Belgian Refugees in the Lingfield Area

Research and text courtesy of the RH7 History Group

[It was Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium that brought Britain into the war on 4 August 1914.] Germany had made a colossal mistake – and they knew it.  There had been last minute attempts to stop the invasion but it was all too late and from then on she was branded as the guilty and brutal Hun.

About 1.5 million Belgian fled, mostly to Britain, France, Holland, Switzerland, Spain and some to the United States. Folkestone was the first town in Britain to be affected with the arrival of 11,000 Belgians.  They were sent on to London where accommodation could be arranged at Alexandra Palace, Earl’s Court and White City.  It must have been difficult for the refugees – safe but confused and exhausted. Language was a problem not only with the English but between themselves, with Walloons mixed with the Flemish. The London Centres were well organised with food and medical supplies and eventually the Belgians were dispensed around the country. It is estimated that a quarter of a million refugees arrived and stayed in Britain.

The towns and villages had different ways of absorbing them. A very small village like West Peckham, for example, adopted one family with local people donating what they could afford to support them. [In the Lingfield and Dormansland area], with its collection of villages, [there was] a very different system. Organisation and management was given to the Emergence Committee.

Miss Nevill; Captain Spender Clay MP; Mr de Clermont (no initial); Mr Gow and Mr Stanger provided houses rent free.

Four teams were formed, each one to be responsible for one house and its occupants as follows:-
Fair Oaks, Town Hill, Lingfield (now the dentist)
Mrs Ballantine, Mrs Fowler, Mrs Gow, Lady Forte.

8 Stanhope Cottages, Lingfield (on the right, just under the railway bridge by the racecourse)
Mrs Hicks, Mrs T.K. Morris, Mrs Turton

Old Post Office, Dormansland
Mrs Forte, Mrs Morshead, Miss Pelham, Miss St Clair, Mrs Gerald Walker

San Bento, Dormans Park (this has disappeared, either renamed or demolished)
Mrs Dunkin, Mrs St Clair, Mrs Stangerm Mrs Starr-Jones

They had arranged for the houses to be rate-free and wrote to the East Surrey Water Company asking them to remit the water rate.

Care was funded by donations and subscriptions. 12 refugees were being supported but when the villages were asked to take 14 more (the total rose to 36) the Committee wrote to the Belgian Relief Fund at the Belgian Legation to ask if they could help to some degree.


Finances from October 1914 – 30 June 1915
Donations and subscriptions came to £378 7s. 9d.

After expenses had been deducted (made up of household expenses, coal, clothing, furnishings, education travelling, insurance and sundries) there was a balance in the bank of £71 19s. 10d. for emergencies.

The Committee discussed how much a refugee needed to earn to become independent. A Mr Essers felt he would need to earn £1 10s. a week. The Committee made it a rule that any money should be banked at the General Post Office Bank, one half of savings being in the name of the man, one quarter in that of his wife and the man being allowed to keep the other quarter as pocket money; but, in the event of a refugee obtaining a permanent place he would cease receiving funds from the Committee.

Relationship seem to have been good in [the Lingfield and Dormansland] area. Here is an article which appeared in the Surrey Mirror, 8 January 1915:


Mr Neefs, President of the Belgian Committee, also sends a Report of the Christmas gathering at the Public Hall and in it thus thanks the English:

“In the name of all compatriots I have the honour to express to you our feelings of deep gratitude for your kindness and your generosity towards the Belgian refugees living in Reigate, Redhill and the neighbourhood and, today especially, for their children.

In a few words but with a good heart we thank you for it. We shall still remember when we are back in Belgium the magnanimity of the English nation towards the Belgians. I want especially to express a word of thanks to the Mayor of Reigate who has never neglected any occasion to be agreeable and serviceable to the Belgians.

Hip, Hip Hurray for England.”


Here is another article from the Surrey Mirror:


“The Belgian refugees at The Grange, South Godstone, spent a happy, merry time under the care of Mr & Mrs Shepheard. For several days beforehand the refugees were working to decorate the big room with flowers, flags and ornamental shields and as a result it was very pretty. On Christmas morning, thanks to the kindness of Mr Deeds in providing a brake, 14 attended Divine Service at East Grinstead church. Special prayers were offered for the Belgians, for the success of the armies of the Allies and that peace may soon be restored.

