The Society of Dependents or Cokelers

Among those claiming exemption from military service during the First World War were members of a small religious sect, the Society of Dependents, more commonly known as Cokelers. The Surrey Advertiser, 26 February 1916, reported a case of a Cokeler who claimed exemption on conscientious grounds on a divine standpoint at Hambledon Rural Tribunal held at the Guildhall, Guildford. The applicant was Ralph Edgar Arnold, aged 28, a journeyman baker of Shamley Green, and he was accompanied by several of his fellow believers. He succeeded only in obtaining exemption from combatant duty.

The Society of Dependents was started in Loxwood, Sussex, by shoemaker John William Sirgood (c. 1822-1885) from Gloucestershire. Sirgood moved to London in the 1840s and became a disciple of William Bridges, founder of the Plumstead Peculiars. He married Harriet Coxhead (originally from Godalming) at Lambeth in 1845, and preached around south London. In 1850, Sirgood and his wife decided to move to the countryside and settled in Loxwood, Sussex, where he started to preach on common lands on the Sussex/Surrey border, his evangelism taking root among farm workers.

The Dependents or Cokelers believed in people’s ability to exercise free will and thereby achieve salvation. They were staunch pacifists, were encouraged (but not required) to remain unmarried, and did not allow wild flowers to be brought into the house. The origin of the name Cokeler is uncertain, although it may have derived from John Sirgood’s preference for drinking cocoa over alcohol. Unsurprisingly, the Cokelers were a source of curiosity in the local press.

Cokelers Surrey Ad 1 Mar 1916

Title: Cokelers Surrey Ad 1 Mar 1916
Description: 'Strong attendance of Cokelers' report in the Surrey Advertiser, 1 Mar 1916 by-nc

The first Cokeler chapel was opened at Loxwood in 1861, and communities grew up in other parts of Sussex and Surrey, including at Shamley Green and Haslemere. The Surrey Advertiser, 29 May 1915, records the “Death of a Cokeler”, William Newman, aged 60, of Valewood Farm, Haslemere. The funeral took place in the chapel belonging to the sect, situated in King’s Road, Haslemere.

The Cokelers were active in Shamley Green from 1865 to 1967, building homes and establishing a combination (co-operative) store at Lords Hill Common. In Pevsner’s Surrey, the entry for Shamley Green states: “More minor cottages around the green at Lordshill Common to the W. (These were built by a local Nonconformist sect, the Cokelers; hence the name Lordshill).” The 1881 census records John Sirgood, by then a widower, living in one of the cottages at Lords Hill. He died in Loxwood four years later.

The Cokeler store at Lords Hill Common survived until the 1960s and, during the First World War, it traded under the name of Bradshaw, Foster, Street, and Co. Among the cases heard at the Hambledon Tribunal in May 1916 was that of Raymond Croucher, aged 30, foreman bread baker, employed by Bradshaw, Foster, Street and Co, Lords Hill Stores, Shamley Green.

References:

Marion May, The Story of the Cokelers (Shamley Green History Society, 1987)

Donald MacAndrew, The Sussex Cokelers: A Curious Sect (1942)

Edward Turnour, Cokelers, a Sussex Sect (1931). Also available at http://scm.pastfinders.org/cokelers_1.htm

Shamley Green: a History of the Village (Shamley Green History Society, 1993)

‘The Cokelers’ letters in Sussex County Magazine (1931)

Lady Agnes Jekyll (1861-1937) DBE

Photograph of Agnes Jekyll reproduced in Ne Oublie

Photograph of Agnes Jekyll reproduced in Ne Oublie

Lady Agnes Jekyll (daughter of William Graham, MP) was Gertrude Jekyll’s sister-in-law being married to her brother Sir Herbert Jekyll (1846-1932). They lived at Munstead House, Busbridge.

Lady Agnes Jekyll was rewarded with the honour of Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1918 New Year Honours List for her war work with the Order of St John running a medical supplies warehouse in Clerkenwell and as a volunteer in the wartime ambulance service.

“Both in her public work for those of her own sex who were in trouble and in her private relations Lady Jekyll was the kindest of women, and possessed in a remarkable degree the love and gratitude of people of all walks of life.”  From Lady Jekyll’s obituary published in The Times on 29 January 1937.

In her autobiographical introduction to Ne Oublie Lady Jekyll describes the war years:

“Life in London was full and gay through 1912-1914. Then the crash came, and one can remember little but a hideous confusion throughout the next five dark anxious years. The hospital supply work from St John’s Gate absorbed my energies, variegated with air raid duty at night, and the minor difficulties of commissariat and transport for all of us.  Herbert was working on the Finance Committee of St John and Red Cross and involved with many war-time activities. Everywhere was grief and death. My son in law Francis McLaren was killed flying, and my sister Frances and her husband Jack Horner, and her daughter Katherine Asquith both suffered grievous bereavement when Edward and Raymond were killed.”

