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Lewes ARP Wardens and Messengers 1940

From Jim Essex in Queensland, Australia

The ARP staff and their duties

AS messengers we were attached to the post to cover when telephonic communication was not available. We rode our bikes or travelled on foot between Post 6 and the Town Hall where ARP Headquarters was presided over by Colonel C. D. Crisp, the Mayor and the Borough ARP Officer, Mr. Charles Sains.

When the sirens wailed, we used to re-inforce the warning by riding around blowing our whistles. At night, we took great delight in spotting breaches of the blackout and shouting at the offending householder to: "Put that light out!"

Staff outside Wardens' Post No.6 in White Lion Lane, Lewes, summer 1940.

ARP Wardens and Messengers
Rear Row, Second from Right: Bruce Tindale.
Front Row L-R: John Amos, Tony Thompsett, Jim Essex , Ken Hills.
Bruce Tindale was torpedoed and drowned in the Indian Ocean serving as a Merchant Marine Cadet in 1943.
John Amos died by tragic misadventure in Western Australia in 1968.

At the start of the blitz Messengers used to leave the school to report to our posts each time the sirens sounded but Mr Bradshaw soon put a stop to that delightful process and we could only go if a RED ALERT - which signified a potential actual attack - was given.

In total, Lewes had 1,051 Air Raid Alerts not one of which was missed by the sub-controller, the Mayor, Colonel Charles Crisp - who even slept in the Town Hall so that he could be on hand during the raids!

Bombing in Lewes

Because the German Me 109 and Me 110 aircraft could only remain over England for about fifteen minutes after crossing the coast due to their limited range, they used to machine gun various towns, including Lewes, before they flew back to France. We called them "sneak raiders."

North Street The first bombs fell in Lewes on September 29, 1940. These were dropped in the Malling Down area. On October 4, 1940 a bomb exploded at Sotherham near the river bank. On the following Saturday about 9.30am a string of eight bombs fell across the town from Cliffe Hill to the cattle market and between Southover churchyard and the railway line to Brighton. One bomb fell on Chapel Hill and the other was the very heavy delayed action one which fell in Southover Grange. I believe it is still there! Lewes was also bombed in North Street near the old Naval Prison.

North Street The worst raid was at about 12.40pm on Wednesday January 20, 1943 when four Me 110 fighter bombers dropped six HE bombs on the town and machine-gunned and cannon fired into the town around Brook Street, North Street and West Street. Two were killed and 11 seriously injured. Another attack occured at 6.20pm on May 10 when eight HE bombs and six "firepots" (which failed to ignite) were used. One person was injured.

There were two one ton bombs dropped near the race course but mercifully these failed to explode. In total 904 premises were damaged or destroyed during the raids.

Some lines penned in 1969 when I looked at the 1939
school photograph for the first time since coming to Australia

Unroll'd and spread, the photograph has faded.
Not so my memory:
With ageless smiles, faces stare back at me,
Did they guess, behind those brittle grins
That some of them had fewer summers left?
In rows of blazer'd youth with arms neatly folded
I seek and find, a friend:
Run again down echoing corridors, to hear
The bell toll for us, the fleeting of our days.
And dead hands clap lost heroes, walking from the wicket.
We said that we would meet again - we never will
Stopp'd by war:
His immortality's enshrined beneath the clay in France.
He never knew, he gave the promise of his shining youth
That we who lived might know the fullness of our years.
I hear unbroken voices singing praises on an English morn'
Across years long fled:
A chilling shudder surges swiftly thru' my ageing frame,
And bitter bile rises in my hard'ning throat
To stifle back an endless aching grief ...
Jim Essex
Australia 1969.