When the party arrived home they found an excellent dinner in readiness for them by kindly friends in the neighbourhood having provided turkeys, geese and Christmas puddings.

In the evening the whole party indulged in English games and everyone spent thoroughly enjoyable. The evening concluded with dancing, the music being provided by Mr Engelen, on the mandolin and selections were given on gramophone.

All guests were loud in their praise of Mr Shepheard for the trouble he took in seeing that they spent a thoroughly enjoyable time and one which they will remember in the brighter years to come.”

However, there were problems. The Chief Constable published a warning that both hosts and refugees were either forgetting or ignoring the rules which applied when they first arrived in a county or changed their address. They had to register and had to have a police permit to stay in a prohibited area. There was a fine of £100 or 6 months imprisonment for neglecting such rules.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was anxious that the Belgians understood our different laws regarding ensuring small birds for the pot. The main serious worry, though, was the fact that Belgian men were ask not to enlist and British women started to protest. As a result the Government organised work in munitions factories and the Belgian workforce contributed considerably to the war work. Apart from working in British factories they also set up their own.

In some areas there were signs of intolerance as time went on but in the main long standing friendships were established.



The Imperial War Museum
Surrey History Centre
Lingfield Library
British Newspaper Archive
Cabinet Papers


Alfred Mahon and HMS Bulwark

Research and text courtesy of The RH7 History Group

Alfred Mahon was born in 1883 in Chelsea, London. In 1911 his father, also called Alfred, was living in Ivy House, The Platt, Dormansland. Alfred (junior) joined the Royal Marines in 1901 at the age of 15 and then re-enlisted in 1904.  He was in the Royal Marines Band.  During 1914 he saw service in the North Sea and along the Belgian coast.  At sea, bandsmen worked in the Transmitting Stations, i.e. the control systems of the ship’s gunnery.  [The details on Alfred’s service record list his trade and service as ‘Musician’.]  The apparatus was in the bowels of the ship, escape was very difficult and casualty numbers were high.  Alfred, however, did not die from enemy action but was a victim of [an explosion].

Winston Churchill spoke in the [House of Commons] on 26 November 1914: ‘ I regret to say I have some bad news…the Bulwark battleship which was lying in Sheerness this morning blew up at 7.35 o’clock’.

A serving sailor at the outbreak of war he was posted to the HMS Bulwark.  He did valuable service in the North Sea and was engaged in the bombardment of enemy positions on the Belgian coats.  He lost his life when the Bulwark was blown up and sank off Sheerness on 26 November 1914, and was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, the General and Victory medals.  These medals were sent to his widow.  His body was not recovered for burial.

The Bulwark was moored in Kethole Reach on the Medway almost opposite Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey.  Most of her crew had been on leave and had returned at about 7am so there was a full complement in board.  Everything was normal, everyone going about their usual duties; some were having breakfast.  Alfred was on deck with the band, which was practising.  Observers later reported that suddenly there was a roar, a rumble, a massive sheet of flame.  The ship rose out of the water and sank back, and it was engulfed in a huge thick cloud of smoke; there were further explosions and when all had cleared the Bulwark had disappeared. Only 14 men survived, and two later died. Boats were sent out from the other ships, including the Formidable with Frederick Gaunt of Vicarage Road, Lingfield, on board.  Just over a month later, Frederick would also lose his life when the Formidable was torpedoed in the Channel on 1 January 1915.

The Knight Family

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

Sergeant William Knight was born in Altar Cottages Crowhurst in 1888.  William was the third child, second son, of William and Mary Jane Knight.  In 1906, when he was aged 18, William enlisted as a Regular soldier in the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I.) at a recruiting office in East Grinstead.

