Private William Richard Coombes and his brothers.

In December 1916 the St Andrew’s, Oxshott, parish magazine recorded that:

All our readers will be glad to know that William Coombs [sic.], of the 7th East Surrey [Regiment], has been given the Military Medal for gallantry on the battlefield in France. We offer him our warmest congratulations, and are proud of home. William Coombs [sic.] is one of the four sons of Mr George Coombs [sic.] who are in the Army, and was one of the first to join up in August 1914. He has gained quite a reputation for shooting, and is one of the best marksmen in his Battalion.

In June 1918 it was noted that Private Coombes remained in France, and, in August 1918, that he was now a Brigade Sniper in the 9th East Surreys, having put in three years’ service at the Front. The author commented that, with a further three sons in the service, ‘the Coombs [sic.] family have certainly done their bit’.

The following month a correction was published, stating that in fact Mr and Mrs Coombes had five sons ‘in the Army’, not four as previously stated.

The five Coombes brothers were:

Frank Arthur, born 1892.

George, born 1895.

William Richard, born 1896.

Henry John, born 1898.

Arthur, born 1900.

Sources:

St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, December 1916, June 1918, August 1918, September 1918, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

Lance-Corporal Harry W Champion

The details provided about the wartime experiences of Lance-Corporal Harry W Champion by the St Andrew’s, Oxshott, parish magazine are brief but in many ways seem to typify those of other young men of this period.

Lance-Corporal Champion joined the East Surreys as a Private and on 1 June 1915 he entered service in France. The following year, in March 1916, the magazine reported that:

A large congregation gathered to witness the marriage of Mr Harry W Champion and Miss Emily E Simmonds on Monday, February 14th.  The choir were present and sang the service. The happy pair had only a short honeymoon, as Mr Champion had to return within the week to his military duties somewhere in France. We wish them every happiness. Amongst the many wedding presents were a case of silver spoons from the choir and a wristlet watch from the members of the Men’s Club.

Nothing more was recorded until July 1918, when the magazine advised that H W Champion, by now a Lance-Corporal, was still with the East Surreys and had completed three years’ continuous service in France.

Only a month later, in August 1918, parishioners were advised that Lance-Corporal Champion was in hospital with pneumonia, ‘but is going on well’. Unlike so many others, Harry was to survive the influenza pandemic. He was discharged from the army on 25 January 1919, and passed away in 1962 at the age of 75.

Sources:

St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, March 1916, July 1918, August 1918, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

 

Private Reginald Albert Thomas Carter

In October 1915 the death of Private Reginald Carter was recorded in the St Andrew’s parish magazine as follows:

We regret to have to record that Reginald Carter, A Company, 7th East Surrey Regiment, was killed in action in France. Reginald Carter was employed by the L & SWR [London and South Western Railway] Company at Oxshott Station before he enlisted at the beginning of the war. He was one of the first to come forward and offer his services to our country. Our deep sympathy goes out to his bereaved parents. RIP.

Sources:

St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, October 1915, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

Major Ralph Smith

This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.

Case 15: Major Ralph Smith

Major Ralph Smith was born the second of four children, and the only son of Major and Ellen Smith. His father was a pastor of the Congregational Church in their local village earning a salary of £90 per year, most of which was used to pay for their family home. Nonetheless, his parents invested a great deal in Major’s future, sacrificing much at their own expense to ensure he would receive the best education possible and ultimately become a schoolmaster. Major spent three years as a pupil-teacher before attending Winchester Training College for two years. During this time, he relied on his parents’ financial support, as well as the small amount he had earned being a pupil teacher. Therefore, when he became a qualified teacher, Major did what he could in return for his parents, becoming a great financial help to his family by sending money home almost every month. Even after joining the army, Smith gave permission for his parents to use his money as sent by the Lingfield School of Managers. Whilst they did use some of his wages, Major’s parents also saved some money in the bank, in the hope of his return.

Unfortunately, Major Ralph Smith died as a result of his wounds on 19 July 1916. Although the events leading to his death are uncertain, a letter sent from Chaplain Hubert L. Simpson to Smith’s parents reveals the nature of his final few days, which he spent seemingly recovering in hospital. Simpson wrote of the conversations he shared with Major about teaching and religion, and his love for reading. The two prayed together, and Chaplain Simpson also read some of the Scriptures. Although breathing was difficult, Major did apparently not suffer much, and his parents were told to ‘have pride in his devotion and self-sacrifice […] Everybody was impressed by his quiet, brave, spirit, his gentleness and thoughtfulness.’ Smith is buried in the British cemetery of Mount Huon in Le Treport, France.

At the time of his death, Major’s older sister, Florence Nellie, was married and living away from home. The next sister, Winifred May, was 22 years old and working at Dyer and Son printers. Although she lived still lived at home, she relied on her own wages of 13/- per week. The youngest sister, Gladys Ellen, was the only child of Major and Ellen who was still dependent on her parents. Like her brother, Gladys pursued a role in teaching, spending a year working in Woking before being accepted to study at Goldsmith’s College. This was something which had pleased her brother Major and he had wanted to support her financially. Although his official will left all property, effects and money to their father, some of the money which had been saved in the bank was then used to support Gladys through her education and training. Major and Ellen Smith wrote that they had ‘no regrets about the expenses or sacrifices’ for their son: ‘he was worthy of it’.

2nd Volunteer Battalion Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, No. 15 Platoon, Oxshott Section.

In the wake of the Armistice the previous month, the December 1918 edition of the St Andrew’s, Oxshott, parish magazine included a summary of the wartime work of the Oxshott Section of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, No. 15 Platoon.  The readers were advised that:

Oxshott was not behindhand in the matter of Volunteering in the early days of the War, and it was in August 1914, that a civilian Reserve Corps was founded with a strength of some sixty or seventy members, but for many reasons Volunteer Corps were not encouraged in those early days.

In October, 1917, it was decided to form a section to be attached to the County Volunteer Regiment.

Sergeant Osman who was at that time attached to the Cobham Platoon was made available, and under his guidance a good start was made. The first year was completed on October 31st, and the results are here summarised:-

31 men joined up.

6 men since called to the regular army.

2 men of ‘D’ class resigned.

1 man discharged medically unfit.

Drills have been held three times a week and the attendance on the whole has been very satisfactory. Sergeant Osman himself has put in 302 drills, Corporal Harding and Corporal Tearle 197 and 192 respectively, Private Harris 223, Private Wilson 198. Evening drills were held at St Andrew’s Hall, but on Saturdays and Sundays exercises were carried out on the Cricket Ground at Mr Gwynne’s or on Oxshott Common. The Section has also attended parades away from home, at Cobham, Leatherhead, Betchworth, Dorking, Redhill, etc.

All the men, with four exceptions, have passed their musketry course at Westcott Range, Private C P Wilson (of Sandroyds) making top score for the whole of ‘D’ Company.

On Sunday October 20th, the Section attended the Annual Parade, which took place on Earlswood Common, when the Surrey and Sussex Volunteer Regiments were inspected by [Lieutenant-General] Sir [Charles] Woolcombe. Over 5,000 men were present with [The Army Service Corps], [The Royal Army Medical Corps], and motor transport sections, and the whole display was valuable evidence of the military strength which can be raised by collecting together sections, platoons and battalions from the scattered villages and towns of these two counties.

The Oxshott Section were tested for efficiency on October 27th by Major-General Tulloch, and were passed in Squad Drill, Extended Order Drill, Bayonet Fighting and Musketry.

The Rifle Range, which was constructed in 1914 for the original Civilian Guard, has been put into thorough repair during the year and has proved to be very useful.

Now that the Armistice is signed and a settled peace is in sight, we may expect that the Volunteer Regiments will in due course be disbanded. The emergency, for which at first they voluntarily assembled, and afterwards were listed under Government guidance, has passed away, but it will always be a satisfaction to know that although the military age was raised to 50 and all available men called up, there still remained a large number of men in civil employment who not being equal to the calls of the Army, were ready to give up their spare time to be trained as soldiers for use in the Country’s hour of need, all honour to the Oxshott men who proved themselves ready to play their part.

Sources:

St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, December 1918, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

Stoke D’Abernon – 1919

St Mary’s Church, Stoke D’Abernon and St Andrew’s Church, Oxshott.

From January 1919 the parishioners of St Mary’s were concerned with ‘how best [they could] commemorate the names of those connected with the Parish who [had] made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War’. In Stoke D’Abernon the general desire expressed was for a Crucifix in the Church-yard, with an inscription and the names of those who had laid down their lives. They also hoped to ‘acquire a war trophy in the shape of a gun or Howitzer, to be placed in the Recreation Ground, with an inscription’, but had been advised this might be difficult, if not impossible.

