Monday, November 10, 2014

To the War Memorial on Remembrance Day and the football charge of the East Surrey Regiment

Guy and I went to our local war memorial on Sunday and I took a few pictures before the service.  Many readers will have gone to their local memorial on Sunday but the one in Oxshott is rather unusual in that it is not situated in the centre of the village but rather on top of a ridge on Oxshott Heath.  It was commissioned by Sir Robert McAlpine, the founder of the large civil engineering firm, who lived nearby, although there was some opposition to the plan at the time.

View from the top

This means you have to park down the hill at the railway station and trek up to the top where on a clear day (unlike yesterday) you can see the North Downs.  You feel rather more isolated than in fact you are as you can only glimpse a few buildings from the site.  During both World Wars the heath was the home to large numbers of Canadian troops, some of whom are remembered on the memorial.  In World War 2 it was the Royal Canadian Engineers who were stationed here and they used their lumberjacking skills, it is said, to help manage the woodland.  On the flat area at the bottom of the hill, in the photograph above, they built a baseball diamond and used the slope of the hill up to the memorial as spectator seating.  This slope, which is steeper than it looks in the photo, was very popular with my children for tobogganing when they were smaller.  Coincidentally, they used a seventy-five year old toboggan which belonged to their grandmother who was born in Montreal.

Oxshott was sparsely populated until the arrival of the Guildford line railway in 1885 led to the development of the vast villas that made up most of the original houses.  Some of these are still standing.  Oddly, until his death in 1882, the land was owned by King Leopold of Belgium: his own private colony in Surrey!

The memorial itself has the names on it of locals killed in both world wars, many of whom were in the local regiment, the East Surreys, who were based in Kingston-upon Thames.  The Great War section has the dates 1914-1919 on it as the regiment went to Russia in 1919.  

The East Surreys were involved in a famous incident in World War 1 when, on the first day of the battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916, Captain WP Nevill provided some footballs for his troops to kick in front of their advance across no-man's land.  Nevill was killed early in the charge but the regiment kept kicking the balls forward, as they advanced, until they drove the Germans from their position and even recovered two of the footballs which were sent home to the regimental museum.  Before the charge one was inscribed 'The Great European Cup-Tie Final. East Surreys v Bavarians. Kick off at zero.'

The incident became so famous that it was immortalised in a painting by the famous military artist Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927) whose most famours painting is probably Maiwand, saving the Guns painted in 1883.  The Daily Mail commissioned a special verse.

 On through the hail of slaughter, 
Where gallant comrades fall, 
Where blood is poured like water, 
They drive the trickling ball. 
The fear of death before them, 
Is but an empty name; 
True to the land that bore them, 
The SURREYS played the game.

One of these footballs is still on display at the regimental museum at Clandon Park near Guildford, just one mile from where Guildford Wargames club meets.


  1. I watched the BBC ceremoney from London. Very moving.

  2. That is an impressive memorial. Lest we forget!

  3. I used to run past that memorial every week on the school cross country runs - looks like its been given a good clean. I used to remember it being grey !