Box J

The Invasion of Lewes — the town opens its doors

D8861/012 — Lewes Crown Court (Formerly County Hall), 2017


‘Western Mail 16 September 1914 — With the Pals’ — Richard Attlee, Actor.

Audio transcript at bottom of page


“Western Mail 16 September 1914






From a special correspondent.


Cardiff’s farewell to us at noon on Monday is a pleasant memory. The announcement of our intended departure came very suddenly at the last, and our destination was a surprise. On Friday we were “officially” told that we should be sent to Salisbury Plain, but on parade on Monday morning we learned for the first time that we were going to Lewes, on the Sussex Downs.


And so here we are. I am writing this in the County Hall of Sussex, in the High Street of this delightfully picturesque town, and I have the honour of sitting in the seat usually occupied by the lord-lieutenant in the council-chamber. Quite a historic place this. The walls of the chamber are adorned by oil-paintings of county notabilities of the past, such as, for instance, Henry Thomas, Earl of Chichester, who was lord-lieutenant of the county from 1859 to his death.


Alongside is the full- length portrait of William Nevill, K.G. first Marquess and fifth Earl of Abergavenny, likewise a full length portrait of Mr. Speaker Brand, first Viscount Hampden, who was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1872 to 1884 and lord-lieutenant of Sussex from 1886 to 1892.


There are other pictures and adornments which do not call for detailed mention.


And let it then be stated that in this historic chamber over a hundred of us slept last night, stretched on the floor and on seats. I say “slept”, But it is a misnomer. We drowsed. We tried to sleep- at least, some of us did. The rest, a noisy lot, kept up an incessant conversation about various subjects until late into the night, and then, as if that was not enough, made a point of waking up very, very early and resuming their confab.


Part of the council chamber is strewn with straw, and here a number of the “Pals” were bedded down. Straw was the bed of several scores of us, in fact.


The whole building, corridors, stair cases, assize court, and all, is straw-strewn. On or two “pals” slept in the prisoners’ dock of the assize court, where murders and such like make their appearance from time to time. Others, again, slept on the judges’ bench, on the seat of the clerk of the assize, and in various other strange and wonderful places.


The Corn Exchange housed a considerable portion of our battalion, and other public buildings were similarly requisitioned.


It is a novel experience and interesting in a way, and being novel and interesting, we do not grumble- as yet.

When we arrived last night, after a delightful journey via Bristol, Bath, Salisbury, Portsmouth, and Brighton, we were marched into the Corn Exchange, where a substantial tea awaited us. Then we were free for a couple of hours, and then “bed” (so-called). Most of us “slept” in our clothes, and unless the arrangements are altered that seems likely to be our portion to-night, and for many successive nights yet.


But in an early morning stroll (5.30 a.m) we observed that very many of the houses bore chalk marks on the doors, indicating that soldiers were billeted. This may be out good fortune- if there are “enough houses to go round”. This is a comparatively small town, and it is completely flooded and overwhelmed by the soldiery.


The townspeople seem to have laid themselves out to do as much as they can for us. There are free baths, free reading rooms, and various minor conveniences of that sort.


Also it is a beautiful country hereabouts, and we are enjoying the change from Cardiff. We do hear, though we have yet to verify the truth of it, that our camp- when we do camp- is to be near the sea. We hope so.”