A concert was given to raise funds for the Red Cross, with a final total of £15 4s.0d. given over as a result. The same concert was then repeated at the Schiff Home in the evening.

In Oxshott, the War Workroom was closed for the final time on Friday, December 13th, after three and a half years of activity, during which upwards of 5,826 garments and bandages were made. It was also reported that the Guild’s Headquarters had requested that garments were made with the utmost urgency for despatch to the ‘women and children in the devastated areas of France and Belgium, and Mr Northcott [had] most generously undertaken… to have the work carried out immediately and free of cost, by his own workpeople’, using the considerable quantity of material still on hand. In all Mr Northcott made 111 pairs of pyjamas, 63 vests, 63 pants, 16 nightshirts, 222 petticoats, 96 chemises, 48 combinations, and 9 bed jackets. Special letters of thanks were received in February, for the ‘beautifully made’ and ‘urgently needed’ garments, from Mrs Gibson, C.B.E, Honorary General Manager of the Guild. The news that the depot had closed led Mrs Gibson to be ‘specially commanded by [Princess Beatrice] to thank [them] for the loyal and faithful service [they had] rendered to the great cause’.

In July it was reported that:

the following members had earned the 1916-17-18 Bars and Badge by 75 per cent. Attendance:- Mrs. Northcott, Mrs. Burgoyne, Mrs. Humbert, Miss. Grey, Miss. Thomson, Mrs. Read, Miss. Bryant, and for 1916-7, Mrs. Mason. The following members earned the Princess Beatrice Badge for general good work and attendance:- Mrs. Northcott, Mrs. Burgoyne, Mrs. Humbert, Miss. Grey, Miss. Thomson, Mrs. Read, Miss. Bryant, Mrs. Alfred Williams, Mrs. Boxhall, Mrs. Shadbolt. The parishioners will be proud of these women, and especially of Mrs. Northcott and Mrs. Byrgoyne, upon whom the whole work of organising the branch was thrown.’

Demobilisation also brought its challenges, and in February Mr Matthews found it necessary to resign as organist of St Mary’s due to the pressure of work associated with the standing down of the armed forces.

By March 1919, a temporary War Memorial had been erected in Stoke D’Abernon and £222 had been promised or received for a permanent one. By April, a site had been chosen on the South Side of the Church, between the Porch and Vestry, and the amount subscribed or promised had increased to £288 11s. 1d. In May it was reported that this had increased further to £291 5s. 1d. and an estimate had been obtained from Messrs Mowbray and Company, for executing the work. They had been unable to get a satisfying work in bronze and were still to obtain a separate estimate for the inscription and names that were to be placed in the old South doorway.

In Oxshott, after ‘ years [of] groping our way about with the aid of lanterns’, they welcomed the relighting of the lamps at night as an ‘outward visible sign that the War [was] really over’. The author believed it to be ‘much to the credit of the youth of Oxshott, that the lamp posts and gas mantles, though untended for four years, all remain intact’!

There was also the news that there was a ‘very serious deficit on the Parish Magazine Account, due to the enormously increased cost of paper and printing during the War’. Based on one page per month, there was a total deficit of £4 3s. 5d., but, as Reverend Hole reported, there had been so much ‘extra matter’ of interest to report ‘that they simply could not keep within our single page’, and so this left Oxshott with a deficit of £9 16s. 9d. in total. To that end an appeal was made, in both Stoke D’Abernon and Oxshott, for special subscriptions to assist in meeting the shortfall. By the following month the full sum had been subscribed.

On 12th April 1919, a supper was held at St Andrew’s Hall, by the Residents of the parish, to welcome home those who had returned from war. There were 60 guests in total. The following month, on 4th May 1919 a Memorial Service was to be held for those who had fallen, at which the buglers of the East Surrey Regiment were to attend and play the Last Post.

For one parishioner the entire war was to pass them by, until its conclusion. In September 1919 parishioners of St Mary’s were notified that ‘a link with the past [had] been severed’ with the death of Miss Charlotte Friday, in her 101st year. Miss Friday had been in service locally from 1846, until her retirement a few years previously, and it was reported that ‘she was never informed about the Great War until the Armistice, it being feared that the shock would hasten her end’.

Obviously, the after effects of the Great War on the parishes of St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s Oxshott, did not simply fade away. Yet throughout 1919, although the magazines record continuing discussions with regards to War Memorials, apart from occasional appeals on behalf of the Schiff Home for Recovery and the Lord Roberts’ Memorial Fund, little else is mentioned about the continuing privations, about the men who returned, or the impact of their return on those who had remained behind. It seems fitting then, to conclude an account of war-time life in the two villages with this expansive account of the Peace Celebrations that took place in Stoke D’Abernon, in July 1919.

‘Peace Celebrations.’

The Rector was away from home at Worthing on a brief holiday when he heard on authority that Sunday, July 6th, had been fixed as the day of National Thanksgiving for Peace. It was right that there should be no undue delay in the giving of thanks. There was no opportunity of announcing the service even the Sunday before – but the Special Thanksgiving Services were duly printed in time – the people readily grasped the significance of the event – and it was evident by the attendance that gratitude to God for the blessing of Peace was manifest.

Time seemed to be short to make due preparations for the official Peace celebrations on Saturday, July 19th, but our local committee, under the efficient leadership of Colonel Gore as [honorary] secretary, worked wonders. What more natural than that we should wish to entertain the men who have fought so gallantly and done so much for the winning of Victory and Peace? Thirty-four in all sat down to dinner at the Village Room on Wednesday, July 16th, a day to be remembered. Anything more complete in arrangement could hardly be imagined. The profuse decoration of flags, the flowers in profusion, the dainty menu and commemorative menu cards, the ladies of the parish waiting on the men, made a striking scene which we are not likely to forget nor shall we easily forget the moving words spoken by Colonel Bowen-Buscarlet in welcoming the men home and urging us to a true spirit of patriotism and the building up of a better England. Colonel Gore replied in the name of the men and gave a vivid picture of the spirit that animated our men to rally from the furthest corners of the Empire to take their place in the fight for justice and freedom. The Rector then asked all to stand as he read out the names of those from the parish who have made the supreme sacrifice, and who on this day we especially wish to remember, and who through the years of war have always been remembered in our Prayers.

The dinner was followed by a concert and also a clever conjuring entertainment. So many have taken their share in doing their best to honour the men whom we welcome back home that it is invidious to mention names. Enough that each and all have done their best, and that success has rewarded their efforts.

The programme for the 19th was not less complete. It was altogether fitting that it should open with a Service of Thanksgiving in the Recreation Ground. This service was suggested by the Committee before the Rector returned home. A shower of rain gave a hint of what might follow, but it cleared for the time being and a representative gathering of parishioners assembled, to take part in the service. A cricket match, Military [versus] Civilians, resulted, as might be expected, in a win for the former. The Army put up a score of 132 and the Civilians did quite well in making 66 in reply.

Meanwhile there were great counter-attractions in the sports ground. Mr. and Mrs. Harrison placed their grounds at Stoke Lodge at our disposal, and were indefatigable in organising and carrying through a lengthy programme. Great ingenuity was shewn (sic.) in inventing a great variety of races, and the events included a “boat race,” wheelbarrow races, a tug of war, and an infinite variety of flat races for children; we understand that about 150 prizes were given and the children and the grown-ups altogether had a day to be remembered.

We must not forget the tea arrangements. This was typical of the way things were carried ut. The children first had their turn, but beforehand everybody had done their part in making or supplying the most dainty confections for the occasion, with the result that never was there such a tea arranged before in the history of the Parish. During the afternoon about 230 sat down to tea, and all was so well arranged that there was no crowding and no shortage of supplies.

In the evening there were fireworks and a grand illumination of the recreation ground, an impromptu concert, followed by dancing, which was kept up to a late hour. As the day waned the weather grew worse; but we are thankful that the greater part of the programme was carried through without let or hindrance and that we were spared the really heavy rain of the Sunday following.’

