A Cartoonist in the Trenches: Brigadier-General Harold Tew

At the outbreak of the war Harold Stewart Tew (1869-1949) was second in command of 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, with the rank of Major. Despite participating in the first battles of the war, including Mons and Le Cateau, and being wounded in the arm, he found time to exercise his skills as a cartoonist, casting a humorous eye over some of the more bizarre aspects of the war.

One cartoon, drawn on the reverse of a page from his Messages and Signals pad and depicting the appalling conditions in the trenches late in 1915, is endorsed ‘Should the Censor see this sketch he must understand that these are German trenches which we have just captured’.

The trenches, December 1915 (SHC ref ESR/25/TEW/1)

The Battalion War Diary corroborates Tew’s cartoon, recording on 5 December the thigh high water or mud the men had to endure.

He was wounded again when a sniper’s bullet hit his trench periscope and one of his cartoons points the finger at misdirected friendly machine gun fire.

The pleasanter side of Christmas 1915 (SHC ref ESR/25/TEW/2)


A misdirected machine gun (SHC ref ESR/25/TEW/8)









Harold Tew had previously seen service in the Boer War.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and succeeded Brigadier General J R Longley as commanding officer of 1st Battalion in July 1915. In January 1916, he was awarded the CMG.  He left 1st Battalion in June 1916 on his appointment to command 18th Infantry Brigade.  In October 1916 he was hospitalised by a fall from his horse.  He retired to the reserve officers list in 1924.

Tew’s cartoons were lent for copying by his grandson, Col (Retd) David J C Dickins and are held as ESR/25/TEW/1-10

Rejoicing and Mourning: Responses in Kingston to news of the Armistice in 1918

Written by Dr Steven Woodbridge

The end of the First World War brought great joy to many people in cities, towns, villages and numerous other communities across the British Isles, but at the same time there was also sadness and some poignant scenes for the thousands who had lost loved ones and close family members in the brutal conflict.

How did the people of Kingston-on-Thames and district respond to the news that an Armistice had been signed on November 11th, 1918, exactly 100 years ago? As we commemorate the end of the ‘Great War’, it is interesting to look back at the coverage of the Armistice offered by the local Surrey Comet newspaper in Kingston-on-Thames, which was the town’s main source of news at the time, and explore the details the paper gave to its readers about the events of that special Monday.

As the nation entered into the early days of the new month of November, 1918, the Surrey Comet had noted how the ‘rhythm’ of the war at the front appeared to be changing, but the paper also seemed to sense the sheer exhaustion now felt by local people at home. In an editorial in the November 2nd edition, entitled ‘A Month’s Victories’, the paper had pointed to the ‘tremendously dramatic events’ that were transpiring in the war zones, events which had left people ‘nearly breathless with interest; and yet, it must be added, that never did a great people who have waged war for upwards of four years, and in their hearts intensely desire peace, appear to be so little moved and exulted by it all’. The paper argued victory was in sight, but there could be no relaxation of effort.

The Surrey Comet’s coverage of Monday, November 11th, 1918 (the day of the Armistice), was published on Wednesday, November 13th, in its mid-week edition, and the sense of relief at the dramatic news about the Armistice was palpable. The mid-week edition included an editorial which proclaimed: ‘The people of our country and Empire can lift up their hearts today, for the most awful war in the world’s history has come to a close…’.

Reflecting on the previous four years, a note of triumphalism could be detected in the Comet’s stance; the paper’s editorial argued that Germany ‘had listened to false prophets who declared her people to be the Blonde Race destined to rule the world; and in pursuit of the world ambitions which thus infected the blood, has met the fate she so justly deserved’. The editorial added: ‘Marching through blood, rapine, lust and murder, she has over-reached herself and now tastes the galling bitterness of humiliation and defeat’. The Comet then praised ‘the dauntless valour and self-sacrifice’ of Naval and Military forces: ‘The Mighty Dead will live ever in the Nation’s memory…’.

On the next page, under the heading ‘Victory At Last!’, the paper then offered the Comet’s readers some fascinating detail on how the news of the Armistice was received in Kingston and the surrounding area. According to the paper, November 11th was ‘a day that dawned with new-found hope for a European peace…’.

Surrey Comet, 13 November 1918

Monday was a ‘a day of national rejoicing’, and within a few minutes of the confirmation of the official news, ‘Kingston and the surrounding neighbourhood presented quite a blaze of bunting. Flags appeared as if by magic’. Flags were put out on all public buildings in the town, and: ‘Cottage and mansion vied with each other in making the best show’, while there was also a ‘tremendous run on all the available stocks of flags at the shops’.

Soon the streets ‘became thronged with people’, who were ‘bent on making holiday’. The bells of All Saint’s Church in Kingston ‘rang out merry peals, and everyone was radiant with smiles. Rich and poor rubbed shoulders with one another in the crowds which surged through the streets…’.

Interestingly, the Comet revealed that a number of operatives from Sopwith’s Aviation factory (which was a large wartime employer in the town), who ‘had downed tools in ebullient glee when the glad tidings were received’, then passed through the streets in a motor-van, with a ‘conspicuous figure’ decorating the van – an effigy of the German Kaiser.

Simultaneously, however, the Surrey Comet’s report of the events of that day also recognised that ‘it was not all rejoicing. There was a ghost at the feast. The mourning attire and the sad, set faces of many women told their own sorrowful stories, and the hearts of all who are near and dear to them went out in deep sympathy to those who have experienced the tragedy of the war in its bitterest form by being robbed of their loved ones’.

During the afternoon of November 11th, the rain set in. In the words of the Comet: ‘It was a nasty drizzle which clung to one’s clothes, but it failed to damp the ardour of the revellers, although it appreciably thinned their ranks’. Indeed, as darkness fell, many people in the town and district apparently went home, ‘preferring the comfort of their homes to the damp streets…’.

Yet, the next day (Tuesday) saw the rejoicing continue. A prominent lead was given by the employees of the Sopwith Aviation Works again, who had been given a holiday until Wednesday.

As the Surrey Comet described it: ‘A long procession was formed of motor-lorries and motor-cars crammed with men and women, with a considerable number on foot bringing up the rear’. Moreover, the ‘foremost lorry’ in the procession carried effigies of ‘the butcher of Berlin’ (the Kaiser) and his eldest son, both adorned with German Iron Crosses. Led by a big drum, with bugles blaring and flags flying from every car, the procession made its way slowly through the streets of Kingston, ‘and was greeted everywhere with vociferous cheering’.

In Kingston Market Place, in the heart of the town, the ‘processionists’ were joined by an Army motor-lorry, ‘crowded with men in Khaki’, and the effigies of the Kaiser and his son were then brunt ‘amidst tumultuous cheering’. Significantly, the Surrey Comet also noted that Kingston Barracks (near Richmond Park), the depot of the East Surrey Regiment which had trained and provided so many local men for military service in France and Belgium, also saw ‘lusty cheering’ and ‘vociferous expression of satisfaction at the cessation of hostilities’.

