(Edith) Maud MacBRIDE nee GONNE (1866-1953)

Surrey In the Great War Jenny Mukerji

(Edith) Maud MacBRIDE nee GONNE (1866-1953)

Born in Tongham, Surrey and imprisoned in May 1918 for her supposed involvement in a Pro-German Plot.

Known as Maud, Edith Maud GONNE was born in Tongham, Surrey on 21 December 1866, the elder daughter of Lt Col Thomas GONNE (1835-1886) of the 17th Lancers and his wife Edith Frith, nee COOK (c1844-1871). Her sister was Kathleen Mary (born in Ireland in about 1868) who married the future Major-General Thomas David PILCHER (c1858-1928) of the British Army at St Mary’s Graham Street, London on 18 December 1889 when he was a captain in the 5th Fusiliers. He went on to serve in West Africa, in the South African Wars (Boer Wars) and during the Great War as Colonel of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.

Maud’s mother, who was born in East Peckham, came from a wealthy merchant family that manufactured silk, linen, woollen and cotton goods. She died of tuberculosis when Maud was still a child. The girls were then raised with the help of a French nanny. In the 1871 Census (2 April) their mother was still alive and she was living with Maud and Kathleen in Paddington at the home of Mrs Gonne’s aunt, Augusta TARLTON. However, once her mother died, Maud began to live a very cosmopolitan lifestyle and often acted as a hostess when her father entertained.

In the 1881 Census she was living in Torquay with her sister as a pupil at Miss Margaret WILSON’s school. After her father’s death at the Royal Barracks, Dublin on 30 November 1886, Maud inherited wealth and was able to enjoy an independent lifestyle. She was interested in the theatre and became an actress on the Irish stage. Being beautiful and flamboyant (and rich) she was never short of suitors. One of the most famous, yet unsuccessful (despite four proposals), was the Irish poet W.B. YEATS (1865-1939) whom she met in 1889 through the theatre. She was his muse for the heroine of his play Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1892).

Maud travelled widely and when in Paris in 1887 and recovering from an illness she met and fell in love with the married, right-wing nationalist, Lucien MILLEVOYE (1850-1918). The couple had two children: Georges (1889-1891) and daughter, Iseult (1894-1954). It was the death of Georges, aged two, that rekindled her interest in spiritualism. The BBC Website https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31064648 expands on her interest in this subject. Yet it was her father’s native Ireland that won her heart. She had spent time there as a child and after watching an unpleasant eviction in the 1880s, she had great sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. She became a speaker for the Land League and in 1900 she founded the nationalist group Daughters of Ireland to promote and preserve Irish culture.

During the South African Wars (Boer Wars) Maud helped to organise the Irish brigades that fought against the British army in South Africa. It was during a fund raising tour of the United States of America that she met the Irish revolutionary Major John MacBRIDE (1868-1916) who had fought against the British in South Africa (and against Maud’s brother-in-law, Major-General PILCHER). Maud married John MacBRIDE in Paris in 1903. The couple’s son Sean was born in Paris on 26 January 1904. He remained in Paris after his father’s execution for his part in the Easter 1916 Rising and later became an important Irish politician. He was the Irish minister for External Affairs from 1948 to 1951 and involved himself in Human Rights issues. He died in Ireland in 1988.

However, Maud and John MacBRIDE’s marriage was a stormy one and the couple separated in 1906. Because of his involvement in the Easter 1916 Rising in Dublin, John MacBRIDE was executed by the British on 5 May 1916 in Killmainham Goal, Dublin. Nevertheless, Maud continued to support the revolutionary cause and she was arrested in May 1918 in Dublin for revolutionary activities when it was assumed that she was involved in a Pro-German plot. She was never tried and having been imprisoned in England for six months, she was released due to her poor health. There was, however, a condition placed on her release: she was not to return to Ireland! Immediately she returned to Ireland and began to campaign on behalf of political prisoners in an effort to improve their conditions in gaol.

Maud not only continued to campaign for a Republic of Ireland, but also for women’s rights and universal suffrage. Her objections to the Treaty which divided the island of Ireland into the Republic and (the six counties that formed) Northern Ireland saw her in trouble again, this time in 1923 when she was imprisoned for 20 days by the Irish Free State forces for seditious activities.

Maud died on 27 April 1953 in Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Her son, Sean and his wife, Catalina Bulfin MacBRIDE (1901-1976) were later buried in the same grave.

Here is a story with a very different perspective on Surrey in the Great War. Much has been written about Maud; some parts of it are contradictory. However, where Surrey, the place of her birth, is concerned, she appears to have been almost forgotten.

The Dorking and District Local Emergency Committee

An investigation of the Draft Report on Preparations in the Event of a Hostile Landing, spring 1916, prepared by the Dorking and District Local Emergency Committee, acting under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) 1914 (Surrey History Centre ref. 2634/1

As part of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) implemented four days after Britain entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente, on the 8th of August 1914, extensive anti-invasion measures were introduced across Surrey, situated precariously where it was between the south coast and the capital. Standard procedure was that ‘Emergency Committees’ would be established to aid the operation of invasion countermeasures without hindrance to the military or the civilian population. Accordingly, the ‘Petty Sessional Division of Dorking’ was speedily amalgamated, along with the ‘Petty Sessional Division of Epsom encompassing the parishes of Headley, Ashtead, Leatherhead, Fetcham and Great and Little Bookham’, as well as the parish of Walton on the Hill in the ‘Petty Sessional Division of Reigate’, into the ‘Dorking and District Area’ with a ‘Local Emergency Committee’ to oversee the anti-invasion procedures.

Working as part of the greater ‘Second Army Central Force’ based initially at Aldershot and then Tunbridge Wells after November 1916, and commanded by General Officer Commanding Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford, a report compiled in late 1915 outlines the boundaries of the ‘area’ with interesting precision: it is described as having been loosely pentagonal in shape, stretching fifteen miles north-to-south from Ashtead to Ockley and at its widest point 8 miles between Walton-on-the-Hill and Effingham, and at its narrowest being 5 miles between Ockley and Newdigate.

The jurisdictional boundaries of the Emergency Committee for the Dorking and District Area

Title: The jurisdictional boundaries of the Emergency Committee for the Dorking and District Area
Description: by-nc

Four months after the declaration of war, in December 1914, Henry Herbert Gordon Clark of Mickleham was appointed Chairman of the ‘Dorking Petty Sessional Bench’ following the departure of his predecessor ‘owing to illness’. His first action as Chairman was the forming of committees and the appointment of ‘Organising Members’ for each parish, with each Organising Member tasked with appointing ‘Special Constables’ in his own parish to enforce the anti-invasion measures. However, the committee’s efforts were dogged by problems concerning the appointment of Special Constables, precipitated by the absence of local men, who had enlisted in the armed forces, the result being that too much work was left solely in the hands of the Organising Members who often felt exhausted by their workload which consequently led to dereliction of duty and resignation.

As per the raison d’etre of the Defence of the Realm Act, the principal concern of the Emergency Committee was the ‘clearance’ (i.e. the evacuation) of livestock and the local populace in the event of a German incursion from the south coast. Under the supervision of the Emergency Committee, the report was confident that a ‘clearance of the Area’ in the event of an invasion would be feasible and efficient.

