COUNTY YARNS - Bringing the war close to home

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When researching the Great War and the impact it had on Sussex, I was surprised at some of the things I discovered.

For example, Private George Henry Speck served with the 1st Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 20th July 1918, aged 25. He was the husband of Rosina Alice Speck and they lived at 28 St John Street, Lewes.

Now it just so happens that I live in that same St John Street, these days at No 14 but for much of the 1970s, my wife Barbara and I lived at No 26, a tiny cottage that is right next door to the even tinier cottage that is No 28. George Speck is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.

I also learned of a Lewes man who emigrated to Canada only to later return to Europe with the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Labour Corps.

Private Frank Sidney Strong died of wounds sustained near Ypres on 22nd September 1917. He was aged 41 and was the husband of Ethel Strong, of Charlton Avenue, West Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. When Frank Strong lived in Lewes his house was in Fisher Street, just 20 yards or so from St John Street. He is buried in the Dozinghem Military Cemetery.

Also close by St John Street is the churchyard of St John sub Castro. In it lie the remains of Alfred Percy Tiller, a Boy 1st Class in the Royal Navy.

He had enlisted as a youngster of 16 and served in the 2nd Battle Squadron of The Grand Fleet aboard the battleship HMS Monarch. The ship took part in the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea on 31st May 1916 and it seems most likely that Alfred Tiller would have been present for this, the largest naval encounter of the Great War. Less than a year later, on 16th May 1917, when he was just 17, the young sailor fell ill aboard his ship out at sea and subsequently died.

His body was brought to Lewes and his parents, Harva and Matilda Tiller, of Wellington Street, at least had the consolation of having their son buried in his hometown. His grave is not more than 75 yards or so from my house.