Sources:

St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1919, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

Stoke D’Abernon – 1918

St Mary’s Church, Stoke D’Abernon and St Andrew’s Church, Oxshott

In January 1918, at the start of what was to be the final year of conflict, the parishes of St Mary’s and St Andrew’s were taken up with the question of how to ensure that all children, particularly those who do not attend Church Schools, were to be in receipt of a religious education that was acceptable to all denominations. In the meantime, the women of the Mothers’ Union were concerned to ensure that Parliament were made aware of their resolutions against the proposed Matrimonial Causes Act of the Marriage Law Reform Bill. The ongoing war, by contrast, was given very little attention in the early months of the year, with the exception of a report on the ‘powerful and influential Committee [that] has been formed at Guildford to collect funds for providing food and comforts for the Prisoners-of-War in Germany of our two Surrey County Regiments’. The Committee had called upon the Parish Councils of Surrey to appeal to residents, which, in Stoke D’Abernon, had resulted in the remittance of ‘a very substantial sum’.

In March 1918 it was recorded that the Rector of St Mary’s had received many letters of thanks from the men at the Front for the Christmas parcels that they had received from the parish. These had been sent as far as Mesopotamia, the West Indies and Egypt. In Oxshott it was reported that in January, the fact of rising railway fares to London, the parish of St Andrew’s had put on their own Pantomime, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, to a sold out audience and rave reviews.

With the advent of rationing, on March 11th, ‘The Pudding Lady’, Miss Florence Petty, of the National Food Reform Association was to give a lecture on War Cooking, accompanied by live practical demonstrations. Parishioners were invited to ‘come and learn how to be happy though rationed’. In the following two months Miss Petty was to give four demonstration lectures, which were well received by those in attendance, although the attendance ‘was not so large as [they] would have liked’. It was recorded, however, that Miss Petty managed to sell a number of her own recipe books and it was hoped that she would return to give more lectures if the parish could raise sufficient funds to pay expenses.

April 1918 in Stoke D’Abernon saw a visit from Reverend Skene, on furlough from Palestine. Meanwhile, in Oxshott, there was a report on the work of the ‘Surrey Regiments Prisoners of War Relief Fund’. Advising readers that the shocking sum of £50,000 per annum was required, in order to provide relief for those men of the Surrey Regiments who are being held prisoner in Germany, the author offers an insight into ideas and attitudes of the time, asserting that:

It is of course a scandal that any money at all should be required for the purpose, and when we reflect upon the way in which Germany prisoners are treated in this country we may well be filled with righteous indignation. But we have got used to the ways of the gentle Hun by this time and are well aware that he is not bound by any of the humane obligations recognized by civilised foes. All we can do at present is to try and alleviate the sufferings of our brave soldiers…

To this end, a Flag Day was to be held, as well as a House to House Collection, on Saturday, April 27th. It was later reported that the sum of £114 16s. 0d.was collected.

In May 1918 a desire was expressed that the St Andrew’s parish magazine ‘should be made more interesting and should contain more personal items of news about members of the parish and congregation now serving with the Army and Navy’. Mr Hole offered to receive any items of information and edit them for the magazine, and the following month saw the inclusion of ‘Our Oxshott Men’.

It was also reported that, although the Surrey Branch of the British Red Cross Society had previously refrained from making a special appeal for funds, they would be unable to continue their work beyond the Spring without money to meet their future needs. To that end, there was to be another House-to House collection in Oxshott on Tuesday, May 21st. It was later reported that the sum of £90 7s. 0d. was collected.

In June 1918, it was recorded that Reverend J J Corryton, Chaplain at Rotterdam, had come to Stoke D’Abernon to preach on behalf of the Missions to Seamen. Mr Corryton, it was reported, had worked among interned prisoners of war, as well as those returning to England via Rotterdam.

There was also the sad news that Mr and Mrs Pullen had lost a second son, Leonard, who had been killed by a shell on the Western front.

In Oxshott, there had been a letter from Reverend Skene, dated 13th April, 1918, who was sailing for the Egypt the day after writing, and the news that Miss Verrey was to start a Waste Paper Depot at ‘The Warren’. The boys of the Woodwork Class were to collect full sacks of waste paper and these would be sold by the Church Army for munitions, in order to raise funds to replace their huts which had been lost in France that year.

In July 1918 Mr Comyn Platt was to give a lecture on ‘Germany’s War Aims’ in Stoke D’Abernon. The lecture was well attended, particularly ‘considering most are engaged with outdoor work at this time of year’, and proved to be ‘very interesting’ and, the author noted, ‘there [were] hopeful signs that [Germany’s] power to carry [their aims] out may be shattered’.

The magazine also recorded that a Fete held at the Manor House the previous month, in aid of the Surrey Red Cross, had been a great success, aided by the ideal weather. There had been boating, children’s games, clock golf, and bowls, as guests picnicked to the backdrop of an orchestra which played all afternoon, while ‘others came to supply the music for dancing on the lawn in the evening’. Entertainment also came in the form of a children’s tableaux, Mr Morrish  had told amusing stories, also, less successfully, conducted an American auction! In all, approximately 1,200 people had attended and, combined with a Whist Drive the previous week, the sum of £70 had been raised.

On a less idyllic note, it was reported that Captain Wilfrid Brownlow had been killed in action.

In Oxshott there was another letter from the Vicar, who had returned safely, to his unit in Ephraim.

The August 1918 issue of the St Mary’s Parish Magazine recorded that, thanks to the kindness of the King of Spain who had made enquiries through his ambassador at Berlin, Mrs Albert Gilbert had been advised that her husband, a prisoner of war, was still alive, despite previous reports to the contrary. It is not clear exactly how the King of Spain came to be involved in Ada’s search for news of her husband. Sadly, the following month, it was recorded that she had passed away after a brief illness, at the age of 25, remaining convinced that her husband ‘had passed beyond the veil, and [seeming] happy in the thought of meeting him there’. Ada was proved to be correct, Private Gilbert had died on 28 November 1917.

An appeal was made by the Matron of the Schiff Home, ‘for old tennis balls, croquet mallets, and some putters for clock golf’, and it was also recorded that Mrs Halliday had promised ‘to give her grand piano for the use of the Home’.

In Oxshott, there was an appeal for ‘men who can drive motor cars’, who were wanted by their King and Country. An accompanying article, on the ‘Surrey A.S.C. Motor Transport Volunteers’, explained how they could be of use, in the face of fears about a threatened invasion:

On the 30th June the first parade of the Surrey A.S.C. Motor Transport Volunteers, No. 1 Company, Section 3, took place. This section embraces Leatherhead, Bookham, East and West Horsley, Cobham and Oxshott.

The Convoy was under the command of its Section O.C., Lieutenant C. S Gordon Clark, who is to be congratulated on its inception. Some 20 Lorries and Vans assembled at Stoke D’Abernon, and were inspected by the Corps Commanding Officer, Major George W Rutter, who complimented the Section upon the efficiency displayed.

The Convoy then proceeded to their Headquarters at Leatherhead.

Thanks is due to the various owners of the lorries and vans who provided petrol for the occasion.

It is interesting to note that No. 3 Section has the honour to be the first in the County to participate in a Road Convoy practice.

I am asked to state that the… Company… still has several vacancies for Second Drivers, the qualification for enrolment being the ability to drive a Motor Car, Van or Lorry.

The Section is most anxious to reach full strength at the earliest possible date in case of threatened invasion of this country, it being essential in that event that a sufficient number of motor vehicles and drivers are available.

In the Volunteer Motor Transport Corps only three drills or lectures per month are obligatory, with an addition of one drill per month until the recruit is passed as efficient. The lectures arrange comprise map reading, convoy practice and mechanical repairs, which are, of course, interesting and instructive.

Second-Lieutenant G C Griffiths, The Red House, Oxshott, will be glad to enrol men wishing to join, and, if necessary, will be pleased to furnish any further particulars.

There was also a further appeal on behalf of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild’s War Hospital Supply Depot. Materials were increasing in price daily and so they had been advised to make large purchases and were looking for funds to support this. It was reported that:

Materials, for which in 1915 we paid 6 ¾d. a yard, now cost 1/4 ½d. a yard direct from the manufacturers. We have recently secured 2276 yards of material at a cost of £120 14s. 9d., and to meet this expenditure is a balance of £30 9s. 11d.

There was another letter from Reverend Skene, in September 1918, who was effusive about his most enjoyable day of cricket on the Mount of Olives.

Returning to the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, in October 1918, it was recorded that, due to the difficulty of heating the hall, the Oxshott War Work Room was to open two full days a week, on Thursday and Fridays, instead of four half-days. There was also an urgent call for workers as ‘attendance lately [had] been very poor’. As they read of the ‘progress that was being made on all the fronts’, the author reminded readers ‘that every victory entails a terrible number of casualties and there was never a time when the military hospitals stood in greater need of help’.