On 9 August 1914 the Battalion was inspected by […] the King and Queen.  Early on 13 August they left Aldershot and embarked the same day at Southampton, part of the British Expeditionary Force,  They landed at Boulogne on 14 August.  The battalion was engaged in various actions on the Western Front: the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat, the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Aisne, where Sergeant Knight was killed.

William Knight was [Lingfield’s] first local casualty; he was killed in action at Veneuil on 20 September 1914, aged 27.  He has no known grave, but his name is engraved on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.  William’s younger brother, Private Alfred Charles Knight, enlisted in 10th Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.  He died on 6 August 1917, aged 23 in the Third Battle of Ypres (today, generally known as Passchendaele).  He has no known grave; his name is engraved on the Menin Gate Memorial (Ypres).  The battle was launched on 31 July and continued until the fall of the village of Passchendaele on 6 November.

William and Alfred’s cousin, Fred Knight, survived the war.  He lived at 20 Saxbys Lane, Lingfield.  Fred enlisted in the Army Service Corps (ASC), the unit responsible for keeping the British Army supplied with provisions; it did not receive the Royal prefix until late 1918).  Corporal Fred Knight survived the war and remained with the ASC until 1921.  His last posting was in Norwich where he met a local girl.  They married and made their family home in Norwich.  Fred died in March 1967.

The Warriner Brothers

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

Albert and George Warriner were the sons of Emily and Charles Warriner of Old Town, Lingfield.

Sergeant Albert Warriner a married man living at Blindley Heath, enlisted in the 9th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment on 12 September 1914.  He died of wounds at Baileul on 17 June 1916.  He was 35.  The local paper reported that he had been gassed and severely wounded by shrapnel.  It appears that he was greatly respected by his men and his local community.

George Warriner lived at home with his widowed mother in Old Town.  He served in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 1st Class on HMS Lancaster.  This ship was part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron initially protecting convoys in the West Indies before she was sent to join up with the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, in 1915.  Just before the Battle of Jutland, the Lancaster was transferred to the Pacific Ocean in April 1916, patrolling North and South America and the Falklands until 1919.  It would appear that the ship was badly hit by the Spanish ‘Flu epidemic in December 1918, when up to 300 men on board fell ill out of a ship’s complement of 680.  As well as the usual medals awarded to servicemen who served in the war, George was also issued with the Silver War Medal which was issued to men discharged due to sickness or injuries sustained in the conflict.  It is quite possible that George was on of the men affected by the influenza outbreak, although [there is] no record of this.  Unlike his older brother, George survived the war, returning to Lingfield in 1919.


The Joseph Brothers

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

The Joseph Brothers were the three sons of the Pastor of Dormansland Baptist Church, and lived at The Manse, Clinton Hill.  All three were killed on the Western Front.

Private Sidney Herbert Joseph enlisted in 8th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment on 12 September 1915.  He was killed in action on 5 May 1917, aged 28.  He has no known grave; his name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial.

Lance Corporal Albert Edward Joseph enlisted in the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment at East Grinstead.  He was killed in action on 27 March 1918. He had no known grave but his name is inscribed on the Pozieres Memorial.  The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.

Private Archibald Joseph also enlisted with the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment at East Grinstead.  He died of wounds on 17 June 1916, aged 21, and is buried in Bailleul Community Cemetery Extension.

The Coomber Brothers

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

Herbert, Richard Charles and Robert Sargent Coomber were the three youngest sons of 14 children of Edmund and Fanny Coomber.  Edmund and Fanny had seven daughters and seven sons.  In 1901 they owned Cernes Farm, Robert was a cowman on the farm.  The three youngest brothers were baptised on the same day at St John’s Church, Dormansland.  They all enlisted as regular soldiers and left England with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914.  They were all killed on the Western Front.

Private Henry Coomber enlisted as a Regular soldier in 1st Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).  He died of wounds on 7 September 1917, age 38, and was buried in Bethune Town Cemetery.

Corporal Robert Sargent Coomber enlisted as a Regular soldier in 2nd Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) at Tonbridge in 1908.  He left England with the British Expeditionary Force on 4 October.  He was killed in action on 31 October 1914, aged 26.  He has no known grave; his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.  Dormansland village memorial incorrectly records his rank as ‘Sergeant’, probably in error as his second forename was Sargent.