Decorative book cover for Ne Oublie by Agnes Jekyll

Decorative book cover for Ne Oublie by Agnes Jekyll

Lady Jekyll is regarded for being a ‘domestic goddess’  and is better known today for her “Kitchen Essays” which were published in The Times after the 1914-18 war. These were later published as “Kitchen Essays, with recipes and their occasions” Nelson (1922) and a facsimile was published by Persephone in 2001.

Throughout her life she was concerned with causes connected to the welfare of women and girls both locally and nationally. She was chairman of the visiting committee of the Borstal Institution for Girls, Aylesbury, she was on the Management Committee of East End Maternity Hospital, from 1925 she was a magistrate on the Guildford Bench and she sat on the panel of children’s courts and  later became a governor of Godalming County Grammar School.

Her goddaughter  Mary Lutyens wrote of visiting the Jekylls at their  London address and at Munstead in her biography of her father Edwin Lutyens, (Edwin Lutyens by his daughter Mary Lutyens, published by John Murray, 1980)  “Agnes Jekyll was a very cultivated woman, widely read: she had travelled much with her father and had a host of friends”.  She continues with praise for the hospitality offered to visitors to Munstead and descriptions of the house and observes  “Lady Jekyll as I remember her was very plump, with beautifully dressed hair and a soft pink face”.

Her funeral service at St John’s Church, Busbridge, was reported in The Surrey Advertiser on 3 February 1937. It was attended by such a large congregation that there was not room for all within the church. Besides her family, the mourners included representatives from all the public bodies and good causes she had been involved with. Lady Agnes Jekyll DBE is buried in the churchyard of Busbridge Church. The inscription on the Jekyll Memorial reads “Also of Agnes Jekyll whose spirit ever dwelt in loving kindness”.

Jekyll Family Grave Busbridge Church. Image courtesy of P Cooper, Surrey Heritage

Jekyll Family Grave Busbridge Church. Image courtesy of P Cooper, Surrey Heritage

Text by Miriam Farr, Surrey History Centre

Alfred Arthur Allen Eungblut

Researched and written by Brian Bouchard

The death of a private soldier in one of Epsom’s hospitals during 1917 sadly was not an infrequent event but this had been an unusual case and did not result from wounds suffered in battle.

Alfred, whose birth had been registered in Pancras for the June Quarter of 1894, was the second child of Alfred Robert Eungblut, pianoforte tuner and repairer maker of 69 Brecknock Road, St Pancras, and his wife Jane Maria nee Cockman.

Alfred, junior, became apprenticed as a pianoforte tuner, later described as having a ‘highly-strung temperament’, who had been imbued with a boundless enthusiasm for his beliefs, and conducted a class at a Presbyterian Church.

After the introduction of conscription for single men aged between 18 & 41 from March 1916, Eungblut became a member of  the No-Conscription Fellowship and details of his treatment subsequently appeared in the pages of The Tribunal, the official paper of the Society written to inform the public about the Military Service Act and the Conscientious Objectors who fell foul of it. “The Tribunal reported on the lives of COs – from their motivations and reasons for Objecting to War to their experiences at Tribunal, in prison and beyond. It was written clearly, and often movingly, with the intention of keeping COs and their thousands of supporters and sympathisers updated with the latest information in the struggle against conscription and militarism.”

The boards to which men could apply for exemption from Military Service on various grounds – only one of which was ‘a Conscientious Objection to the undertaking of combatant service’ – sat in town halls, parish churches and local schools and sought to secure as many men as possible for the army. A tribunal could grant absolute exemption to a man who had a genuine, strongly felt objection to war but reportedly only 2% of applicants were deemed to qualify.

During May of 1916 Eungblut himself claimed absolute exemption from his obligation for Military Service at a tribunal in St Pancras but met with refusal.

It appears that he then absconded but gave himself up on 12 September 1916 before being taken to Fovant Camp, Salisbury, the next day to be  court-martialled as Private 204130 of the 1st Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).

The outcome of that hearing at court-martial on the 28 September 1916 was recorded as ‘Non-NCC (Drafted into a combatant unit and disobeyed orders) 1 (R) London CM (Court Martial) Hurdcott 28.9.16 (at Fovant Camp, Salisbury) – 6 months HL (With hard labour) commuted to 112 days in Wormwood Scrubs’.

