Witley – 1914

The pace of life was still quiet in the opening years of the 20th century, regulated by an ages-old pattern of church events and the seasonal farming calendar. The Witley parish magazines before September 1914 (SHC ref WIT/16/33) record regular events such as the Easter service which was ‘bright and hearty’, meetings of the Witley troop of Boy Scouts, who in April attended a talk on aeroplanes and airships and summer outings for the ‘Mothers’ who enjoyed a trip to Southsea and the Bellringers and Choir who went to Brighton, and the Sunday School children who went off to Hayling Island for the day. Also that summer there were cricket matches to play, Empire Day teas to enjoy, and a special visit by the Bishop of Winchester to celebrate.

There is little mention of the outside world, especially not anything ominous, until the September 1914 magazine. Immediately the news of the war dominates and the Vicar writes

‘we have been suddenly plunged into war…the safety and honour of our country has made clear what is our duty. On the Church Door I have placed a list of some 40 names of those who are serving their Country on sea or land or in the air. There is a space for recruits which, I am glad to say, is now rapidly filling up. Witley will soon have cause to be proud of its roll of honour. Yesterday I helped to drive some 50 recruits from Witley, Chiddingfold and Godalming into Stoughton Barrarcks. It was a noble procession of motor cars we made. Most of the drivers would have preferred to have been left at Stoughton’.

The magazine, always a source of local news, now becomes an important vehicle for information to the parishioners about the war, and it is interesting to see how the tone of the notices and ‘letters’ from the vicar changes as the war progresses. So at the start in September under various headings including Work for the Wounded we read about how the women of the parish have rallied and established an executive committee to coordinate donations and offers of help; how over 600 yards of material was already cut out according to Red Cross patterns and over 220 garments for the Red Cross have been sent out by September. ‘Well done the women of Witley!’

There is information about a national scheme for the relief of special distress and the prevention of unemployment arising from the war, and how it was quickly adopted and a committee for Witley and Milford established.

In October an insert is added to the magazine from the Bishop of Winchester sending out the request to all parishes that at noon a bell might be rung for a few strokes to sound out ‘across the woods and pastures of our beautiful and quiet land, these country “curfews”, not to extinguish but to light the flame of heavenward aspirations’ which ‘being mentioned in letters to our gallant defenders will vividly suggest our loving remembrance of them offered to God’.

Written by Carole Garrard, Surrey History Centre based on information from the Witley Parish magazine.

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