A ‘bond of mutual help’: The Comrades of the Great War organisation in Kingston and Surbiton

Written by Dr Steven Woodbridge

Christmas arrived early for some former soldiers in the suburbs of south-west London in late 1918. One hundred years ago, on Christmas Day, 1918, the Surrey Comet newspaper carried a report about the opening of a new clubhouse for discharged servicemen in Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey.

The new clubhouse had been officially opened at 48, London Road, Kingston, a few days earlier, on the evening of Saturday, 21st December, in a formal opening ceremony conducted by Mrs. Cooper Turner, accompanied by her husband, Lieutenant F. Cooper Turner. The latter was President of the Kingston and Surbiton branch of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ organisation, and the Comet noted that its members now had a place where they could ‘meet and discuss matters of interest and enjoy a little social intercourse’ at centrally located premises.

Although there has been some brief coverage by historians of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ at national level, very little is available on the evolution of branches of the organisation at local level in towns and cities across the British Isles. A brief exploration of the Kingston and Surbiton branch can partly help to address this gap in our knowledge.

First of all, however, what was the purpose and aims of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ (CGW) organisation? CGW had been formed in late 1917 at an event held at the Mansion House in London, in order to lobby for, and protect, the rights of ex-servicemen and women who had served in His Majesty’s armed forces and been discharged. It was founded by Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, who sought a rightwing alternative to the recently formed ‘National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers’ (founded in 1916, and affiliated to the Trade Union movement), and also to the ‘National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers’ (which had been founded in April, 1917).

The President and leader of CGW was the Conservative MP Colonel Wilfred Ashley (1867-1939) (see photo), who was also secretary of the Anti-Socialist Union (ASU), a group which feared the spread of Socialism and Bolshevism in Britain. Ashley felt CGW could help steer ex-soldiers away from being seduced by the ‘radical’ propaganda of the other rival ex-service organisations.

Colonel Wilfred Ashley (Wikipedia)

He was aware that unemployment was high among veterans, especially those who had been left disabled through war injuries. The National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers, in particular, was calling for better pensions for those who had served. Similarly, the rapidly rising Labour Party was also beginning to campaign on such issues. Many veterans had also expressed disappointment over the seemingly unfulfilled promises made by the wartime Government concerning how many more houses would be built and made available for ex-servicemen and their families. Ashley was worried that ex-servicemen’s groups on the Left would try and exploit such discontent and, indeed, were already ‘politicising’ veterans. He wished to ensure that CGW would be more neutral in such matters.

Ironically, after a number of years of fairly intense competition between CGW and the other two ex-servicemen’s groups, CGW eventually combined with those same organisations, together with the Officers’ Association (which had been formed in 1920), and the four organisations formally became one single veterans movement in May, 1921, entitled the ‘British Legion’, which, of course, still exists today.

The first indications of CGW activity in the Kingston and Surbiton area came in mid-December, 1917, when it was reported that, ‘with the object of inaugurating a local branch of this new organisation’, a meeting had been held at the Gables Theatre in Surbiton (now the site of Hillcroft College, behind Surbiton Station). Mr. G. Pegram presided at the meeting, and a local branch committee was formed. Just a few weeks later, in January, 1918, it was reported in the Surrey Comet that a ‘well attended’ general meeting of the new Kingston and Surbiton branch of the CGW had been held at the Gables Theatre, with Canon F.B. Macnutt, former Senior Chaplain to the British Forces in France, presiding. The honorary secretary, Mr. Herbert Frost, reported, ‘amid applause’, that during the six weeks the branch had been in existence its membership had increased from 22 to 230.

Significantly, at the same meeting, Captain Towse, V.C., of the central organisation of the CGW, spoke to the local members and ’emphasised the fact that the “Comrades” were a strictly non-political body’. According to Towse, the main object of each branch was to unite discharged and demobilised soldiers in ‘a bond of mutual help’ and ‘comradeship’, and ‘to assist the dependents of men and women of all grades of the Services’ who had given their lives for King and Country. Capt. Towse also explained that the organisation ‘must not be confused with Trade Unions’. The ‘Comrades’, he claimed, ‘were out for the sole purpose of helping ex-servicemen, and in so doing they were not working against any other organisation, association or union’.

The following month, the Surrey Comet carried an interesting report about the wider activities and evolution of the CGW across Surrey. According to the newspaper, a meeting had been held in London in early February, 1918, ‘with the object of ventilating the aims and objects of the Comrades of the Great War, and with the view of adopting the scheme for the County of Surrey’. Lord Midleton presided, and ‘a considerable number of important people in the County were present’. Lord Midleton had explained the aims and objects of the CGW organisation, together with Capt. Towse (again representing the CGW national executive), while Colonel Young explained what had been done in Surrey. A resolution put to the meeting was unanimously adopted to appoint a special committee to increase CGW activity in Surrey, and it was noted that: ‘A branch for Kingston and Surbiton was established at the Gables Theatre, Surbiton, a few weeks ago, and there is also a branch at East Molesey’.

A sense of urgency can also be detected in CGW developments at local level in Surrey, including in the Kingston and district area. This was undoubtedly due to the emergence of rivals. In February, 1918, for example, a branch of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers had been formed for Surbiton and Kingston, and any ‘discharged servicemen desiring to enrol’ were invited to communicate with W.R.G. Tucker, at Orchard Cottage, South Place, Surbiton Hill. Also known as the ‘Silver Badge Men’ (from September, 1916, a silver badge was issued to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to serious wounds or sickness), the organisation tended to be more outspoken concerning what they saw as the unfair treatment of ex-servicemen, especially those men who had lost limbs.

Tucker became Hon. Secretary of the group, which held its first general meeting in early March at the Surbiton Lecture Hall in Maple Road, Surbiton. Reliable figures on local membership and support are difficult to find, although in November, 1918, it was reported that, at a monthly meeting of the Silver Badge Men held in the Fife Hall, Kingston, ‘about 100 members were present’ to hear addresses by two parliamentary candidates for the Kingston Parliamentary Division, who were subjected to ‘a good deal of good-humoured heckling’. The same account of the meeting stated that the local National Federation branch now had a membership of nearly 400, which was about fifty or so more than the CGW by that stage.

Meanwhile, the CGW had followed its own ‘non-political’ path. In early March, 1918, it was announced that Lieut.-Colonel F. Cooper Turner, J.P., had accepted the position of ‘Commandant’ of the Kingston and Surbiton branch of the CGW, and the branch appears to have made some further progress over the next few months. The ‘social’ side to the branch certainly seemed healthy. Indeed, it appears that the social and cultural activities were viewed as more important than any dabbling in ‘politics’. In May, 1918, the CGW were able to hold their second ‘smoking concert’ at the Gables Theatre, with an ‘excellent programme’ of acts arranged for the occasion by Mr. Herbert Frost, the local branch secretary.

