Lewes Mayor Janet Baah has unveiled a new memorial plaque in the front entrance of Lewes Town Hall dedicated to ‘to the men of Lewes who served their country in the Royal Sussex Regiment’.
The grey granite plaque bears the regimental badge and the dates 1881-1966 when the Royal Sussex was amalgamated into the Queen’sRegiment.
Paying tribute to all those involved, in particular the Lewes Branch of the Royal Sussex Regimental Association and Councillors Mike Chartier and Dr Graham Mayhew who helped with the design and siting of the monument and helped see the project through, Cllr Baah said: “Without your enthusiasm and persistence this would never have happened”.
Cllr Mayhew, in a short address, said that the plaque was a fitting tribute to the hundreds of Lewes men who had served in the regiment, many of whom had fought in the First World War and some of whom he had known personally.
He said: ““Of those Lewes men, 114 died while serving with the Royal Sussex in the First World War and several in the Second. There was not a battalion in which Lewes men did not serve and they fought in every campaign and every theatre of war from Africa to Asia.
“In the First World War there were Lewes men with the Royal Sussex at Gallipoli, on the Western Front from the retreat from Mons and the Battles of the Aisne and Marne in September 1914 through to the closing autumn campaigns of 1918.
“They fought at Ypres and on the Somme, at Aubers Ridge and the Boar’s Head - where so many Sussex men died- and in the Second World War Lewes men were at Dunkirk, in North Africa, Monte Cassino and in Burma and Malaya.
“A few Second World war veterans are still alive while the families of many of those who fought in the First World War still remember them and treasure their letters and photographs, medals and other mementoes of their lives.
“As the last generation who served with the Royal Sussex in war slowly passes into history, this plaque will stand here in our Town Hall as a perpetual remembrance of their lives, their service – and the special place which the Royal Sussex Regiment held in their lives and the lives of an enormous number of Lewes families.”
Cllr Chartier added his thanks to the Lewes branch of the association and said how proud and pleased he had been to be involved with the project: “I know how much this will mean to so many Lewes families for whom remembrance is such an important part of their lives.
“I recall the outcry a few years ago when there was a suggestion of moving the War Memorial away from its prominent site in the middle of the High Street. This is a subject about which Lewes families care very deeply and this monument will fill an important gap in our town’s history and will bring pleasure and comfort to many of those who come to see it.”
Tony Oliver, secretary of the Lewes Branch of the regimental association, who first came up with the idea and presented the proposal to the Commemorations Working Party of Lewes Town Council two years ago, spoke at the unveiling of his discovery that: “Whilst other towns in Sussex have celebrated the Royal Sussex Regiment with various memorials, we in Lewes, the County Town, appeared to have let slip the opportunity to do so!
“A wild thought crossed my mind – we should do something about this deficit. The thought developed into something more like a dream – I could see in my mind’s eye a tribute to the Regiment, depicting the Regimental Badge and suitable text in the foyer of the Town Hall the wording of which would include not just those who died but also the rarely mentioned men, local men, conscripted civilians, ordered to leave their home, family and job, and after a short period of training sent off to fight a war.
“Many of those lucky enough to return bore physical or psychological scars which would remain with them as they sought to pick up their lives where they left off.”
Saturday’s unveiling took place just before the annual Royal Sussex Regimental Association’s dinner took place in the Assembly Room.
The plaque is now on display on the wall of the Town Hall foyer, just inside the High Street entrance and anyone is welcome to come to view it at any time during normal office hours.