Plea for help with obelisk

BOTH Russia and Finland are to be asked to help pay for the repair of an historic Lewes graveyard memorial.

BOTH Russia and Finland are to be asked to help pay for the repair of an historic Lewes graveyard memorial.

The obelisk in the closed churchyard of St John-sub-Castro was erected in 1877 to the memory of 'Russian' prisoners-of-war who died while in captivity in Lewes Naval Prison between 1855 and 1856.

It was restored in 1957 by the Soviet Embassy but is now in need of new repairs.

The top of the obelisk is missing part of its Imperial Russian Cross.

Both embassies were contacted by Lewes Town Council tourism chairman Cllr Rachel Powell and on Thursday last week Finnish press attache Illkka Rentola joined her on a visit to the obelisk.

Erected on the orders of Tsar Alexander II, the memorial actually commemorates 28 Finnish POWs who died in Lewes during the Crimean War.

Although the campaign was centered largely in southern Russia, a secondary operation was mounted in the Baltic at a time when Finland was still part of the Tsarist empire.

In the summer of 1854, a British squadron attacked the fortress of Bomarsund which, it was claimed, could house up to 60,000 men.

Said Cllr Powell: 'The fortress fell and later in the year 340 Finnish prisoners arrived in Lewes to be treated more like guests than POWs, the officers being given complete freedom of movement and the men being allowed out in the town.

'The men who died did so from disease. At the war's end, the prisoners returned home and in 1877 the present memorial was erected.'

The town council feels that it is important to maintain the memorial in good condition and we contacted the Russian and Finnish embassies to let them know what we're about.

'Quite coincidentally we learned that in 2004 there is to be a major festival in the Aland Islands where Bomarsund was situated and the organisers were intrigued to learn about this largely forgotten piece of history.'

Mrs Powell would like to know where the missing part of the Imperial Russian Cross can be found.

'It would be nice to think of these two countries helping with the upkeep of a memorial in which they both have an interest,' she added.

Illkka Rentola said: 'The people of Lewes were extraordinarily kind to our people and it is great to know that the town still remembers what happened all those years ago. I'm sure the story will be prominently featured at the Aland festival.'