Clearly, however, a more permanent base for the local CGW branch was urgently needed if it was to grow yet more and provide regular support and social ‘comradeship’ for members, particularly given the local emergence of the rival National Federation. In June, 1918, it was reported that there had only been ‘a fair attendance’ at a general meeting of the branch of the CGW held at the Gables Theatre. Lieut.-Colonel F. Cooper Turner, presiding at the meeting, and speaking in his capacity as Commandant, said ‘every effort’ was being made to find suitable premises for club purposes ‘where the comrades could spend a comfortable hour of recreation’. Interestingly, though, branch secretary Frost was still able to report that the branch had over 300 members and was ‘still enrolling’.

But the search for a headquarters and club-room appears to have dragged on for a number of months. It was not until well into the autumn that a property was found. In early November, the Surrey Comet revealed that the CGW were making an appeal for funds to provide a club-room for the branch, as ‘suitable quarters’ had now been obtained in Kingston. The estimated expense of furnishing the premises (at 48, London Road), plus rental and lighting, for a period of three years, was ‘about £600’.

Publicity material for the appeal provides further insights into what the CGW stood for. Again, it was stated that the aims and objects of the organisation were to ‘bring together’ the discharged and demobilised sailors and soldiers of the district ‘in a bond of mutual help’, and to ‘continue that spirit of Comradeship so predominant in the Trenches’, while also safeguarding the interests of all naval and military men and the widows and orphans of these who had fallen.

In the appeal for funds, the CGW branch Hon. Secretary Herbert Frost also called for gifts of furniture, including a Billiard Table: ‘Will any lady or gentleman kindly present one as a memorial to a Fallen Hero? An inscribed plate will be affixed denoting the donor and in whose memory it is given’.

It is also evident that, as a more conservative type of veterans organisation, the CGW could rely on support from Establishment notables. In early December, 1918, in a report on a meeting at Kingston Congregational Hall to celebrate both the first anniversary of the branch and the fact that it would be opening premises shortly, a message from Lady Haig, wishing success to the branch, was read out by the Commandant, F. Cooper Turner. The first Annual Report of the branch, presented by Hon. Secretary Frost, stated that membership was now at 359.

Coverage of the opening of the new CGW premises in Kingston is also worth noting. A tone of optimism was in evidence. The Surrey Comet observed to its readers that the Comrades of the Great War organisation was ‘one of the products of the War which bids fair to play an important part in national affairs in coming days’, and was ‘making great headway’ in many parts of the country. Moreover, the Comet suggested that nothing had been more marked during the War ‘than the spirit of comradeship which has been evoked by the sense of  a common danger and a common patriotism’.

Reflecting on the new post-war peace, the newspaper also argued that: ‘Men of all classes have served side by side in the ranks, and have manifested an equality of self-sacrifice in the interests of their country, and it is of the greatest importance that the feelings of mutual confidence should be maintained and deepened in the time of peace when so many perplexing problems have to be faced’.

“Too glorious for words”: Archie Forbes and the Armistice

Archibald Herbert d’Esterre Forbes (‘Archie’) was born on 29 January 1899. His family lived at France Hill House in Camberley.  Archie attended Uppingham School where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps.  In the summer of 1917 he joined the 13th Officer Cadet Battalion in Newmarket before being gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment, joining the 3rd Reserve Battalion in Dover.  In March he was posted overseas and sent to the 6th Battalion, the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment.

He served through the remainder of the war, sometimes as captain, and was also in demand as a Lewis Gun instructor. He was wounded on 30 June 1918 on the first day of the attack on Bouzincourt which saw 3 officers killed and 9 wounded and 28 other ranks killed, 8 missing and 190 wounded.  In a letter to his mother of 5 July he described his men as having ‘played up like bricks, and followed me magnificently, and helped me at every turn’ and mourned the loss of som many ‘fine fellows … and such decent comrades’ whom he viewed as his ‘good pals.  He was awarded the Military Cross on 4 August.

1st page of letter from Archie Forbes to his mother, 6 March 1919, listing battles in which he had fought (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2).

In his letter of 6 March 1919, with the end of censorship, he was able to list all the actions the battalion had fought in during August and September 1918 as the momentum of the allied advance became unstoppable. Some, he told his mother, ‘were quite cushy – with light casualties- & merely a case of strolling along under a terrific barrage’ but he underlined the names of the most ‘fearful’ battles, including Epehy, Noyelles, the Queant Drocourt line, Brielle and the breaching of the Hindenburg line.  He recalled, with admiration, the day-long resistance of a single German machine gun post in Epehy despite being surrounded: ‘It was one of the best and bravest pieces of work I’ve ever seen the Bosche do, and if ever any Huns ever deserved the Iron Cross, they did!’  He also described the terrific German bombardment after the battalion captured Molasses Farm: ‘after we had taken it & dug in just in front & behind the Farm – the Bosche simply banged & bumped & crumped & shelled it all day & night for some time afterwards’.  His batman Otter followed Archie faithfully across the shell-blasted ground: ‘I used to laugh as we were the most priceless sight imaginable – what with my long legs striding over the ground, & little Otter toddling along with his tiny legs after me – picking up numerous articles that I dropped in my hurry – tin hat, etc!! At times I tried to look dignified, but Otter used to hurry me along – saying “Come along, sir” – “Run sir!”  – or “Keep Low sir, your head is sticking up a long way, sir!” etc, etc’.

Rumegies village and war memorial

The unit war diary states that news of the signing of the Armistice was received at 0800 hours on 11 November while the battalion was behind the lines at the French village of Rumegies, north of Cambrai and just south of the Belgian border. All work for the day was cancelled and in a wonderful letter to his mother Archie looked back on the events of the day.  His exuberant joy contrasts with the gloom of Franklin Lushington: unlike Lushington, Archie was in a position to share the relief and joy of the local French people and of course, despite all he had endured and the responsibility heaped on him in 1918, he was still just a teenager.  His letter is worth quoting extensively.

Dearest Mother,

At last the end of the war has come, and Germany is done and beaten to the very last card! But, by Jove, she’s fought it out well, and stuck out deceiving us up to the very last minute – for not one of us really knew till this morning what a frightful pitch of starvation and despair the Germans had reached.

            It is useless to try and express my feelings of joy and relief now that it is all over – and I don’t suppose you could express yours – it’s all too glorious for words. No doubt England is upside down with delight, and rejoicing from top to bottom, the same that we are doing out here. The men are absolutely off their heads with glee, and it’s topping to think of the happy meetings and rejoicings that will take place when we all get back to England. But on the other hand it’s terrible to think of the many sad homes and sorrowful hearts where this long looked for return will not be, and to them, I fear, peace will only bring their losses back more vividly. We heard this grand news this morning, and all hostilities ceased at 11 a.m. and I am thankful to say we are not in the line, but in another village which has been the scene of endless shouting and waving of flags, etc, throughout the day. The French people – on whom we are billeted – have simply fallen over us with joy all day since we told them that the guerre had finied!! The women and girls and children are practically falling on our necks and feet with gratitude – and I was all but kissed by the old lady and girls in my billet! and seem to have spent half the day shaking hands with dear old men of about 90 who are tottering about the streets shaking all over with delight. Of course you must remember these people have only recently been released by us from the Bosche – and I can’t say whether all the French people are so full of gratitude as this towards the British soldiers. We’ve spent the day marching about the streets with bands playing and everybody waving flags and shouting, singing, and cheering – and numerous rockets and coloured lights have been sent up all day, to say nothing of squibbs and fireworks!

