakes or jam tart… cold beef… cup of cocoa”.

This is what Private Frederick Unsted of the Royal Sussex Regiment ate in a day when on active service at the No. 1 Territorial Base in Rouen, France in 1915. Reporting back to his parents in Alfriston, Fred stated that he and another man were in charge of the new No. 4 Cookhouse at the Base where they had to cook for more than 300 people everyday. This role allowed them to live “like lords” which Fred wasn’t used to. One of Fred’s friends at the Base had worked for chocolate manufacturer ‘Fuller’s’ before the war and would often have chocolate to hand- I bet he was popular!

Fred would frequently write home to his parents, Albert and Ada, and his siblings and update them on his time in France. He was quite the joker as he always opened with a comical line when he wanted something- usually a shilling or two but also socks, towels and a sausage roll (ah, the comforts of home!).

Unfortunately, Fred did not stay at the Territorial Base and eventually ended up at Passchendaele where he very sadly lost his right leg in November 1917 at the age of 20. In a letter home, he tells his mother not to worry as although his left leg is injured, no bones were broken and that he keeps on smiling. He hoped to be transferred to Eastbourne to recuperate (presumably at Summerdown Camp) but instead ended up in a London based hospital which specialised in missing limbs.

Fred returned to Alfriston and married Freda Stripp on the 18th July 1928 at Cliffe Church in Lewes. They had four children, two boys and two girls. His children said that his injury did not prevent him from being able to do things. He drove a car and a lorry but had a hand and foot throttle to assist him. He was also known for winning the men’s races at sports day!

After the war he was a General Carrier, a business he took over from his father. Fred would deliver goods around Lewes, Eastbourne and Berwick station. There is a story that in the early 1800s the Unsteds, who originally came from Holland, were “free traders” (a nice way of saying smugglers). One member of the family settled in Alfriston after marrying a local woman and became a carrier, transporting goods for smugglers. Alfriston had a local smuggling gang led by local butcher Stanton Collins (who owned Market Cross House, now The Smugglers Inn) and so this is entirely plausible, especially considering that quite often whole villages were involved. Once the smuggling scene had died down, the Unsted’s carrier business became a legitimate, law abiding business which traded for over a century. Due to a decline in health and customers, Fred retired from the carrier business in 1953 at the age of 56 and with him, Messrs. A. Unsted and Son ceased trading.

Fred’s experience as a soldier had a lasting effect- he and Freda were heavily involved with the British Legion for many years. Fred was a founding member of the Alfriston branch, often leading the Armistice Parade and Freda organised and sold poppies for 40 years. Having remained in Alfriston all of this life, Fred passed away in 1972 at the age of 75.

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