As outlined in the report, the Emergency Committee’s modus operandi was: to facilitate the easy manoeuvrability of ‘His Majesty’s [armed] forces’ without hindrance to the local population; the provision of ‘voluntary labour’ for ‘emergency works’ like infrastructural repairs; the removal of ‘stock’ (like food, livestock, ammunition and buildings) that could be used by an invader; the safe conveyance of the civilian population, especially the vulnerable and infirm, to places of refuge; the removal of signposts to confuse an advancing enemy; the requisitioning of vehicles, animals and personnel for the military; to utilise ‘scorched-earth’ tactics, viz. the destruction of infrastructure, telephone lines or any resources potentially of use to an advancing enemy.

List of Organising Members for parishes within the Dorking and District Area

Title: List of Organising Members for parishes within the Dorking and District Area
Description: With amendments written presumably in the hand of H.H. Gordon Clark by-nc

Instructions were received by the Dorking and District Emergency Committee which stipulated that, in the event of an enemy invasion, a nationwide ‘clearance’ would be undertaken, starting in the southeast, which would proceed further north and northwest. The committee estimated that, in the immediate aftermath of a hostile landing and the declaration of a state of emergency, the committee could commence moving vulnerable people with or without having received a clearance order. The Special Constables would then commandeer civilian motor vehicles for evacuating vulnerable people such as the young, aged or infirm to either Royal Holloway College in Egham or the Chertsey Union Workhouse on Murray Road in Ottershaw, Chertsey, both of which had been earmarked by the committee to be repurposed for housing the evacuated young, aged or infirm people from the district.

The report goes into great detail regarding the strategic importance of Mole Valley, noting that the area between Dorking and Leatherhead, which the River Mole courses through, is vital in that the main road and railway line connecting Leatherhead and Horsham (the present-day A24) both run parallel to the River Mole. Moreover in this area is the strategically important Burford Bridge: being the largest and only road bridge that spans the River Mole, it would be administered solely for military purposes and likely destroyed in accordance with the ‘scorched-earth’ policy. In the event of an invasion, this section between Dorking and Leatherhead would be the main route by which stock from West Kent and north-east Sussex would be channelled, in a north-westerly direction.

In overseeing the mobilisation of vast numbers of stock and civilians, numerous roads throughout the district would be administered by the military, namely the roads connecting Betchworth and Banstead (the A217 and B2032), as well as the A24 connecting Epsom with East Horsley. The assigned route would be to Guildford via Leatherhead, crossing at Thorncroft Bridge in south Leatherhead and proceeding along the A246 connecting Leatherhead with Guildford.

The report claims that the ultimate objective of the Emergency Committee was the mobilisation of cattle from vulnerable areas likely to be affected by an enemy incursion temporarily to large parks to the northwest, such as Windsor Great Park, Burwood Park (now a housing development in Cobham) and other areas. Livestock being moved from west Kent in a northwest direction would have been kept off the main roads as much as possible and travelled west via byroads from Walton on the Hill to Headley to Mickleham, crossing the A24 into Norbury Park and continuing in the direction of Bookham Common and Cobham. However, the report voices logistical concerns that the suggested locations would quickly exceed their capacity in accommodating such large quantities of stock, therefore necessitating the requisition of other locations in the North Downs, described as having an abundance of ‘considerable stretches of Common’ and ‘forage’ to manage the large influx of cattle.

The report claimed that the committee had received instructions, as per the ‘scorched-earth’ policy, to disable all motor vehicles left behind following the declaration of a state of emergency and the mobilisation of the District’s population by removing the wheels, magneto and carburettor. Moreover, civilians in possession of petrol stocks of more than 30 gallons would have to surrender them to the authorities, who would then duly remove or destroy them. Five surveyors were drafted in by the committee to oversee the destruction of all signposts, for instance a Mr. W. Rapley in Dorking and Mr Sidney R. Drake in Leatherhead. Regarding the provision of vehicles and bicycles for use in the event of invasion, owners of two or more bicycles or motorbikes and the owners of bicycle shops would be required to surrender at least one to the authorities, which would then be requisitioned for official use and/or destroyed.

Special Constables were tasked with directing the movement of livestock and military convoys in transit. They were to be supplemented by Boy Scouts belonging to local troops along with the local Church Lads Brigades and the members of the 10th (Mid Surrey) Battalion S.V.T.C. [Surrey Volunteer Training Corps], whose commandant was the chairman of the Dorking and District Local Emergency Committee, H.H. Gordon Clark. The available quantities of stock, forage, vehicles and manpower were indexed and given to ‘Superintendent Coleman, at the Dorking Police Court’, the District official charged with overseeing the countermeasures upon receiving authorisation from the military after an invasion.

All illustrations are from Surrey History Centre ref. 2634/1 and are copyright of Surrey Heritage.

Cranleigh in July 1918

Research and text by Joy Horn (as published in the Cranleigh Magazine)

At the Guildford Borough Bench, a bar attendant and the manageress of the Lion Hotel in Guildford were both fined £5 on two counts of buying a round of drinks for other people. This was known as ‘treating’, and was forbidden during the war under DORA, the Defence of the Realm Act. In court, it was said that ‘treating was going on wholesale, in spite of the law’.

Postcard of the Onslow Arms, post-marked 1908,

Title: Postcard of the Onslow Arms, post-marked 1908,
Description: By kind permission of Roy Pobgee by-nc

On 14 July, French National Day, the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) [Regiment] had a photo taken in front of a grand building. They look very smart and well disciplined. This was the regiment in which many Cranleigh men served. After their brave exertions and considerable losses in the Battle of the Lys, they were having some rest this month in the area of Brandhoek, a few miles west of Ypres. Perhaps a reader knows where this photo was taken.

Joe Cheesman, the Cranleigh man who had become a prisoner-of-war in April, had been moved by his German captors from his work as a mechanic in a motor workshop. His letters home describe how, with other prisoners, he had been put into ‘a big, empty factory’, from which working parties went out every day. After a week, 140 of them were moved to another camp not far away. The food was not so good there but at least the camp was registered with the Red Cross, so that they had received some soap at last! Joe was not allowed to disclose his whereabouts in any of his letters, but after the war he told his family that he had not been taken to Germany, despite his address of ‘Limburg an der Lahn’, but was all the time behind the lines in Belgium. Back at home, though, his mother was told by the Central POW Committee that ‘the address “Limburg a/Lahn” is not sufficient for letters and parcels’, so Joe had not yet heard anything from his family.

The Hambledon Tribunal was still meeting every two weeks, trying to be fair in granting exemption from military service, while still securing as many men as possible for the armed services. Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey of Wyphurst – now St Joseph’s school – applied to the Tribunal on July 10th on behalf of his coachman, G.T. Card, aged 49, declaring that he ‘could not be any use in the Army’. ‘If the worst comes to the worst,’ he said, ‘I shall have to put him on the land.’ (This would have ensured he was exempt.) ‘I have been having German prisoners, but I have not been able to get much work out of them’ (laughter). It is worth noting that Sir Charles was using a coach in 1918: perhaps it was because the use of cars was severely restricted.