1st page of Archie Forbes’s letter to his mother on armistice day (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2)

            The general himself is quite mad, and sent up an S.O.S. Rocket this morning from the midst of a huge crowd of Tommies in the market square. The S.O.S Rocket – I must explain – is the signal for an intense artillery barrage to be put down on the Bosche when he comes over the top at us, and is immediately answered by all our Guns. (i.e. if the war is on!) But this morning the only reply it got was a terrific outburst of laughter and applause – and the joke appealed to the men like anything. The remainder of the day – (when I haven’t been marching about or waving flags or cheering) – I seem to have spent in standing to attention and listening to “God Save the King” and the Marseillaise and Belgian National Anthem about 100 times over at different times & places!

            It has really been an historic day in this place, and one which I shall never forget as long as I live. And the beauty of the whole thing to me is that it is genuine whole-hearted rejoicing – and no drunkenness at all or even lively spirits through drink – as there isn’t a drop of drink in the place, and we can’t get whiskey for the officers’ messes at present.

            Tomorrow there is a large voluntary Thanksgiving Service – and I haven’t the smallest doubt that every single man in the battalion will turn up, as every one of us thinks and says the same thing – that we have so much to be thankful for that we can never express it in words. And really – when I come to look back on my 6 or 7 months out here, there is such a lot to be thankful for – and all the awful narrow escapes I’ve had time and again, that it makes me go cold all over to think of it! For although I’ve only been out for 6 or 7 months, yet these 6 months have seen some of the worst battles & fighting of the war – and fellows who have done as many “over the top” stints and been through as many battles as I have during these 6 months and come through without a scratch have got more to thank God for than they can hope to do in a lifetime.

I somehow can’t yet realize that I am safe and sound with a whole skin, as an infantry subaltern’s life out here is nothing but one of huge risk – seeing that he plays about with barrages half the time – or else under Machine Gun fire.

2nd Lieutenant Archie Forbes (on left) (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2)

Now that it’s all over, I don’t mind telling you that time and again I’ve wondered how much longer I should last out, and how much longer my luck would hold. And time and again, I’ve gone over the top with my Platoon or Company – usually well in front of them – and yet when I looked round I’d see them being knocked over all round me especially that memorable occasion when I went over with a Platoon of 35 and afterwards found myself with 7. It makes one think a bit, I can assure you, and I’ve wondered and wondered why some fellows like myself have been so lucky, and I’m sure your prayers have done it, and other poor fellows haven’t been so fortunate because they haven’t got Mothers who pray for them so earnestly as you have done for me all along, I know.  [……….]

I can hear the old lady of my billet coming up the stairs to my room – I believe she wants to kiss me this time!! – No, it was alright, not the old lady after all – but her young daughter who has brought me a cup of coffee. I thanked her frightfully as she’s quite pretty! – and I said numerous merci “beaucoups” and “biens” and “bons” and “tra bongs”, etc! which seemed to please her greatly. I talk quite a lot to them, as they love hearing the war news – especially this morning’s news of peace! But I find it pretty difficult as they can’t speak a word of English in these parts – but very amusing and great fun at times.

On demobilisation, 3 March 1919, Archie was given a fine reference: ‘He is a strict disciplinarian and a very fine leader, especially in action and he knows how to handle men’. After the war, he became a Latin teacher at Lambrook preparatory school Winkfield, Berkshire.  He married Flora Keyes and they had two daughters, Isla & Rona.  In the autumn of 1939, he achieved his long-held hope of becoming headmaster of Lambrook.  He died of cancer on 31 October 1956.

Images and transcripts reproduced by permission of the grandchildren of Archie Forbes.

Herbert Henry Bowerman of Worplesdon

Herbert Henry Bowerman was was born in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, on 9 April 1881. In 1891 he and his siblings were living with his mother, Ann, and stepfather George Morley, an agricultural labourer.  By 1901, the family had moved to St John’s, Woking where George was now a railway platelayer and Herbert a nursery labourer (and now merely described as George’s son, although the reality seems to have been more complicated).

Herbert (‘Bert’), now married to Louise and living in Worplesdon, enlisted in Guildford and joined the 2nd Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment as a Private (no. G/37600).  Three letters to his mother (‘Mumsy’) and sister, Laura, from the trenches, one dated 5 May 1917, allow us a glimpse of the last few weeks of his life.  His health was often poor which meant he struggled with training, and his bad chest was exacerbated by the cold and wet conditions in the spring of 1917: ‘I feel awfully weak some days but they say it is no use going to the doctor unless you are nearly dead.  Life at the front was ‘something awfull (sic) mud up to one’s neck and no place to sleep in, only what you see the gipsy put up under the hedges a piece of canvas over a pole hanging down both sides’.  The initially successful Battle of Arras having ground to a halt, Bert could see no end to the ‘awfull affair …. unless something unforeseen happen or it be God’s will that it should stop’.  He describes his comrades as ‘fed up with this life but determined to see it through’.

In his letter to his sister he bemoans the scarcity of writing paper which prevents him writing often, the shortage of money (‘we never know when we are going to get our pay’) and again his terrible surroundings: ‘every village is blow to the level of the ground not a building standing anywhere … the life here is horrible am writing this wet through & no chance of drying my things and to make matters worse they have taken our blanket and coats away leaving us with only a waterproof sheet to lie on, and this under a piece of canvass stretched across a pole like you see Gipsys with, I might say they are not fit for a dog to lie in yet there are 6 & 7 human beings huddled in these places’.

Bert’s letter to his sister (7361/2)

Poignantly in one of the letters to his mother, aware of unfinished business, he makes a move to repair what seems to have been a complicated relationship with his stepfather, George, by asking to be remembered ‘to the Dad’. He goes on ‘I suppose you will be surprised to see this word but I know in my heart he has deserved this title always but I suppose it was pride that kept me from calling him this’.

Sadly he had no opportunity to pursue this tentative reconciliation in person. In a letter of 17 May, 2nd Lieutenant GA Streeter of D Company wrote to Bert’s wife Louise that her husband had been killed in action on 12 May 1917.  He was part of a carrying party following a successful attack on the village of Bullecourt, south east of Arras, by British and Australian troops (163 of the 499 men of the battalion were casualties in the attack).  Streeter reported that a shell had exploded nearby and that there had been no chance to recover any of Bert’s effects because the ground was swept by continuous heavy shellfire: ‘the only consolation is that he is far better off now, as I know he led a good life’.


Letters and other documents relating to Herbert H Bowerman, deposited in Surrey History Centre by his great-neice, Mrs M A Dods (SHC ref 7361)

War diary of 2nd Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment

Henry Deacon Ritchie, 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards

Written by Richard and Rosemary Christophers

Henry Deacon Ritchie, known as Hal, was born in Hong Kong 0n 14 November 1898, the third child of the eight children of Edmée and Henry Ritchie, the Far East Director of the P and O shipping company.