It was also recorded that the Sister in Charge of the Schiff Home had written to express their thanks for the proceeds of the Harvest Festival the previous month. She reported that, when asked ‘Now Boys, which do you prefer, an apple all round or apple puddings?’, she was greeted with a chorus of ‘Apple dumplings, please, Sister, like mother makes’.

In November 1918 there was news from Reverend Skene, once again. This time, it was of the hard fighting that he had seen in Palestine.

As the magazines were sent early for publication, it was December 1918 before the news of, and reactions to, The Armistice were recorded.

The St Mary’s parish magazine published ‘Our Bishop’s Letter’. The Bishop wrote:

My dear People,

Gladness deep, joyous, solemn, is in all our hearts. We enjoy, and shall enjoy, the removal one by one, and little by little, of restrictions, patiently borne but not a little irksome, and the coming back one by one of little conveniences, and opportunities, and interests and enjoyments. But the gladness is a great deal deeper down than all this. It is the gladness of relief from menace of danger, from the dread of the daily entries on the Roll of Honour, from the threat to our very life and freedom as a nation, from a darkness which overhung the life and future of the world, from a triumph of the wrong.

Such gladness nothing can impair; but with it there blend in solemn unison the memories of those who do not share it with us here, but won it for us by their bravery and their deaths. Their sacrifices find a new glory in the light of victory. It is comfort of the best sort that those sacrifices were not offered in vain. They give back to victory what they borrow from it, of lofty and solemn meaning. Benediction has come to us through them. It has been an added happiness that the nation has received so finely the great gift with great gladness but soberly and in the fear of God. The ever memorable adjournment of the Houses of Parliament in order to cross over to St. Margaret’s, and the King and Queen’s impromptu visit to St. Paul’s, were but the expression in the highest places of what crammed our own great Cathedral and the Church everywhere with the crowds who felt by a common instinct that joy can only speak with its fullest voice in praise to God.

Victory, like war, has taught us out of our own hearts its lesson of faith, and instance after instance comes to us of the way in which this has found spontaneous expression from multitudes and individuals’.

A ‘memorable service’ was been held in the Church on Tuesday, November 12th, which was full ‘with the briefest notice given’, and again on Thanksgiving Sunday, which the author took ‘as testimony that our thanks are due to God and that all recognise the over-ruling hand of God’s Providence in the ordering of events’. A meeting had been fixed for 4th December, at which they were to consider how best to create a Memorial for those who had given their lives.

Alongside the celebration and commemorations, the usual appeals of war-time continued as The Schiff Home called for old linen and a Bath Chair.

In Oxshott, there was a call for contributions to the ‘Lord Roberts’ Memorial Fund’, in recognition that the consequences of ‘the greatest war of history’ were not a thing of the past. The author reminded readers ‘we have a duty to the living – those who have been maimed and broken in their country’s service. To them, indeed, we owe a debt which we can never fully discharge – but we can do our best to relieve their sufferings and promote their welfare’. Households were asked to make collections at Christmas dinner and individuals were asked, ‘at this time of festivity and rejoicing’ to open their hearts ‘to the claims of those through whose sufferings we are enabled to enjoy the blessing of a Merry Christmas’.

There was also the news that ‘Our Day’ had seen £133 15s. collected for the British Red Cross Society, which had beaten all former records, and that Miss James of the Stoke D’Abernon branch of the Girls Friendly Society ‘had the honour of presenting a purse of £6 6s.to Her Royal Highness Princess Mary on behalf of [the] branch’, contributing towards approximately £5,000 that had been raised overall for the Society’s War Emergency Fund.

Lastly, as the war drew towards its conclusion, and people began to look forwards towards the safe return of their loved ones, the magazines recorded the death of Frederick Coombs, John Samuel Harding, Frederick Skelton, and offered a glimpse of the sorrow that was to come with the death of Mrs Wilson, of Sandroyd, ‘from the prevailing epidemic of influenza’.

Sources:

St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1918, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

Stoke D’Abernon – 1917

St Mary’s Church, Stoke D’Abernon and St Andrew’s Church, Oxshott

At the start of what was to be the third full year of conflict, the January 1917 editions of the magazine were to continue in a similar vein, with their mix of ‘business as usual’ such as arrangements for the altar flowers, interspersed with news of the war effort from both home and abroad.

In Stoke D’Abernon there was the news that Mr C F Waters, praised for his work with the choir the previous year, had been called up for war and was expected to enlist in the Artists Rifles. The choir were to present him with wrist-watch. Meanwhile in Oxshott, the vicar, Reverend F Norman Skene, had been appointed to the Temporary Army Chaplaincy and hoped to embark for Salonika early in January, for a period of twelve months. In the meantime he was to be replaced by Reverend Charles Donald Hole. Reverend Skene was not to return to the parish on a permanent basis until 1 May 1919 but throughout his absence the magazine kept parishioners appraised, with both first and second-hand accounts, of his whereabouts and experiences. Lastly, there was the news that Captain E C Fox-Male had gained the Military Cross for his actions whilst in command of a machine gun section during the Mesopotamia Campaign.

In Oxshott an appeal for more women workers was made on behalf of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, Oxshott Depot, War Work Room. In addition, with hope that it would be more convenient for some, the hours of the Work Room were altered so that it opened for work on Monday and Thursday mornings and Tuesday and Friday afternoons.

February 1917 saw the news that Prime Minister David Lloyd George had called for a National Lent. In ‘this third year of war [which] will be the severest test of our fortitude and determination’, the author was certain that ‘the Country will be ready to respond to every call to self-discipline that may be made on us’ as, with ‘God helping us, we face the future with hope, convinced of the justice of our cause, and that victory may yet crown our efforts and our Allies during 1917’.

In Oxshott, there was news both from the vicar and his replacement. As if to reinforce the temporary nature of the vicar’s absence, Reverend Skene was re-elected president of the Basil Ellis Nursing Association, while Reverend Hole was elected to the committee.

Mrs Burgoyne appealed, once again, for new laid eggs to be sent to the wounded at Hospitals at home and abroad, and it was announced that the Vicar’s Christmas appeal for the ‘Lord Roberts Memorial Fund, for Workshops for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors’ had resulted in contributions totalling £15 3s.

On a positive note, it was reported that ‘an excellent Entertainment got up by some very young members of our circle’, in the form of a play “Domestic Economy”, had ‘brightened up the dullness of the sombre “War” winter’. £12 6s. had been raised from ticket sales, which was to be forwarded to St Dunstan’s Home for Blinded Soldiers.

In March 1917 an urgent appeal was made for readers to collect the Sphagnum Moss growing by Black Pond at Oxshott, which had ‘wonderful healing properties and [was] used for dressing wounds in place of cotton wool’. There was also a report on the Red Cross Work in Stoke D’Abernon.

In Stoke D’Abernon, the Scheme for National Service saw the Rector, Reverend Blackburne, who had already offered himself as Chaplain to the Forces, now offer himself for other forms of service under the new Scheme, to be administered by the Bishops, in co-operation with the Director-General of National Service. The Reverend G Remfrey Brookes had offered to take charge of the parish in order to free the Rector up to take up special war work, wherever most wanted. However, this was subject to the Bishop’s approval and the uncertainty led to readers being advised to be ‘prepared, at any moment, to abandon plans to meet the more urgent calls for National Service’.

Parishioners from St Andrew’s were advised that the vicar had arrived safely at Salonica and there was an update on the Oxshott War Savings Association was provided.

April 1917 saw the curtailment of space in the magazines due to increased printing costs. However, there was further news of Reverend Skene in Salonika and an update on the plans of Reverend Blackburne, who was to become Chaplain Superintendent for the Church Army Recreation huts in France, while Reverend Brooks took charge of the parish and acted as chaplain at the Schiff Home of Recovery in his absence. In the following months it was reported that Reverend Blackburne would be trained for Church Army Hut work at Inkermann Barracks, Woking, before proceeding to France, however, he found this very arduous and the strain of the work ‘told upon his health’. As a result he was quickly declared ‘quite unfit to continue this work’ and, by July 1917, after ‘rest and normal conditions of life’, he was strong enough to return to the Parish and take up his work as Rector once again.

As food shortages worsened, in June 1917 it was reported that Mr J W Harris, who was Gardener to Neville Gwynne of Bevendean, Oxshott, had been ‘placed on the panel by the Royal Horticultural Society and National Food Supply, to give assistance and advice to Cottagers and Allotment Holders in the immediate locality. The government had been promoting a scheme of voluntary rationing since February 1917 and on June 6th there was to be a meeting in St Andrew’s Hall at which Miss Chamberlain was to ‘give an address upon the Food Crisis, and… tell us how all classes, rich and poor alike, must ration themselves in order to avoid compulsion’.

The Oxshott War Working Party made a further appeal for workers as attendance had fallen off, despite the fact that ‘the greatest “Push” (was) now in progress, and assistance (was) required more than ever’.

On Friday 6th and Saturday 7th July a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was to be given by the pupils of Uplands School in aid of the Red Cross Hospitals. Tickets were to be charged at 5/3 and 2/8 seated, standing room at 1/2 and Teas at 1s. In addition unreserved seats were to be offered for the dress rehearsal at the cost of 1/- or 6d.

July 2017 saw the advent of the first ‘National Baby Week’. Readers of the St Andrew’s parish magazine were informed that its objects were:

(1) to arouse the sense of racial responsibility in every citizen, in order to secure to every child born in the United Kingdom a birthright of mental and bodily health.

(2) to inform the public generally as to what is now being done for young children and mothers by voluntary, agencies, Local Authorities and the State.

(3) To show what could be done if every citizen shouldered his or her responsibility.

Over a hundred people had gathered at Willoughbys in Oxshott, to listen to an address from Mrs Salmon on the subject, who in turn had attended a Mass Meeting at Guildford the day prior. Attendees were advised that a large proportion of infant mortality was due to preventable diseases and that in a country village like Oxshott it was important to take advantage of the fresh air, keeping houses well ventilated, and of the fact that milk was supplied direct from farms, avoiding processes that could be ‘injurious to its purity’. While mother’s milk was best, it was asserted, when it was unavailable fresh cow’s milk was on of the best substitutes, but it was necessary to keep it, and food, protected from flies and dust. Infant welfare centres were being started throughout the country for mothers to ‘get advice and help from doctors and nurses for herself as well as how to feed, clothe and look after children’, recognising that, for children to thrive, mother’s must be taken care of.

Eugenic thinking clearly underpinned this concern as, in order to halt the ‘damage to the whole race’ that resulted from high infant mortality, citizens were asked to pledge to ‘enquire into the conditions which were responsible for this loss to the nation and undertake to use their influence to secure improved housing and sanitation, together with adequate provision for the care of maternity and infancy in their own districts’.

A collection was made which amounted to over £14 and a resident also offered to pay for twelve mothers to attend the Mothercraft Exhibition that was to take place in London the following Friday.

August 1917 saw commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the Declaration of War, and in Stoke D’Abernon the meeting of the Church Council considered, amongst other things, the notion of a War Memorial. However, it was considered best to postpone discussions to a later date.

In Oxshott parishioners had collected £64 16s. for ‘France’s Day’, which had taken place on July 14th, and an exhibition of toys made by the boys of the Oxshott Wood-carving Class had raised the sum of £1 12s. for the ‘Lord Roberts’ Memorial Fund’.

September 1917 brought news of the losses of Corporal Archie Skilton and Private William Weller, and, in October 1917, that of Private John William Coles.

In Oxshott, readers were advised that the fruit, flowers, and vegetables supplied for the Harvest Thanksgiving, held the previous month, had been distributed between the Sailors of the Fleet and the Wounded Soldiers in the Heywood Hospital at Cobham. However, some of the fruit had also been sent to sick people in their own parish. In addition, on the first anniversary of its inception, there was an update on The War Savings Association.

In November 1917 St Mary’s parishioners were advised that collections in the parish on ‘Our Day’, in aid of The British Red Cross and St. John’s Ambulance, had amounted to £13 15s, while in Oxshott £102 4s. 6d. had been collected. Meanwhile, at the St Mary’s Harvest Festival there had been ‘a profusion of gifts of corn and fruit, and eggs for the National Collection’, which had been sent to ‘our gallant sailors and to the Chobham Cottage Hospital’. In addition the mistresses and girls of Leatherhead Court had given £1 16s. 8d. for the purchase of eggs for the soldiers’. The pulpit for the service was supposed to have been occupied by Canon Gardiner, of Holy Trinity, Folkestone, but he was prevented from attending at the last moment due to ‘war emergencies’.

There was also the good news that Miss Gertrude E Blackburne, the Rector’s sister, had finally returned home after her internment in German East Africa, ‘in good health, having mercifully escaped also the dangers from submarine attack’. Miss Blackburne later gave an account of her experiences to a village room that ‘was crowded to its utmost limit’, and the sum of £5 7s.d. was raised for the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa.

As the ‘National Food Supply’ became a matter of increasing concern, a public meeting was to be held in the Church Hall at Oxshott, on November 15th, ‘with a view to forming an Allotment Association’. At the meeting Mr Harris was to exhibit ‘100 varieties of fruit and vegetables which he will briefly describe and… explain the processes of cropping and intercropping’.

On a more sombre note there was news of the losses of Rudolph Martin and Ernest Pullen, as well as further information about the circumstances of Private William Coles passing. On the evening of November 4th a Memorial Service was to be held at St Mary’s, for those from the parish who had fallen. In Oxshott, ‘commemoration of the Faithful Departed with special reference to those who have fallen in the war’ was to be made at most of the week-day celebrations at St Andrew’s, throughout the month of November.

The problems of food supply were again addressed in both magazines in December 1917. In Stoke D’Abernon the magazine outlined ‘recommendations’ of ‘The Economy Campaign’:

The position of the food supply is such that the utmost economy in the use of all kinds of food must be practised by every adult in the kingdom, especially in staple foods: bread, flour, cereals, meat, margarine, lard and sugar. The weekly bread rations per head mentioned in the following table should on no account be exceeded:-

Men:-

Heavy work, 8lb.

Ordinary Industrial work, 7lb.

Unoccupied or sedentary work, 4lb. 8oz.

Women:-

Heavy work, 5lb.

Industrial or domestic work, 4lb.

Sedentary work, 3lb. 8ozs.

Other staple foods for both sexes:-

Cereals, 12ozs.

Meat, 2lbs.

Butter, margarine, lard, oil, fats, 10oz.

Sugar, 8oz.

A National League of Safety has been formed and all who are prepared to sign the following may join: “I realise that economy in the use of all food and the checking of al waste helps my country to complete victory, and I promise to do all in my power to assist this campaign for national safety.” A certificate of good citizenship is given to all who join.

In Oxshott it was reported that November’s meeting, at which Mr J L Peters had ‘urged very strongly the national importance of increasing the home-grown food supply’, had been well attended. Mr Harris had given a lecture on cottage gardening and attendees were invited to join the proposed Allotments Assocation, for which Mr Harris had consented to act as Honorary Secretary.

An appeal had been made for parishioners to help the Rector and Churchwardens send a Christmas welcome parcel to men from the parish who were serving at the front. It was reported that the response had been so good they were able to send a gift to men serving at home as well, and, all in all, about thirty parcels were to be despatched.

As the year began with the news that Mr C F Waters of Stoke D’Abernon had been called up, it was to end with the news that he had been wounded in his right hand and was in hospital in Streatham.

Lastly, approximately one third of the St Andrew’s magazine was taken up by a long letter from the vicar, Reverend Skene, full of news of his experiences in the desert, including his belief that ‘there are indications in the splendid news from most of the battle fronts that the end may be in sight’, although ‘we cannot tell when that much to be hoped for event will come’. Despite the caveat, this must have been very welcome news for his parishioners, as the third full year of war-time drew to a close.

Sources:

St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1917, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

The Reverend Frederick Norman Skene, Vicar of St Andrew’s Oxshott 1913-1921

Frederick Norman Skene, the fifth of seven children, was born on 21st January 1878 in Merrion, Dublin, to Samuel Slinn Skeen, a clergyman, and his wife Charlotte Warren Seen. By 1891 the family had moved to Myrton upon Swale in Yorkshire, where his father was the vicar. Frederick attended Ripon Grammar School before being admitted to St John’s College, Cambridge, on 1st September 1896, where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1900 and Master of Arts in 1912. He was an Assistant Master at Spondon House School in Derby from 1899 to 1901, and was then ordained in Lincoln, first as a Deacon in 1901 and then a Priest in 1903.

From 1901-1903 Frederick was a Curate in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and in 1902 he married Clara Maude Lilly who was born in Kensington, London, on 9th January 1862, to Oliver Morgan Lilly and Celia Parsons Lilly. The couple were married in Prescott, Lancashire.