It has been reported that in prison, ‘the separate confinement proved a great torment to his highly-strung temperament’. The decision of a Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs on 18 October 1916 regarding Eungblut was recorded ‘CO class A, to Brace Committee’. The Home Office Scheme, which operated under direction of the Brace Committee, was for men who did not take their cases to the tribunals or who had refused the tribunal’s decision or had had their appeals rejected, and had been arrested by the military authorities. Having been “fetched” by the army, these men refused to obey orders and were court-martialled and imprisoned. Army Order X (AO 179, 1916) from May 1916 directed that COs convicted by court-martial of offences against discipline who had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, should be held at the nearest civil prison. It was also proposed that these men should not be discharged from the army, but placed in Class W of the Army Reserve, created by Army Order 203, 1916, for ‘soldiers whose service is deemed to be valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’.

On 10 November 1916, however, Alfred Eungblut was certified to be insane and removed to an asylum.

A written question from 14 March 1917 appears in Hansard: “Mr. Chancellor asked the Secretary to the Local Government Board whether he is aware that Alfred Eungblut, a conscientious objector who voluntarily gave himself up on 12th September last, was court-martialled at Salisbury, sentenced to two years’ hard labour, sent to Wormwood Scrubbs [sic], and from there to Epsom lunatic asylum; and, seeing that this man was driven insane by the ill-treatment that he received at the hands of the military, and is now in a serious state of health and possibly dying, will he say what action he proposes to take?” In reply the Hon. Member was told that if had any evidence to support this very serious allegation, he should submit it to the Army Council.

Subsequently, a notice from the Superintendent of the Long Grove Asylum, Epsom, revealed that this man had died there on 11 June 1917 (aged 23). The primary cause of death was given as ‘myocardial degeneration’ and the secondary as ‘heart failure’. His mother was present at his death.

Bearing in mind the death of  Arthur’s uncle Charles Henry Eungblut at the early age of 34, it might be inferred that genetic heart disease led to his sudden cardiac death, albeit hastened by stress imposed by the proceedings following his application for exemption from military service. He was interred at Morden Cemetery and, as a final irony, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his name on a Screen Wall to the Cross of Sacrifice amongst the war dead whose graves have not been marked by a headstone.

Alfred Arthur Allen Eunblut’s name appears in an Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects held by The National Army Museum.  On 18 March 1918, his father withdrew a credit of £9:4:2 in the name of Alfred R Rogers (sic) and his mother, then Jane M Rogers, is found to have been awarded £3 War Gratuity in 1919.

A change of family surname may have been prompted by publicity over A A A Eungblut’s case since the following announcement had appeared in The London Gazette, 14 September 1917: –

“I ALFRED ROBERT ROGERS, heretofore called and known by the name of Alfred Robert Eungblut, a natural born British subject, of 69, Brecknock-road, Holloway, in the county of London,. Pianoforte Maker, hereby give public notice, that by a deed poll, dated the 30th day of July, 1917, duly executed and attested and enrolled in the Central Office of the Supreme Court, on the 21st day of August, 1917, I formally and absolutely renounced and abandoned the said surname of Eungblut and declared that I had assumed and adopted and intended thenceforth upon all occasions whatsoever to use and subscribe the name of Rogers as my surname in lieu of the said surname of Eungblut, and so as to be at all times thereafter called, known and described by the name of Alfred Robert Rogers exclusively.—Dated the 21st day of August, 1917.

Dame Ethel Smyth, Woking’s composer and the Great War

Woking’s composer and the Great War

Ethel Smyth was one of the most significant English composers of the late 19th century. She was friends with the composers Grieg and Tchaikovsky and made a Dame in 1922 for her services to music. She was a suffragette, being imprisoned for smashing a window of an anti-suffrage politician’s home in 1912, and she composed the battle song The March of the Women. She was also the lover of Emmeline Pankhurst. A remarkable woman, she even trained as a radiographer during the First World War and subsequently was attached to the XIIIth Division of the French army at a large military hospital in Vichy.

Woking composer and suffragette, Ethel Smyth, was much affected by the First World War. There is little doubt that it virtually sabotaged her career as a composer.

Ethel Smyth at the Tewfik Palace Hotel, Helouan, Egypt, 1914 (SHC ref 9180/9/57)

Ethel Smyth at the Tewfik Palace Hotel, Helouan, Egypt, 1914
(SHC ref 9180/9/57)

Ethel devoted two years to political activity with the Women’s Social and Political Union (the militant Suffragette movement) and in 1912 was briefly imprisoned in Holloway jail. On her release she decided to travel abroad, on the recommendation of a friend, to Egypt, arriving in Alexandria on 8 December 1913. She continued to Helouan, on the edge of the desert not far from Cairo, staying at the Hotel Tewfik. Her intention was to recommence her composing, in abeyance during her suffragette activities.

Ethel immediately began work on her fourth opera The Boatswain’s Mate (as well as indulging in tennis, and her beloved golf on the nearby golf course!) and it was virtually completed during her stay there, albeit not published until 1919.