The mood of local people may be seen in their popular songs. A song annual on sale this month by The Piano House in Guildford (price one shilling) included these titles: ‘There’s a ship that’s bound for Blighty’, ‘When the bells of peace are ringing’, ‘I never knew how much I loved you till you said “Goodbye”’, ‘I don’t want to go back’ and ‘Ten days’ leave’.

The Surrey Advertiser announced that ‘Nut shells and fruit kernels are urgently needed for the making of charcoal for anti-gas respirators, and all are urged to save and collect them.’ They were to be sent in bags to Captain Rickett, Gas Works, Southend-on-Sea.

 

Peaslake W.I., 1918-1922

Contributed by Wendy Cruxton

“The Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War” (National Federation of Women’s Institutes website). The Peaslake Women’s Institute (WI) was founded in March 1918, one of Surrey’s first WIs.

1918

On 7 March 1918 at 3pm, at the Hut, Peaslake WI took its first breath. It is recorded that “Mrs Ayres read a telegram and letter from the President Mrs Smeaton giving her good wishes to the Institute and her regrets at being unable to attend the meeting.

Voting papers were distributed and Mrs Ayres, Miss Collard, Mrs Elms and Mrs Pullen were elected to serve us committee. Miss Paine proposed Mrs Ayres as a Vice President of the Institute which was seconded by Mrs Pullen and carried by all present by show of hands.

Tea was served and 50 members enrolled”.

In the first Committee meeting one week later (14 March 1918): “It was decided that members of the Institute may bring a friend to the meetings and have tea at a charge of 2d. Regular meetings of the Institute to be held on the first Thursday and committee meetings on the second Thursday of each month. […]”

First full meeting (4 April 1918): “Mrs Ayres read a telegram from the Chairman Mrs Smeaton of good wishes to the Institute then gave a short talk on the use of the Suggestion Box and some ways in which members might help each other and on the possibility of cooperation in canning fruit and vegetables. Mrs Abram offered to make enquiries about the apparatus and cans. Mrs Gregory promised to enquire about pig clubs and how they were managed. Some useful leaflets on the seasons for planting vegetables were distributed[…].”

These two meetings establish the format for meetings in the years to come: business, demonstration/lecture, tea, entertainment (usually by members), and the national anthem to close. In December, a competition was included, with two prizes: 1st prize was 2/-d, 2nd prize was 1/-d […].  Subjects ranged from the practical (a child’s garment from an adult’s), to amusing and fun ones (a hat made in five minutes from a sheet of newspaper and 10 pins). The judges for the competitions we usually invited from […] neighbouring WIs, the speaker at the meeting or someone who suited. For example, one year a member, Mrs Webb from Fulvens Farm, was asked if she would allow Mr Rennie to judge the potatoes which had been grown from the 1lb. of potatoes purchased earlier in the year for the competition.

The Suggestion Box requests helped plan the programme, which, in the early days, was half yearly, and continue to do so for many years. Funds were obviously very limited but, from time to time, outside speakers were engaged. Together with a wealth of knowledgeable and talented members upon which to draw, the subjects of the lectures/demonstrations were numerous and varied with much emphasis on being self-sufficient and making do.

In these formative years, the names Miss Moberley, Mrs Webb and Miss (Sylvia?) Drew are much in evidence, possibly the equivalent of today’s WI Advisers. If a lecture/demonstration for a specific subject was acquired Surrey WI was contacted, by letter, for a recommendation (as there was no yearbook at this time) and these three ladies came themselves on numerous occasions.  It also of note that Peaslake WI members were not immune to the influenza outbreak of 1918, with some members reported absent from meetings due to illness.

The Government (WI) Organiser came in May and “gave a little lecture on the work of Women’s Institutes in other villages and reason for joining the Federation and announced that Peaslake WI was formally affiliated.”

Throughout the year, demonstrations/lectures covered “Herbs and Herb Collecting for the Market”, “Fruit Preserving and Bottling”, “Fruit Drying and Canning”, and the work done by St Dunstan’s [Hospital for the Blind, set up to rehabilitate blinded soldiers] with photographs showing the blinded men working on netting frames invented by Miss G H Weatherby, the speaker.

“At Mrs Smeaton’s request, Mrs Ayres gave a short talk on Independence Day on 4 July, and what it means to 2 Americans and then all stood and sang the Star-Spangled Banner. This was followed by the most interesting address by Mr Heffer, on the war and how the civilian population could help win it by economy, particularly of food and the prevention of all waste.”

By September, the Peaslake WI was well established with increasing references to contact with neighbouring WIs, especially with Ewhurst and Shere; there seemed to be a particularly close bond with Ewhurst. Requests from County and National [WI Federations] for items exhibitions held that year to be declined as time was too short to prepare anything, but, when possible, that was in attendance. […]

The need for more housing was as relevant in 1918 as it is today, as recorded in October: “Mrs Ayres spoken rural housing and the necessity for more and better cottages to be built after the war”. Papers were handed round the suggestions that could be forwarded to the Housing Committee of the District Council, which the Housing Committee requested be returned by 18 November.
Note: interestingly, Miss Ayres is listed on the committee as ex-officio Agriculture Committee.

In December, WI Headquarters sent a directive to all WIs that their meetings must not be used for political or electioneering purposes. Fast forward to September 1920, Miss Austen of Reigate, on behalf of the National Political Union, asked that an emergency meeting of Peaslake WI should be held to protest against the miners’ strike, that delegate should be sent to a meeting of protest in London, and that a resolution of protest was enclosed should be signed by members of Peaslake WI and sent to the Secretary of the National Political Union at once. After due consideration, the committee felt it might savour party politics, but agreed that every effort should be made to stop the strike. Instead, the Resolution from the Union was altered, signed by the members present, and return together with an explanation direct to the chairman of the meeting. Surrey WI was informed of their action. In reply, the County Secretary wrote to apologise to Miss Austin’s letter and stated that the letter the letter should not have been sent.

 

1919

On our first anniversary of the March records and committee minutes clearly show that the ladies of Peaslake had fully embraced the opportunity to come together the friendship; to learn; share knowledge; to support each other and the community; and to enjoy themselves and be involved in all things WI at local, Federation and National level.

Note: it also became clear as the years passed that Peaslake WI did not hesitate to speak out and show support, or disapproval, when deemed necessary.

In July, the committee was read an extract from the Toronto Daily News on Women’s Institutes in Canada and England. In addition, there was a letter from Mrs Watt OBE asking for samples of work to be sent to Canada by 1 August. [Mrs Margaret (Madge) Watt was the energetic Canadian Women’s Institute member who brought the WI to Britain.]

Mrs Smeaton read the editorial on Peace from the August Home and Country and then gave an account of her experience and impressions of the [19 July Peace Day] procession in London, and at the Royal Garden party at Buckingham Palace. A vote of thanks was proposed for the interesting and vivid story, which the whole room seconded by hearty clapping.