Frederick and Clara moved to the Cowes on the Isle of Wight, where he was Curate at St Mary’s from 1904-1906, and, on 3rd May 1906, they had a daughter, Sarah Olive Norman Skene. In 1906 Frederick took up the post of Curate at St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon where he remained until 1913, when he was appointed Vicar of Oxshott. He remained in Oxshott until 1921, before becoming Rector of Albury with Chilworth from 1921-1929, as well as Honorary Canon of Guildford in 1928. From 1929-1951 he was Vicar of Banstead, as well Rural Dean of Epsom in 1938. Clara died on 10th March 1949, at which point the couple were living at The Vicarage, Garretts Lane, Banstead. Frederick died in June 1956 in Chichester, Sussex.

Whilst vicar of St Andrew’s Oxshott, in January 1917 Reverend Skene was appointed to the Temporary Army Chaplaincy and the intention was that he would hold this post for a period of twelve months. He spent the first few months in Salonika in Greece, before joining the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine. News of his experiences reached his parishioners via the Parish Magazine.

In March 1917 parishioners were advised that ‘the Vicar left for France on [February] 4th. What with bad weather and other discomforts he has had rather a rough time so far, but he keeps well and writes cheerfully. We are now very glad to hear news of his safe arrival in Salonica’.

The following month Mr Vertue had received a long and interesting letter from the Vicar, dated from Salonica on 1st of March which they regretted being unable to print ‘in extensor’, owing to higher rates for printing. ‘Our readers will, however, be pleased to hear that the Vicar has had a safe journey and is well and happy. His present address is ‘42nd General Hospital, Salonika’, and he will be very pleased to hear from any old friends. He especially asks for old illustrated newspapers and magazines for the men in hospital – probably there are many in Oxshott who would be glad to send out literature of the kind and to know that it will be thoroughly appreciated’.

By July 1917 the vicar had obviously been unwell, and possibly had to return home, but he wrote to advise that ‘he is now completely restored to health and… has arrived safely once more in Salonica’.

December 1917 saw the publication, for the first time, of a first-hand account from Reverend Skene, dated 18 October 1917, the letter detailed his experiences and impressions:

A great deal may happen in two months. It is impossible now to say where I may be when this gets into print. Although there are indications in the splendid news from most of the battle fronts that the end may be in sight, yet we cannot tell when that much to be oped for event will come…. Since I saw you all I have travelled a great deal, and seen much. I am now in the EEF [Egyptian Expeditionary Force] and situated in a very historic part, and every step we shall be taking in the near future will be over land that has become well know to us all from our study of Old Testament history… We have two great inconveniences here – the lack of water and the sand. We are issued one gallon of water every morning, and this has to suffice for drinking, cooking and washing purposes… the sand is very light and dusty, and the slightest breeze blows it about so much that it permeates everything. But in spite of it all we are keeping remarkably fit and well. All ranks are glad of the change of scene and climate, and hope ere long you will receive as cheering news about our front as you have had lately about the other fronts. At the time you receive this I shall have been away nearly a year. It has been a year of intense interest for me, and has passed very quickly. I am very impressed by the courage, cheerfulness, and resource of the British solider, and his determination to see that the fight for right is fought out to a finish – such a finish as will ensure a permanent and lasting peace. I have been very glad to get news from you, but I am sorry indeed to hear of all the sickness there has been. It will be a sorrow, too, to find some not with you on my return… A month ago I had the privilege of celebrating at a choral celebration in the desert, when 500 men were present. We had a piano very much out of tune to lead the singing… As a rule I have a gunner to help me with a fiddle. This fiddle was made in camp out of biscuit boxes by an RE corporal – and is a very prized possession.

In April 1918 it was reported that Mr Skene had returned from Palestine on three weeks furlough. He had been with the parish on Easter Day, ‘when he preached both morning and evening’ and, ‘in spite of having been several times on the sick list, he was looking bright and cheery, robust and thoroughly well’.

Just before leaving for Egypt, on April 13th 1918, Reverend Skene wrote to Mrs Burgoyne of the Oxshott branch of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, explaining what the work of the War Room meant to both the soldiers and himself.

Dear Mrs Burgoyne, I am sailing tomorrow for Egypt. Yesterday I was told that you had started the new session of the Work Room (Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild) with a better attendance. I am very glad; and sincerely hope you will steadily increase your numbers and output. I hope no one will think that what they turn out is of little account or unappreciated. When the solider gets sick or is wounded the very sight of the things you make in the workroom lying on his bed ready for his use, and the knowledge that these things have been made for him by the women at home, make him forget his troubles, and bring to him a sense of gratitude which it is difficult to express in words. I know this from experience, and I do hope that Oxshott will stick to it, and right on to the end (God grant that may come quickly) will steadily increase the output of its War Work Room.

On May 28th 1918, the Reverend wrote of the progress made in his absence and the conditions they were experiencing, as well as his pleasure at being able to visit Bethlehem.

My dear People, It was a delightful experience to be with you again for Easter. The only disappointment was that the time was so short and prevented my seeing many of you. I left Southampton on the 14th April, and arrived back here on 13th May after an uneventful journey by rail and sea. The journey was not without anxiety for we knew that the enemy were on the look out, and one morning he took a long shot at us, which happily was a ‘wash-out’.

After being away from my unit for four months it was not surprising to find many changes. The army had advanced over very difficult country, and I found it necessary to change my address. I am now with the 263 FAB and our camp is up on the hills of Ephraim. The climate is very good, very hot by day, but delightful after tea, and decidedly chilly after dinner. I have long distances to cover visiting the three Brigades of Artillery. It was a great pleasure the other day when the Padres gathered in Jerusalem at St George’s Cathedral for a Retreat, to be able to visit Bethlehem, and see the Manger in which Our Lord was born. A very large church has been built over it, and the greatest veneration is shown by the people for this sacred spot. I also found it possible to get inside the Dome of the Rock, and the Mosque of Aksa, both of which are inside the Temple area. The former is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, richly adorned with marbles of various colours, some of which probably formed part of Herod’s Temple. There are many windows filled with the richest stained glass. The whole interior is richly gilded. The building covers the natural rock on which Araunah had his threshing floor. It is the same rock upon which the altar of burnt sacrifice stood in Soloman’s Temple. On our way back to camp we passed through the village where the Blessed Virgin Mary failed to discover Jesus in the Caravan when he stayed behind in the Temple.

The country is very rugged, and until the Army arrived was quite without roads. Now it is possible to move about in comfort. Yesterday I drove down in the Cook’s cart behind a pair of horses to draw stores from the canteen. Until three months ago I am certain that no wheeled vehicle had ever passed along her. Now one can see motors being driven at ten miles per hour. The road of course is not so good as the Portsmouth road, but even a springless cart such as we had, did not unduly tire one, but five hours on a hard seat is quite as much as one cares for.

We are getting splendid rations and the health of the troops is good. I hope the great struggle in France will soon brought to a successful issue, and that ere long I shall be able to resume my duties in the parish.

Then, on 22nd July 1918, he related a happy day spent playing cricket on the Mount of Olives:

My dear People, I spent such an interesting and happy day last week, that I feel I would like to tell you about it. I left the Camp at 8am shortly after the ‘Archies’ had been strafing a Turkish Scout machine, and arrived in about 40 minutes at Divisional Headquarters, where I met 10 other men who formed our divisional Cricket Team for that day. Having split ourselves up into parties we went out for the Mount of Olives, where we were to play our opponents. We arrived in good time for lunch, thanks to Mr Ford of USA and promptly at 1400 hours our skipper, Major G A Faulkner, of South African Test Match fame, sent us in to bat. It was a pleasure to receive that first ball of the match, it was the first I had bowled to me in a march since August 1914. The less said about my innings the better, but I did survive the first ball. The second wicket fell at 111 made in exactly 30 minutes by Major Vernon and Captain Bolton. Major Faulkner made 35 and the innings was declared at the tea interval with the score 230 for 6 wickets. The dust having been removed from the matting, and our thirst quenched with copious draughts of iced coffee or hot tea, the former was the most popular as the thermometer stood at above 90 in the shade, and there wasn’t much of that; the other side came in to the bowling of Faulkner and Bolton, each of whom bowled the leg theory to perfection. Wickets quickly fell, and at 1759 hours, or one minute before time, the last wicket fell with the score 98, leaving us the winners of a thoroughly enjoyable and sporting match. We hope to play the return match on our own ground in a few days. The ground has yet to be found, and the wicket made – it will be done – but it is not an easy job in these hills of Ephraim to find cricket fields. The people of Palestine do not go in much for games! Their chief form of exercise is walking up and down the hills between the villages. The match concluded, our hosts insisted on our staying for dinner and a concert. The dinner was magnificent and the concert excellent – during the evening played the violin – a treat indeed. At midnight we set out for our various camps, a good 90 minutes run in a car. I had the misfortune, or rather the car did, to break down. We had a good sleep in the car until day-break, and as soon as the sun was up the driver made the necessary repairs and I finally reached my tent at 0800 hours. So ended a good day – the best I think it has been my lot to spend on active service. I little thought some 3 years ago that it would ever be my lot to see Jerusalem, much less to play cricket on the Mount of Olives.

