Researched and written by Katrina Corth
In August 1914, Warlingham, Chelsham and Farleigh were parishes that came together at a time of uncertainty. Immediately after the outbreak of war, they began to ask what should be done, and a committee was assembled ready to deal with the matter if need should arise. Relief from the distresses caused by war became top priority along with the need to attend church. The feelings of anxiety were felt by all and war sent the parish to its knees before God Almighty. With this need to attend church congregations grew, sending up a hopeful plea for their strength to last as the days went by. A short service was held every Thursday with special remembrance of those serving by sea or land, which was also widely attended. The vicar maintained that the congregation would continue to increase as the numbers of those on the list to be prayed for grew.
Particular attention was paid to families of married men in the care of the Soldier Sailors Family Association. The district was self-sufficient and wanted to have something to contribute to the county fund, to support needier districts. However, unemployment grew in the parishes and the best way to prevent this was to find people willing to be employed. A needlework group was set up and it was important for them to find out what comforts the troops needed. The needlework group also helped Belgian refugees and their families at home. They had no official position and no power or wish to interfere but just a desire to help and offer their services. Schools also soon became involved and Chelsham School started collecting silk materials in order to make handkerchiefs for the sick and wounded soldiers.
The parishes quickly realised that it was involved in a life or death struggle and within the parish magazine men were asked to come forward willingly. This was known as the double wish: the wish not to go to war and remain with their families and the wish not to lose their place on the roll of honour for those who offered themselves knowing the risk to their life. Few men came forward but those who did were unburdened by anxiety for the provision of their nearest and dearest. These men were accepted and the hope was that they would set an example which might be followed by the young single men of the district. West London Rifles started to meet as a goodwill gesture to train young men, with every faculty at the range for instruction in the use of the rifle given by the club members. Openings then started to become available for men unable to join the fight, and Special Constable Positions filled to aid the police if necessary.
The parish community appeared to fear the lack of employment more than the effect of war during November 1914. However voluntary groups such as the Mission Room Working Party provided urgently needed flannel shirts. Parcels were sent to the British Red Cross and distributed to the sick and wounded soldiers. As the number of troops increased it started to become difficult to supply outfits for every man. Appeals were made by officers on behalf of recruits and in response to two particular appeals from different parts of Surrey, parcels of shirts and socks were sent off by the Needle Work Committees.
The British Red Cross eventually started issuing weekly lists of needs, which gave a useful guide as to the direction in which best to employ energies. Young girls from the age of 14 upwards offered their services to support the war along with the women of the village by knitting warm socks. Soldiers’ needs were not forgotten and many items went off to the hospitals for the sick and wounded. Although many needs continued to be met, money started to run out and contributions asked for as materials purchased up until Christmas were exhausted.
A great amount of people everywhere made a point of sending up a short prayer at 12pm every day for the soldiers and sailors. However after a short burst of church-going at the beginning, people started to lapse back to their old ways, and the winter months made service attendance a test of endurance. Over the Christmas period the committees slowed down and refugees started to be sent away from depots as there weren’t any garments left to give. However, the committee continued to cut out shirts for Belgians, having to give up making garments for soldiers. In view of the continued demand for clothing both for Belgians and for the soldiers the committee opened a fresh appeal for funds.
On Thursday, January 14 1915 at 8pm the first of a series of lantern slides of the war illustrated the character on both sides with scenes from the battlefield in France and Belgium, battleships and aeroplanes. The expected attendance was high and these lectures continued to keep everyone updated with the progress of the war. The roll of honour continued to fill with losses and the first batch of exchanged prisoners returned to the parishes. Thoughts of the soldiers continued and tea without milk was announced because many of the men at the frontline and in the hospitals often had to go without. A collection was made for 200,000 of Nestle milk on 25 March 1915. Warlingham and the district clearly did not let themselves get behind with helping their men who were doing so much for their country. However, due to illness the work party was closed but women still continued to work at home.
The church quickly recognised the magnitude of the war and immediately looked to galvanise its parishioners into contributing in any way they could. It also realised that people’s faith at this time would be very important given the large loss of life, and it looked to offer as much support as possible to keep up morale at a time when, as individuals, it would have been easy to give up. This sense of increased community and the understanding that they not only wanted to be self-sufficient but they also wanted to contribute in any way they could, only served to cement their commitment to the cause. With dwindling supplies and increased demand both at home and on the front line, they continued to find other ways to contribute and finally even when they were unable to continue as a working party, the members still looked to carry on under their own steam. The level of community spirit centred round the church cannot be underestimated and ultimately led to victory both here and abroad.
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Farleigh’ (August 1914) in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazines (1914-20) (vol 262)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘The War and Prayer’ (September 1914) in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘War Relief’ (September 1914) in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Needle Work’ (September 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘The Country’s Call’ (September 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 263)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘War Notes’ (October 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 264)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Relief Committee’ (October 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 264)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Mission Room Working Party’ (October 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 264)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Girls and the War’ (November 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 265)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘War and Prayer’ (December 1914), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 266)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Mission Room Working Party’ (January 1915), in: Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 267)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Lantern Lectures’ (February 1915), in Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 268)
SHC 7742/4/3 ‘Needle Work’ (March 1915), in Warlingham and Chelsham Parish Magazine (1914-20) (vol 269)