Impact of the Great War on tight-knit Lewes community

Painstaking research: Dr Graham Mayhew at Lewes War Memorial
Painstaking research: Dr Graham Mayhew at Lewes War Memorial

Outside the medieval town wall and separated from the rest of Lewes by The Bottleneck and a hill, the parish of St Anne, known to many of its inhabitants as ‘the west end’, was a distinct community within the borough of Lewes.

With its own church, pubs, elementary school and complete range of food and grocery stores in Western Road, it was largely self-sufficient and had its own identity.

During the Great War it had its fair share of casualties. Fifty-eight men and women from St Anne’s died on service during the conflict.

Their lives have been painstakingly researched by Lewes historian Graham Mayhew whose articles on Lewes and the First World War have appeared in the Sussex Express over the past year.

Now, to launch Phase Two of St Anne’s Church building development, providing a kitchen and disabled WCs, Dr Mayhew will be talking about the ‘St Anne’s Casualties’ on Friday, February 22, at 7pm – outlining the lives of those who gave up their lives in service of their country.

The stories include that of the Rector’s son Lieutenant Maurice Pearce who, despite having poor eyesight, was commissioned direct from university, where he was studying to become a missionary, soon after war broke out and was shot down while inspecting an enemy trench in Macedonia in 1916.

The names are all recorded on a memorial tablet in St Anne’s Church. Their ages range from 18 to 65, including three women, all nurses, who died, one of them Ellen Blanche Knapton the matron of School Hill Military Hospital, and another Sister Sarah Butler a Queen Alexandra’s Nurse who drowned off Alexandria.

Among the brothers who died were John Gardner and Donald Graham Smith, sons of butcher William Howard Smith of St Anne’s Crescent whose butchers’ business in Market Street only finally closed 30 years ago.

Tickets for the talk, priced at £10 to include a glass of wine, are on sale at Lewes Town Hall and from St Anne’s Church, with all proceeds from the evening supporting St Anne’s Church development fund.

Dr Mayhew is a popular speaker and the event is likely to be well attended.