World War One centenary tributes in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 10:11 09 August 2014 | UPDATED: 22:27 10 August 2014
Various / strictly no reproduction
As the nation embarks on its commemorations of the outbreak of World War One, Claire Saul looks at some of the tributes planned in Surrey
One hundred years ago, an assassination in Sarajevo set in motion a sequence of political events eventually culminating in what became known, rather misguidedly, as ‘the war to end all wars’. World War One would claim millions of lives, wound many more and take a toll reaching far beyond its infamous battle trenches.
Concerts, re-enactments, memorial services and exhibitions are among the activities planned across Surrey in the next few months, the first in a series of tributes aiming to help us all better understand life here during those war years, to share the stories of local soldiers and those who trained or visited, and to recognise the sacrifices made by an entire generation.
“My noble and faithful heart always holds a memory of the good care that I received at Clandon Park Hospital,” wrote a Belgian soldier, one of over 5,000 patients from Flanders, France and Turkey who were admitted through the doors of the 18th century Palladian mansion, transformed into a military hospital during the war.
Some 750 operations were performed in a surgical theatre established in the Earl of Onslow’s former dressing room there. Today, in the re-imagined theatre at the National Trust property, it is possible to detect the scent of carbolic soap whilst browsing the medical records and the autograph books on display, in which the nurses encouraged their patients to write and draw. In a scenario echoed in other great houses-turned-hospitals, the Countess of Onslow, Lady Violet, took her place on the nursing roster, tending to patients in the ward that had formerly served as her grand Marble Hall. Visitors can now peek through a viewfinder camera superimposing a photograph of the ward on today’s view of the hall.
“We hope to have created an immersive experience that brings Clandon Park’s World War One history to life,” says house steward Sarah Watkins. “I spent a lot of time working alone in the operating theatre, often in subdued light when the room was cold and quiet. There, above the painting of a field of poppies, the images of the patients and nurses were looking back at me and it was very moving. It was as if they were back in the room at Clandon Hospital.”
Housed in the grounds of Clandon Park, the Surrey Infantry Museum is hosting displays that shed light on the lives of some of the county’s serving men. The harsh reality of the war is illustrated by one photograph of 27 members of the 1st Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. Over two-thirds of these poor souls were either killed or wounded within a matter of weeks, with further casualties following over the subsequent months.
But how did the war years affect your own ancestors? As guardians of the UK’s official government First World War records, the National Archives in Kew is a vast resource for related letters, diaries, photographs and maps, along with records relating to our own personal family histories.
Through its Operation War Diary initiative, over 1.5 million pages of digitised military-unit war diaries from France and Flanders are being released online, allowing us to delve into such details as the daily life of soldiers and field tactics. Modern day volunteers are invited to muster for cataloguing and indexing duties, creating invaluable research data that will ultimately be incorporated into the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War project. A programme of further events at the National Archives is also under way to help those with all levels of interest and research expertise.
One story recently discovered there is of Woldingham resident Henry Webber, Britain’s oldest serving combatant victim. Driven by a desire to join his three serving sons he persevered against repeated refusals for his enlistment, being more than 20 years over the upper age limit. In a letter to his old school, he wrote: “I am 1st Line Transport Officer to this Battalion and we have been plumb in the centre of the picture during the last ten days and gained no end of “kudos” and also a very severe mauling. I am so far extraordinarily fit and well, though, when I tell you that for four consecutive days I was either on my feet or in the saddle for twenty one hours, out of twenty four, you will see that there is a bit of work attached to the job.” He was sadly killed in action four days later, one month after his 67th birthday and one year after finally receiving his commission.
Back in civilian life, Henry had also been one of the founding members of Surrey County Council – and it is at their Surrey History Centre in Woking that local archives and printed materials can also be accessed for research work. What is more, the county’s museums and local councils are all keen to hear about any interesting finds or revelations. For example, Richmond is just one of the councils appealing for contributions to their exhibition, In Their Footsteps: Richmond’s First World War, which runs at Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham from August to November. The museum is looking for original materials such as personal artefacts, letters or photographs from the war years to be displayed alongside stories such as those of Philip Connard. As a soldier in the Royal Field Artillery, Connard suffered severe shell shock during his first bout of war duty but returned as an official war artist to the Royal Navy.
Another very different tribute in the borough’s four-year commemorative plan has been the sowing of six poppy meadows, with plans for additional locations in subsequent years. “Growing poppy meadows to mark the centenary of the First World War is a wonderful idea and serves to remember those who lost their lives or were affected by war,” says Richmond Council’s cabinet member for environment, Cllr Pamela Fleming. “Richmond upon Thames is London’s most beautiful borough and these meadows will help to improve the vibrancy of our green spaces even further.”
