Tandridge Past: Recruiting Day in Caterham

By Peter Connolly, curator of East Surrey Museum

August is high summer: the schools are out and many people are taking a holiday. However, in August 1914 the mood was very different. 

In June, Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Serbia and his wife had been assassinated in Sarajevo, precipitating the First World War. On 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia, and shortly after invaded Belgium to attack France. As a result, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August, a move generally supported by the British public. 

The British Armed Forces had been on alert throughout July but, unlike other European powers, they did not have a conscripted army, and only had around 250,000 men, many of whom were overseas. In comparison, France and Germany had mobilised over 3.5m men in 1914. 

By the end of August, Britain had sent around 150,000 men to France, to stop the German advance. Increasing the size of the army, and backfilling the jobs left by the men who signed up, was now the main priority. Army camps expanded to take new recruits, and the Guards Depot at Caterham would eventually expand in tents and huts across Coulsdon Common. By early September 1914, over half a million men had enlisted in Britain. 

Our picture shows a recruiting day at Caterham, in April 1915. A big parade of soldiers, scouts and nurses was assembled in front of Caterham Station, to encourage men and women to volunteer for the armed forces, or to support the war effort in other roles, such as nursing. 

However, such was the casualty rate at the front, conscription was eventually introduced in 1916. The guns would not fall silent until November 1918, with the peace treaty not signed until the following year.

We have a small display covering WW1: please pop in to the museum on Stafford Road in Caterham to see it!

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