• The Surrey Comet looks back​​
  • The centenary of the outbreak of World War I
  • Exhibition at the Rose Theatre

This is one in a series of features looking back at our area’s involvement in the First World War.

The stories, including of mobilisation, stranded holidaymakers, and the tale of a lonely prisoner of war, were uncovered in the Surrey Comet archives by researcher Sarah Hayward.

  • “Useless slaughter”

The Battle of Loos, in September and October 1915, was the largest British offensive on the Western front, and an especially bloody one.

Nearly 60,000 casualties were sustained – with thousands lost in “useless slaughter” at the battle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, where one officer of the East Surreys won a Victoria Cross.

Then-Lieutenant Arthur Fleming-Sandes won the honour after rallying his men, pinned down by machine gun fire, by pelting German soldiers with grenades despite being “severely wounded almost at once” after jumping on to a parapet overlooking their position.

This Is Local London:

Arthur Fleming-Sandes' medals. Pic: Surrey Infantry Museum

Mr Fleming-Sandes, born in Tulse Hill, survived the war, becoming involved in the Sudan government and the judiciary.

After moving back to England he died in May 1961, aged 66.

Three brothers, of the Ninth battalion of the East Surreys, also took part in the battle.

One died, one survived, and one was declared missing.

Private CF Harris, Lance Corporal GW Harris and Sergeant JC Harris, formerly of Acre Road, Kingston, enlisted together.

Private Harris, 19, died of wounds he sustained during action at Loos, while Sgt Harris was last seen during the charge on the village when the unit was under a hail of German machine gun fire.

Their parents, then of Gomer Place in Teddington, received the news some time later.

The boys had attended St Luke’s School in Kingston.

L Cpl Harris, an apprentice in the Mercantile Marine, was also wounded, but was treated back at base and transferred to an entrenching battalion where he continued to serve.

  • A boy's generosity

From the Surrey Comet, February 1915

A Thames Ditton boy gave up his savings for captured soldiers of the East Surreys held prisoner in a camp half an hour outside Berlin.

Douglas Gain, 13, of Vine Cottage, answered a plea in the Surrey Comet from one of the prisoners, who had written to Lt Col Treeby, commanding officer at the regimental depot in Kingston, see article below.

Private J Johnson wrote: “Kindly excuse me writing you, but I have no relatives or friends in England to write to, and I am a prisoner of war in Germany, having been captured on August 23, 1914.

“I have not had a parcel or any cigarettes sent me, so would you kindly forward me some; if not, then a few shillings. I will refund to you when I return home.”

The Comet reported the week later that young Master Gain sent half a dozen khaki handkerchiefs, one pair of mittens, 100 cigarettes, 1lb each of toffee, peppermints and chocolates, and some books.

Private Johnson was a prisoner at Doberitz, where 80 East Surrey men were held at the time.

After receiving his letter, the Comet wrote: “We commend the lonely soldier’s pathetic appeal to the generosity of our readers, and we are sure he will not have written in vain.”

No letters to the prisoners were permitted, only postcards. Parcels did not require postage, but a post office form had to be filled in for each one sent.

  • What is this all about?

The features tie in with an audio-visual exhibit at the Rose Theatre, to open in September, based on the campaign by Edwardian author John Galsworthy for better conditions for injured servicemen.

Galsworthy was born in Kingston Hill and worked as a hospital orderly. Eventually he set up the first magazine for disabled servicemen.

Organisers are also asking readers with a connection to the Great War to get in touch.

If you have any family memorabilia, stories or memories from the First World War visit digitaldrama.org for more information, or contact Kate Valentine on 07786 142330 or kate@digitaldrama.org.

The deadline for contributions is Friday, March 28.