Private Richard Charles Coomber enlisted as a Regular soldier in the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment in East Grinstead.  He too left England with the British Expeditionary Force on 4 October.  He died from wounds on 27 October 1914, aged 21, four days before the death of his brother Richard.  Richard is buried in Ypres Town Cemetery Extension.

Brothers in Arms

Courtesy of the RH7 History Group, as part of their First World War exhibitions from 2014-2018

Written by Janet Bateson and Sue Quelch

Men who worked together frequently enlisted together in Kitchen’s Army.  Brothers and cousins, old school friends, and neighbours in the same high street found the journey to the recruiting centre was exciting when they had their Pals without them.  There are several examples in the Lingfield area.  A sad fact of war is that some families lost their entire male household, many lost their main breadwinner.

Seven young men from Dormansland set off in the early morning of 10 November 1914 to take a train from South Godstone to Guildford to enlist in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment {QRWS) for the duration of the war.  They must have stood in line in a queue as their service numbers are consecutive:

No. 3490 Raymond Everest, age 19 years 5 months
3491 Frederick Henry Allen, age 19 years 6 months
3492 Edwin John Simmons, age 19 years 8 months
3493 Rochford James Whitehurst, age 19 years  9 months
3494 Walter Diplock, age 19 years 6 months
3495 Ernest Edward Caush gave his age as 20 to help his brother’s enlistment, actual age 19 years 6 months
3496 John Alfred Caush (Jack), brother of Ernest, gave his age as 19 years 6 months – actual age 17 years 5 months

They were close friends from school days.  They possibly worked on the Ford Manor estate, all were gardeners or farm labourers.  Frederick Allen and the Caush brothers were Boy Scouts.  Four of the friends were killed, two on the same day.  Of the three who survived one received a gunshot wound to the chest.

Raymond Everest was killed on 25 September 1915, the first day of the Battle of Loos.
Frederick Allen served in France, was transferred from [QRWS] to the 29th [Battalion], Middlesex Regiment, [and transferred[ again to the Labour Corps after his recovery from a gunshot wound to his chest.  In 1919 he received a pension for 20% disablement, 5/6d. per week, conditional to be reviewed in 39 weeks.
Edwin Simmons was killed on 21 August 1916 in the Battle of the Somme.
Rochford Whitehurst served in France, was promoted to Lance Corporal and transferred to the Gloucestershire Regiment.  He survived the war.
Walter Diplock served in France, was transferred to the Labour Corps.  He survived the war.
Ernest Caush was killed on 13 August 1916 in the Battle of the Somme.
John (Jack) Caush was killed on 25 September 1915, the first day of the Battle of Loos (the same day as his friend Raymond Everest).  He has no known grave; his name is inscribed on the Loos Memorial.

Robert Bramall Dives

Family story contributed by Brian Gudgeon

Robert Bramall Dives was born in Adelaide, Australia, in 1883, to James and Ellen Dives.  By the time of the 1891 Census, his family had moved to New Farm, Epsom, Surrey; Robert was recorded as being a scholar at the time.  In 1901, now aged 18, Robert was working as a Printer Compositor, living with his parents at 6 Willett Road, Croydon.  In 1909 he married Alice Victoria Jones, and the couple lived at 1 Mint Terrace, Mint Road, Wallington, Surrey, while he worked as a Printer Compositor.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Robert enlisted with the Royal Garrison Artillery, on 24 May 1916  aged 33. After training in 183rd Heavy Battery he embarked Southampton 30 September 1916 and disembarked at Havre 3rd October 1916.  Sadly, Robert was killed in action in the field 19 September 1917.

Robert Dives Service Medal and Awards Rolls Entry. Courtesy of Brian Gudgeon.

His name appears in the 1919 Service Medal & Awards Rolls:
Name Robert Bramall Dives;
Military year 1914-1920;
Rank Gunner;
Medal awarded British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Regiment Royal Garrison Artillery;
Regimental No. 109406.
Previous units 183 Heavy Battery. Royal Garrison Artillery, service number 109406, Gunner.

