Great Invasion of Lewes: 14 Sept – 4 Oct 1914

Thursday 17th September 1914

What does a great war mean? (sic) in lower case. At first it was called the ‘European War’.

Sussex selected for two of the stations in connection with new Divisions of the British Army, thousands billeted on householders pending the preparation of the camps where they are to be trained for active service.

Twelve new Divisions of the army have been created of which the 22nd is to be stationed on the South Downs, east of Seaford; and the 24th on the Downs, near east Shoreham and Patcham.

End of last week Haywards Heath invaded by 6,000 Territorials from the London Division.

The invasion of Lewes commenced in the early hours of Monday morning (14th September 1914) with from trains from the North of England, followed by trains from South Wales on 15th September.

Office Commanding 22nd Division, to be stationed at Seaford, Maj-Gen R A Montgomery.

Recruiting in Lewes

10th to 16th September 1914 :  84 enrolled.

Billets and Numbers

Estimated at 11,000

Town Hall and County Hall : 850

Old Naval Prison : 1,000

Old Lewes Workhouse : 1,000

Tabernacle School Hall : 240

St Michael’s Parish Rooms : 50

Co-Operative Hall : 50

Ragged School : 250

Baptist School Room : 150

Ham Lane Drill Hall : 150

Eastgate Baptist Church : 115

British Workmen’s Institute : 80

Bridge Glee Room : 80

Southover Church Hall : 100

Old Grammar School : 200

MR Kent’s Yard in Malling Street : 120

Pay day on Wednesday and for the first time military pickets were on duty with pubs closing at 8 pm.


Members of the Fire Brigade out through the night.


Saturday football match in the dripping pan planned.

Wales vs Lancashire.

Free, but collection for the national relief fund.

Mr H G Cottrell referee.

Army News

Army Order for a further 12 Divisions.

2,500 troops billeted at Seaford.


Public houses close at 9 pm


Camp springing up near the old golf links.

When completed troops billeted in various towns will probably be drafted here.

Thousands of new troops arrive.

Training at Seaford, Shoreham and Bexhill.

Kitchener’ recruits

Raw recruits

Authorities not saying how long training will be for or when they will leave.

Roughly 10,000 from: Lancashire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Wales and elsewhere.

“the people of Lewes have been called upon to billet them and few homes, including the Wallands district, are without one or more members of H. M. Forces.

Every available accommodation :

Principal municipal buildings of the town, warehouses and malt houses.

Even the old Naval prison and the Council Chambers of the County Hall, the ante-chambers and in the Assize Court.

Also the old Workhouse – Welsh miners.

The Corn Exchange.

Assembly Rooms – mess room.

Eastgate Baptist School Room –

Where beds are not available sitting rooms have been used.

Local caterers are doing their bit.

‘But the fact remains that Lewes has been over-taxed and one cannot keep thinking someone has blundered’.

Saturday 12th September 1914

Householders canvassed by the police under the direction of Major Lang (Chief Constable for East Sussex) and numbers chalked on doors or walls of houses.

Some people reluctant, persuaded to go along with it.

A lady who could take no Tommies agreed to two officers and then got four Tommies.

‘people who made it convenient to be out did not escape the chalk’.

Crier announced to the town that men would arrive the following day.

Sunday, 13th September 1914

The Mayor informed that it would be Monday.  Notice given out in various churches and by the Crier.

Monday, 14th September 1914

First batch arrived early Monday morning.

From 1:30am marched through town in civilian clothes, caught in a heavy downpour and allocated according to the number chalked on the property.

Continued to arrive in batches throughout the day with the last arriving at 10.00pm.

By the evening the Post Office on the High Street was particularly busy as men got postcards off to their families.

(Postcards in their heyday)

Lancashire lads in clogs.

Paraded on the Downs and Convent Fields.

When off parade men set in shady spots on the pavement.

Thronged at night with visitors, singing and mouth organs.

YMCA Rooms and Parish Rooms open for reading, writing and recreation.

St John’s Terrace Front sitting room playing cards.

Open air swimming baths ‘thrown open’.

Pells Pool

Pubs closed at 9:00pm and men have to turn in at 9:30pm.

