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.
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.
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.