Hal had five sisters and two brothers, including one who died in infancy. Three of the sisters attended St Catherine’s School, Bramley, and hence Hal is on the School’s roll of honour.

After years spent in the Far East, eventually in 1909 the family settled in Catteshall Manor, Godalming. After the death of Hal’s father in 1914 Mrs Ritchie, with the assistance of a ‘fairy godfather’ had the slightly smaller Catteshall Rough built for the family and they moved there in 1916 . Hal went to Sunningdale School as a boarder before being educated at Eton where he was a King’s scholar and a Private in the OTC. He gained a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, but did not take this up and from school, joined the Coldstream Guards in August 1917, aged 18 years and 5 months.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, part of the 2nd Guards Brigade, and wrote almost daily to his mother. His letters initially describe good days with plenty of food for the officers but this was not to last. The narrative and letters are taken from ‘Hal’, compiled by Celia Sherman and David Lloyd James, on behalf of the Ritchie family, and privately published for the family, 2010.

On 3 May 1918 the battalion went up the line and the war diary noted a German attack was imminent. Hal reported to his mother that it was quite safe, but he was in charge of forward posts which would be uncomfortable, although nights were the time for activity and days for resting. He reassured her that he was only in the real front line 6 days in every 20. By the 8 May he is less upbeat:

“Your birthday which seemed so smiling ended in the most awful night I have ever spent. Couldn’t see a yard & falling into shell holes & trenches all the time & 6 inches of water in all the men’s dugouts. They were wonderful: made me so ashamed of myself for being affected by the downpour: they all offered me their sympathy as I went round – it took 1 ½ hours to go round 10 posts – & yet I was much luckier than they. Our room became fairly unpleasant: 3 tins & 4 cups in different places catching the rain & of course we were wringing – makes your feet so cold after, when you went to sleep & no chance of changing or taking off your boots. Luckily I have a sound constitution! Keith Cameron who came out with me & who is in the Company on our right was hit by one of those damnable (it’s the only world for it) expanding bullets: took a chunk out of his leg poor devil & must have hurt him terribly. I hope you realised that that account of the Guards was the 4th Brigade – the one in another Division which did so wonderfully on April 11th. We still haven’t heard the fate of some of them. I am afraid Roger de Wesselow & Leadbitter were killed. I don’t think they were taking many prisoners – even if they had the chance”.

He misses good reading and on 13th May, a day after a further stint on the front line is writing on the coming of spring since he was last there and on more literary matters:

“A very amusing letter from Edmée [his sister] – please thank her very much for it and give her my love: tell her to read the poems called Experiments in the 1st book of Rupert Brooke. She sent me all her love ‘except what I give to Mummie’: I cannot give her so much, I’m afraid – but then, I am no longer heart whole! Madgie’s [another sister] letter I will try to answer, but thank her too in advance. Have you got Juliet Grenfell’s ‘Into Battle’ in any of your books – it should be in ‘Poems of Today’ and was certainly in Violet’s [another sister] book: it is much the nearest approach to a description of spring out here that has even been attempted”.

June was a month of rest and Hal reflects to his mother his loathing of the war, the loss of colleagues and the awful memories, but there are dinners, cakes sent from home and unspoiled countryside to enjoy. All too soon the battalion returned to the line on 6 July. On 6 August Hal went on an infantry training course and is next mentioned in the war diary on 19 September when the battalion is giving support in Louverval Wood. This was part of the Hundred Days Offensive, in which the Coldstream Guards was engaged in the Battle of Canal du Nord, near Graincourt. The leading officer of no 2 Company, was Capt C H Frisby, from Woking, who was to gain the VC for his actions. His battalion was tasked with the capture of a canal crossing, with Frisby himself in command of one of the attacking companies, and despite a leg wound, he then attended to forming a defensive line as per his instructions.

Hal was less fortunate: he had gone in as the second officer of no 3 Company, but was seriously wounded on 19 September and had to be replaced. He died of wounds on 27 September 1918 at no. 3 Ambulance Station, France and is buried at Beaumetz Cross Roads Cemetery, Beaumetz-les-Cambrai, Pas de Calais.

His last letter to his mother, undated, to be opened in the event of his death reads:

“My darling; please, please don’t be sad, because really I have had such a happy life, such good friends, such wonderful brothers and sisters, and such a Mummie, that I think, God just willed it so that a death that we could be proud of should end and complete a life which been enjoyed all through. And if it does seem rather hard to you darlingest, it is only the sacrifice we make for having been such wonderful friends – that must be a consolation.

Because you are the most lovable mother God ever gave anyone I long to be with you all your life, but now there can be no chance, no growing old, and when we meet we shall be just as we always were – understanding perfectly.

Of ‘last wishes’ I have few, because you will know just what I should like: only, if you send any things away, say that I wanted them to have something of mine – even if I cannot here write a list. Probably Oliver Bowlby would most appreciate any military things, and I want Kit and Dixon most especially to have something. The latter might like my set of Sophocles. But tell them also how really I have enjoyed their friendship. Give Dragon something, and Mrs Bouverie. And give the family my love. I shall always be among you. Give Madgie one especial kiss that shall come from me. She has always been so dear to me, and such a splendid companion. What a wonderful time we have had, all of us together. In that way only I like to feel I shall be missed, because we have meant so much to each other in our family circle.

Darling, you must think of this as the greatest good that can happen: it may sound rather frivolous but I always think:

Never a doubt but somehow good

Shall come of water and of mud

seems wonderfully to suit this war.

It’s a long night, Mummie, but there is somewhere our ‘white tremendous daybreak’ – and till then think of me only as one who always was happy and is happier now, and one who loved you always but loves you more now.

I shall not want a written memorial, but I should like my epitaph, in your heart, to be (I don’t deserve it, but I like

‘Or shall we sit despondently and sigh

 “He was so brave, he was so young to die!”

 Or rather learn by him and follow after

 And, when the night is darkest, hear his laughter’.

It was written for a much better man than me – but a little is applicable.

Do you know how I think of you? I never think of you out here without remembering Browning’s line:

By such souls    

God, stooping, shows sufficient of his light

For us in the dark to rise by – And I rise!

Good night, loved Mummie, God be with you and help you, now and always –



Feeding the People: National Kitchens in Surrey

Written by Marion Edwards

Before the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain relied heavily on food imports to feed the population – as much as 60 percent of food stocks came from abroad. In wartime, increased costs of shipping, together with a complete lack of any government control, led to a rapid rise in the price of food, especially meat and bread. Keeping shipping lanes open was therefore vital, but ships operating along these routes were in constant danger from German submarines, determined to starve Britain into submission. Two years into the war, Britain found itself with only weeks’ worth of food in hand and on the verge of starvation. However, it wasn’t until end the end of 1917 that food rationing began to be introduced; by February 1918 compulsory general rationing was in force.