In the September meeting, members heard on account of the work of our women police. [The first women police were employed earlier in 1918, to assist in the maintenance of law and order with many male officers away with the Armed Forces]. Three years later at the June committee meeting, Mrs Smeaton reported on the May National Federation of Women’s Institutes Annual Meeting in London. It was decided to ask Miss Sutherland (Federation Secretary) to draw up a letter and have it signed by all the WI presidents and secretaries in Surrey, to be sent to Mr Edgar Horne MP, to urge the government “to give facilities for the passing into law of the Bishop of London’s Bill, the Guardianship Bill and to retain the women police”. The following month the Peaslake WI secretary was asked to send a letter to Mr Horne urging him to oppose the bill for the abolition of women police. Three years later, in October 1925, the subjects surfaced again, when Chief Inspector Champney spoke at Peaslake’s meeting: “she gave strong appeal in support of women police and suggested a resolution, which was proposed at this meeting and carried by a large majority”. Referred to again at the November meeting, members agreed by a large majority that it should be sent to our MP, the Home Office and the Surrey Clerk of Peace. It was also agreed to join the Women’s Auxiliary Service as an Associate. The December meeting unanimously agreed a resolution was to be sent to Surrey to come before the Annual Meeting in February. Peaslake WI sent 2/6d. a year to the Women’s Auxiliary Service as a token of sympathy for the work done by them.

 

1920

In the February meeting, a letter was read from the Village Clubs Association and the Federation of women’s Institutes in conjunction with the Soldiers Clubs Association. The answer sent by the Secretary was to the effect that Peaslake had a Men’s Club, a parish hall and a new Hut, so that the village was well provided for.

 

The Annual Report: “The Institute has had lectures on the ‘Devastated Areas of France and Flanders’*, ‘Citizenship’, ‘Character Learning of Children’ and ‘Lantern Lecture on Burma’. Lectures and demonstrations on home nursing, tinkering and soldering, chair caning, skin curing and glove making, and millinery. The Institute also made 54 comments for the Save the Children Fund. An entertainment was arranged to raise funds to start a library for the Institute**.

Note:

*“Mrs Calvert Spensley spoke mostly about the Belgians. It was most pathetic to hear of the hardships and cruelty they had endured the hands of the Germans.”

**A library for the WI had been requested in the suggestion box. Following the successful fundraising entertainment on 15 December at an extra committee meeting on the 17th a letter was read from Mr Holt saying that if the Peaslake WI would agree to include Peaslake ex-servicemen as members of the new library, under the same conditions as Institute members, a grant of 5 pounds for the purchase of books could be obtained from the United Service Fund. It was agreed unanimously to cooperate with the ex-servicemen.

 

1921

The Annual Report for 1921 detailed a year full of activity and variety. There were demonstrations; travel talks on Russia and Serbia*; and the Rector spoke on the reasons a necessity for the League of Nations, among others. The biggest and most successful undertaking of the WI was the starting of the WI library in conjunction with the ex-servicemen; the volume is now numbered over 400.

*The speaker gave an account of her experiences of the impossible life in Moscow and the Bolsheviks. At a later date a donation was sent to the Russian Famine Fund. Miss Drew spoke of her journey to Serbia the previous year, after which all felt they wished to know the Serbians personally. She asked the small gifts for the Serbian orphans of war. Nearly £1 was collected.

 

1922

In March, the Library Committee had asked the Peaslake WI committee if it was possible for a deputation to meet the committee of the War and Spottiswoode Memorial to ascertain whether and when they would stop building, and whether they would incorporate into their building accommodation for the WI meeting room, library, etc. the Committee agreed and added to request to the Memorial committee that if it thought there was any definite prospect the members would work hard to get funds. It was announced at the August meeting that the trustees declared that women were certainly meant to participate in the benefit of the new Village Institute. Miss Payne, who was a member of the War and Spottiswoode Memorial, proposed to try and get three members of the WI Library Committee co-opted. The Peaslake WI Minute Book holds a vast amount of information on the ongoing dealings between the WI and the Memorial committee, and the hard work the members put in to raise funds

Special Constables in Surrey

Written by Marion Edwards

At the outbreak of war, the four police forces which operated within Surrey (the Metropolitan Police, the Surrey Constabulary and the Guildford and Reigate Borough forces) found their responsibilities greatly increased with the introduction of such wartime measures as the control of aliens, blackouts, air raid warning arrangements and enforcement of restrictive licensing laws. At the same time, the number of police fell dramatically as officers enlisted and recruitment became more difficult – in December 1914, the strength of the Surrey County Constabulary was 351; by November 1918 it was down to 236.

Introduction of Special Constables

Special Constables were appointed to assist the police as a voluntary, part-time organisation, paid only their expenses, and drawn from all walks of life – individuals who probably already had a full-time job, or who perhaps had retired. As a body, Special Constables compensated for the loss of those regular police who had joined the war effort and added an extra layer of protection during wartime. They had a key role to play in local counter-invasion plans, but they also provided much needed reinforcement in ensuring that wartime regulations and restrictions imposed on the civilian population, from rationing to the blackout, were observed.  The Surrey Mirror of 12 May 1916 carried a report of the Budget Committee of Surrey County Council at which it was stated that the Surrey Constabulary was 73 men under strength and could afford to lose no more and that ‘if it wasn’t for the Special Constables doing such a magnificent job [we] would not have been able to spare so many officers for enlistment’.

Certificate awarded to George Parsons as a Special Constable by Surrey Chief Constable M L Sant (SHC CC98/23/9)

In Surrey, by the end of August 1914, over 150 Special Constables had already been sworn in, and numbers continued to rise. In the Surrey Times of 15 May 1915 it was reported that 2071 Specials had been enrolled, all over military age and including members of the peerage in their ranks. This number was revised downwards, however – on 17 January 1919 it was reported in the Surrey Herald that a total of 1612 Special Constables had enrolled during the course of the war. On 26 February 1916, the Surrey Times and County Express carried an appeal from the Guildford Borough Emergency Committee for women to join the ranks of the Special Constables, in order to ‘deal with the population in times of national emergency’.

Herbert Brockman of Eaton Cottage, Thames Ditton, in his Special Constable uniform, as drawn by his daughter Nancy (SHC ref 9497/1)

Life as a ‘Special’ in Surrey

Sources in the Surrey Archives and in local newspapers illustrate the varied official duties of local Special Constables, their unofficial activities such as fund raising for local charities and institutions, and the many difficulties they encountered.

Special Constables were principally appointed to assist the police in carrying out orders given under the Defence of the Realm Act (‘DORA’). These duties covered emergencies arising from air raids and invasion, as well as more prosaic activities such as enforcing blackout conditions, overseeing rationing and general law enforcement.  Lists of named Special Constables, with their addresses, appear in various SHC collections, along with detailed correspondence dealing with their enrollment and management.  The recruitment of the Special Constabulary in Walton on Thames, Hersham and Oatlands is well documented in SHC ref 9117/box 2: this force of volunteers, 140 strong with ages ranging from 23 to 62, was led by Arthur E Pettit of Burley Lodge, Oatlands Drive, who strove, not particularly successfully, to foster military discipline in its ranks: when exhorting participation in regular drill he wrote ‘It is scarcely necessary to call the attention of the force as a whole to the importance of qualifying as a composite body as rabble against rabble has about an equal chance, whereas a compact body has evident advantages against a disorganised mob’. Relations with Chief Constable Sant of the Surrey Constabulary could be strained, especially over the question as to what equipment should be supplied to the specials and Sant is referred to as ‘that arch rotter’ in one letter.

