On Wednesday 29 July 1914, the 34th Ewhurst Cottagers’ Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Show was held at High Edser. One of the highlights of the village year, this was always an event to look forward to, but in July 1914 would have been overshadowed by the worsening international situation.
Less than a week later, on the 4 August, war was declared and the village and its inhabitants were plunged into the turmoil of events that changed the course of history.
Reserve soldiers were immediately recalled to join their units. Among the Ewhurst men who were recalled were William Rose, Frederick Aylwin and Frank Sellings.
William Rose was a Private in the local regiment, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. He was born in Ewhurst and grew up at Ivy Cottage. He enlisted in the army around 1904 and, having served seven years, was then on the reserve list. He married Margaret Povey at Ewhurst Parish Church in 1913, with his friend Frederick Aylwin as one of the witnesses. Frederick Aylwin came from Bepton, near Midhurst, and was on the reserve list of the South Wales Borderers. In 1911 he was living at the Bull’s Head in Ewhurst, where he was working as a barman. Both the Queen’s and the South Wales Borderers were based at Borden Camp and William and Frederick returned to their units immediately. Another Ewhurst man serving with the Queen’s was Frank Sellings. Frank had joined the Army Reserve in 1911 at the age of 17 and became a regular in 1912.
By 7 August the Queen’s had completed their mobilisation and on 12 August William Rose and Frank Sellings arrived in France, the first Ewhurst men to take part in the conflict. The following day, 13 August, Frederick Aylwin arrived with the South Wales Borderers.
Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War on 6 August and the next day called for men aged 19 – 30 to volunteer. The parish was swift in its response to the call and a meeting was arranged for the evening of the same day. This was before the advent of radio, let alone TV or the internet, but word travelled quickly in the close-knit community. The following day, the Surrey Advertiser reported ‘In view of the Country’s need in the present state of war, a meeting was convened at Ewhurst Church Hall last evening for men over 17 years of age’.
The 1911 census suggests that by 1914 there were probably around 96 men aged 19 – 30 in the parish, out of a total population of 1,118. A recruiting station was opened in the sub-branch of the Capital and Counties Bank premises opposite the school (now Mount Cottage) and a Recruiting Officer was assigned to Ewhurst. Sir Charles Chadwyck Healey, of Wyphurst, Cranleigh, offered ‘bounties’ of £5.00 to encourage Cranleigh and Ewhurst men to enlist.
The first batch of about twenty recruits left the village for Stoughton Barracks on Wednesday 2 September 1914. The night before, they were entertained to dinner at the Bull Hotel by Major General E.H. Sartorius VC of Hurtwood. The school log book records ‘The registers were marked this afternoon five minutes earlier, and all classes were taken out by their respective teachers until 1.50 to give a send-off to the local recruits who left the village in a body today’.
On Saturday 12 September, the Surrey Advertiser reported that:
‘Seventy-Five men have enlisted in the ranks from Ewhurst. This marks out at a rate of 7½ per cent of the inhabitants of the village.’
The following week, on 19 September, it published:
‘BRAVO EWHURST – The last batch of recruits left the village on Monday for Guildford. So great has been the response to the appeals of the recruiters that it is said that there are now no eligible men left in the village.’
A list of the names of 78 Ewhurst men serving with the army and navy was proudly pinned to the church door and a copy published in the October parish magazine. The Reverend Hamlyn noted ‘Our little community has been taking its part so far in the defence of the Empire’.
On 26 September 1914, Frederick Aylwin, one of the first Ewhurst men to arrive in France, became the first to die in the fighting. Frederick had been involved in the attack and retreat from Mons and in September was fighting in the Battle of the Aisne, where he was killed in action. His body was not recovered.
Ewhurst suffered two more casualties in the First Battle of Ypres. On 2 November Rifleman Charles George Barnett of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was reported killed in action on the Menin Road, near Ypres; and Private Timothy Benjamin Woodley of the Border Regiment died of wounds at hospital at Wimereux, France, on the 29 November.
Of the 78 names on the list pinned to the church door, three had fallen in the first four months of the war.