Across East Surrey this November as with each November since 1918 there will be dozens of events held commemorating the lives lost and those forever changed in the First World War. This month, to coincide with Remembrance Day, RH History Uncovered looks at the contribution of the East Surrey Regiment in the First World War which saw it suffer horrendous losses on the Western Front.
A century-ago the guns fell silent on the Western Front, bringing an end to four horrible, gruesome and devastating years of conflict. Such was the human scale of the First World War that few communities across Britain were spared the horror of losing a loved one – East Surrey was no different – the area’s men played their part and in great numbers fathers, sons, husbands, brothers and boyfriends would not return to loved ones.
At the outbreak of war, the 1st Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment was in Dublin, however, in little more than 10 days, the battalion had been mobilised and was en route to France. The speed of which the battalion was dispatched is demonstrated that by the end of the first month of the war the regiment was already engaged in battle and would go on to fight Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne.
The battalion fought at the infamous Hill 60 near Ypres, this fight saw the members of the battalion win three Victoria Crosses and seven Distinguished Conduct Medals, one recipient of a Victoria Cross was Lieutenant George Roupell who would go on to become the last colonel of the East Surrey Regiment before in 1959 it merged with The Queen’s Royal Regiment to form the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment.
The horrific and graphic casualty figures from this action on the Western Front it is thought left 113 dead and more than 165 wounded. In 1916, the battalion took part in battles of the Somme, and Morval, before, in 1917 fighting at Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres and Passchendaele. The battalion spent four months on the Italian Front before returning to France in March 1918 to fight at the Battles of Albert and Bapaume.
The 2nd Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment arrived in France in 1915 having been in India, in France the battalion suffered losses as the result of poison gas. The battalion suffered horrendous losses in the space of a week, in the Battle of St Julien 141 were killed and 256 wounded which was followed by the loss of 100 troops and 133 casualties. The battalion was later transferred to the Macedonian Front.
East Surrey’s Territorial battalions did not see action on the Western Front, instead they were stationed in India on garrison duties in the United Provinces and the Punjab region. The East Surrey Regiment’s seven non-regular battalions took part in the battles across France including the battles of the Somme as well as battles such as Arras, the Scarpe, the Third Battle of Ypres, St Quetin, Albert and Cambrai.
By Jacob White