Written by Marion Edwards
The contribution made by St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Redhill, to the war effort is well documented in the church’s records, held at Surrey History Centre as SHC ref 6353.
Of particular interest is a report on the work of the War Help Committee, established by St Paul’s church in September 1914, to consider the provision of aid to refugees from Belgium, ‘driven from their devastated homes … to seek refuge in England, the home of liberty and the asylum of the persecuted’. One of the committee’s first actions was to lend rent free a house in Devon Crescent, Redhill, which was at that time unoccupied; at the same time a needlework sub-committee was appointed to provide clothing and furnishings, and the house, named ‘The Haven’, was ready for occupation late in September. A matron ‘well acquainted with conversational French’ was appointed – this was Mrs Heesom, upon whom ‘Nature had bestowed … the blessed gift of tact’, apparently needed ‘where there is more than one family living in a house [with] a common kitchen’! A second house in Hatchlands Road, named ‘The Villa Hope’, was opened the same year, this time with the monetary assistance of the Borough Relief Fund. As the Belgian men were found employment, they and their families began to leave and by June 1916 both houses were closed, those refugees remaining being boarded out with local families. Between October 1914 and June 1916, the booklet records that 44 Belgians were housed and fed. Thanks are given to local persons who lent or gave furniture, or painted and wall-papered free of charge, and the aid of the East Surrey Water Company in supplying water free of charge, and the Borough Council for remitting the payment of rates, is also acknowledged.
In addition to aiding refugee Belgians in England, in 1915 the Redhill War Help Committee also began to contribute funds for the supply of bread to British prisoners of war in Germany, and the booklet records that 45 men were provided with bread and other food for several months. Later, the Committee transferred their ‘practical sympathy’ to the new County Association for aiding men of the East Surrey Regiment who were prisoners of war in Germany, Redhill actively supporting 24 prisoners for a time, until obliged to reduce that number to 20. The despatch of parcels to regimental POWs continued until the Armistice.
The booklet also outlines the efforts of the ladies of the needlework sub-committee, who, in addition to providing clothing and furnishings for the Belgian refugees, supplied bandages, clothing and other articles to wounded soldiers then returning home ‘weekly in ever increasing numbers’. Their work continued ‘with unabated zeal month after month, for the ladies possessed British grit and a Divine devotion to duty’, even after the Armistice, as wounded soldiers still arrived and ‘hospitals were full’. Statistics for the indefatigable ladies are given as 11,974 articles and 1,365 sandbags made during the period of the war, and 35 members of the Redhill needlework sub-committee were awarded the Women’s Emergency Corps medal for their work – one had made ‘129 dozen’ bandages and another 188 shirts. Extracts of letters of thanks from the Matrons of the Aldershot Military Isolation Hospital and the 2nd London General Hospital are included, as is a lengthy list of hospitals, societies and regiments all assisted by the tireless ladies of Redhill and Reigate.
The booklet closes with details of the amounts of money received in various ways and mentions that ‘cards of acknowledgement from the prisoners are tied up in bundles’ and asks ‘would any friend wish to have some to keep as memorials of the great [sic] War?’. It would be lovely to know if any of these still survive anywhere – do any readers know of them?
The church’s year books also include some valuable information, although largely statistical in format, comprising reports of the ‘Office Bearers’ and the various ‘Branches of Work’ (church organisations), and accounts, many of which from 1915 onwards include details of work done for the war effort. In 1915 a lengthy report entitled ‘Help in the War’ outlines the beginnings of the War Help Committee and the work done by it thus far. This format continues for the 1916 and 1917 year books; those for 1918 and 1919 include a much smaller paragraph on the War Help Committee. The year books for 1917, 1918 and 1919 also include on the first page a section entitled ‘Pro Patria Mori’, which names of those members of the congregation killed on active service.
The monthly ‘St Paul’s Magazine’ is rather practical in approach, with few flourishes and generally quite brief, rarely comprising more than 8 or 10 pages. Unfortunately, only magazines for 1914 and 1915 were issued, as it was deemed too expensive to continue production during wartime. Most issues include a Roll of Honour of those serving. The August 1914 issue includes a short report entitled ‘In Camp’, apparently describing life during a Boy’s Brigade outing; however, although there are some military references, as yet the war appears not to have intruded upon life in Redhill and Reigate. The September issue is either missing or was not produced, but the October magazine features a column on ‘How to Help in the War’. In November, a report on ‘The Haven’, one of the houses provided for Belgian refugees, is included. December’s issue features pieces ‘The War and New Zealand’ and ‘At the Front’. The January 1915 issue includes a paragraph relating to ‘The War Needlework and Clothing Committee’, while February features a homily on ‘The Burden of Prayer and the Burden of the War’ and a report on ‘The Belgian Refugee Homes’. March’s homily is ‘The Shadow of Lent and the Shadow of the War’, while April includes a paragraph ‘Easter and the War’; May’s issue only has a Roll of Honour. June and July both feature letters ‘From Our Friends at the Front’. August does not include any items particular to the war, but September’s ‘Message for the Month’ from the Pastor is entitled ‘The Anniversary of Our Entrance into the War’. October features another homily entitled ‘The Cost of the War and the Cost of Christian Discipleship’, and reports entitled ‘From WAB: At the Dardanelles’ and ‘From CR: Barrack Life in India’. November includes a lengthy report on the work of the Needlework Committee, while December closes with the aptly named ‘The Last Post’, which explains the reasons for discontinuing the magazine during wartime.
A dilapidated and somewhat chaotic scrapbook of newspaper cuttings has also survived, mostly from Surrey newspapers and unfortunately largely undated, relating to all aspects of St Paul’s and other Surrey churches’ work and members, from about 1915 to the 1950s. Not surprisingly, there are obituaries, with photographs, of those serving officers and men killed. Other items of particular interest include a 1914 feature about A Company 5th Battalion the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment stationed at Canterbury; the bizarre and rather shocking 1916 piece ‘German Pastors’ Frightfulness. The Pulpit an Agent of Militarism. “It is our Duty to Crucify Humanity”’ regarding the attitude of German Clergy who see ‘U Boats as Divine Instruments’; an undated column entitled ‘Prohibition for the War. The Case For and Against Debated at Reigate’; an undated pencil drawing (possibly by a child) showing a rifleman shooting at a zeppelin; and an undated story of a soldier ‘Alive in a Shell Hole for Seven Weeks. Astounding Ordeal of a Man with a Broken Thigh. His Own Story’.