St Mary’s Church, Stoke D’Abernon and St Andrew’s Church, Oxshott.
The parish magazine came in two parts, one for each church, and prior to the outbreak of war both were predominantly taken up with the usual mix of church business and parish life.
However, two editions in the lead up to the war provide an interesting insight into how broader social and political concerns had impacted upon both villages. In August 1914, for example, St Mary’s was primarily concerned with ‘the guarding of the church from suffragette outrages’. Without providing details of the steps taken, for fear of revealing their hand, the magazine put on record the names of the 34 men ‘who have so willingly volunteered to keep on night guard against possible attacks’.
Perhaps more pertinently, the June 1914 edition of the St Andrew’s magazine offers a snapshot of what life was like for many children in Surrey, on the eve of the Great War, with its discussion of the reasoning behind the appointment of a School Care Committee for Oxshott School, and every other school in county. The duties of the committee were to attend to the health of the children while at school, as well as trying to ensure that they had the opportunity to continue their education, post-elementary-level. It was believed that these committees were required on a number of grounds. Firstly, medical inspections had revealed that many children were suffering from serious, and often preventable, ill-health. This was attributed to ‘bad and insufficient housing and sanitation with the resultant physical and moral evils’. Additionally, the article asserted that, while many people thought child labour had been done away with, in reality children were often by used as ‘Cheap Labour’ and, as a consequence, were too tired to take advantage of the education that was offered to them. Lastly, enquiries had shown that, on leaving school, a large proportion of pupils were drifting into occupations ‘which offer[ed] no prospect of permanent employment or training, and… in a very few years they frequently drift[ed] into the ranks of the less skilled and un-organized workers’. These grave evils, it was alleged, existed in towns and villages throughout Surrey and were due to ‘deep-rooted defects in our social organization, [resulting] in a waste of the nation’s wealth’, both in terms of the children’s potential and the money spent upon them. The author was quick to offer reassurances that, except in cases of gross neglect, the Committee would not interfere or take any action without the parent’s consent, and that any medical treatment would be carried out at an affordable cost. With regards to employment, it was highlighted that, whilst there was generally no problem finding work for boys and girls, it was not ‘the kind of employment for which they are best fitted and which will provide the necessary training to enable them to become the skilled workman and skilled workwoman of the future’. To that end, the Care Committees were to be linked up with the national Labour Exchanges in Surrey, each of which had appointed an officer to find suitable industrial openings for boys and girls.
First mention of the war, in any context, came in the September 1914 editions of the magazine. Both provided a list of men in service for their country, with St Andrew’s differentiating between those already in service and those who had enlisted since the outbreak of war, and these continued to be updated.
In Stoke D’Abernon some 60 men, mostly veterans and so too old to enlist, were giving up their evenings for drill and for lessons in the use of a rifle. These were held at the Manor House range, which had been offered by Colonel Buscarlet, and were all under the instruction of an unnamed sergeant-instructor, late of the Hussars, who came from Esher four times a week, as well as Colonel Guise and Mr Mercer who had been ‘indefatigable in helping to give training to the men’. In Oxshott a public meeting was held on August 18th to discuss how the men of the village could best service their country. As a result, 14 men had enlisted in Lord Kitchener’s Army and a Rifle Club and Civilian reserve had been formed for those men outside of the age of enlistment, which was 19 to 30. On August 23rd, 60 men had assembled and were formed into companies with the aim of becoming efficient shots. It was hoped that a range would be provided for shooting in the near future. The object of the Club was very clearly outlined. They were ‘not to form an armed guard or to interfere or seem to interfere in any way with the enlistment of men… but to teach the handling of a rifle so that in a great emergency the men of Oxshott may be able more quickly to fit themselves for service in the country’s forces’.
Meanwhile 60 ladies of the village of Stoke D’Abernon had, on August 14th, attended a meeting of the Red Cross at the Village Room, and undertaken to make garments for the sailors and soldiers. The author was certain that there would be ‘no lack of willing workers to do all in their power to meet the wants of our men, whether on sea or land, and where needed for the distress which is likely to arise from the war’. Similarly, in Oxshott, a committee of ladies had formed, consisting of Lady Spencer, Mrs Lambert, Mrs Landon, Mrs Verrey (Treasurer), Mrs Williams and Miss Durrad (Secretary), to organise work on behalf of the Society. An appeal for funds, made early in August, succeeded in raising £60 and at the first meeting, on August 17th, cut-out garments were distributed for making-up. The Committee also advised that they had been offered the loan of a house in Oxshott, by an unnamed lady, ‘for use as a convalescent home for sailors and soldiers’. However, they had been unable to accept, as, after making enquiries to the Red Cross Society, they had discovered that ‘at present the War Office do not wish to consider any hospital or convalescent home under 50 beds, [as] so many large buildings have been offered that it was thought it would be a waste of funds and materials to equip a small house’.
