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Some Finnish history

15 November 2013

DIGNITARIES from both the Finnish and Russian Embassies recently gathered in an English churchyard, along with English representatives and clergy, to honour a war memorial at St John sub Castro, in Lewes, Chichester diocese. It commemorates 28 Finnish prisoners-of-war who died while held in the old County Gaol, after the Crimean War of 1854-56. They are buried in the churchyard.

The Finnish conscripts, from the Aland Islands, were serving in the Russian army when the British attacked the island in the Baltic. That attack was repulsed, but a further attack by both British and French forces succeeded in destroying the fortress, and the prisoners were taken to Britain and France: some 340 to Lewes, where the County Gaol had been commandeered as a naval prison.

A workshop was set up so that the men could produce wooden toys to sell to the public to earn pocket money, but 28 of them died before the end of their incarceration.

In 1877, at the behest of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, a 17-foot obelisk was erected in the churchyard in their memory. Over the years, it became neglected, and staff at the Finnish Embassy were alerted. They got in touch with the Russian Embassy, and the cleaning and repair of the obelisk was paid for by Russian and Finnish organisations.

When their embassy representatives arrived in Lewes for the memorial service, they were greeted by the Mayor of Lewes, Cllr Ruth O'Keeffe; the chairman of Lewes District Council, Cllr Michael Chartier; and the Archdeacon of Lewes, the Ven. Philip Jones.

To witness the blessing and joint Russian and Finn wreath-laying (above) were also representatives from the Aland Islands, and members of the Friends of Lewes and the Anglo-Finnish Society.

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