War memorials, remembrance and family history are the focus of Surrey Libraries’ War and Words project, which comprises a series of events, workshops and displays across the county, plus reading lists covering fiction and non-fiction, poetry, children’s titles, art and drama. The plans are being held in partnership with the ambitious Surrey Heritage project, A County Remembers: Surrey in the Great War, the initial stages of which are backed by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. At the heart of this will be a comprehensive new website recording the war experience of both those serving abroad and those enduring the war at home.
“The development funds will enable us to draw up our plans to engage the whole community of Surrey in an exploration of how the Great War affected our county,” says heritage manager at Surrey County Council, Barrie Higham, of the five-year project. “We hope the project will become a very significant contribution to the commemoration of World War One.”
An enduring tribute
Perhaps one of the most enduring tributes, however, will be a new 640-acre woodland near Epsom – one of four new forests being planted by The Woodland Trust as part of a £12m memorial project to remember lives lost in World War One. Some 200,000 trees will be planted at Langley Vale, on the border between Epsom Downs and Mole Valley, to create the English Centenary Wood. The project will also deliver over three million trees to youth and community organisations around the country.
“The trees planted during this project will stand for hundreds of years, providing a lasting tribute to all those involved in the First World War,” says Woodland Trust project director, Karl Mitchell. “We hope to see many thousands of people getting involved by planting their own tribute or dedicating trees in memory of loved ones.”
Whether by reading, visiting, actively researching or otherwise, the manner in which we commemorate the centenary of World War One, now or over the coming years, is irrelevant. What is important is that we, the generation of today, somehow pay our respects to acknowledge our collective debt to those heroes of yesteryear.
Remember, Recognise, Respect...
More events around the county…
• Kingston Museum will be sharing local stories, such as those of the men and women who produced fighter planes like the Sopwith Camel, in 1914: Remembering Kingston at War. The exhibition runs until Saturday August 16 before touring libraries. Tel: 0208 547 5006 / kingston.gov.uk/museum
• The help of volunteers of all ages is sought by Reigate and Banstead Borough Council for the upkeep of their recently restored World War One and World War Two graves. Tel: 01737 276700 / reigate-banstead.gov.uk
• At Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, visitors can see a collection of road vehicles and aircraft from the period at Brooklands Great War 100 on Sunday August 3. There will also be an air display of replica craft. Tel: 01932 857381 / brooklandsmuseum.com
• Guildford Cathedral is the setting for the War and Peace concert on Saturday July 12, when Surrey Festival Choir will perform an evening of music in support of Help for Heroes. Tel: 07769 343401 / surreyfestivalchoir.org
• The work of eminent illustrator Mr Cox, War Time Cartoonist will be on show at Surrey Heath Museum in Camberley from Saturday July 5 to Saturday August 30. Also, World War One memorial stones from the demolished St George’s Church will be on view. Tel: 01276 707284 / surreyheath.gov.uk/museum
• At Kingston’s Rose Theatre, the audio-visual exhibition Galsworthy and Human Battles on the Home Front acknowledges the campaigning by the Surrey-born author and Nobel laureate for better treatment for injured servicemen. Opens September. Tel: 0208 546 6983 / rosetheatrekingston.org
• Richmond Museum’s 1914-1918: Richmond at Home and at War – Local stories and their International Links features points of interest such as the South African Military hospital built in Richmond Park. From Friday August 8. Tel: 0208 332 1141 / museumofrichmond.com
• At the Royal Logistic Corps base at Deepcut, Surrey at War 1914 is a family event on Sunday July 27, with World War One re-enactors, cavalry horses, demonstrations, music and poetry. Book your tickets at 01483 44334 / guildford.gov.uk
• In Guildford, exhibitions include The Last Post: Remembering the First World War at Guildford Museum, open until Saturday September 13, and Caught in the Crossfire at Guildford House Gallery from Saturday January 31 to Saturday February 28, 2015.
• Also in our county town, among the productions and performances on offer is the premier of the Circle 8 film group’s new film Guildford and the Great War at the town’s Electric Theatre on Saturday July 19.
Find out more…
Tel: 01483 222482 / nationaltrust.org.uk/clandon-park
Tel: 0208 876 3444 / nationalarchives.gov.uk
Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham
0208 831 6000 / richmond.gov.uk (see Services / Arts)
Tel: 01483 518737 / surreycc.gov.uk (see Heritage, Culture and Recreation)
Get in touch:
Of course, these are just a few of the many commemorative events taking place across the county. If you are holding a special event to mark the start of World War One, why not let us know? Or perhaps you have a relative who fought in the war and to whom you’d like to pay tribute. Write and share your stories with us by sending a letter to the usual address, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or joining our community on Facebook and Twitter.