Special services of Intercession were to be held at St Mary’s at 6.45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, and intercessions were to be made each day at 10am at St Andrew’s. At the suggestion of Bishop Edward Winton, the Church Bells were to be rung daily for Noonday Prayer. In his letter, written on August 14th and published in the St Mary’s magazine, the Bishop spoke of the impossibility of writing ‘with reality or usefulness’ when, by the time of the magazine’s publication, things may have changed so enormously. However, he suggested that the ringing of the bell would serve to mark a moment when, as suggested by the Chaplain-General, people should pause ‘to put up a word or thought of prayer for our soldiers and sailors’. In addition, he hoped that, in speaking to many hearts, this would be ‘mentioned in letters to our gallant defenders [and] vividly suggest our loving remembrance of them offered to God’.
Lastly, the Oxshott magazine brought news from the front in the form of a letter home from Frederick Brooks, who was in Hasler Hospital, having been injured by a shell which had burst on the deck of his ship whilst it lay off Kiel in northern Germany.
In October 1914 St Mary’s published an appeal on behalf of the Army Council for help in supplying blankets to the Territorial and newly-formed regiments, as the Army Stores had run out. Mrs Dunning of The Tilt House, Cobham, had undertaken to forward any gifts and in November it was reported that she had been able to distribute 309 blankets amongst the troops at Kingston and Aldershot, which were ‘most thankfully received’. In addition, in answer to an appeal made by Mrs Bowen-Buscarlet, three large cases of clothing for Belgian Refugees had been sent off and, the following month, it was reported that she had received grateful acknowledgement.
As well as the call to prayer at noon, and the Wednesday and Friday services, a new weekly Service of Intercession had been added at noon on Thursdays. In November these were then changed again, to 6.45pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 12 noon on Fridays.
The magazine also reported on the work at the nearby Schiff Home of Recovery, where some 20 men who had been wounded at Mons and the battle of the Marne were being cared for. It was thought that gifts of illustrated papers, tobacco and cigarettes, with Players’ Navy Cut being the favourite, would be acceptable and welcomed. Boots were also needed. Visitors were asked to come on Mondays and Thursdays, between 2 and 4, bringing any gifts with them. Alternatively, they could be sent to The Rector, who was also Chaplain of the Home.
In Oxshott, the Red Cross committee made it known that a workroom had been opened on September 28th in East London, where 12 to 20 girls would be employed in making garments. The money raised locally was to be used to purchase materials for the workshop, and anyone was welcome to visit and see the work going on. In the meanwhile, 85 roller bandages, 47 many-tail bandages, 6 small cushions, 9 pillow cases, 20 flannel shirts, 21 nightshirts, 18 bed jackets, 17 pyjamas and 4 pairs of bed socks had been sent to Mrs Henderson for the Leatherhead Branch of the Red Cross Society, and 12 shirts and 12 pairs of socks had been sent to Mrs Northcott for the 9th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
The economic and social effects of wartime were already being felt. ‘Pound Day’ was to take place on October 6th, when Mrs Verrey and Miss Moorish would receive contributions to the annual collection of gifts of money and groceries for the Cobham Cottage Hospital. The importance of not forgetting ‘this local call upon our charity’, at this time of rising prices and urgent need, was emphasised, and It seems that this appeal was a great success as in November it was reported that records gifts had been received from 400 people. The total result was £28 11s. 0d., 1,622 ½lbs of groceries, and 110 miscellaneous gifts.
Demonstrating the degree of need that being felt within the community, it was also reported that Oxshott now had a local ‘Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey Fund’ committee. They were to receive contributions for the Prevention and Relief of Distress during the War, as well as attempting to find employment for those who were out of work. However, whilst the Committee would do all they could to find work for those who required it, it was pointed out that this would require the assistance of employers. To that end, an appeal was made ‘to everyone to do their utmost to make work’, stating that ‘no one wants charity, but every man and woman wants to earn a livelihood’.
Congratulations were also extended to Frederick Brooks who had returned, recovered, to his ship HMS ‘Queen’.
