St Mary’s Church, Stoke D’Abernon and St Andrew’s Church, Oxshott
From the perspective of the church, January 1915 began with a day of intercession on the 3rd, which was to be observed throughout the Empire by the Churches of England, Rome, and Non-Conformists alike, and by the Allies more generally. In Oxshott members of the Rifle Club, Civilian Reserve, Special Constables, and the Boy Scouts were all to parade at the service and the alms were to be given to the British Red Cross. The following Sunday saw the children of Stoke D’Abernon being invited to bring toys to be presented to Belgian refugee children living in the UK. This was an invitation well-received as the following month it was reported that ‘in spite of a very wet afternoon, the children… turned out in goodly numbers laden with parcels [and] two large hampers…, containing some 180 presents and clothes were sent to the 60 Belgian Refugee orphans at [the Convent de la Sagesse] near Hendon’. The Mother Superior had sent grateful thanks.
It was also reported that the Schiff Home of Recovery had seen many visitors to the English and Belgian soldiers ensconced there, but they were now much in need of a second piano to prevent the existing one from having to be taken up and downstairs between the wards. This was subsequently donated by Mrs Nevill.
Meanwhile, the Stoke D’Abernon Men’s Club had held a smoking concert on December 9 to welcome home their fellow-club member Private H. Coombs, invalided home from the fighting in the north of France. The toast was given by Reverend Blackburne, who paid tribute to the ‘pluck and wonderful bravery shown by our Army’, saying that ‘it was to such an Army… that we all looked forward to the future with great hopes of success and certain victory’. Private Coombs, who had been Parish Clerk and Church Verger, expressed his pleasure to be home and related his experiences at the Front.
In Oxshott, thanks were extended to the named parishioners who had contributed a total of £41 5s. 6d. towards a fund ‘to provide the sum of £1 for each Oxshott recruit’. It was reported that letters had been received in gratitude and the following extract, from an unnamed recipient, was published as an example:-
‘Will you convey to the Oxshott parishioners my warmest thanks for their gift. It makes me feel how good it is to be a soldier, when those who have been unable to join, show their good fellowship and friendship in such a real hearty manner. A happy Christmas to them all. I am keeping very well, and hope we shall be a first-class fighting regiment before long.’
In a number of ways, life in the parishes carried on as before. In Oxshott, for example, Mr Morrish gave an ‘enjoyable and instruction lecture [with excellent photographs], on a three weeks tour of Provence’, a bridge bournament was held, at which ‘several of the Oxshott soldiers who were home on Christmas leave were present’, and the Men’s Club continued to meet. In Stoke D’Abernon, choir practice, wood carving class and Mothers’ Meetings continued as usual, as did the Mother’s Union Festival and Sunday School Treat.
In February 1915, with Lent on the horizon, the Bishop of Winchester laid out his response to accusations that:
‘Some people, I think, have been too afraid that we have been speaking too much and too down-heartedly of humility and repentance and national fault, and not making enough of the righteousness of our cause, the clearness of our conscience, the gallantry and nobility of our soldiers, or the nation’s patriotic response. I don’t think they are right. There is no fear of all that being overlooked or forgotten, and a Christian will always prefer to err on the humbler side’.
But, for the Bishop, Lent was a special time for acknowledging and confessing what was wrong and, to that end, he continued:
‘We make light of “little faults.” We find it hard to be very angry with ourselves for familiar sins. But to-day these things are “writ large” for us to read. We see on a huge scale what evil means. We see all this “devil’s work” of the war coming, some-how, out of the heart of the life of the nations, fed by their “sins, negligences and ignorances”… We see on a great scale how man’s fault does the devil’s work’.
In the Oxshott magazine, news was given of the work done by the women and girls employed at the Red Cross workroom in Spitalfields, to which the Oxshott Fund was to provide financial assistance, in order to ensure that the work could continue. Their primary aim was to ensure that ‘the women and girls employed should not be thrown out of work at this time of year’.
March 1915 brought reports that an enjoyable evening had been spent by those who attended a concert at the Village Room on February 3, where ‘a special welcome was given to Madame Nöel, who has a voice of fine quality and well trained’, offering evidence that the Belgian refugees, who had sought a temporary home at the Manor House, had settled well into village life.
With the exception of the news from India that Private William Scarfe had drowned whilst bathing, and that Private H.W. Champion had been unable to get home from his regimental duties before his father, Henry Champion, had passed away, the March issue of the Oxshott magazine makes no other specific mention of the war or its effects.
