Due to intense fighting at the front in October 1914, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment suffered heavy casualties, with the 1st Battalion reduced from 1000 to 50 men. This motivated Christabel Elias Morgan, wife of Colonel Elias Morgan (commander of the Regiment’s depot at Stoughton Barracks), to set up a comforts fund for the troops at the frontline. This fund drew upon money, food and clothing donated by the local community.
Mrs Morgan also received word from men of the Queen’s held as prisoners of war in German camps, and this inspired her to set up a sister fund to provide for them. She wrote to national newspapers (such as the Daily Mail) to point out that while some prisoners were kept well supplied by relatives, others received no packages. Therefore the Prisoners of War Comforts Fund sent regular parcels to these neglected men of the Queen’s. Local women were also encouraged to act as a ‘Prisoner’s Friend’ by adopting a prisoner and keeping him supplied with parcels on a weekly or fortnightly basis. These women, as well as subscribers and donors to the fund, were publicised by their inclusion in a regular list in the Surrey Advertiser. The community kept the Fund well supplied. For example the 24 June 1916 Prisoners’ Day in Guildford raised £426 14s. 11d.
In mid-1916, the Fund provided parcels for 90 prisoners, and in addition 539 prisoners were cared for by their ‘Friends’. By this point over 70,000 parcels had been sent off. The Fund, which was managed by Mrs Morgan and a Mr H. Neden Harrison (until he became a Red Cross ambulance driver in August 1915), had grown so large that it moved its headquarters to the Stoughton Barracks by May 1915. The prisoners were generally reasonably treated but suffered from an acute lack of appropriate clothing and food supplies beyond scarce rations. Thus Mrs Morgan led campaigns to supply overcoats and 4000 pairs of socks to the men. Further comfort was brought to the men by the dispatch of musical instruments (two cornets and a euphonium) and special Christmas parcels, containing Christmas puddings and carols.
The Fund was also significant for its work in gathering and disseminating information about the prisoners to both the public and the government. Cards and letters received from prisoners acknowledging receipt of their parcels helped to counter concern that they were not being received. The War Office was given the details gathered about all the Queen’s prisoners of war, and advised on regulations concerning this area. For instance, the Fund helped to get a prohibition on the sending of tinned goods withdrawn. There were also communications with other similar prisoner of war relief committees extending from a Norfolk organisation modelled on the Fund to as far away as the Russian Prisoner of War Help committee.
When Colonel Morgan was replaced at the Depot in August 1916, the Fund’s work continued under Mrs Warren, the widow of Colonel Warren of the 1st Battalion Queen’s. New regulations mandating that each prisoner was to receive 6 parcels a month and 6 ½ lb. of bread delivered from Switzerland were met despite the increased cost. By December 1917, a committee under the mayor of Guildford oversaw this work and coordinated with a similar fund for the East Surrey Regiment (with both organisations caring for over 1800 prisoners). They arranged a ‘Welcome Home’ party in Guildford for 500 repatriated prisoners and their wives on January 24 1919.
The Fund’s work was recorded by Mrs Morgan in two scrapbooks in which she collected documentation and newspaper coverage of the Fund and the Queen’s Regiment.
Based on an examination of Mrs Elias Morgan’s scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, held by Surrey History Centre (SHC ref QRWS/30/ELIAA/1-2).