Training, while considered tedious by some ‘Specials’, could also be quite hazardous – in November 1916, Special Constables and Voluntary Aid Detachment companies had a narrow escape near Kingston in a thunderstorm, when they were almost hit by tree falling across tram cables while marching to do their drill.  They cleared this and pulled down another unstable tree in driving rain.

The difficulties the ‘Specials’ encountered could be serious or amusing, exciting or deadly boring – one anonymous ‘Special’ was reported in the Surrey Comet of 14 April 1915 as considering that ‘even the arrival of a Zeppelin would be welcomed as a pleasant change’ if it meant he could escape from his uncongenial patrol partner. His wish was perhaps granted in 1916, when the destruction of not one but two Zeppelins was reported in local newspapers as witnessed by Surrey residents and ‘Specials’. Invasion dangers could sometimes be misinterpreted, however – after the reported escape of prisoners of war in 1916, Special Constable R D Hutchings stopped a speeding car at Horsell Bridge, only to find that the irate driver was Francis P Neville, chauffeur to Mr L Waddington of Easdale, Horsell Common. Assistance to the British armed forces was another duty carried out by the ‘Specials’ – in 1915, an army lieutenant landed his Sopwith biplane in a field near Stoke Lock, on the River Wey at Guildford, and was guarded overnight by Special Constables.  The authority of the volunteers did not always go unchallenged: correspondence in SHC ref 9117/box 2 laments that when asked to make himself scarce, a gardener responded ‘I won’t move on for you or any other bugger of a special policeman’.

The end of the ‘Baby Killer’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Percy Webb

Perhaps the most fascinating account of life as a Special Constable in Surrey is that of Percy Webb, who enrolled in the Walton on Thames area in 1914. Percy’s brief typescript ‘The Diversions of a Special Constable’ (in SHC ref 9117/Box 2) talks of the ‘discomforts’ of cold night duties, especially wet ones, his efforts to evade attendance at parades ‘owing to the pressure of other work’ and the absence of any ‘stirring personal adventures’ – although he does recount his part in organising the warning against ‘the first Zeppelin night raid’ on Guildford in October 1915.  The Zeppelin passed over Walton and it was thought that it was being signalled to by a flare from the garden of a house ‘then in the occupation of foreigners’ (who turned out to be blameless Belgians).  While attempting to enforce the blackout, Percy admired the stoical reaction of a ‘cheerful hawker’: ‘Are you frightened Mr Webb?  I’m not: what I says is, if they ‘its me they ‘its me, and if they doesn’t, they doesn’t’.  The night destruction of three Zeppelins is described vividly by Webb (although he admits to having missed witnessing the first, having gone off duty): the third, the ‘Cuffley [Hertfordshire] Zeppelin’, he saw ‘glowing like a great elongated sun … till it collapsed and streamed downwards to the earth’.  A ‘small riot’ following the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, when a naturalised German watchmaker was attacked in Hersham, is reported at length by Webb, who aided the Sergeant of Police at the scene in attempting to persuade the rioters to disperse.  Windows were broken, a policeman knocked unconscious and tempers ran high and in Percy’s opinion, ‘the women were the worst and most bitter’, although he sympathised with one, who said ‘Why should I go away, they’ve killed my husband’.  The ‘supernatural’ also provided some night time ‘thrills’ to Webb, who on one occasion heard a ‘ghostly footstep’ preceding him along the road – only to find that the sound was an echo of his own ‘wet and heavy coat’ against his leg.  Early morning patrols had their compensations: ‘I was sorry when the 3 to 6 patrol was given up. In peaceful times one rarely sees the night grow grey and darkness give place to form and colour, till the rim of the sun appears above the horizon, and living nature awakes.  One morning we saw the herons leave Burwood Park in the dawn, and following down to the river, found one of them fishing off Rosewell’s boathouse; a sight that I have certainly never seen there before’.  Percy closes his account with the words of a woman who, meeting him on a dark night, said to her startled companion ‘Taint a soldier, it’s a gentleman’. He wondered ‘Now was that a compliment or not? I would rather have worn the more honourable uniform’, thus nicely summing up the dichotomy of a Special Constable’s position.

Sources for Special Constables at Surrey History Centre

Correspondence, papers and printed orders relating to the enrolment and management of Special Constables in various areas of Surrey can be read at CC98/23/2 and 9117/Box 2

Lists of named Specials, both MS and typescript, with their addresses, appear in 898/4/1-65, 7543/2/1, 8261/13/4 and 9117/Box 2

Buried under millions of forms: National Registration, 1915

Written by Marion Edwards

In August 1915, Britain inaugurated ‘Registration Day’, an extraordinary census recording information about every man and woman aged between 15 and 65 for a new National Register. Its purpose was to find out how many men of military age were still civilians, how many were available for war work and, more pressingly, how many could join the armed forces. During the first year of the Great War two million men had enlisted in Britain’s army and navy, to supplement those already serving as regulars, reservists or territorial force men. By February 1915, 15% of London’s male industrial workforce, and probably more of its service sector employees, were serving.  By early 1915, the numbers joining up each month had levelled out at around 110,000 and the authorities were concerned that not enough men were coming forward to build up an army (and replace its casualties) to win the war.  There was an urgent need to know how many eligible men were still available.  The National Registration Act 1915 was passed by Parliament on 15 July 1915, paving the way for the creation of the register a month later on 15 August.  While the register did not in itself make men liable to serve, the Government considered that ‘it will compel them to declare that they are doing nothing to help their country in her hour of crisis.’

Across Surrey local authorities sprang into action to collect the necessary information. Guildford Borough was divided into 29 districts and volunteers delivered forms on 9 August, collecting them over the 6 days following 16 August. There was a £5 fine for ‘non-compliance’ – in other words, for refusal to complete a form, or give accurate information.  National Registration Cards were then issued.  A hundred further volunteers then extracted information relating to men of military age to send to the West Surrey Recruiting Area.

Local newspapers covered the event, the Surrey Advertiser of 7 July stating that ‘Local authorities … are entrusted with the task of compiling the new National Register, and are to receive an allowance from the Treasury towards the cost’, publishing on 26 July ‘The Duties of the Local Authorities. Work of the Voluntary Enumerators. What the Public have to do’ and noting on 31 July that ‘Clergymen, Councillors and Traders’ were all acting as enumerators.  Apparently, there was no shortage of interested volunteers: the Surrey Mirror of 20 August observed that ‘Among the hundred thousand voluntary workers who began on Monday their great task collecting the forms for compiling a National Register’ were clergymen, actors and actresses, peers of the realm, VIPs, journalists … ‘ who all, according to the Surrey Advertiser of 18 October, ‘took their work from the beginning in such a way that left no doubt that very little trouble would be experienced in dealing with the completed forms’.