George Penfold

Family story contributed by Henry Pelham

George’s birth was registered in the September-December quarter of 1879, and he was baptised at St John’s Church, Redhill on 18 January 1880.  He lived at 30 Somerset Road, Meadvale, with his parents for the whole of his life.  In the 1901 and 1911 Censuses he is listed as working as a bricklayer, the same as his father.  He played football for Meadvale Rovers and also for the cricket team; but, otherwise, little is known of his life, except that he was remembered with great affection by Maurice and Van Marchant, the sons of his older sister Annie, who lived a few doors down.

George enlisted at Guildford, joining the 2nd Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (QRWS) with the service number G/4059.  It is not known precisely when he joined, but, given that one of his medals is the 1914 Star, it seems likely that his Army service began not long after war started.

On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 2nd Battalion, QRWS advanced towards Mametz Wood and Flatiron Copse; early that evening they advanced on High Wood.  It was during this attack that George was killed.  His body was never found, and his name is among those listed on the Thiepval Memorial.

Arthur Pelham

Family story contributed by Henry Pelham (provided by Brian Gudgeon)

Arthur Pelham was born on 8 March 1878, to Richard and Amy (née Dudley) Pelham. Richard was a farm labourer and the family (they had 13 children) lived at Leigh. Arthur married Lottie Louise Scrace on 1 October 1904 and they had two sons: Frank Arthur (born 1877) and Samuel (born in 1912) H.R. Arthur and Lottie lived at Kinnersley Cottage, Reigate, and he worked as a labourer. They also lived at 33 Warren Road, Meadvale.

In January 1915, Arthur enlisted in Guildford with the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, as Private G/4073. Arthur was undoubtedly a very brave man as the Surrey Mirror of 1 September 1916 reported.  With the headlined ‘Gallantry by a Sidlow Man, military medal awarded’ it records that he gained the coveted award for bringing in wounded and of heavy fire. He had been sent to France in April, where he had seen much fighting, and it was on 15 August that he distinguished himself.

Lottie received a letter from a Mr Carslake of Wimbledon, which gave some idea of her husband’s heroic act. It read: ‘I do not know if you have heard of the very gallant thing your husband and three other men of the Queen’s did on the 15th? My son (Captain Carslake) was wounded rather severely, and your husband and the other three bandaged him up and carried him on a stretcher over 300 yards of ground that was swept with heavy rifle, machine-gun and shrapnel fire. I am sorry to hear your husband has since been wounded. I hope it is not serious and that he is going on well. You will understand from what I have said above why I am asking, as I believe your husband helped to save my son’s life, and I want you and him to know how grateful my wife and I feel. Where is your husband in hospital? I would like to know, as if it is in London I should like to go and see him. I hope he will recover quickly’.  Unfortunately, this was not to be.

The Surrey Mirror of 5 January 1917 reported: ‘MILITARY FUNERAL – Great interest was taken in the funeral of Private Arthur Pelham, of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, which took place at Sidlow Bridge on Tuesday, amidst many manifestations of sympathy for the family. Private Pelham, who leaves a widow and several children, prior to joining up lived in the village and was greatly respected. He was wounded some time ago, and was taken to the King George’s Hospital, London, where he died on December 27, being 39 years of age. It is worthy of note the private Pelham and three others, after some severe fighting, and amidst a shower of shells, carried Captain W. B. Carslake. The Kensingtons provided a firing party, and buglars who sounded the Last Post.’ The Sidlow Bridge Parish Magazine for February 1917, reported that Captain Carslake said of him “he was quite one of the finest stretcher bearers in the battalion, which is saying a good deal.” The surgeons, nurses and comrades were struck by his extraordinary patience, courage and unselfishness. He never murmured or complained. He bore his sufferings with fortitude and calm resignation to the will of God. The wounds sustained by Arthur proved to be serious, and his death certificate states cause of death as 1. Pulmonary haemorrhage; 2. Gunshot wound face three months. A courageous man to the end.