Opera and the outbreak of war

At the end of May 1914 she travelled to Vienna to arrange production of The Wreckers which was planned to be performed in February 1915, and also The Boatswain’s Mate to be staged at Frankfurt during the same year. However, the outbreak of the war saw all performances of her works in Germany cancelled, a disastrous setback for her career as a composer. On 28 June, came news of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife and by 1 July 1914 Ethel had moved to the French coast at St Brieuc, where she met suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst who arrived in a weak state having been temporarily released from prison.

Ethel wrote that ‘by midnight on August 4th all Europe was at war’ but eventually they both got back to England.

Ethel and War Work

In her memoirs Ethel recalls ‘in 1915 I joined one of my sisters (Nina) on the Italian front’. Nina and her friend Lady Helena Gleichen, the painter, had raised an ambulance outfit during the war and were decorated for valour on the Italian front. However, Ethel returned to Paris later that year to train as a radiographer, passed the examination and eventually got attached to the XIIIth Division of the French army as a voluntary ‘localizer’ in the huge hospital at Vichy. Composition was impossible under these circumstances but she did find time to begin her first volume of memoirs in between duties.

She gives the following description in As Time Went On:

I wrote that book [Impressions That Remained] while doing radiographic work in a French Military hospital. Locating bits of shell, telling the doctor exactly how deeply embedded they are, watching him plunge into a live although anaesthetised body that shall prove you either an expert or a bungler is not a music inspiring job, but writing memoires in between whiles was a delightful relief’.

Later she commented that ‘early in January 1918 the vote was at last given to women. At that time I was still in France and after the pushing back of the British line in March 1918 it was only with difficulty that I managed to get back to England’. After a short spell as an interpreter for the Red Cross in Italy at the end of the war, Ethel returned to the promotion of her concerts with full vigour, for she considered writing as entirely subordinate, a second string, useful and amusing in its fashion, but in no way equal to her importance as a musician.

See Ethel Smyth’s Lifestory on Lives of the First World War website.

Text by Di Stiff, Surrey Heritage

Sources:

Short bibliography:

  • Female Pipings for Eden (1933)
  • As Time Went On (1936)
  • What Happened Next (1940)

J R Ackerley’s Great War Experiences

Novelist, dramatist, poet, editor and Captain in the East Surrey Regiment

Joseph Randall Ackerley was born in Kent in 1896. He became a Captain in the 8th East Surreys and was profoundly affected by his First World War service, haunted by ‘survivor’s guilt’. His play Prisoners of War (1925) based on his wartime experiences, was outspokenly pro-gay, as were his other books and poems. He also edited and wrote the introduction to Escapers All (1932), a volume of personal accounts of First World War POW camp escapees.

Known for his eccentricity, his personal and professional friends, including many Surrey gay icons, were all part of the homosexual literary set. Ackerley joined the BBC in 1928 and was literary editor of its Listener weekly magazine from 1935 to 1959.

Ackerley and The Great War

‘I was a pretty boy and used to being run after’.

Like most middle class boys in public school education, Ackerley applied for a commission at the outbreak of war and was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the 8th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, on 14 Sep 1914; he was a few months short of his 18th birthday. He was later promoted to a Captain. In April 1915, he was billeted in Colchester, along with Captain ‘Billie’ Nevill, who was later killed in the famous East Surrey football charge at Montauban, on the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916. During final training in Salisbury, in May 1915, Ackerley met his best friend of the war, Bobby Soames.

Photograph of Ackerley (far right), with fellow officers, possibly in France, c.1916 (SHC ref ESR/NEVI/1, p.26)

Photograph of Ackerley (far right), with fellow officers, possibly in France, c.1916,
(SHC ref ESR/25/NEVI/1, p.26)

 

Life-changing incidents

Two incidents on the Western Front haunted Ackerley for the rest of his life. On the first day of the Somme, the British suffered 60,000 casualties; Ackerley was shot in the arm and peppered with glass shards. Frightened and dazed, he lay in a shell-hole for six hours as men all around him were picked off by German snipers. Ackerley’s cap was shot from his head but he was eventually taken to the safety of a first-aid post. This attack saw the death of Bobby Soames.

Later that month, in an attempt to exorcise the nightmare memory Ackerley wrote The Everlasting Terror, which was published in the November issue of the prestigious English Review. It is dedicated ‘To Bobby’ and ends with a memorial to him:

And so through all my life and days,
In all my walks, through all my ways,
The lasting terror of war
Will live with me for evermore.
Of all the pals whom I have missed
There’s one, I know, whom Christ has kissed,
And in his memory I’ll find
The sweetness of the bitter rind –
Of lonely life in front of me
And terror’s sleepless memory

The second incident occurred in May 1917 as Ackerley led his men on an attack at Cérisy, Arras. The troops were unprepared for a counter-attack and Ackerley, shot in the buttock and thigh, was again left lying in a shell hole for hours, with dead and dying officers. He was eventually collected by a German stretcher-bearer and after an exhausting journey wrapped in louse-ridden blankets, he ended up at a hospital in Hanover.