National Registration Card

The work of local councils after the collection of the forms was also reported on. The Surrey Mirror of 3 September noted that ‘classifying forms … is going apace in the borough [of Reigate].  The whole of the male portion of the community had been dealt with by Tuesday, and the cards sent out indicating that registration was complete’. However, by 13 November the Surrey Advertiser was publishing the complaint of a Council Clerk that ‘work under the National Registration Act was taking up the whole time of one of the officials’.

Nevertheless, the results of registration in Surrey appear to have yielded positive results, flagging up areas for action. According to the Surrey Mirror of 20 August, ‘one of the first things to be taken in hand will be a direct personal appeal to all men of military age who are not engaged in really necessary national work, to come forward and supply the nation’s need’, the same newspaper stating on 22 October that ‘Every man whose name remains un-starred on the pink forms under the National Registration Act is to be personally canvassed’.

Understandably, local reactions to Registration varied widely. The Surrey Advertiser of 14 August observed sanguinely that there was overall a ‘General Willingness to give all Necessary Information’.  However the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser published on 10 July the opinion of ‘A Wayfarer in the Nation’ that ‘The Government must expect some plain speaking on the National Register Bill … Most Liberals (and some Conservatives) think it a piece of gratuitous folly …’.  In the 25 September issue it noted under the headline ‘Religious Scruples Cost £5’ that, on the grounds that war is contrary to the teaching of Christianity, Harold Pugmire, a schoolmaster, was fined the requisite amount for refusing to complete a form.  In October, both the Surrey Mirror and the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser reported that one Reigate resident was summoned for failing to register under the Act, but did not appear before the justices.  Another hostile opinion appeared in the Surrey Advertiser of 23 October: ‘they bid us play at such games as National Registration and imagine that we are saving our country with the filling up of forms …’.

Individual reactions, both from the point of view of the recipients of the forms, and of those collecting them are also to be found in the archives.  In his diary held at the Imperial War Museum (Docs 11335), businessman Frederick Robinson of Woodthorpe, Leigh Hill Lane, Cobham questioned the point of the National Register as in his view it would ‘take months to classify the forms’ (30 June 1915), repeating his criticisms in July, as he wondered who would decide what work a man should do (‘clerks and possibly temporary clerks’), and what in any case the end result would be. He exclaimed ‘The writer of these notes offered his services many months ago to do work gratuitously, for which he was well qualified, but his effort met a curt refusal; if he were to repeat the offer in one of these forms the probabilities are that it could be buried under the millions of forms sent out’.  In August, when the Robinson family completed their National Registration forms, Robinson himself declared ‘Am skilled in the purchase of explosives, munitions of war, and stores, and have already offered my services to the Government on two occasions in writing’. His wife recorded her occupation as ‘household duties’ and his son declared he was an ‘Upper Division Clerk engaged on special war work at the Board of Trade’.

National Registration in Bermondsey (Daily-Mirror, 11 Sep 1915)

An article in ‘The Pilgrim’, the magazine of Reigate Grammar School, of April 1916 commented on the other side of the matter – the actual collection of the completed ‘blue and white’ forms, of which the anonymous author noted that for every ‘two or three hundred forms’, probably only ‘a dozen or two’ would have been completed correctly and went on to lament that ‘after the method of filling in the form had been minutely explained to an occupant of every house … The inability of some people to do as they had been requested was appalling … It was surprising how few people knew their own surnames’. The author found many of the replies humorous, especially one reply to ‘Question iii (regarding single bliss or otherwise)’ where a gentleman stated he was ‘“married and knew it” – underlined twice’.  He particularly enjoyed answers to Question iv (occupation), where spelling and accent amused him – for example, a ‘Casular’, a ‘Meshin Hand’, an ‘Offis boy’, an ‘Ise Vendor’, the person who had a ‘Grosery Beesness’ and the Cockney who was a ‘Lythe Hand’.  Other oddities noted in this category were a ‘Fried Fish Operator’, an ‘Emergency Ration’, a ‘Fish-monger’s Photographer’, a ‘Chief Stoker, other trade Milliner’, a ‘Hydraulic lift driver, matirial for wich use coal’, a ‘Cheesemonger working on Explosives’ and an ‘Exploded Worker’.  Of women’s responses, ‘the answer which appealed to us most, perhaps because of its neatness and brevity, was that·of the lady who was “Wife to my husband”.  We are uncertain whether this was the person who erased “Form for Female” at the head of the form and inserted in its place, “Form for Lady”’.  Finally, the author noted ruefully that ‘Nearly all these details had to be recopied on to Pink Forms, Green Forms, Buff Forms, and Certificates.  And when it is stated that there were at least 40,000 male Forms … the magnitude of the task may be imagined’, even if ‘compensation for working till 10 o’clock at night and all day Sunday’ was found in the comedy provided.

Other sources

William H Oakley, Guildford in the Great War: the Record of a Surrey Town (Guildford, 1934)

Reigate Borough Police in the Great War

Written by Marion Edwards

Reigate Borough had its own police force until 1943 and the Head Constable had to submit Annual Reports to the Borough Watch Committee. The reports (held as SHC ref CC98/22/1) are mostly statistical, with brief paragraphs under descriptive headings outlining duties and activities throughout the year. Those made during World War I are no exception, but they do contain some insight into the effect of the war on the local constabulary.  The Reigate Constabulary was a small force. In 1914, it had 40 officers in total, comprising 1 Head Constable, 2 Inspectors, 7 Sergeants and 30 Constables.

The reports for 1914 and 1915 contain an extra paragraph entitled ‘War’:

1914 – ‘War was declared in August last, which has imposed much onerous and anxious work on the Police. A great number of Home Office and War Office Orders and Communications has been issued, necessitating constant and diligent attention by the Police for efficiently carrying out the same.’

1915 – ‘The War has made the work of the Clerical and Detective Departments of the Force very heavy. Considerable investigations and reports occupying much time and attention have had to be made to the Home Office, the War Office, the Competent Military Authorities and other Police Forces.’

For 1916 and 1917, the reports are slightly more detailed than 1914-1915, giving a month by month breakdown of events. Even so, mention of the war here is very brief and rather abstract:

1916 (incorporated into the report for 1917) – ‘April… War Bonus of 3s per week granted to each member … Half pay granted to members of Fire Brigade called as “Stand-By” when hostile aircraft are reported’; ‘May … The question of calling the Fire Brigade to “Stand-By” in case of Air raids left to the discretion of the Head Constable’; ‘September … The Head Constable to inform Station Officer of every order received of the approach of hostile aircraft’; ‘December … The allowance agreed to be made by the Council to members in HM Forces to be continued as required … ’

1917 – ‘February … War bonus adjourned … Reeves fund to be invested in War Savings Certificates’; ‘March … No further depletion [of manpower] for military service … War Bonus Committee to consider further War Bonus to the Police … War Bonus increased by 1/- [shilling] per week for each dependent child, the bonus not to exceed 5/- [shillings] per week’; ‘April … Two guineas granted to PC Bryan for extra clerical services during the war’; ‘June … Head Constable to require discontinuance of noisy instruments [perhaps the army band?] … Police and Weights and Measures Department to enforce Food Orders as to prices and weights’; ‘July … Food control correspondence … Dilution of flour referred to Sanitary Committee’; ‘September … Head Constable presented memorial for war bonus … 6s per week and 1s for each dependent child granted to all ranks’; ‘October … Supt Mason paid for air raid calls and granted £3 for past … Letter of sympathy for PC Leonard in the loss of his son on active service … Home Office and air raids, and early closing’; ‘December … War Bonus resolution 4 of Sept 10th rescinded, and 5s per week to each member (except the Head Constable) 2s 6d to his wife and 1s 6d for every child not over school age or earning substituted’.

