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Southern worker’s ‘labour of love’ research project into Great War gains recognition

Press release   •   Jun 14, 2019 09:00 BST

The Royal Sussex Regiment presented Laura Lee with certificates in recognition of her research project

One woman’s painstaking research into the Sussex railway workers who served in the Great War will soon be presented to West Sussex County Council records office, where it will be treated as an official reference document.

A small act of respect turned into a far-reaching labour of love when Southern’s Laura Lee started combing through records to see who from her station had served in the Great War.

Mother-of-two Laura, 49, began her project in the run up to the centenary of the First World War, collating the names, ages, roles and fates of those who had been based at Arundel station.

Her work then sparked a joint project between Southern and Sussex Community Rail Partnership (SCRP) to mark the milestone anniversary last year, but it didn’t stop there. Given the interest in her work, Laura was encouraged to continue her research for as many as 30 stations, all the way from Crawley to Emsworth, and along to Brighton.

SCRP’s Community Rail Development manager, Kirsten Firth, said: “In her own time, Laura continued with the painstaking research into all railway staff on the Arun Valley Line, detailing their post on the railway, their ages, and what happened to them. For those who are buried overseas, she included a photograph of the war grave.”

“On Monday (June 10), members of the Royal Sussex Regiment thanked Laura Lee for her sterling work, presenting her with framed regimental mementoes and a Royal Sussex pin to wear with pride,” she added.

Once Laura has completed the last part of her project, tracing those based at Brighton station, she will hand over her findings to the West Sussex County Council records office.

Rowen Tyler, who is the SCRP Community Development Officer for Arun Valley Line and Coastway West Line, said: “It was touching to see the research Laura did in her own time as a mark of respect to railway staff who served in the Great War. When the Royal Sussex Regiment heard and asked if they could come to Arundel to thank her in person, we were happy to help the West Coast station management team arrange what proved to be a splendid presentation event.”

Station sales clerk Laura, who has worked on the railway for 10 years, said: “It was just a project I was doing to satisfy myself and it’s just snowballed. I just focused on my own station and then people started asking, ‘why don’t you do the other stations?’ and it grew from there. I do a couple of hours of research every evening when I’m in the mood for it. Sometimes I sit there for hours; it’s been very interesting. There must be 300 to 400 names in my folder."

Speaking of the presentation with the seven members of the Royal Sussex Regiment, Laura added: “It was very moving.”

Sussex born and bred, Laura was joined by her proud family and after the presentation they all enjoyed coffee and cake.

If you are interested in Laura’s research project, you can visit the display at Arundel station.

Govia Thameslink Railway

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:

  • Thameslink – cross-London services between Bedford/Peterborough/Cambridge and Brighton/Horsham/Littlehampton/East Grinstead, and between Luton/St Albans and Sutton/Wimbledon/Rainham; plus services between London and Sevenoaks
  • Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
  • Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
  • Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria

www.southernrailway.com, www.thameslinkrailway.com, www.gatwickexpress.com, www.greatnorthernrail.com