Recovery and awakening

After recovering, Ackerley was sent to a string of POW camps before being transferred to a neutral site at Mürren, in the Swiss Alps. He used this experience as inspiration for writing The Prisoners of War, which revolves around a Captain’s comfortable captivity in Switzerland and his longing for an attractive young Lieutenant. At Mürren, Ackerley met the author Arnold Lunn, who confronted him about his sexuality. Lunn immediately set him to read the ‘standard works’ on the subject of homosexuality such as Otto Weinberger and Edward Carpenter. Such writers were a revelation to him.

The war dragged on; Ackerley’s brother, Peter, a Lieutenant also in the 8th Battalion, was killed in France in August 1918 and Ackerley narrowly avoided Spanish Flu, which killed several of the inmates at Mürren. Ackerley finally returned to England in December 1918. Experiencing a precarious relationship with his father, Ackerley felt that the wrong son had returned from the war and this haunted him throughout his lifetime.

The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows that Captain J R Ackerley went overseas with the unit on 27 July 1915. The ‘remarks’ column states that he was wounded and missing from 6 May 1917 and recorded as a Prisoner of War. The roll also records Ackerley’s brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (SHC ref 8227/2/5).

The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows Captain J R Ackerley and his brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (<strong><a href="http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHCOL_8227_2_1_1_5" target="_blank">SHC ref 8227/2/5</a></strong>)

The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows Captain J R Ackerley and his brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (SHC ref 8227/2/5)

No service papers can be found for Ackerley and we assume that he did not apply for his medals as no medal index card can be found either.

See Ackerley’s Lifestory on the Lives of the First World War website.

Ackerley, Forster and others

Ackerley is linked to many other Surrey LGBT icons including EM Forster, Noel Coward and Harry Daley; he also discovered and promoted the writer WH Auden, who had been a pupil at St Edmund’s School, Hindhead. John Gielgud was a friend of Ackerley’s and he attended the opening night of The Prisoners of War.

Ackerley met Forster in the early 1920s and the two became great friends, Forster acting somewhat as a confidant and adviser on Ackerley’s complex love life. The two exchanged hundreds of letters over the years and towards the end of his life, Ackerley sold his letters from Forster, for £6000. Ackerley did not live long enough to enjoy the money, dying of a coronary thrombosis at his home in Putney on 4 June 1967. His autobiography, My Father and Myself was published posthumously in 1968 and two years later Portrait of E M Forster was published, with a collection of his own correspondence, The Ackerley Letters, following in 1975.

Obituary notice for Captain J R Ackerley, Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Newsletter, November 1967, p.5

Obituary notice for Captain J R Ackerley, Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Newsletter, November 1967, p.5

Text by Di Stiff, Surrey Heritage

Read about The Secret History of Australia’s Gay Diggers.

Sources:

  • Photograph of Captain J R Ackerley, c.1916 can be found in an East Surrey Regiment photograph album (SHC ref ESR/18/2/2 p.6).
  • Photograph of Ackerley (see above), with fellow officers, possibly in France, c.1916. This photograph comes from an album compiled by the brother of Captain Billie Nevill, who was killed at Montauban (SHC ref ESR/25/NEVI/1, p.26).
  • The nominal roll for the 8th Battalion shows J R Ackerley went overseas with the unit on 27 July 1915. The ‘remarks’ column states that he was wounded and missing from 6 May 1917 and recorded as a Prisoner of War. The roll also records Ackerley’s brother, Peter, who was killed in action in August 1918 (SHC ref 8227/2/5).
  • The war diary for the 8th (Service) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, at Montauban, the first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916, runs to seven pages and includes the deaths of Capt Billie Nevill and Ackerley’s best friend Lieutenant Bobby Soames. The First World War diaries of both the East Surrey and the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiments are available to view online courtesy of The Surrey Infantry Museum http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk.
  • Obituary notice for Captain J R Ackerley, Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Newsletter, November 1967, p.5
  • Peter Parker, A Life of JR Ackerley, 1989.

Short bibliography

The Prisoners of War (first performed 5 July 1925)
Escapers All (1932)
My Father and Myself (1968)
E.M. Forster: A Portrait (1970)

Mary Anne Blaker of Chertsey: England’s first woman town crier

An unusual claim to fame by Chertsey during the First World War is the appointment of the first woman town crier in England.