The report for 1918 returns to the format of 1914-1915 with statistics and brief sections, and includes a paragraph entitled ‘Army Service’:

1918 – ‘Constables who have joined the army, whether as reservists or as volunteers or under the Military Service Acts, cease to be members of the police service, and on rejoining the police force should be formally re-attested and should be allowed to reckon their military service for the purposes of police pension, promotion and advances in the scale of pay’

Under ‘Miscellaneous Matters’ are recorded ‘War was declared against Germany and Austria on the 4th August, 1914’ and ‘The Armistice was signed on the 11th November, and hostilities ceased at 11am’.

By 1918, although the strength of the force was officially still 40, the Reigate Constabulary had been reduced to 20, 14 of which had enlisted; one of those enlisted had rejoined the force and there were 6 vacancies. Apparently none of those who enlisted were killed on active duty.

Philip Alexius de Laszlo (1869-1937)

Written and researched by Jenny Mukerji

Philip Alexius de Laszlo (1869-1937)

Philip de Laszlo and his wife Lucy Madeline, nee Guinness (1870-1950), are buried in the churchyard of All Saints’ Church, Tilford, Farnham.

Philip was born in Budapest, Hungary on 30 April 1869 and, at the height of his career, he was considered to be the most important court painter in Europe. After successes in Europe, Philip came to London, with his young family in 1907. Co-incidentally and conveniently, this was at the same time as John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the American portrait painter in England decided to give up painting portraits.

Philip’s decision to come to England was the result of his marrying (on 7 June 1900 at Stillorgan Church in Ireland) Lucy Guinness, who wished to bring her children up in England rather than in Hungary. Lucy’s sister, Eva Frances Guinness (1868-1930), owned a house, The Willows, at Tilford and the de Laszlos often stayed there. Sometimes they stayed with the Trouton family at Melbreck, in Tilford and Philip also often rented Hammondsworth, a cottage in Frensham, for the summer months.

In 1910 Philip had painted a portrait of the German Emperor, William II. However, immediately prior to the outbreak of the Great War, Philip was granted naturalization as a British subject, his sponsors being Lord Devonport, Arthur Balfour, Arthur Lee and Howard Guinness, his brother-in-law. The timing was unfortunate as Hungary entered the war on the German side and Philip was attacked in the Hungarian Press and his money in Austria was seized. It also saw him fall under suspicion in England as the war progressed and his pictures began to be refused at exhibitions despite his giving generously to the Red Cross.

In 1915 Philip was commissioned to paint a portrait of Desmond Gardiner Trouton (1893-1917) who was the second of the four sons of the distinguished physicist Professor Frederick Trouton (1863-1923) and his wife Annie, nee Fowler. They also had three daughters. Lucy de Laszlo was the cousin of Desmond’s father and both families spent their summers in Tilford. Desmond was a major in the Royal Field Artillery when he was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele on 13 October 1917. He had been mentioned in despatches and is buried in The Huts Cemetery, south-west of Ypres. His eldest brother, Captain Frederick Thomas Trouton of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was killed on 25 September 1915 and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Philip was keen to support his family in Budapest, especially his mother, and sent money in letters to her via friends in the neutral countries of Holland and Spain. Although these letters were innocent, they were intercepted and in 1917 Philip had to appear before Sir Charles Matthews, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who gave him a warning. Then, unfortunately, a Hungarian internee came to Philip’s house, begging for help and was unwisely given £1. As a result, Philip was arrested and imprisoned in Brixton Prison. After a trial Philip was removed to Holloway Internment Camp where he suffered a nervous breakdown. Due to his illness, he was released in 1918 but remained under house arrest at a nursing home at 20 Ladbroke Gardens, London. Here he was only allowed to be visited by his wife and children. During his time of internment, Philip was supported by his fellow artists, including Sir Luke Fildes (1843-1927) and the art critic Alfred Lys Baldry (1858-1939).

Later, in peace time, Philip continued to paint and for relaxation he enjoyed playing golf at the Hankley Common Golf Club with his friend Charles Edmund Clare (1882-1963). Philip died at 3 Fitzjohns Avenue, Hampstead, on 22 November 1937.

Sources: Luke Fildes R A – A Victorian Painter by L V Fildes (Michael Joseph, London, 1968).

A Brush with Grandeur – Philip A. de Laszlo 1869-1937 (published by Paul Holberton, London, 2004).

Mislaid Remount Service Horses

Researched by Jenny Mukerji

Horse Census HO45/10840/333647/20  (National Archives, Kew)

This is a large folder which included papers on cattle, poultry and other livestock information as well as horses. However, most intriguing is the correspondence between the Deputy Assistant Director of Remounts at Command Headquarters and local constabularies regarding Army Service Corps (ASC) Remount horses that had been boarded out to local farmers and had gone missing! The earliest date of this section was 9 February 1918.

Apparently some of the military had been boarding out their horses with local farmers and had not been properly recording the details. When the soldiers moved on, they had not been taking all of the horses with them. The horses then ‘disappeared’.  The Remount Service officials were asking the local police to look into it. There is a letter from the Surrey Constabulary at Guildford asking for clarification as to what to do.  However, the police maintained that they had more important things to do and that it should be a matter for the Remount Service to track down these horses. Local chief constables stated that their men would report any suspicions they had about a horse to the Remounts for them to further investigate.

Bearing in mind that all Remounts were tattooed, anyone with one of these horses illegally, couldn’t really get away with it! I do feel that this scenario would make a good comedy drama television programme!

Most of these horses had, however, been located by the end of the war.

Here is a transcription of a War Office Memo relating to the subject which is also part of HO45/10840/333647/20:

(Typed) War Office 9/2/18 (stamped received by the Home Office)

Misc. Crim.

Tracing Army Horses boarded out with farmers etc and lost sight of by the local military.

Forward Copy of instructions they propose to issue to Remount Officers as to the co-operation of the police.

Minutes

Originally (./18 the W.O. Suggested to Remount Officers that they should ask the police to go the round of stables and farms etc and find out if any horses there were army horses which had been boarded out, lost sight of by the units

concerned and left in civilian hands without proper record having been kept. It seemed to be impracticable for the police to do whilst Colonel Sanders now agrees that the police should only be expected to report to the Remount Officer for inquiry any case in which they suspect that an army horse may be in wrong hands, and be concurs in the terms of the draft circular within.

? Issue circular as in draft (someone’s initials)

(Handwritten)  (initials)   27/2/18

(more initials) 28/2/18

Circular issued to (more initials) 1/3/18

copies to  Comm. Of Police

Capt (?)

(more unreadable writing)

In the margin: Memo within as to possibility of proceeding against persons retaining army horses Lt Bond (WO) called (initials)

The War on Surrey Commons

An article in The Spectator from 7th November 1914 paints a vivid picture of the growing effect of the war effort on the Surrey landscape:-

WAR ON SURREY COMMONS

The face of Surrey changes with the war. No other county near London offers the War Office such opportunities for development on military lines. It is a county which, with all its beauty—indeed, because of the very reasons which make it beautiful—is dedicated to soldiers. Its wide stretches of common and its high and open hills have been parade-grounds and areas of manoeuvre for every description of troops for nearly sixty years. In 1860 the first meeting of the National Rifle Association was held on Wimbledon Common. When the National Rifle Association left Wimbledon twenty-nine years later they went to Bisley. Chobham Common, Chobham Ridges, Bagshot, Brookwood, Normandy, Worplesdon, the Fox Hills by Aldershot, Tilford, Frensham, Thursley Common, are names as familiar to soldiers as Piccadilly and the Strand to Londoners ; and since the war broke out tens of thousands of Londoners have found the centre of their world shifted from the City to the Surrey hills. That is a world, too, which during the last three months has more than once altered its appearance.

Large View of 'Frith Hill' Internment Camp, England - 1915 - George Kenner GK030a

Large View of ‘Frith Hill’ Internment Camp, England – 1915 – George Kenner GK030a

One of the earliest of the new growths of the war was the prisoners’ camp on Frith Hill by Frimley. Many photographs of this camp have been reproduced in the papers, but no one could get from them a really comprehensive idea of the camp. You cannot get a satisfactory picture by photographing wire enclosures. The wire merely runs lines across and across; you do not realize the depth and the hopelessness of that transparent containing wall until you stand a few yards from it. There are two wire walls, with a space of heathy turf between them. The outer wall is lower than the inner, and is a contrivance of barbed wire fastened to posts, looped and woven and hanging in loose strands which would swing and catch and drag like brambles. The inner wall is high and stiff, deep at the bottom and tapering to the top, with electric cables run along it like threads through a gathering; there are look-out stations at intervals, and great electric lamps swing high over all the camp, so that it is as light by night as by day. The long lines of tents are not easy to count, nor are the prisoners; nor is there much to be seen of what they are doing, or how they spend their time. There might be some hesitation in standing looking at them, if it were not all so distant and aloof a business; but the space of ground between the wire and the free soil outside makes any kind of inspection entirely impersonal. It is only possible to take in the larger features of the camp–the wire shining in the sun, the groups of grey, idle figures, the empty danger zones and pacing sentries, the arrival of supplies and firing. One of the most bizarre of arrangements for feeding the camp was the store of bread. An omnibus without wheels stood near one of the entrance gates. Outside it was marked in large letters “Aldershot and Frimley.” Inside it was piled from floor to roof with loaves of bread, which one German prisoner was tossing out in couples to another much as a bricklayer throws bricks. Another engine of peace put to unaccustomed uses was a locomotive with the iron legend “So-and-so’s Travelling Circus,” which was puffing in at a wire-guarded gateway drawing a huge pile of sacks of meal.

Witley Camp, 1914-1918

Witley Camp, 1914-1918 SHC ref 8511/159/29.

But by far the largest addition to or alteration in the scenery of Surrey and its commons has been the building of the hutments which are to form the winter quarters of the new Army. This is a change which is visible near and far. Go up Hindhead on a clear day, and from that sunlit and windy plateau look out east and north towards the chalk downs and the heights beyond Bagshot. The landscape has changed from the familiar slopes and levels of three months ago. The blues and greys and greens are streaked and slashed with yellow and white. The quiet of the pines and heather and the great stretch of English country spread to view from these high places has gone. It is as if those who had hitherto walked about and looked at the heather and the woods had suddenly discovered that they must be put to another use; which, indeed, is the decision that the owners of the commons have come to, only you do not realize it fully until you see all these camps and preparations for camps set out in rows before you, streak beyond streak and row after row, as a schoolboy may look over his lines of troops set out on the dining-room table. It is a rather strange comment on the efficiency (apart from the presence) of the German spy that the fact that an extra army of a million is being trained in this country should apparently still be refused belief in Germany.

Officer Training Corps Camp at Mytchett,

Officer Training Corps Camp at Mytchett, No. 3 Battalion marching, c1915 SHC ref PC/68/28.

The Cologne Gazette, which observes that statements as to this army are “not very credible,” should arrange with an emissary to climb Hindhead and to gaze out over the small portion of England which is visible from the top. The hutments should be comforting evidence. When you come close to them, the effect is that of a very new and very large village built with three objects kept constantly in mind—warmth, dryness, and rapidity of construction. These hutments spring up like mushrooms. Two months, one month, a week ago, there were large stretches of heather between Milford and Hindhead which were bare and brown and empty, and which still showed traces of the devastating heath fires of three years ago which burned acres of pines to the ground and left other acres with nothing but charred trunks thrusting leafless boughs above the new ling sprouting from the roots. Since two months ago stretch after stretch has changed from heather to flat building ground. The charred stems have been cut down; the heather has been burnt, or re-burnt; posts and flags set out to measure the sites have given place to piles of timber, heaps of bricks, pipes, trestles. Roads are being cut in the peat, and the heavy metal is being placed in the roadway almost the moment after the peat has been cut to make way for it. Beyond and about the roadways are the huts themselves, frameworks of timber posts with weatherboarding nailed on them, and roofs made warm with felt against rain and wind. The lines of huts stand furlong after furlong on each side of the road; they grow longer day after day, and day after day fresh sites seem to be chosen, with fresh piles of timber and bricks and pipes. The railway sidings are full of truckloads of timber, water-pipes, sections of vast cisterns which will be riveted together on the hills miles from the station. Time presses, the camps must be built faster and faster still, and soon a light railway, branching from the siding, will be sending trollies and navvies swinging up to the open heather from the main line from London to Portsmouth.

Hutments to house a million men cover a large area of ground. What will happen to the hutments and the ground they have covered after the war? The main fact to be remembered, surely, is that the hutments will have comfortably housed a million men; that there was no room available for these men until the hutments were built, that they were built fast, and that they answered their purpose. But that is stating in other terms the cheap cottage problem. To house labourers in the country you need sound cottages built fast and cheaply. The architect with an eye to large designs and expensive materials will doubtless provide excellent cottages if someone else will provide the money for them; but if the money is not there? The brick and timber and weatherboarding, at all events, are there, visible and easily movable, on the Surrey commons. It may be that, among its other changes and lessons, war may emphasize the value of tarred weatherboard as a means of providing warm, dry, and healthy homes. There is no cheaper and better housing material.

Article courtesy of The Spectator Archive.

View a gallery of George Kenner’s paintings of Frith Hill camp from Surrey Heath Museum.

View the film Enemy Aliens Interned (1915) by the Topical Film Company. Enemy Aliens of military age on their way to the internment camp at Frimley.