During the first years of the war, to help counteract the lack of food supplies and to economise on fuel consumption, voluntary organisations began to open ‘communal kitchens’ in various parts of the country. However, they were not generally well-thought of by the public at large, and at first only the poorest people made use of them – one government official from the Ministry of Food Control, created at the end of 1916, stated: ‘It was [commonly] thought that Public Kitchens were to be inflicted on the poor [alone] as some kind of punishment for a crime unstated’. The Ministry approved the idea of National Kitchens, but realised that they would have to be made more attractive to the general populace; they ‘must not resemble a soup kitchen for the poorest section of society’ but should instead be places for ‘ordinary people in ordinary circumstances’.  A meal of soup, meat and vegetables was available for as little as 6d, roughly equivalent to £1 today.  In order to further distance them from charitable canteens, the kitchens were run in a businesslike manner: in at least one kitchen it was possible to ‘buy your Sunday dinner on Saturday’ – the ability to show the means to pay for a meal in advance, and to make reservations as if at a restaurant, would, it was hoped, contribute to the image that the Kitchens were indeed for ‘ordinary people’ (Ministry quotes from BBC online News Magazine 6 July 2015 and Wikipedia).

The first National Kitchen was opened by Queen Mary in Westminster Bridge Road, London, on 21 May 1917 and by late 1918, there were 363 National Kitchens. The Ministry of Food originally offered a 25% grant and a loan to cover the cost of setting up a Kitchen but by mid 1918 was prepared to advance the whole cost through a 10 year interest-free loan (see Surrey Comet, 22 Jun 1918 p.8).  They were mainly staffed by volunteers, particularly well-to-do women who were anxious to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort – serving in the kitchens became known as ‘canteening’, although some paid supervisors were taken on. Customers were supposed to bring their own bowls and other utensils and if meat off the joint was on the menu, those who chose it had to surrender a ration coupon or half-coupon (see Surrey Times, 23 Aug 1918 p.7, relating to opening of Leatherhead National Kitchen).  Increasingly meals were provided in situ, rather than to take away, and Woking opened a restaurant on its premises, hoping to attract the custom of the many RAF, Army Pay Corps and munitions workers in the neighbourhood (Surrey Times, 16 Aug 1918, p.3).

By the end of 1918, most towns of any size in Surrey had a National Kitchen, some more than one (Epsom opened its third in October 1918): those noted in the local newspaper indexes on this website include Addlestone, Chertsey, Croydon, Epsom, Farnham, Godalming, Guildford, Hersham, Horley, Kingston, Leatherhead, Limpsfield, New Malden, East Molesey, Redhill, Reigate, Walton on Thames, Wimbledon, Weybridge, Woking and Worcester Park.

Farnham Communal Kitchen menu for week of 25 March 1918 (Farnham Herald, 23 Mar 1918)

The Farnham National Kitchen, established in January 1918, was advertised as aiming to ‘provide cheap and good food for children and to supply the general public with well-cooked dishes, particularly in substitution for meat the supply of which is now so limited’. At a time of acute shortages, accusations of unfairness and unequal treatment were rife and the Farnham Medical Officer of Health, Dr C E Turner, argued that the National Kitchen was of vital importance to ensure children and working men should be properly fed, aware as he was that ‘the poor felt that the richer amongst them were getting more to eat than they were and they did not think it was fair’ (Surrey and Hants News, 31 Jan 1918).  The Farnham kitchen enjoyed the patronage of the town’s most notable inhabitant, when the Bishop of Winchester in Farnham Castle contributed venison from his park (Surrey and Hants News, 21 Feb 1918).

Wimbledon’s National Kitchen celebrated its first anniversary in June 1918 (Surrey Comet, 19 Jun 1918, p.6) by which time it was entirely self-supporting and serving over 1000 portions a day. The Mayoress claimed it to be ‘the most successful of its kind in the country’ and ‘held up by the Ministry of Food as a model of how communal kitchens should be run in the public interest’.

Guildford’s National Kitchen was located in Ward Street Hall. First named the Guildford Communal Kitchen, it was formally opened by the Mayor on 3 November 1917 and ran until March 1919.  At its opening, Mr W T Patrick said it should be called ‘Everyone’s Kitchen’ as it would be open to millionaire and working man alike.  Deemed an instant success, 400 portions were served on its first day.  Later the cooking equipment was moved to the Borough Halls but meals continued to be served in Ward Street and also in Manor Road, Stoughton.  Menus were drawn up for a week in advance by the honorary superintendent, Mrs Ethel Cleasby (an artist in miniatures who had exhibited at the Royal Academy) and her indefatigable band of local lady volunteers, and a typical day’s menu read: ‘Tuesday: May 28 1918: Soup 1d; potatoes 1d; vegetables 1d; meat puddings 4d; meat pies 2d; Welsh rarebit and polenta 2d; Yarmouth cakes 2d; Syrup pudding 2d; lemon tartlets 2d; rice mould and ginger sauce 2d’. Special dishes such as steak and kidney pie or meat galantine could be ordered in advance for Friday and Saturday, but customers had to sacrifice some of their precious meat coupons to obtain them.  They also had to provide their own plates, although these could be left at the kitchen for a fee of 2d per person per week. Guildford’s kitchen was popular across the social spectrum – the well-to-do patronised it regularly, especially those ladies who were without servants while so many girls were employed in munitions work.  Local children ate there, as well as pupils of the Royal Grammar School, who were usually accompanied by one of the masters (see W H Oakley, ‘Guildford in the Great War’, 1934).

Opening week menu for Guildford Communal Kitchen (Surrey Times 9 Nov 1917)

Not everyone thought the National Kitchens were serving their purpose, however, and there was occasional opposition. The Surrey and Hants News of 30 May 1918 ran the piece ‘Too Expensive for Poor Families’ (p.3), quoting Farnham Rural District Council’s opinion that less well-off families ‘could not afford to pay 2d or 3d per portion if they had to provide dinner for four or five children’ and that the town’s kitchen was mainly used by the ‘well-to-do’.  In the same piece the Council was also quoted as considering that, now that compulsory rationing had been instituted (well in force by February 1918), National Kitchens were no longer quite so necessary.  The Surrey Comet reported acidly that the ‘over-bold’ Surbiton Urban District Council, acting ‘without due consideration either of the national or local interests’, refused to open one on the grounds that the residents (only ‘one or two’ of whom they had asked) did not want it because it would be a burden on the rates (see Surrey Comet, 16 Oct and 9 Nov 1918).

National Kitchens gradually closed across Surrey once the war ended. Interestingly, however, when the Redhill kitchen in Cromwell Road marked its first anniversary (Surrey Mirror, 7 Feb 1919) the newspaper considered that such establishments might become an enduring feature of the landscape, given the changes the war had brought about: ‘It seems certain that the present shortage of domestic workers will not be greatly abated in the future: housewives will, therefore, have to consider in what ways they can reduce the work of their households. One obvious way is to have less cooking done in the home.  We have long been accustomed to the idea of having our washing done outside our homes; why not the cooking too?’

