Looking through Surrey’s newspapers in the summer of 1914, it is hard to imagine that within months a war would be raging in Europe that would claim the lives of many of the county’s young men. Life proceeded as normal. The Surrey Advertiser reported notable weddings, sports fixtures, obituaries and the latest activities of the suffragettes in the county, while the front pages of The Woking News and Mail were dedicated to women’s fashions, gardening tips and remedies for common illnesses. Guildford cinema was showing the latest silent film and classified advertisements promoted everything from pianos to cigarettes. War was not a topic of discussion.
National news reported in local newspapers focussed on concerns about Irish Home Rule. Meetings, dinners and addresses by notable speakers including the Earl of Winterton and Viscount Midleton, both Irish peers, were held at Guildford, New Malden and Surbiton. Reports in The Surrey Advertiser were strongly Unionist, urging the continued union of Great Britain and Ireland despite the threat of civil war.
There is no reference to a coming war in Surrey County Council‘s committee reports, no acknowledgement that life might be about to change. The Highways and Bridges Committee was concerned with the effect on road surfaces of the huge increase in car use and the Public Health and Housing Committee was investigating lack of rural housing. Even a report from the Surrey representative to the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation at the end of July 1914 talks only of sufferers in wars gone by.
The Surrey Advertiser’s first short announcement that a state of war had been declared throughout the whole of Germany on 1 August 1914, was printed alongside a report of a wedding in Ashtead. Reporting on the war did not begin in earnest until the Saturday edition of 15 August.
Read more from the Last Summer Display: