Research and text contributed by the RH7 History Group
During the period of WW1 radio was in its infancy and newspapers were one of the main means of reporting news and also communicating official information and instructions. Both the Surrey Mirror and The East Grinstead Observer continued to be published weekly during the war. The main theatres of the war and national events were covered but from the point view of the impact of the war on the local area the two publications are a rich source of information. Reports of events in the RH7 area are usually brief, however the ‘snippets’ which were found give an insight into the life ‘on the home front’.
Preparations for War
In the months before August no mention of war was found in the local papers, although contingencies were quietly being put in place. On 25 July The East Grinstead Observer reported on a Red Cross Field Day held at Imberhorne Farm. A rest station was prepared ‘near an imaginary battle’ and Territorials in battle kit acted as ‘eounded’, while stretcher bearers administered first-aid and dressed wounds.
The declaration of war on 4 August 1914 initially did not have a great impact on daily life. The Surrey Mirror edition on the same day carried a cautious report on Britain’s involvement in war. By the 11 August edition on the same day reported that all doubts were now removed and ‘we know that practically the whole of Europe is in the grip of war…the Fleet is ready and the army mobilising.’
Once war was declared, however, it did not take long for things to step up a gear and for the public to get behind the war effort. Territorials guarded lines of communication. Important sections of practically every railway line in the country were guarded, especially lines between Southampton, Aldershot, Chatham and London over which troops might have to be conveyed.
Locally Boy Scouts were posted to guard the viaduct bridge over Cooks Pond, Dormans Park.
Advertisements appeared in the papers for Army pensioners to act as Recruiters and by September the British Red Cross was asking for bandages, instructing people to boil the calico before tearing, leaving no selvedges; the length and width were to be marked with ink and fastened with safety pins.
The Lingfield Emergency Committee was formed. ‘All the chief residents, farmers, tradesmen and many members of the working class were invited to serve’. The committee would deal with recruiting, relief, food supply and other urgent matters. There were appeals for aid for wives and families of soldiers and it was recorded that Lingfield Church gave £25 to the Prince of Wales Fund. On 25 November the Dormansland school log reported that the children would give an entertainment in aid of the National Relief Fund; this took place in December and raised £13 2s. 11.5d.
In October 1914, the Surrey Mirror reported that ‘a suspicious foreigner’ was found wandering in a field at Lingfield. Karl Horvath, aged 18, was unable to give a good account of himself and was remanded; there was no report of what happened to him subsequently.
Alarming stories began to circulate in the local papers. The Surrey Mirror reported that on Sunday 9 August a troop train near South Godstone was fired at and several windows smashed, although no-one was injured. From the train four men were seen in a field on the east side of the line. Three shots were fired at which the men then jumped into a motor car and drove away. The train was pulled up and Territorials stationed at Redhill, together with police and motor scouts scoured the surrounding country. ‘Residents in the neighbourhood joined warmly in the chase, one gentleman lending powerful motor car and also guns for six men to go with it. But it was all in vain and those who man the attack got clean away.’ The next day an attempt was made to fire at Territorials on guard at the L.B. & S.C. Railway loop line at Holmthorpe just outside Redhill . Sentries fired a round or two and called out the guard. Two men were seen running away from the embarkment and a search was made but no-one was found.
At about the same time come reports of a troop train being fired upon at Edenbridge. A rifle bullet was found in the woodwork of a carriage. The police description of the suspect was circulated as someone ‘tall and dark with a sallow complexion and dark moustache’. It is not clear what these reports meant but there has been some suggestion that these stories were a deliberate invention with the intention of keeping troops and Territorials on their toes.
Long lists of men who had enlisted were printed. On 5 September 1914 the East Grinstead Observer reported an appeal from the vicar of East Grinstead for men to join up. He expressed his hope that the rugby club would join up and cancel games as ‘this was no time for young able-bodied men to be playing or watching games’. The scoutmaster for the 1st Lingfield and Dormansland troop. Captain Henry Lloyd Martin enlisted; he was later to be killed at the Battle of the Somme. The scouts from Lingfield and Dormansland competed against the Oxted and Limpsfield scouts in a shooting match. Several of the scouts taking part went on to enlist: assistant scountmaster Henry Cox became a gunner in the Royal Artillery; Arthur Potter and Albert Friend joined the Royal West Kent Regiment and George Skinner joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.
Patriotic verses written by readers were published each week in the Surrey Mirror; these started off by being very jingoistic:
…Still shall she rule the waves
Crushing usurping power…
but within weeks become much more sombre:
O God of our fathers hear our prayer
In this dark hour of strife…
National Loans meetings were held in Lingfield and Blindley Heath. In Lingfield the meeting was chaired by Mr Gow of Batnor Hall; the Lingfield Band played patriotic airs and three cheers were given for ‘our soldiers in the trenches’. At the Blindley Heath meeting the cry was ‘every man of military age and medically fit who has not joined the Colours must ask himself the question – why do I not enlist?’
Life goes on as Usual
On Saturday 1 August the annual church parade at Lingfield took place. Taking part were the Fire Brigade, Friendly Societies with banners and sashes; the Lingfield and Dormansland Boy Scouts; the Copthorne Prize Band, the Dormansland Institute Band and Lingfield Band. In September the Lingfield Harvest Festival went ahead as usual. At Christmas Aladdin was playing at the Croydon Hippodrome. Aladdin, played by Miss Lillie Lassae, encouraged the audience to help her with “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”.
In October, Lingfield Park Racecourse announced that the first autumn meeting would be held as usual. It was felt that if it was stopped it would mean hardship for those employed. Also if ‘the interest of owners is allowed to wane there would be serious blow to horse-breeding and the supply of animals to the army would be severely affected. There should be no false sentiment about the propriety of holding the races’. It was announced that all serving officers of army and navy were welcome to the course and enclosure free of charge. Wives and daughters of members away serving in the forces would be allowed to use the member’s badge.
There were official warnings against the hoarding of food but it seems that these appeals were generally ignored by the general public. At the outbreak of war panic buying broke out and shops such as Sainsbury’s issued notices to the effect that its regular customers would be kept supplied. The requisitioning of delivery horses by the army also affected distribution to Sainsbury’s branches and customers were asked to carry smaller parcels home themselves.
By September it was recommended that due to the large numbers of troops billeted in East Grinstead the sale of intoxicating liquor was to be restricted. The sale of alcohol was therefore suspended between 9pm and 9am. The Government had grave concerns about the amount the public were drinking and was especially worried about the amount of beer munitions workers were drinking. There followed new national regulations allowing the watering of beer. This becomes known as ‘Government Ale’. A line from a popular music hall song of the time went:
…But the worst thing that ever happened in this war
Is Lloyd George’s Beer.
The British Red Cross issued a warning to chauffeurs in charge of convalescent soldiers out for an airing in private motors who had been seen stopping off at public houses and treating the men to a drink. It was requested that anyone seeing cases of this kind should report it to any Red Cross Convalescent Home in the neighbourhood.
During the autumn and winter of 1914 supplies of fuel and light were curtailed, street lamps dimmed and no lines of light were permitted.
Events in Belgium
After the German invasion of Belgium many of the population were displaced. By December the Surrey Mirror had started a weekly column in French for the benefit of the local influx of Belgian refugees. Accommodation was offered in many places; locally The Colony (now Young Epilepsy) in St Piers Lane offered places for 36 refugees.
For information on the Lingfield and Dormansland covering the rest of the war years click the following links: