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Stories from Alfriston and World War II

Being a relative newcomer in the village of Alfriston I have enjoyed listening to many stories about the village history, and its past from villagers.

This beautiful village is filled with much wonderful and interesting history dating back to Saxon times. Recently I was delighted to come across a BBC article on the web that had been written by an Alfriston villager named Ronald Levett in 2003 'Alfriston, My life in a country village’ is his story of growing up in Alfriston and how his time was spent during World War II. With November being the month of remembrance, It felt right to share with you some excerpts from his story of growing up here in this idyllic village during a time of War. His story begins by telling us a little about his family and his place of birth.

“This is the story of my life, starting with my earliest recollections in the early thirties. I was born in 1926, the year of the General Strike (nothing to do with me). My mother Emily was the oldest daughter of my grandparents, Fred and Polly Brownell. My father was the second son of the Levett family. I can’t remember any details about my paternal grandparents, but I have a family tree showing the record of the Levett family having lived in Alfriston since 1613, with the male line having lived in or near Alfriston ever since. Alfriston is a medium size village lying at the head of the Cuckmere valley. I was born in a small cottage, which is now a restaurant called “Moonrakers”.

Ronald then goes on to talk about his upbringing and the times he spent as a child enjoying events in the village especially a travelling fair in the 1930’s that visited the village and stories of wonderful air displays that took place on the outskirts of Alfriston, he then goes on to talk about how his family was affected in the early days of war.

“The air raid siren sounded and Stanley came downstairs wearing his gasmask A number of evacuees had arrived from London, mostly from the East End. At home we had four. A brother and sister about my own age arrived named George and Lily, plus another brother and sister a few years younger called Billy and Ivy.

The first night my mother gave the younger pair a bath, which was something new for them (“Do we have to take all our clothes off?”) After they were put to bed my mother went up to check that they were all right and at first, couldn’t find them. She soon discovered them under the bed. They explained that at home, mum and dad slept in the bed and they slept under it. They were soon told that in Sussex we didn’t do that sort of thing”.

After the Dunkirk evacuation the war begun to take on a more serious tone and Ronald goes on to mention about the arrival of the Royal Canadian Artillary into the village and the weapons that were situated around the village. Towards the end of the summer in 1940 Ronald recalls heartfelt tales of bombing and plane crashes.

“Numerous aircraft were shot down in the district, both friend and foe. A Spitfire crashed at Lullington, about 100yds from Lullington Cottages. We all went to have a look. The pilot was badly injured and died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. Mabel Norman and Dr. Terry attended to him The aircraft was gradually being consumed by fire, when there was a popping noise and spurts of flame. We all took cover thinking that it was ammunition exploding, but found that it was Glycol from the radiator that was burning.

One night a Wellington bomber flew up the valley above Lullington and into to hill at the end of the valley. I believe it was foggy at the time. The rear gunner was the only one to survive the crash, but he died in hospital. Another night a Heinkel 111 was heard flying low over the village, then flew on to crash on the hill behind Seaford, near the cemetery. One member of the crew bailed out over Alfriston, his parachute failed to open, and he hit the hill above Cradle Valley. He is buried in Hailsham Cemetery. A Messerschmitt 109 crashed near the brickyard at Berwick Station and buried itself so deeply that it was impossible to recover the plane or the pilot.”

This wonderful story goes on to tell you so much more than the excerpts I have shared with you here, and I urge each one of you to take the time to read it from beginning to end. Reading it for myself has filled me with a huge sense of pride, for the sacrifices that were made by the people of Alfriston and villages, towns and cities around the UK, Commonwealth and allied countries made during both World wars.

Ronald still lives here in the village and I for one will be joining him and many others this Sunday when we will be remembering those that gave their lives.

The Royal British Legion will be gathering at 10.30am in the Square for the Alfriston Remembrance Sunday parade and it will march off at 10:40am to St Andrews Church for a Remembrance Service.

There will also of be an Armistice Day gathering in the square on Tuesday 11th November at 10.50am for the 11am Last post and 2 minutes silence.

“Shoulder to Shoulder with all that serve”

All quotes and information obtained from

Ron Levett was Chairman of the Alfriston and District Royal British Legion. Sadley he passed away on Wednesday 4th Febriary 2015.

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