People with stories or photographs of Surrey in the Great War are being urged to help create a lasting digital memorial to the county’s role during the conflict.
Surrey Heritage, part of Surrey County Council, has launched a new website to document the experiences of Surrey residents during the First World War – both on the home front and battlefields overseas.
Over the next three years, the website aims to publish thousands of stories about Surrey towns, villages, organisations and individuals to serve as an enduring record of the county’s contribution to protecting Britain 100 years ago.
The website is the centrepiece of Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers, a four-year First World War commemoration project launched by Surrey Heritage and funded with a grant of almost £460,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was announced last year.
People of all ages from Surrey and beyond are invited to post memories, photographs, letters and records chronicling the impact of the war years on the county.
They will also be able to search through the website’s records from the period including indexes to local newspapers to find out more about wartime life in the county.
Volunteers from communities across Surrey will be encouraged to add the names of men and women listed on the county’s hundreds of war memorials and tell their individual stories where possible.
As well as preserving the heroism of those in the forces, a major focus of the website will be the experiences of those on the home front who faced food shortages, regular air raids and, in some cases, learning of devastating personal losses.
By November 2018, when commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the World War I draw to a close, the website will have become a major and enduring tribute to the sacrifices and suffering of Surrey’s people a century ago.
Richard Walsh, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Localities and Community Wellbeing, said: ‘This ambitious project will create for future generations an enduring digital record of Surrey’s contribution to the first global war in human history and we warmly welcome the grant which has made it possible.
‘Thousands of men from Surrey alone died in the First World War and the lives of many on the home front were changed beyond recognition. As we commemorate the war’s centenary, we would urge Surrey residents past and present to share their stories and memories to deepen our understanding of the part played by our county.’
Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said: “The centenary commemorations are giving us new insights into the impact of the First World War on every part of the UK. Resources such as this new website will be invaluable for recording and sharing this new research, ensuring that the memories and experiences of War-time Surrey will be remembered for many years to come.”
The project wants to hear about Surrey as it was configured at the time of the war – when the London boroughs of Croydon, Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Richmond were still part of the county.
Notable wartime stories linked to Surrey are still emerging and the project hopes to uncover more of these. Stories brought to light in recent years include the the exploits of Flora Sandes from Thornton Heath who pretended to be man and became a Captain in the Serbian Army and insights into the life of renowned war poet Wilfred Owen who trained at Witley North Camp near Godalming in 1916 where he wrote a precursor to his famous ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.