By April 1915, as the magazines increasingly returned to the business of reporting daily life in the parishes, St Mary’s reported ‘that the special services of intercession are not now nearly so well attended as at the beginning of the war’. In May 1915 St Andrew’s reported that the Oxshott branch of the Red Cross Society had received hearty thanks for their donations towards the King Edward Institution War Workroom, and that the Ruridecanal Choirs’ Association had found it advisable to postpone their planned Festival ‘owing to the number of Choirmen engaged in war work’. By June 1915 the Red Cross work in Stoke D’Abernon was put on hold, with the hope of ‘[sending] out fresh appeals for funds in the autumn and [starting] the monthly meetings again when sufficient money has been collected’. In Oxshott a call went out, on behalf of the Basil Ellis County Nursing Association, ‘for help in securing suitable young women to be trained in their Emergency Home at Guildford, as nurses and midwives [as] at present the supply is far too limited to provide all the nurses required’.
Deep sympathy was also extended to Mr and Mrs Child of The Causeways, whose son Gilbert had given his life on Sunday, 9th May, during the battle of Richebourg.
July 1915 saw an appeal made in the Stoke D’Abernon magazine for further gifts of cigarettes and tobacco, as well as garden bowls or darts, for the men of the Schiff Home. There was also an extensive report on a Garden Meeting that had been organised by Lieutenant-Colonel and Mrs Bowen-Buscarlet on behalf of the ‘Lord Roberts’ Memorial Fund’ (i.e. the Lord Roberts Fund for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors, named in honour of Field Marshal the 1st Earl Roberts VC KG [etc.], 1832-1914), whose aim was to provide workshops and instruction for wounded and disabled soldiers and sailors. The author described Lord Roberts as:
‘the greatest English General of modern times, who, in his old age, spent his last years in warning our country of its present dangers, and with loud trumpet call bid us to prepare in time. We refused to listen, and are now feverishly hastening to make up for lost time.’
The Garden Meeting was deemed a great success, ‘a large display of work done by disabled soldiers and sailors… was practically all sold before the evening’ and the ‘highly satisfactory sum’ of £412 6s. 8d. was raised.
An appeal to readers went out in Oxshott, to help in the national egg collection for the wounded, in the form of fresh eggs from those who kept fowl or money from those who didn’t. It was reported that a minimum of 300,000 eggs per week were required to meet the needs of the wounded soldiers and sailors in our hospitals but, at that time ‘this nutritious and recuperative food’ was very difficult to obtain. As a result, close to 900 new laid eggs were collected in June and July.
With the first anniversary of the declaration of war a special service of solemn intercession was to be held in Stoke D’Abernon, on the 4 August 1915 and, unsurprisingly, the war and its effects took greater prominence in the magazines this month. In the St Mary’s magazine, the Bishop’s letter, a little prematurely it transpired, anticipated the difficult times to come once the war was over. For the Bishop ‘this is not (for most) the difficult time – but… the difficult time will come soon’. For now, he pointed out, ‘we have abundant employment, high wages, liberal separation allowances’, but, he argued, they needed to use this time ‘to prepare for the lean years when after the return of huge numbers of men employment may be scarce, money for business hard to come by, and special allowances at an end’.
The War Office, it was reported, had inspected and approved ‘Heywood’ in Cobham as an auxiliary voluntary hospital to accommodate 35 wounded men, a matron, and two trained nurses. The Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment in Cobham was to provide the remainder of the nursing staff. The house had been generously offered by Mrs Butler, but funds were urgently needed for equipment and running costs. The following month it was reported that the appeal for subscriptions had been met ‘most generously and promptly’, with subscribers raising the total sum of £736 6s. 0d.
In Oxshott, the British Red Cross Society detailed the contents of their balance sheet. The funds had almost entirely supported the King Edward Institution workroom between September 1914 and March 1915, and grants had also been made to the British Red Cross Society, the Navy League, Leatherhead Red Cross Hospital, Connaught Red Cross Hospital at Aldershot, the Schiff Home, the King’s Own Lancaster Regiment, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the French Destitute, Belgian Refugees, Women’s Emergency Corps, Waifs’ and Strays’ Society, and the Queen Alexandra’s Field Force Fund. The balance in hand, of £16 9s. 8d., had been handed over to the Oxshott Women’s War Work Fund, who made garments, bandages, etc. for wounded soldiers and sailors. A report was also received on the Belgian Refugees’ Fund, which had enabled hospitality to be extended for longer than originally intended, and, of the two families received, one had now emigrated to Canada, while the other had returned to Brussels. For both families, their travel fares had been born by the fund, and both had written on arrival to extend their grateful thanks.
