This project explores how Surrey and its people responded to the Great War.
Music played an important role in everyday life during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Children were being taught music as part of their general education, and schools were given financial incentives for teaching their pupils to read music. Kelly’s Surrey Directory of 1913 lists numerous halls in the county used for concerts “… the Redhill Society of Instrumentalists meets in the small hall for practice once a week, and gives one concert each season”; (the ensemble still exists, as the Redhill Sinfonia). The growing availability of gramaphone records brought music of every kind to people in their own homes. In 1913 over 4 million records were imported from Germany to this country. The “music industry” had come of age.
Upon the outbreak of war, there was a growing need to provide entertainment for troops stationed in the county. Local newspapers of the time record numerous hastily arranged concerts at public halls. Popular composers contributed to the war effort by writing patriotic Music Hall songs that were actively used to aid recruitment – “We Don’t Want to Lose You (but we think you ought to Go)” and “All the boys in khaki get the nice girls”.
The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams spent his early years at Leith Hill Place before studying in London and Paris with Maurice Ravel. On the outbreak of war, at the age of 42, he volunteered to join the Royal Army Medical Corps. By the middle of 1916 he was driving ambulances in France evacuating the wounded from the Neuville St. Vaast area, near Vimy Ridge, in appalling conditions. His wartime experiences left an indelible mark on him and his work.
Read more about Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broadwood and the Leith Hill Musical Festival on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website.