Witley – 1918

By February 1918 there is again a shift to more practical reporting of news and the privations seem accepted as just part of everyday life. There is the routine report of the Christmas parcels sent to the front, 250 in total, and of a whist drive that has been held to raise funds for the Surrey Prisoners of War Fund. In the expenditure of the church accounts is a mention of 14 shillings for four, unspecified, prisoners. There also appears the first mention of a memorial; the Canadians in the camp having proposed a memorial to be erected in the church which has become quite the ‘Soldiers’ Church’. Although not to be put in hand immediately it is suggested that the inscription will be:

“Erected by men of the Canadian Division in honour of their comrades from Witley who have fallen in the Great War and in memory of their own comrades who have worshipped in the Church on the way to the Front”.

In March the vicar records the award of the Mons Star to Private G. Street of the 4th Hussars who has been in France since the beginning of the war.
At Easter the vicar takes heart from a service ‘as positive as before the war… never have we had better and more helpful Easter Services than this year’. He is now the representative for the Local Food Committee and can issue Emergency Ration Cards for men on leave or visitors. Also, just a small sign that, despite the difficulties, some things could be relaxed, it was decided to let the Church Clock chime during daytime.

Also in April came a note from the Bishop quoting a speech by the Prime Minister ‘the only way to carry any great purpose is not on your shoulders but in your heart. Carry it on your backs and it will gradually wear you down. Carry it in your hearts and it will lift you along.’

In July the Premier of Canada, Sir Robert Borden, visited the camp and with his Staff came to see the church to view the Colours of the four Canadian battalions and the Canadian Gift [inscribed wood panelling].

In August there are services for the fourth anniversary of the start of the war ‘we enter on it with a good courage, and a fair hope that it will bring us and our Allies victory and peace’. In September they congratulate Sergt. J. Cunningham of the Hussars who has won the Military Medal in Mesopotamia and report that Witley has invested in over £12000 of War Bonds during War Weapons Week in August, ‘No less than four aeroplanes will bear the name of Witley inscribed upon them at the Front. Long Life and Good Luck to them and their pilots!’

In October, along with celebrations for the best harvest for 50 years came the first hint that maybe the tide of war was turning and that some hope could be expressed, but tempered by the mounting roll of honour and the report of a casualty close to the heart of the church, the death of a young Canadian soldier who had attended the church and sung in the choir.

The November magazine also brings the first mention of influenza in the village – the Mother’s Union meeting was greatly depleted and local girl Phyllis Ashdown, who was meant to have had the honour of meeting H.R.H Princess Mary was laid low overnight and the Reverend French of Brook too ill for services at Brook.

But at last after four long years came the news, reported in the December 1918 magazine, of the end of the war – The vicar Edward Newill wrote,

‘Monday November 11th was a great day. The Armistice was signed by 5 am. As I steamed into Waterloo at 11 am the news was out. Windows and roofs were full of cheering men and women. As I emerged from the tube at Trafalgar Square, I was in the midst of a joyous frolicking crowd who were trying to realise that the nightmare of war was lifted. My shopping expedition of course came to nought and after seeing the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace I came back to arrange a Thanksgiving Service. It was 5pm and a wet night when I returned. Messages were sent out and a team of willing bellringers were gathered. The Bells rang out at 7pm and by 7.30 the Church was nearly full for a most hearty and spontaneous thanksgiving, repeated again on Tuesday night.’

In the same magazine the Vicar calls for information so that he can update his Roll of Honour for publication in January and a committee is proposed to begin considering a War Memorial in the church for the Witley fallen.

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

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