Men in County Hall from Cardiff district.

Welsh men sing before lights out.

Try to keep them entertained but hard to cater for thousands.

Concerts each night at the Westgate Unitarian Church Rooms.

Monday and Tuesday evenings lantern entertainments at the Tabernacle Church.

Slides leant.

Brotherhood Orchestra played selections.

Singers : Miss N Middledirch and Miss K Larkwill.

Wednesday evening Lantern entertainment and musical entertainment at the Baptist Church by a male Welsh vocalist.

Recruits Theft At Lewes

Monday morning : 14 Sept 1914

Two recruits of Welsh Regiment brought up in custody on a charge of theft. William Bowers for stealing a silver cigarette case value 10s., and Henry Hembrey a metal cigarette case, value 6d.

Sarah Ann Hurst, a lodging-house keeper, living at 106, Western Road, gave evidence that the cases belonged to Frank Symes and William Howard Addison respectively. They had been in a portmanteau in a bedroom occupied by the prisoners occupied by these two and three others billeted on the house.

On Sunday afternoon she had noticed that the portmanteau had been opened and the contents disturbed.

Confronted, they had pleaded guilty, and said they were sorry.

Bench disposed to allow them to join their battalion in Eastbourne and bound over to pay £3 for good behaviour over six months.

Both shook hands with the prosecutrix as they left the court.

A man excused for being drunk and disorderly because he was ‘very excited about the war’.

Lewes Cinema De Luxe

24th, 25th and 26th September

Gaumonts Graphic

The Gondo Troupe

The Erring Brother

A Film Johnnie.

Tainted Money

Oh! You Pearl.

28th, 29th and 30th

Gaumonts Graphic

The British Army Film (1st part) as shown before Their Majesties The King and Queen.

A rash revenge

Baby at the Zoo

The Women in Black

The Coward’s Sacrifice

Matinees at 2:30, other performances at 6:30 and 10:30pm.

Lewes County Theatre

The Lust for Power

(War items : Mr. Rudyard Kipling is represented in the Army by his son John, who is a Second Lieutenant in the Irish Guards).

Lewes and the Troops

Incidents of the week

Pals letter to the Sussex Express

Thursday, 24th September 1914

Last week’s ‘invasion’ caused quite a stir and some dissent among certain classes … better to billet our own Tommies than Germans.

Majority without military uniform but military shirts, boots, socks etc: have been served out to many of them.

Scarcity of khaki.

Undergoing a stiff but beneficial training.

Inhabitants having to get used to reveille.

Numbers now considerably depleted,  but these will be made up. Two or three thousand left for Eastbourne, mostly Cardiff men with their impromptu entertainments, the Welsh National Anthem and joining choirs on Sunday.

Regimental Football Match

Dripping pan not used for football for several seasons.

No charge but collection raised £16 12s.

Colonel Dewe kicked off for Wales.

Welsh team had no fewer than six for Cardiff Corinthians.

Score : 8-1

Sunday, 20th September 1914

Unable to hold a united  church parade.

Special services at churches and in the open.

Every facility being afforded the men to worship with the particular denomination to which they belong.

Sacred concerts held in the evening.

On Sunday evening the Cardiff “Pals” at County Hall thanked the inhabitants of Lewes.

Early Monday, 21st September 1914

Left for Eastbourne emptying the old Workhouse, County Hall, Town Hall and many private houses.

A mounted officer and the Regimental goat (a gift from Lewes) were prominent.

Another detachment of the North Staffordshire Regiment arrived over the weekend in uniform.

Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at the Tabernacle School Hall for a week, ending their stay with a concert.

Hair cutting and shaving done in the Tabernacle School Hall.

At All Saints Parish Rooms on Monday evening a lecture on Sussex.

Cardiff pals billeted in private houses in Eastbourne too.

Photographs: football match, Cardiff pals marching off to Eastbourne.

22nd September – disaster at sea with three naval vessels torpedoed. When was the news reported?

Friday 2 October 1914

Training new troops

Hot baths for the men.

Lewes getting back to normal after the fortnight of having billeted soldiers amongst them.

It must have meant thousands of pounds to the town.

A memorable service of 7,000 at the Convent Field.


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