COUNTY YARNS - The many wars of Sussex family Shiffner

The lovely church at Hamsey near Lewes. Inside there are plaques remembering members of the Shiffner family killed in a succession of various wars since the time of Napoleon. Sir John Bridger Shiffner died in the Great War. Photo by Bob Mayston.

The lovely church at Hamsey near Lewes. Inside there are plaques remembering members of the Shiffner family killed in a succession of various wars since the time of Napoleon. Sir John Bridger Shiffner died in the Great War. Photo by Bob Mayston.

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The village of Offham, on the road to Chailey, just north of Lewes, seems to have suffered more than its fair share of local men killed in the Great War.

A memorial set into the wall of Offham Church records the names of Albert Banfield, Arthur Collins, Arthur Craven Charrington, Frederick Heaseman, Ronald Mitchell, Francis Pelling, Sir John Bridger Shiffner, Walter Sandells, Findon Sandells, Arthur Skerrit and George Smith. A total of 13 from a village of about 500 inhabitants. Compare this to the names of the seven Offham men who died on military service in World War II and the impact of the Great War carnage on rural Britain becomes clear.

Walter Sandells and Finden Sandells were obviously related. But it is the name Sir John Bridger Shiffner that caught my eye. The Shiffner family came to prominence in the early 19th century when George Shiffner was made MP for Lewes in 1812, a role he fulfilled until 1826.

Earlier he had married Mary Bridger, daughter and only heir of John Bridger who lived at Coombe Place in Offham. The couple inherited the house and perpetuated the name Bridger in subsequent male offspring. In 1818 George Shiffner was made Baronet of Coombe.

The family has most certainly paid their military dues in the service of their country. In April 1814 John Bridger, one of four sons of Sir George Shiffner and a captain in the 3rd Foot Guards, was killed at the siege of Bayonne during the Peninsular War where Wellington confronted Napoleon’s generals.

Captain John Shiffner fought in the Crimean War and was killed at Sebastopol in 1855, aged 31. The fifth baronet Shiffner served as a Captain with the Royal Artillery in the Zulu War of 1879. He survived and lived until April 1914; just three months or so later the First World War began.

One of his two sons was destined to die in that conflict. Sir John Bridger Shiffner joined the Royal Sussex Regiment and attained the rank of Second Lieutenant. He died on 24th September 1918, having been grievously wounded the previous day at the hamlet of Gricourt on the St Quentin sector of the Western Front. The Armistice came less than two months later.

The younger brother of this Great War casualty, Sir Henry Burrows Shiffner OBE, was commissioned into the Royal Artillery. He went on to see military action in World War II and was killed aged 39 on 22 November 1941 whilst on a forward reconnaissance patrol in the Libyan desert at Sidi Rezegh.

There is a little church with Norman origins at Hamsey, a tiny hamlet near Offham. On the chancel a series of wall plaques record the sacrifices of members of the Shiffner family in four different wars.

The lovely church at Hamsey near Lewes. Inside there are plaques remembering members of the Shiffner family killed in a succession of various wars since the time of Napoleon. Sir John Bridger Shiffner died in the Great War. Photo by Bob Mayston.