Forster in Alexandria, 1917 (from Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of EM Forster, 1994)

E. M. Forster in Alexandria, 1917 (from Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of EM Forster, 1994)

This project explores how Surrey and its people responded to the Great War.

In terms of the literature, the first two decades of the twentieth century were a time of extraordinary creativity.  The establishment of public libraries and reading rooms had resulted in ever wider exposure to literature, along with new writing published in popular magazines such as the English Review, Fortnightly Review, Pall Mall Gazette, the Saturday Review, and the Cornhill Magazine. Local newspapers regularly serialised popular stories – the Surrey and Hants News of 1915 features a weekly chapter of “Sir Penywern’s Wife” by Florence Warden, “author of The House on the Marsh etc”.

The war years saw an extraordinary outpouring of both prose and poetry. Catherine Reilly, who produced “Scars Upon My Heart”, an anthology of women’s poetry, recorded 2,225 English poets of the First World War, of whom 1,808 were civilians, although few are remembered today.

Many writers with Surrey connections, such as R C Sherriff and E M Forster, served during the conflict and the experience left an indelible mark on their work. As a child, Forster often visited his aunt at her home in West Hackhurst,  a house that he himself lived in for many years. The Surrey Hills featured in a number of his works – Coldharbour and Holmbury St Mary appear as settings in ‘A Room with a View’ (1908). A lifelong Humanist, Forster worked with the Red Cross in Alexandria during the First World War.

Read more about the experiences of E M Forster and J R Ackerley during the Great War on the Exploring  Surrey’s Past website.

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Tommy Atkins


EM Forster (1879–1970)

E M Forster, author of A Room With a View, served with the Red Cross in Egypt during the First...