I am going to Jerusalem again next week on a different errand, but one which will give me and those whom I am taking an immense amount of pleasure. I am taking 6 men to be confirmed in the Cathedral by the Bishop of Jerusalem. It will be a truly memorable day for all of us. I was greatly interested in the news of some of our Oxshott men in a recent copy of the Magazines which has just reached me. I hope some of  the others may be prevailed upon to write an account of a day spent on Active Service. Heartiest greetings to you all.

However, in his last letter to be published, dated 24th September 1918, Reverend Skene offered a very different perspective on the life of a soldier in Palestine:

My dear People, In a letter written some weeks ago I gave you a description of a day in the life of the solider in active service in Palestine, and it might well have been a description of an ordinary day in the old days before the war. During the last seven days I have seen the stern side. We have been fighting hard. After the preliminary bombardment of some very strong positions the infantry advanced and turned the enemy out. The enemy realising that his lines of communication, if not already cut, were just about to be cut, retreated in hot haste. The British troops pursued him, and as you know gained a magnificent victory, capturing practically the whole army. It has been my lot to be camped just by a certain wadi or valley where an enormous amount of stores and equipment was taken. A column stretching some 3 miles along the road entered this valley and got inside. The road is very narrow, and hangs over a precipitous drop of some hundreds of feet, with steep slopes stretching upwards. In the column were many lorries and carts, guns and motor cars filled with stores and equipment of all sorts. They were spotted and shelled and bombed. Many were killed, both men and animals. It was where I saw it a few hours afterwards a valley of desolation and death. To a soldier a scene of triumph, but to a civilian one of pathetic sadness. The road was completely blocked, and it will take 3 or 4 days to clear away the debris. Our men and officers have been magnificent, and though worn out and tired by the fast marching and fighting are as happy as can be in the knowledge that a sweeping victory has been won and added to the number of the very successful triumphs of our Armies in France and on other Fronts. By the time this appears in print it will be nearing Christmas. Perhaps it is too soon to expect to see then the world at peace; but I hope this will be the last occasion on which that happy day will be spent away from you all at home. With all good wishes, believe me…

Reverend Skene, 1947. Copyright Banstead History Research Group.

In April 1919 it was reported that ‘the Vicar is now convalescent and has returned to England. He is at present on sick-leave but hopes to be able to take Services at Oxshott on Low Sunday’. In the event Reverend Frederick Norman Skene was to return to the parish and resumed his duties on 1st May 1919.

Sources:

St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1915, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

ACAD A Cambridge Alumni Database, ‘Frederick Skene’, http://venn.lib.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/search-2016B.pl?sur=skene&suro=w&fir=frederick&firo=c&cit=&cito=c&c=all&z=all&tex=&sye=&eye=&col=all&maxcount=50.

Stoke D’Abernon – 1916

St Mary’s Church, Stoke D’Abernon and St Andrew’s Church, Oxshott

After a rainy Christmas, the January 1916 magazine saw the publication of ‘The Bishop’s Letter for the New Year’. The Bishop (of Winchester) called upon readers to pray that ‘God make England more worthy of victory!’.  One way it might be considered that a nation would be worthy of victory, he asserted, was to leave ‘nothing to chance, …[to use] every atom of skill, and labour… [pile] up its munitions… [economize] its money, and [make] its armies as numerous and strong as possible’. However, for the Bishop, the answer went much deeper, and, in order for ‘God to give it victory and peace’, a nation must be humble, owning its faults and reverencing God’s chastisements for them, it must fight only for right, committing its cause to God, and must ‘[lay] aside strife and bitterness of all kinds’.

Throughout the year, news of the Mothers’ Union, Sunday School, the National Mission, the Church Spire and Heating Fund, the Boy Scouts, issues of church seating, and the recording of births, deaths, and marriages continued, unabated. As the nation settled into war the magazines offered a vision of the ways in which, for those at home,  the everyday business of the parish and the church continued, but it was a vision that was increasingly frequently interspersed with the triumphs and, more often, tragedies of those away from home, engaged in the conflict.

A ‘Toy Service’ had been held on December 12th and, in ‘a remarkable response’ to the invitation to send toys and clothes to the orphaned children of Sailors and Soldiers, 87 toys and 47 articles of clothing had been presented, which Mrs Bowen-Buscarlet had undertaken to forward to the Church Army. All the offerings had been displayed at the Manor House, prior to being sent off, and it was recorded that ‘many came to see them’.

With reference to the Missionaries interned in German East Africa, the magazine reported that the Bishop of Zanzibar had cabled to confirm that parcels could be sent, ‘At sender’s risk. Address, c/o Naval. Letters forbidden.’ He also advised that he had sent clothing and that all were alive. This was of particular importance as the Rector’s sister, Gertrude Blackburne, was one of the interned.

Lastly the magazine provided a detailed account of the Memorial Service that had been held for Archibald James Rowan-Hamilton, at the Old Priory Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, the previous month.

In Oxshott it was reported that the War Workroom was to re-open after the Christmas break, at Heatherwold, Queen’s Drove. ‘The Workroom [had] now been affiliated to the War Hospital Supply Depot, Cavendish Square, and [was] officially recognised by the War Office. Badges [were] shortly [to] be issued to regular members’. The workroom had been open for 4 ½ months and in that time had sent 296 garments, including pyjamas, bed jackets, and operation gowns, to the Central Depot. They had also sent ‘1,060 many-tailed surgical bandages of all sorts’ which, it was recorded, took an average of about two hours’ work each. The Marchioness Ripon, in her capacity as President of the Compassionate Fund of the King George Hospital, had written to express their thanks.

In February 2016, owing to the war, the Rector of St Mary’s, and his wife, found themselves unable to organise the usual Choir Supper. In addition, Mr C Clifford, who had been acting as deputy honorary Parish Clerk, for ‘a longer time than most of us realised it would be when the war began’, had been asked to be relieved of part of his duties.

Congratulations were extended to Major Gore, who had been promoted to Colonel.

March 1916 saw the happy news that, on February 14th, whilst home on leave, Mr Harry W Champion had married Miss Emily E Simmonds at St Andrew’s and, after a short honeymoon, had returned within the week to his military duties in France.

In April 1916, almost one and a half sides of the St Andrew’s magazine were given over to the sudden and premature death, as the result of a ‘miserable accident’, of Richard John Wightwick at the age of 16 years and 11 months, offering a stark reminder that the cruelties of life were not confined to warfare.

In Oxshott, a lecture was to be given by Mr R S Morrish on the Trentino, where the Italians were currently fighting the Austrians, and all proceeds were to be given to the Young Men’s Christian Association, ‘which [was] doing such splendid work on all the fronts and at home on behalf of our soldiers’.

‘War Work for Women’ was to resume at the church Hall on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from 10am to 1pm and, on Friday, from 2pm to 4.30pm, and Mrs Burgoyne made an appeal for ‘eggs for the wounded’.

The magazine also included an account sent by Archibald George Ritchie, who was serving in the Fleet, of his experiences at the evacuations of Anzac Cove and Cape Helles.

Meanwhile, at home, the parish of St Mary’s was busy with arrangements for the forthcoming Missionary Tableaux and the choir’s rendering of Stainer’s “Crucifixion”. The choir, it was asserted, would have been incapable of undertaking such a work a few years ago but, with training and tuition by Mr Waters’, they had risen to the occasion.

In May 1916 it was reported that Monday in Easter Week had been observed as a ‘Flag Day’ for the Lord Roberts’ Memorial Fund, and £11 13s. had been collected in St Mary’s parish. ‘Flag Days’ were days set aside for charity collection, and were particularly popular among the working classes during the First World War as, in exchange for a small donation, they could demonstrate their patriotism by wearing the small flag that they received in return.

In Oxshott it was recorded that the children of the congregation had brought 330 eggs to the Easter Day service, which were to be sent, by Mrs Burgoyne, to the National Egg Collection for the Wounded.  Miss Dash called for cigarettes or tobacco, or financial contributions to purchase the same, which were to be sent to the front, to relatives of parishioners.