Finally, for July, a Committee of Ladies had set up a workroom in St Andrew’s Hall on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 10am to 6pm. In the first eight days 36 women had attended, and they had made 18 bed jackets, 18 pairs of pyjamas, 6 operation gowns, 4 ‘helpless case shirts’ and numerous bandages. Contributions were called for to assist with the cost of materials, and those who attended were also asked to make a weekly contribution of money, as well as time, if at all possible.
September 1915 saw reports of the August 19 route march from Roehampton to Stoke D’Abernon by the 3rd Battalion of the London Scottish, with which their late Churchwarden Major Gore was connected. On arrival the Battalion had slept out in fields which were lent for the occasion by Mrs Bowen-Buscarlet. For the author, ‘the immediate interest for the Village was the fact that the Village was invited to an evening Concert in the meadows’.
In Oxshott, the Men’s Club was amalgamated with the Rifle Club, in the hope that ‘now [they had] the privilege of using an excellent range’, more men would take the opportunity to learn to shoot with a rifle.
In October 1915 the Bishop’s letter, once again, offered the primary commentary on the war and Home Front. Bishop Winton, again anticipating rainy days at the war’s conclusion, called for those at home to do what they could ‘to reduce spending on things for which money has to go out of the country… to add (if possible) to home production; and if any of us make any profits out of the war… to put the bulk of that into the War Loan’. Such an effort, he argued, ‘may not only win the war… but also be an incalculable moral benefit to the nation, without [which] victory, if it were possible, might be a curse and not a blessing’. He also contrasted the situation at home with that in Germany where ‘by all accounts [they are] working like one man, throwing the whole of its heart and its wonderful industry into winning the war’, and where ‘one is told… all the Lutheran Churches… are full with praying people’.
As in Oxshott, the Men’s Club of Stoke D’Abernon was feeling the effects of war-time and, in November 1915, it was reported that the resultant fall in membership and attendance had left a debit balance on the annual accounts of £4 10s. 81/2d. As often seemed to be the case in Oxshott, Mrs Bowen-Buscarlet stepped into the breach, offering to clear the deficit.
On Trafalgar Day, which had been set apart throughout England as ‘Our Day’ in support of the work of the Red Cross, both the parishes of St Mary’s and St Andrew’s collected funds for the Society, to the sum of £26 45. 9d. and £100 2s. 4d. respectively.
The magazines this month closed with the sad news of the deaths of Archibald Rowan-Hamilton and Reginald Carter, and, in the St Andrew’s magazine, there was also a list of those who were currently wounded, sick, or reported missing.
As the first full year of the conflict drew to a close, December 1915 in both parishes saw an appeal for presents of ‘turkeys, plum puddings, mince-meat, fruit, crackers, cakes, or any Christmas fare’ for the Red Cross Hospital at the Red House in Leatherhead.
In Stoke D’Abernon an invitation was extended to children and grown-ups to bring a toy or article of clothing to the Church on December 12, as a Christmas gift for the children of the sailors and soldiers serving in the war. Mr W. Bruce Bannerman, who transcribed and edited the parish register, offered to send 10 or 20 copies to be sold at £1 1s. 0d. each, on the condition that the money was ‘credited to the Red Cross or other fund in your parish for the relief of the widows of any soldiers killed in Freedom’s Cause or of wounded soldiers (whether natives of or residents of your parish)’ and that the names of subscribers were published or fixed on the Church door. Finally, mixing philanthropy with pleasure, it was reported that the Men’s Club had held a well attended whist drive, the proceeds of which were to be handed to the Red Cross.
In Oxshott, a memorial service was held on Sunday November 28 for those who had fallen. All those who had laid down their lives from the parish were mentioned by name, and two buglers, who were given leave to attend from the East Surrey Regiment, played the ‘Last Post’. With news of the loss of local men Frederick Cotterell, Walter Akerman, and Hubert William Selby from the 7th Battalion of the East Surreys, on October 13 at the Battle of Loos, the year ended on a sombre note.
St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, and St Andrew’s, Oxshott, Parish Magazines, January to December 1915, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.