Research and text by Joy Horn, published in the Cranleigh Parish Magazine
A group of Cranleigh women – we don’t know their names – returned to the village on August 5th 1916 after a wartime adventure of their own. They been doing war work in Cambridgeshire since the last days of June, engaged in picking fruit. They had been billeted in the Liberal Hall in the village of Outwell, six miles from Wisbech, in fairly basic conditions. They had a few rolled-up mattresses, and no fire or heat. At first the work consisted of hoeing around strawberry plants, apple trees and gooseberry bushes, and the women found it very strenuous. Next it was gooseberry pulling. For this, they were supplied with strong boots and leggings, shady hats or sunbonnets, over-sleeves and gloves, as it was a very thorny job. They were paid 4 pence a stone (14 pounds) for the gooseberries, which were sent to Chivers’ jam factory at Histon. Strawberry-picking followed, and then raspberries, which they found easier. One week they earned 22 shillings, a considerable sum when compared with the 3s 4d earned by a girl assistant in the Cranleigh shoe shop. They returned home declaring that it had been ‘healthy and patriotic work for women’.
Women were taking over what was normally men’s work in other spheres, too. The Surrey Advertiser ran a large advertisement for the International Stores, saying that ‘nearly 2,000 members of our male staff are in the Army, but we have a very able and willing staff of lady grocers ready to attend to your requirements’. It is not known whether the Cranleigh branch was employing any ‘lady grocers’.
An artist called Marjorie Hamilton was apparently living in Cranleigh at this time. In 1911, she had designed the handbill for a ‘Votes for Women’ procession. Thirty of her water colours were exhibited at ‘Woodfield’, Grove Road, home of Mrs Dowler, part of the proceeds going to the Oaklands Military Hospital in Knowle Lane. ‘A large assembly of local residents … much admired the beauty of the subjects. Tea was served and vocal numbers were given in native costume by the well-known Maori chieftain Ranginia and Princess Takapuna’. This was a definite scoop for Cranleigh, as Chief Ranginia with his Maori songs was all the rage in London society at the time.
The August meeting of the Hambledon Rural District Council (which included Cranleigh) heard an application by the Aldershot Traction Company to extend its current service (Guildford to Wonersh and Bramley) to Shamley Green and Cranleigh, and eventually to Horsham. One councillor found the proposal very acceptable, as the railway timetable had become awful. The omnibuses, which had rubber tyres, did not do half as much damage to the roads as tractors. Another said that private motor cars had decreased to such an extent that he thought it was time public services were increased. To get about at all, he had to walk! Another thought that the bus company should bear their fair share of the upkeep of the road. Yet another declared, fairly predictably, ‘Surely it would be better to wait until after the war.’ The matter was referred to the Highways Committee, but the service was running by 1924.
Oaklands Hospital in Knowle Lane was closed for three weeks during August for necessary alterations and cleaning. A new kitchen range and independent boiler were installed, paid for by Sir George Bonham of Knowle, who owned ‘Oaklands’ and allowed the use of the house rent free. Gifts from other Cranleigh people included a recreation hut in the garden, a bathchair, linoleum covering for the wards and pantry, a ward wheelchair, a surgical dressings table, books, games, smokes, sweets, provisions, groceries, flowers, fruit and vegetables. The hospital re-opened on August 28th with five additional beds, making a total of 30. The next day new patients arrived from war hospitals.