Lastly, the magazine recorded the death of Albert Harris.

With the topic of ‘Educational Developments after the War, with special reference to the Duty of Public Service’, The Surrey Educational Conference held in  June 1916 demonstrated how, even in the depths of the conflict, plans were being made for eventual peacetime. The Committee also recorded that they were unable to offer cheap railway vouchers to delegates, as, ‘owing to the exigencies of the military requirements the Railway Companies… [had] been compelled to order the suspension of reduced far facilities’.

In Oxshott, as well as calls for workers for the Work Room to meet the ‘very great’ demand from the war hospitals, war work was also offered for a woman or girl, in the form of around three hours daily milking for which training was to be provided.

In July 1916, a letter was received thanking the parishioners of St Mary’s for a donated parcel of hospital supplies, which were to be forwarded to one of the poorest hospitals in France.  In Oxshott, it was reported that there had been a marked increase in the number of helpers at the Work Room, which was open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday mornings, and all days on Friday. It was also noted that the war hospitals’ need for surgical bandages was becoming greater by the day.

Lastly, the death of Frederick Cotterell was recorded.

In August 1916 it was reported that the Stoke D’Abernon branch of the Mothers’ Union had decided that its members in the Diocese of Winchester were to undertake ‘to observe each Friday as a special Day of Intercession for our Church and Country, our Families, our Parishes, our Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen, and all near and dear to us’. If unable to attend the regular Friday intercession service at St Mary’s, members were asked ‘to try to kneel at home for a few minutes in heartfelt prayer’. This undertaking was to be in preparation for the ‘National Mission of Repentance and Hope’.

The ‘National Mission’ was launched by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and was ‘an attempt to repent for our sins as a nation… not because we believe that we are guilty of provoking this war, but because we, together with other nations that profess to be Christian, have failed to learn how to live together as a Christian family’. It was hoped that a collective national effort would project a ‘much needed message of hope’. In his ‘Letter’, the Bishop of Winchester stated that:

We have come to a great crisis in the War. We think we see light on the horizon. We hope that even Germany’s colossal resources and determination may begin to give way under the pressure of the Nations whom she has allied against her. Things are brighter. Glorious, too, is the fresh proof of the Nation’s manhood given in the almost superhuman courage, and in the extraordinary pateience, brightness, and good humour of those who suffer in this unexampled fighting. They do their part, indeed: God grant that we may as faithfully do ours.

He then outlined the Mission’s purpose, which was to ‘make nations and ourselves more worthy of the gift of victory, more fit to use peace if it is granted to us’, as well as the spiritual, thoughtful and practical duties of those involved. In the St Andrew’s portion of the magazine it was noted that the Bishop had also written a letter to the children of the congregation and parents were asked ‘to explain… the two leading questions to put to them’, which were ‘what has been wrong with our dear English life?’ and ‘how may it be better?’.

In Stoke D’Abernon a ‘War Savings Association’ had been set up with the objective of enabling its members ‘to obtain 15s.6d. War Savings certifications by regular contributions on more favourable terms than would be possible for individual subscribers’.

The Oxshott parish magazine published a letter from the Honourable Arthur Stanley and Lord Ranfurly, of the British Red Cross Society, appealing for more nurses. The letter stated that:

A real and urgent necessity has arisen for more Nurses, V.A.D. [Voluntary Aid Detachment] Nursing members (women), and V.A.D. General Service members, in Military and Auxiliary Hospitals at home. The demands made upon us by the Military Authorities are very heavy and cannot be met out of the existing supply. There must still be many women who are not giving the whole of their time and service to the war, and who have not ties which prevent them doing so. We earnestly call upon these women to come forward and help us in this emergency and thus enable us to answer the call of the sick and wounded men.

Finally, the magazine records the deaths of Arthur M Rimer and  Stephen Bourne.

September 1916, in Stoke D’Abernon, saw the details of an ‘Act of Courage’ citation for Philip Marshall, and news of his subsequent promotion to Corporal, and, in Oxshott, an up-to-date list men serving from the parish (133 men, of which 2 were reported missing), a recognition of distinguished bravery on the part of Corporal O. Hussey, and an updated ‘Roll of Honour’, listing the 11 men who had laid down their lives to date, including Ernest Godfrey.

The magazine also outlined the operation of the War Savings Certificates Scheme, and the role within that scheme, and method of operation, of Oxshott’s recently set-up, local association.

Both St Mary’s and St Andrew’s published their arrangements for special services for the ‘National Mission’, which were to take place from October 12th to October 16th.

The British Red Cross Society’s ‘Our Day’, in October 1916, saw the sum of £100 raised in Oxshott, and the Oxshott Branch of the Penny Bandage Collection also collected the sum of £20 2s. 7d..

It was also recorded that, ‘in recognition of their patriotic services in agricultural labour’, Mrs R Coombs and Mrs Gray, both of Godfrey Cottages, and Mrs A Gray of Little Heath, had received the Government green armlet.

Brassard, Women's National Land Service Corps

Title: Brassard, Women's National Land Service Corps
Description: Imperial War Museum, CataloguINS 7802 by-nc

The armlet was almost certainly presented to recognise their work for the Women’s National Land Service Corps (WNLSC), which had been formed early in 1916 ‘to deal with the emergency war-work on the land’.  By the end of the year, demand for agricultural workers was so great that, in early 1917, the Corps became an agent of the newly formed Women’s Land Army. In all, the WNLSC sent out 9,022 workers, and ‘in 1918 the flax harvest was saved by 3,835 holiday workers from the Corps’.

In November 1916 the St Mary’s magazine records the success of the ‘National Mission’ but cautions against complacency, asserting that ‘our one great danger is to rest content with an new start and not to persevere unto the end’. The services at St Andrew’s were also well attended and a thank you letter from the Bishop’s Messenger, H P Thompson, was published.

Demonstrating the wide diversity of work that contributed to the war effort, the Oxshott branch of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen hosted  a lecture by a North Sea Trawler Skipper, Tom Nicks, who described  the life of a seaman, as well as relating the experiences of those men giving aid to the Navy on the mine sweepers.  The lecture attracted a ‘very large and enthusiastic audience’, realising the ‘handsome sum of £6 0s. 2d..

Finally, it was reported that the Rector had received a telegram from Zanzibar stating that all interned Missionaries in German East Africa, some thirty or so, including the Rector’s own sister Miss G E Blackburne, had been released. The Rector had also subsequently received a cable directly from his sister, confirming this pleasing news.

As well as arrangements for Christmas, December 1916, the last month of the second full year of conflict, saw an appeal, once again, for children and adults to bring a toy to the St Mary’s Toy Service for later distribution ‘amongst the children of our Sailors and Soldiers, especially those who have become fatherless since the war began’. The message of the ‘National Mission’ was once again re-enforced, calling for parishioners to help ‘carry the Message to the Nation’.

In the St Andrew’s magazine congratulations were offered to Brigadier-General John Clarke, who had been received by the King at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday November 22nd and invested as a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, and William Coombs, who had received the Military Medal for gallantry. On a sadder note, parishioners learnt of the death of Leland Finch, who was killed in action.

An appeal was made to the parishioners of Oxshott, by the Matron of the Red House Auxiliary Hospital in Leatherhead,  for gifts of Christmas Fare, foodstuffs and tobacco, for the wounded soldiers under her care.

Finally, ‘in accordance with what was done on the First Sunday of this year and in 1915’, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York asked that, on the last Sunday of the year, December 31st, ‘special prayer should be offered in all our Churches in connection with the war, and… thankful recognition should be made for the devotion which has been shown by the manhood and womanhood of our country’. To that end, a special Memorial Service for those who had fallen was to be held at St Andrew’s, at 6.30pm on the last day of the year.

Sources:

St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1916, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.

Voluntary Action History Society, ‘The Origins of Flag Days’, accessed 9 January 2017,  http://www.vahs.org.uk/vahs/papers/vahs3.pdf.

The Lambeth Palace Library Blog, ‘The National Mission of Repentance and Hope 1916’, accessed 9 January 2017, https://lambethpalacelibrary.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/the-national-mission-of-repentance-and-hope-1916/.

The National Archive, ‘The Women’s Land Army in eight documents’, accessed 9 January 2017, http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/womens-land-army-8-documents/.

The Women’s Land Army, ‘First World War Women’s Land Army’, accessed 9 January 2017, http://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk/first-world-war-womens-land-army/.

Imperial War Museums, ‘brassard, British, Women’s National Land Service Corps’, accessed 10 January 2017, http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30077017.