Light-fingered visitor finally returns spoils of war to Sussex church

In 1944, a cyclist visiting the Wiston Estate picked up a loose piece of a brass memorial from St Mary’s Church and popped it in his pocket as a cheeky souvenir of his trip.

But 10 years ago, 66 years after he pocketed his memento, the mystery visitor’s conscience got the better of him and in an act that Wiston owner Harry Goring described as absolutely extraordinary, he rang up the Rev Stephen Turrell and arranged to return the historical brass.

As the West Sussex County Times reported on July 1, 2010, the piece of brass shield, which commemorated Sir John de Broase, who died in 1426, was able to be returned to its original position in the church.

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Mr Goring told reporter Hannah Marsh at the time: “I was absolutely thrilled.

Richard Goring in 2010 with the missing piece of brass shield. Picture: Hannah Marsh

“It’s always thrilling to get back something that’s been missing for so long. There’s been a couple of holes in the brass at St Mary’s forever, as long as I’ve ever known them. It was just amazing to get a little bit replaced, so I was thrilled.

“Sir John de Braose died in 1426, so it does go back a bit.

“The other thing I’d say is that it’s really good to return it, we’re terribly grateful to whoever has had it in his possession. It’s really nice of them to come back and hand it back, because it does mean a huge amount to us and a huge amount to the church.”

The light-fingered visitor returned the brass to Mr Turrell on the promise of anonymity, which was agreed.

Richard Goring shows where the returned piece of brass shield came from. Picture: Hannah Marsh

Mr Turrell said at the time: “It was just after D-Day in 1944. He was cycling around the Wiston Estate and he found in the church a 14th century brass had been broken off, maybe by a Canadian soldier, as they were billeted at Wiston House.

“He picked it up, and he wanted to return it after all these years.

“The piece fits in the broken shield in the floor perfectly, it’s a bit of history after all these years.

“It’s amazing really. I know these things happen, people come into possession of bits and pieces for one reason or another and just to put their mind at peace, they return them.”

The church was not open to the public at the time but interested visitors were able to inspect the brass for themselves when Wiston House opened its gardens for the first time in July 2010.

More recently, guests at Wiston House have been free to explore the landscaped grounds and St Mary’s Church, located next to the house, has been open for guests to enjoy as a place to reflect or simply explore.

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