The role of town crier in Chertsey was an historic post, created by the Feoffees of Chertsey Market under the charter of Queen Elizabeth I.  According to news articles of the time, the position had been held by the Blaker family for several generations.  Shoemaker Henry Blaker held the post until his death in 1906, and was succeeded by his son Albert Henry Blaker, as confirmed in the Feoffees receipt book of 1907-8 (SHC ref. 6200/385):

6200_385

Title: 6200 385
Description: SHC ref 6200/385: Feoffees of Chertsey Market receipt book, 1907-1908 by-nc

“Mr Albert Henry Blaker of London Street, Chertsey, is the duly appointed town crier and collector of market tolls and he is authorised to receive and collect all sums for crying and market tolls due to the feoffees”

Albert Henry Blaker (1869-1959), who had continued his father’s trade as shoemaker, married Mary Anne Field in 1892 at St Peter’s church, Chertsey.  Mary Anne was born in Lyne, Surrey, the daughter of Henry and Hannah Field.  Her father was recorded in the 1881 census as keeper of the Royal Marine Beer House in Lyne.  In 1911, the Blaker family lived in Bridge Road, Chertsey: Albert was listed as a boot repairer, his son Henry Robert a house agent’s clerk.

With the onset of war in 1914, Albert Blaker was called up to serve his country, as was his son who joined the Hussars.  The Feoffees of Chertsey then took the unusual step of granting Mary Anne Blaker permission to act as her husband’s substitute. When Mrs Blaker took up her duties in November 1914, the local, national and even American press made much of the appointment of the ‘First Woman Town Crier in England.’  On her first official duty on 3 November 1914, the Surrey Herald proclaimed her ‘Initial and Successful Appearance’, explaining to its readers that “the unprecedented instance of a woman publicly ‘crying’ in England was, like many other things in these times, due to war.” In the national press, the Daily Mirror reported that Mrs Blaker “fulfilled her duties most successfully, her voice being quite audible at a distance of fifty yards.”

The uniform Mrs Blaker wore as town crier had been made for her father-in-law, Henry.  Described as ‘Georgian-style’, it comprised a blue coat and matching waistcoat, lined with scarlet and trimmed with gold braid, a black tricorn hat, white scarf and black kid shoes with silver buckles.  Instead of the original breeches, worn with yellow stockings, Mrs Blaker chose to wear a black skirt.

During the First World War, Albert Blaker served as a sergeant in the 6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment.  On his return from war, he did not resume his duties as town crier but, instead, his wife continued in the role.  Over the next two decades, Mrs Blaker was a familiar figure in Chertsey, leading Armistice Day and other public processions, reading the King’s proclamations, and collecting market tolls and fees.  Such was her popularity, that when she decided to resign the post in 1924 and again in 1925, she was asked on both occasions to reconsider, which she did.  Later, in 1935, the Gloucestershire Echo reported that Mrs Blaker “discharges her duties with a degree of efficiency at least equal to that of her masculine counterparts”.

'Surrey Herald' report 1940

Title: 'Surrey Herald' report 1940
Description: ‘Death of Mrs Blaker’ report in the 'Surrey Herald', 22 November 1940 by-nc

Mrs Blaker died on 19 November 1940 aged 71.  She had been collecting the tolls of Chertsey Market for the Feoffees only three days beforehand.

Waverley Abbey Hospital

Text by Gillian Devine

Waverley Abbey House, in Tilford, near Farnham, was the home of Major Rupert Anderson, his wife, Amy, and their family. The ruins of the oldest Cistercian Monastery in England, Waverley Abbey, were in the grounds. (Read more about the Anderson family here.)

Mrs Anderson was already, before the outbreak of war, the Commandant of Red Cross Detachment No. 56 in the Surrey Division, and the house was offered to the government at the beginning of the war. Waverley Abbey Military Hospital was opened in September 1914 under the command of the Cambridge Hospital in Aldershot. It contained 60 beds and was worked by the Surrey 56 Red Cross Detachment with help from the men of the Surrey 23 Detachment who supplied night and day orderlies and helped with stretcher parties. Mrs Anderson herself became Commandant of the hospital. Drs Travers, Tanner and Hussey were the Honorary Medical Officers and Miss Potter was Matron, operating theatre. In 1914 twenty four members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) worked at the hospital. The first patients were wounded soldiers from the Mons retreat of August/September 1914.

Exterior of Waverley Abbey

Title: Exterior of Waverley Abbey
Description: Copyright: Rural Life Centre by-nc

In 1915 the average number of patients was 60, even though this included a period when two wards in the hospital was closed for disinfecting after four cases of ‘spotted fever’. For several weeks the number was over 70. The 1915 Red Cross report stated that 840 patients had been admitted since the hospital had been opened and that there had been no deaths. Most of the patients were members of the Expeditionary Force, the British Army sent to the Western Front.

As casualty numbers rose more beds were needed and following a request from the War Office huts were built in the grounds, bringing the total number of beds to 100. These were expected to be filled by January 1916.

The wards were named after Walter Scott’s novels and included ‘Monastery’ in the main house, ‘Lady of the Lake’, ‘Kenilworth’, ‘Rob Roy’, and Abbot A and Abbot B in the huts.