Making Munitions in Surrey: private contractors and National Factories

At the very end of the war (indeed the Armistice intervened before it was published) the Department of Engineering of the Ministry of Munitions produced an enormous ‘Directory of Manufacturers in the Engineering and Allied Trades’, being ‘a list of manufacturers who have undertaken contracts and sub-contracts for the manufacture of munitions of war’.  The purpose of this mammoth venture was (1) ‘to assist contract or supply officers in inviting tenders for the manufacture of munitions of war’ and (2) ‘to provide a record of the engineering capacity of Great Britain for reference during the transition period from war to peace conditions, or thereafter, should the necessity arise’.

The directory listed in alphabetical order: Ministry of Munitions engineering contractors; Admiralty engineering contractors; agricultural engineers; machine tool makers; constructional engineers; and woodworking machinery makers (but not woodworking contractors unless they were engaged in aeronautical production).  Listed in a separate section at the end were the National Factories that had been set up by the government.

The directory provides an extraordinary snapshot of the mobilisation of British industry in response to the war.  Not only does it provide the name and address of each firm but it also details what that firm was manufacturing before the war, what it made during the war, and how many men and women it employed.  In total 8,760 firms are listed in its pages, but one of our project volunteers, Barry Oliver, has extracted the information relating to firms and National Factories which operated within the boundaries of modern Surrey (including in Spelthorne Borough, which in 1918 formed part of Middlesex) and also those within those parts of the county which are now in the outer London Boroughs of Kingston, Richmond, Merton, Sutton and Croydon.  Click on the link at the foot of this page to view Barry’s work.

55 establishments are listed for modern Surrey, between them employing 15,954 men and 5,265 women; if the outer London boroughs are included the number of firms rises to 150, employing 28,101 men and 13,145 women.  Croydon has the heaviest concentration, with 39 firms listed, followed by Richmond (20 firms) and Kingston (18 firms).  Of the modern Surrey districts or boroughs, Elmbridge has 12 firms listed, Guildford 9 and Runnymede 8. Unsurprisingly, rural Tandridge only has 2 entries and Surrey Heath, dominated by military establishments and camps, has none.

Of course many other local non-engineering firms were also engaged in war work – leather makers, gunpowder mills, clothing manufacturers for example – but as yet no similar published directory has been located.

Engineering Manufacturers 1918


The School of Musketry at Bisley Camp

The National Rifle Association was founded in 1859 in reaction to fears of French invasion ‘to give permanence to Volunteer [Rifle] Corps and to encourage rifle shooting’ throughout Britain and the Empire.  Early prize meetings were held on Wimbledon Common until, for reasons of space and safety, they were transferred to Bisley, near Brookwood in Woking, in July 1890 on a site purchased for £13,439 3s 11d.  A branch line from Brookwood station was built to carry passengers into the camp during annual prize meetings, along with two stations, one at the entrance and one near the refreshment pavilion.  The tramway previously used at Wimbledon was transferred, and skirted the east side of Bisley Common, to the rear of the principal firing points.  The refreshment pavilion, first used at Wimbledon in 1871, was also transferred.  A clock tower was located centrally at the highest point in the camp, some 226′ above sea level, and the new butts and ranges, established on land belonging to the War Department, were named Stickledown, Shorts, Century and Long and Short Siberia.

Shooting for the Ashburton Shield at a NRA Meeting in 1906 (SHC ref QRWS/30/CLARGG/1 p.46)

Membership of the Association was open to private individuals and, at discounted rates, to members of the armed forces and of County Rifle Associations.  Local rifle clubs could join as affiliate members and membership extended across Great Britain and its colonies and dominions: affiliated Surrey clubs included Albury; Byfleet; Dorking; East Surrey Regiment (5th Battalion); Epsom; Esher; Frimley, Yorktown and Camberley; Godalming; Guildford; Haslemere; Knaphill and Brookwood; Putney; Queen’s Regiment (4th Battalion); Reigate; Surrey Brigade Company of the ASC (Territorial); Surrey Yeomanry; West Surrey; Wimbledon Park; Woking Working Men’s; Woking and Horsell; and a large number of miniature shooting clubs.  Members were admitted to the annual Bisley Prize Meeting in July and could take part in shooting competitions; they could also use the range tramway and travel on the London and South Western Railway to Brookwood at Territorial rates.

All this activity came to an end with the outbreak of war.  Competitions were suspended, and the chairman of the NRA immediately met with Lord Kitchener and placed the camping ground and ranges at the disposal of the War Office and offered to raise a Corps of Musketry Instructors who would train officers and NCOs as musketry instructors within the divisions, brigades and battalions of the New Armies.  The Commandant of the School of Musketry was Maj-Gen Lord Cheylesmore, KCVO, later succeeded by Lt-Col P W Richardson, who had served as the first Chief Instructor, Major J P Somers taking over from Richardson in that role.  Originally it was intended that the Corps should comprise 18 officers and 80 staff sergeant instructors, selected from skilled members of the NRA who were over the age of active military service or unfit for general service; however by the end of the war its staff consisted of 66 officers and 400 warrant officers.

NRA offices at Bisley, 1909 (on left) with a pavilion on the right (SHC ref 6316/435)

These instructors would provide, over the course of 2-4 weeks of training at Bisley, instruction in such subjects as the care of arms, the mechanism of the rifle, firing positions, the art of aiming and trigger pressing, how not to ‘flinch at the recoil of the rifle’, the influence of wind and atmospheric conditions, the use of ground and cover and the art of rapid fire.  Successful students who passed the exams would be sent back to their units to instruct the men who had volunteered for the new armies.  In the 1915 report of the School (SHC ref 6227/1/54) it was estimated that indirectly the School had trained around 1.5 million men to shoot straight.  The newly qualified instructors, the 1915 report claimed, came from all walks of life, and included a dentist, a professional cricketer, and organ builder and a fishing tackle maker among their number.  Once the needs of Kitchener’s new armies had been met, the School moved on to train Territorial officers and NCOs and some officers of the Volunteer Training Corps.  Instructors from the School were also sent out to France to share their expertise with students at the sniping schools that were established behind the lines and Lt-Col Richardson’s lectures on sniping and the use of telescopic sights were published and distributed.

In January 1915 a machine gun training centre was also set up at Bisley, which used the ranges at Stickledown and schooled officers and NCOs in the use of Maxim, Vickers and Lewis guns.  In its first year, 527 officers, 506 NCOs and 400 privates successfully completed the fortnight-long training course.  The machine gun school as a separate entity was discontinued in September 1916 but Lewis gun and Hotchkiss gun classes were run in 1917-1918.  In addition, in March 1915 until May 1916 the School took on the calibration of telescopic rifle sights for snipers and over that period dealt with 3537 rifles.  In 1918 Captain C W Wirgman ran revolver classes for officers.