The November 1914 edition saw a report on a Lantern Lecture, entitled ‘Why Britain is at War, and how it came about’, given by Mr Addison McLeod of the Victoria League on October 22nd in St Andrew’s Hall. The slides were considered to be ‘excellent’ and ‘several pictures of Oxshott recruits were also thrown up upon the sheet’. Tribute was paid by the chair, Mr Morrish, to the Belgian King and people, and the profits from the lecture were given to the collection for Belgian Refugees that was being organised by Mrs Northcott. The same lecture was given at the Village Room in Stoke D’Abernon, a week later, when the Stoke D’Abernon Choir had sung the National Anthems of each of the allied countries engaged in the War and, again, pictures of ten serving local men had been exhibited.
The Victoria League is an independent, non-political organisation, founded in 1901 to promote closer union between the different parts of the then British Empire in order to foster understanding and good fellowship. Hospitality, fundraising, friendship, and education have been important focuses for the League and during the Great War they organised beds and meals for servicemen on leave, and sent food parcels to the families of those serving.
In Stoke D’Abernon, the St Mary’s Harvest Festival of the previous month had been subdued in tone and no anthem was sung, but ‘God’s providence’ had ensured that, despite the precarious nature of food supplies during wartime, they had not lacked. As well as a ‘good harvest of wheat at home’, the protection of the Navy had meant that supplies were arriving from abroad ‘almost as in normal times’. By contrast, the St Andrew’s Harvest Festival seems to have been a much jollier affair as, proving fears unfounded, ‘the decorations were more beautiful than ever before. Flowers were given in abundance and most artistically arranged… [and] the music was well up to the standard we try to preserve’.
With Christmas on the horizon, the members of the Mothers’ Meeting and Sunday School children had collected 10/- for Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift Fund for our Sailors and Soldiers.
Throughout the magazines at this time, there was a strong sense of gratitude for the sacrifices made by the Belgian people, and a desire to do something for them in return. At a local level some very immediate assistance was being offered to some of the many Belgians who had been forced to flee the ‘ruthless, cruel, savage [and] wanton… deeds perpetrated on [their] country… by the enemy’. Colonel and Mrs Bowen-Buscarlet had offered hospitality at their home, Manor House, to Mons. and Madame Noél and their child; Monsieur Noél senior; Monsieur and Madame Van den Leven; Mademoiselle Van de Leven; Monsieur Heun de France, an invalided officer; Mademoiselle Suzanne Froidbise; and Monsieur Robert Froidbise. In addition, Monsieur and Madame Sneyers, along with their three daughters and grandmother, were receiving hospitality at the Manor Dairy Cottages, and in December it was reported that the balance of £1 18s. 6d. from the Stoke D’Abernon Lantern Lecture had been handed to the family, and received with gratitude. These families had all fled from Mons or the siege of Antwerp. Similarly, in Oxshott, two families were being hosted, and more were expected. At the Oxshott Children’s Harvest Service, one hundred and thirty-three parcels of clothing were received, which Mrs Faulkner had ‘conveyed to London by motor’. The officials of the Relief Committee ‘were most grateful’ and a letter that effect, from the War Refugees’ Committee, was also published in the magazine.
The final month of the year, December 1914, sees more emphasis on the usual business of the church and parish, in the form of Christmas, Confirmations, Sunday School, gifts to the church, general finances, and local entertainment, at which ‘national airs and patriotic songs formed a large item’.
An update on the Stoke D’Abernon Red Cross work party was provided, who, since their last account, had despatched 21 shirts, six pairs of socks, and one waistcoat, to the Royal Sussex Regiment, 48 petticoats to the ‘very destitute poor women at St Marks’ Parish, Portsea’, and two shirts, two pairs of socks, and one belt to Madame Sneyer’s son, ‘who is a Belgian soldier, and much in need of warm clothing’. It was also noted that about £6 per month was needed from the ‘Lord Lieutenant’s Fund for the County of Surrey’, for the purchase of materials for the working party.
The St Andrew’s Christmas Day Collections were, as usual, to go to the ‘Bishop of Winchester’s Fund’, which provided ‘spiritual food’ to the men, women and children of the diocese and was urgently in need of increased support. Potential subscribers were called upon to think about the people of Southampton, Aldershot and, in particular, ‘Portsmouth and all that it stands for’, because of whom the parishioners of Oxshott were able to eat their daily bread.
Lastly, there was also news from the front about the wartime experiences of Harry Coombs, the St Mary’s Parish Clerk, a Reservist who was called to serve at the beginning of the war and who was now recovering at the Schiff Home.
St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1914, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.
Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship, ‘History’, accessed 2 November 2015, http://www.victorialeague.co.uk/history.