Kenilworth Ward, in one of the huts in the grounds

Title: Kenilworth Ward, in one of the huts in the grounds
Description: Copyright: Rural Life Museum, Tilford by-nc

The number of patients steadily increased and in 1916 1,254 patients passed through the hospital. The work of the hospital was very successful and there were no deaths recorded during the year. A large number of serious face and jaw cases were admitted during the latter half of 1916 and these were treated by Captain Gillies, the plastic surgeon specialist.

The staff at Waverley Abbey were sorry to see these men go when they were transferred to a specially-built hospital at Sidcup in Kent during 1917, since these cases were interesting and the patients spent longer at the hospital.

More buildings were erected in the grounds and a new water supply was laid on, drawing water from the nearby River Wey by a ram pump. A new church and recreation hut were dedicated by the Bishop of Winchester in a service held on September 23 to commemorate the second anniversary of the opening of the hospital. There was also a new hut for nurses, with a second sitting room and a small shop, run by Hon. Gerald Montagu, opened for the sale of tobacco and sweets. The Commandant organised an entertainment for patients and staff on Christmas Day. This was later repeated and tickets were sold, the proceeds being in aid of the hospital.

There were even more patients in 1917, the number admitted during the year being 1,314. On 23 September the anniversary of the opening of the hospital was marked, as it had been every previous year, with a special commemorative service. It was held on the terrace and lawns at the front of the house, and every patient who could leave their bed was present, together with all of the staff. The scene was beautiful and impressive.

Staff and patients in the grounds

Title: Staff and patients in the grounds
Description: Copyright: Rural Life Museum, Tilford by-nc

The patients were entertained with a special show at Christmas, and there were three lectures given by members of the Victoria League during the year. The house had also been given a Pathescope. The shop continued to be successful and raised money towards the running of the hospital. The patients and staff were able to wander in the lovely and picturesque grounds as seen in the example photograph here.

The grounds of Waverley Abbey Hospital

Title: The grounds of Waverley Abbey Hospital
Description: Copyright: Rural Life Centre, Tilford by-nc

Mrs Anderson was appointed OBE in January 1918, and later Miss Elizabeth Anderson, Miss Annie Anderson, Miss D Donald, Miss Clara Oakes and Miss Frances Oakes, who were nurses, received ‘mention’ for long and good service.

The year 1918 was the busiest year in the history of the hospital. The Commandant had already agreed to the addition of 50 more beds if the need arose and this was accomplished by putting more beds in each ward, by turning the recreation hut into a ward and by erecting eight tents. By early summer the number of beds had been increased to 246. The number of patients admitted during the year was 1,348, the average stay being 30 days. An outstanding feature of the work of 1918 was the treatment of fracture cases. Major Harris, who specialised in these cases and used apparatus which he had invented, was attached to the hospital as Medical Officer. Medical and surgical cases from the Canadian Forestry Corps, whose camp was in the neighbourhood, were also admitted.

On September 23, the fourth anniversary of the opening of the hospital was marked by a service conducted by the Dean of Westminster in the grounds of the Abbey. It was attended by a number of dignitaries as well as by all of the staff and those patients who could leave their beds.

Waverley Abbey Hospital was visited by royalty in 1916, 1917 and 1918.

Early in March 1919 the work of Waverley Abbey as a hospital came to a close. It had been open for 4½ years and had never closed for a single day during the war. The number of beds had increased from 60 in 1914 to 246. The Senior Sister (Miss L. Reeves) and 20 other members of the staff had worked in the hospital from its opening to its close. The boys of the 1st and 3rd Troops of the Farnham Boy Scouts gave loyal and willing help throughout the whole war. Gerald Montagu continued to run the shop until the last patient had left. The surplus stock was distributed amongst the men as they left. Before the staff dispersed Major Anderson treated them to a farewell dinner.

The equipment from the hospital was sold by Weller Eggar in a sale lasting three days in April/May 1919. The sale included vast quantities of bedding, kitchen equipment and other household items as well as medical equipment such as splints, stretchers, bath chairs and a spinal carriage. Tennis racquets, a tennis net and croquet mallets went under the hammer and some of the large huts were also sold.

The last public act in connection with the hospital took place on 18 January 1920 when the two flags which had flown over Waverley Abbey Hospital were consecrated and placed in All Saints’ Church, Tilford.

VAD personnel records for Waverley Abbey Hospital are kept at the Red Cross Museum and Archives in London and can be viewed online (http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War). The personnel record cards were started in 1914, possibly when the hospital was first opened, and continued until 1919, the date of closure. Staff and their date of enrolment are listed. They contain useful information including names and addresses, the name of the Commandant and the number of beds.

After the war, index cards were compiled for hospital staff. We do not know the names of everyone who worked at Waverley Abbey but some names can be obtained by searching under the hospital’s name in the index online. Unfortunately the cards do not always include the name of the hospital and so cannot be used to obtain a complete list of staff. The cards indicate that although many staff came from Farnham and the surrounding areas, there were many from further afield. The cards also reveal that many of the nurses worked in more than one hospital and that some of them worked in hospitals in Europe as well. All four of Mrs Anderson’s daughters worked as nurses at the hospital – there are cards for Amy, Elizabeth, Annie and Margaret. Amy, who also worked at the Astoria hospital in Paris, was awarded the Medaille d’Honneur.  Elizabeth and Annie also spent time at Lady Violet Brassey’s Hospital at 90 Park Street, London.

VAD personnel card for Amy Anderson

Title: VAD personnel card for Amy Anderson
Description: Copyright: British Red Cross Archives and Museum by-nc

VAD Personnel Index Card for Amy Anderson

Title: VAD Personnel Index Card for Amy Anderson
Description: Copyright: British Red Cross Archives and Museum by-nc

Another nurse at Waverley was Edith Ware, a neighbour of the Andersons in Tilford, whose sister Gwen was also a nurse and served at Highlands hospital in Farnham before transferring to Bramshott and eventually going to France. Both sisters wrote about their war experiences, Gwen in her diary and Edith in a book of twelve poems entitled Annals of Waverley Abbey Hospital, 1916.

Two women connected with Waverley Abbey hospital are commemorated on the Surrey Voluntary Aid Detachment war memorial at Farnham Road Hospital in Guildford. Miss Winifred Elizabeth de Mesnie Atkinson from Belfast died there in February 1917 of appendicitis. She was just 19 years old. There is no Red Cross personnel card for Miss Atkinson – was she a member of the Armed Forces? Miss Beatrice Clibbens, who worked at Waverley Abbey from November 1917 to March 1918, died in Springnall Hospital, Halifax, in August 1918. She was 45.

Another nurse was Dorothy Robinson, daughter of Major-General Sir CW Robinson. In her letters home to her mother she describes her life at Waverley Abbey – her accommodation, some of her duties, entertainments for the men, rumours of Zeppelins overhead, etc. Her letters are in the British Red Cross Museum and Archives and can be read here.

We do not know the names or stories of most of the men who convalesced at Waverley Abbey but the Red Cross archives also contain a lot of material from Waverley Abbey including photographs and two scrapbooks compiled by Nurse Oakes which contain signed pictures, poems and messages from soldiers of all nationalities.

Several people associated with Waverley Abbey expressed their feelings in poetry. As well as the poems written in these albums, Mr D N Bethune, then the Commandant of Detachment No. 23 Farnham, who supplied orderlies and stretcher bearers to Waverley Abbey Hospital, wrote, in 1915, his views on ‘The Ladies of the Red Cross’ as poetry:

Ta the Ladies of the Red Cross
Ladies of the Red Cross
You all are ready here
To greet the wounded soldier
With words of kindly cheer
To show him he’s remembered
Now he is home again
And that your hands are ready
To ease his hours of pain
You give him all your kindness,
You give your care – your love,
For you work beneath the Banner
With its emblem from above
And many a heart is lighter
For what you say and do
And many a man is thankful
For all he owes to you
Ladies of the Red Cross
You will in after years
When life has brought its pleasures
Its sorrows and its tears;
You will, I know, remember
The days you won your fame
When all your country loved you
And “Tommy” blessed your name

Material held at the Rural Life Museum, Tilford, includes many photographs of Waverley Abbey Hospital and other material, including letters from nurses and patients. There is more at Farnham Museum.

All of the available material suggests that Waverley Abbey Hospital was efficiently run and that Mrs Amy Anderson was a very ‘hands-on’ Commandant. She appears in many of the photographs in her Red Cross nurse uniform, pouring tea, supervising the stores, helping in the kitchen, etc. Of course, these photographs may have been staged, but the fact that so many of her nurses served for many months or years may have indicated that Waverley Abbey was quite a good place to work.

A ward kitchen at Waverley Abbey Hospital

Title: A ward kitchen at Waverley Abbey Hospital
Description: Copyright: Rural Life Museum, Tilford by-nc

Major Rupert Anderson, the owner of Waverley Abbey House not only allowed his mansion to be transformed into a military hospital, he also allowed his trees to be felled by  the Canadian Forestry Corps, and sold for pit props, railway sleepers and the like.

 

Shell-case art presented to Mrs Amy Anderson to commemorate her service as Commandant of Waverley Abbey hospital

Title: Shell-case art presented to Mrs Amy Anderson to commemorate her service as Commandant of Waverley Abbey hospital
Description: Image copyright of Kirsty Bennett by-nc