Lewes Bonfire 1914
A Lewes bonfire set to torch. 
Image courtesy of jjwaller (C) 2015 jjwaller.

 

This is one, of at least six such bonfires, which go up in flames around the town of Lewes on 5th November after an evening of marching and months of preparation. 

 

If you live in south-east England, you will have heard of Lewes Bonfire night.

 

From time to time Lewes Bonfire makes national news because of the elaborate effigies the ‘Bonfire Societies’ produce. Others can give you the 165-year history of Lewes Bonfires: what interests me is the way the town commemorates those who died during the First World War.

 

Lewes Memorial
The Lewes War Memorial forms the centre of all the ‘marches’ that twist around the town in six complex ‘petals’ into and from the town centre. These routes are followed by the six bonfire societies that are formed by different loose districts of the town. Like last night, whatever the weather, we dress up according to the rules of our respective societies then join a number of marches that start at 5.30pm and run through to 10.00pm and a final march out to our separate bonfire sites the evening closing well after 11.00pm. I’ve been doing this since I moved to Lewes in 2000.

 

During the ‘Grand Parade’ where all the societies together we each in turn gather around the War Memorial for a short commemoration service. This means that many thousands of people are taken to this spot each year. It is no surprise to me to find all the memorials generously ‘decorated’ with wreaths and poppies every year for this reason.

 Lewes Southover Marching 2015

'Smugglers' of Southover Bonfire Society ready to march, 2015.

 

Each society has a programme, a fancy full-cloud magazine. Here there is a roll of honour featuring all those who served and lost their lives during the First World War, like Southover Bonfire Society where the programme includes a short biography of those who lived one hundred years ago in their local community.

 

For example, Steve George writes about William Holman, an  18-year-old whose parents ran the old Southover post office opposite the very church where the local memorial bears his name. He joined up with his friend Reginald Holland at the outbreak of war; both were underage. Both had been choirboys at the church. Both were killed within two days of each other at Loos in 1915.

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