British team, winners of the Empire Challenge Trophy, 1910 (SHC ref 6227/1/49)

The new School of Musketry took over all the NRA’s buildings at Bisley, along with the club houses and pavilions established by rifle clubs; even then, more accommodation was needed for instructors and students and many wooden buildings had to be erected on the site; as the NRA’s 1915 annual report states, ‘every corner of Bisley has been filled up’.  The Brookwood and Bisley Camp railway was extended to Blackdown and Deepcut Camps and was taken over by the military authorities.

The School came to an end on 14 December 1918, its closure marked by a shooting competition among its staff, a dinner and a musical entertainment.  The staff-sergeants of the School formed a rifle club to preserve the comradeship that had developed among them.  Over the course of the School’s existence, 87 officers and 571 NCOs qualified as NRA instructors; 1881 Territorial officers and 4566 Territorial NCOs similarly passed their rifle shooting examinations; 1049 officers and NCOs qualified in the use of the Hotchkiss gun, 976 in the use of the Lewis gun, and 189 qualified in range finding.  In addition, 203 officers passed the tactical handling course and 108 officers passed in pistol shooting.


Annual reports of the National Rifle Association (SHC ref 6227/1/53-57)

Wake Up! Invasion fears in Surrey during early World War One

Written by Dr Steven Woodbridge, Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

By late 1914, it had become very apparent to people in Britain that the ‘great war’ would not be ‘over by Christmas’, as many had initially predicted and hoped. Moreover, as 1914 gave way to the new year of 1915, an increasingly pessimistic and, frankly, alarmist atmosphere began to develop on the Home Front in Britain concerning enemy intentions.

One sign of this was increased paranoia about German spies in the country. Another, and related, sign of the new pessimism was growing talk about the possibility of German military invasion. The most likely place for this, it was claimed, would be on the south coast of England.

The spy scare: cartoon in ‘Punch’, 1915

Historians are familiar with the fear of enemy invasion that gripped many in Britain in the summer of 1940, during the Second World War. Much less research has been conducted by scholars, though, on the paranoia about invasion of the British Isles that had also developed within just six months of the start of the earlier world war. Yet there are quite noticeable similarities.

Interesting evidence of this can be found at local level in Surrey in early 1915. As a large County situated next to some key southern coastal Counties, the authorities in Surrey had to develop detailed contingency plans for how the whole area would deal with the impact of fighting on the south coast, and the potential mass movement of people and livestock this might entail. The plan appeared to give priority to ensuring successful evacuation of livestock (thus securing valuable food supplies), but minimising the movement of ordinary civilians, thereby avoiding clogging up major County roads or the main Surrey railway stations.  On January 20th, 1915, for example, the local Surrey Comet newspaper, based in Kingston-on-Thames, published a lengthy article on ‘The Defence of the Realm’, which described for readers (as the paper put it) ‘How Surrey Would be Affected by Invasion’.

The Comet noted that a ‘preliminary notice regarding prospective measures to be taken under the Defence of the Realm Act in case of emergency’ had been issued and published in the press in the previous month. Moreover, said the newspaper, the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey was now of the opinion ‘that further information as to the measures being taken should now be communicated to the public’.

The measures, as the Comet summarised them, involved possible interference with ‘the normal routine of the population, the vehicular traffic, and the live stock of the County’, and this necessitated ‘careful preparation beforehand’, with ‘precautionary measures’ taken in advance. As the newspaper explained: ‘The County of Surrey can only be affected by a raid on the Kentish or Sussex coasts accompanied by a landing of the enemy’s troops. Even then it will not be immediately affected, but the first probable result might be a movement of population, vehicles and live stock from the Coast Counties into Surrey’.

The prospective measures would also involve an important role for the police: ‘Should it be necessary at any time to clear any portion of the County for military operations, notices will be sent through the police to individual owners in regard to various types of vehicles or live stock, etc., giving them orders for removal or destruction’.

‘No Germans Admitted’ postcard (reproduced courtesy of Keith Grieves)

Readers were also informed that ‘special routes’ had been laid out in these plans, ‘avoiding main roads for the removal of cattle’, and arrangements had been made for ‘local guides’, with ‘billeting stations fixed, and areas into which live stock will be removed selected’. Owners of animals, it was added, ‘would furnish their own herdsmen’.

As for the County’s civilian population more generally, a firm but also reassuring tone was struck in the official guidance, possibly designed to avoid creating mass panic in the event of nearby fighting: ‘The public are not required or advised to leave their homes when an emergency arises, but if any person contemplates doing so, it will not be wise to leave it to the last moment, as the railways may not be available for the movement of civilians and road traffic may be interfered with owing to military requirements’. The guidance added: ‘A general exodus of the population of Surrey would appear to be impracticable’.

Civilians were also warned that the actual defence of the County was to be in the hands of authorised forces only: ‘The civil population will not be allowed to bear arms unless duly enlisted in a Volunteer Corps which has been recognised by the War Office. A register of affiliated Volunteer Corps is being made’.

Plan of counter-invasion arrangements, parish of Charlwood, 1916 (SHC ref 734/1)

The First World War, of course, also saw a brand new development in warfare between the nations, where the Island of Britain itself became more difficult to defend and no longer felt ‘safe’: bombardment by German aeroplanes or Zeppelins. The guidance for Surrey thus also noted that ‘precautions should be observed by the inhabitants of towns in the possible event of bombardment by aircraft’. It was advised: ‘Inhabitants of houses should go into the cellars or lower rooms’ and, if an aircraft was seen or heard overhead, ‘crowds should disperse, and all persons should, if possible, take cover’.

Unsurprisingly, the same issue of the Surrey Comet which carried this official guidance also devoted it’s editorial column to commenting on the advice: ‘However unwilling most people are to contemplate invasion or an air raid as imminent, and however we may hope the event will prove that such confidence is well-placed, prudence suggests preparations and adequate arrangements beforehand, less the unexpected happens’.

The Comet editorial argued that, just for that reason, the public ‘are advised to study carefully’ the official notice issued by the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey and also by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

It is difficult to know or to measure to what extent local people in Surrey did indeed study such advice, but it is also worth noting that, just a few weeks later, the possibility of invasion by the Germans was still being raised by local officials in the County in order to keep people fully alert. In March, 1915, for example, the Mayor of Kingston, Alderman C.H. Burge, appearing alongside Mr. George Cave (Kingston’s Member of Parliament) at a special screening of the War Office recruitment film Wake Up! in Kingston, commented that the film dealt with ‘the question of invasion’.

Burge said that the purpose of the film was ‘to bring home to the minds of a certain section of the community the very real danger that would follow invasion of this country’. He said that ‘those who thought everything would be all right’, and who thought that there was no need for special preparation, were ‘the dreamers upon whom ruin might descend’, and: ‘He wanted them to realise that the German armies were as near to them as the town of Bristol…’.

Keen to see as many local men as possible sign up for military service, both Burge and Cave echoed the title of the film being shown, and evidently wanted (as they saw it) to shake people out of their slumber and complacency and awaken them to their patriotic duty. The war, proclaimed Burge, ‘was a national work, and each one could do something to the best of his power and ability for the motherland’.