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Disappearing Lewes - Lewes at War (continued...)

These stories are told in the book Lewes at War 1939-1945, by RA Elliston, who lived in wartime Lewes as a child and in retirement spent three years researching it. From the acknowledgments, it seems he enlisted his whole family to help with the editing and production. Local history books can easily be too detailed or too cute, but Elliston’s is neither. He skilfully tells the events of the war as structure for an entertaining but sympathetic picture of life here in the forties. Lewes was designated a "type A nodal point", meaning that if England was invaded the town was expected to hold out for six days instead of the usual three. Control of the Ouse was considered strategically important and the land around the bridge was fortified with pill boxes and anti-tank obstacles. Tanks based in Stanmer Park drove through Lewes between these obstacles, turning right at South Street, and in one case accidentally reduced a cobbler’s shack to splinters.

Canadian troops were stationed here and children evacuated from the destruction in Bermondsey were packed into local schools. Elliston maps out the shelters and observation towers that were built, many of which can still be seen, and relates what he calls the "burning issues" of the day, including drunken fights, couples arrested for unnecessary car journeys to the theatre in Brighton, and the unexplained build-up of arms and men that materialised in late May 1944 and just as suddenly were gone. The book ends with brief descriptions of all 126 men and women whose names are inscribed on the war memorial, telling what pubs they worked in and what bonfire societies they joined. DB


Lest we forget: Lewes’ fallen soldiers are commemorated at the
War Memorial