The Surrey Regiments in the First World War
My research into the men named on the Carshalton war memorial has focused quite heavily on the wartime experiences of the two Surrey regiments. 37 of the men from Carshalton who lost their lives were in the East Surrey Regiment (predominantly in the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 9th and 13th Battalions), and 38 in The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), mainly in the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th Battalions. Together they account for nearly a third of all the men on the memorial; not surprising really considering that these were the ‘local’ regiments.
Both regiments saw extensive service during the war, their battalions seeing action on the Western Front, Gallipoli, Italy, Salonika, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine. In total 44 battalions saw active service, their battle honours covering most of the major actions of the war. Casualties were heavy – the East Surrey Regiment suffered over 6,500 and The Queen’s over 8,500. The 1st Battalion of The Queen’s, for example, had only 32 men fit for duty by the beginning of November 1914 out of a strength of nearly 1,000 who had landed in France in August. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to men of the two regiments during the war. Perhaps the most well known is Private Edward Dwyer, 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, who was awarded his VC after the action at Hill 60 on 20th April 1915. Popularly known as the ‘Little Corporal’, although he survived that action he was killed during the Somme offensive the following year. Probably the most well-known story about a Surrey battalion during the war is that of Captain ‘Billie’ Nevill of the 8th East Surreys, who encouraged his men to dribble footballs across no man’s land on the opening day of the Somme. Nevill was killed leading the attack; total casualties in the battalion (killed, wounded and missing) totalled 446.
There are a number of excellent resources for those studying the Surrey regiments. The war diaries for both regiments are available free online as pdf documents, a most valuable resource. The ability to specify the battalion, date, month and year that you are interested in is most convenient. Regimental histories for both are also available from Naval & Military Press. The Surrey History Centre holds many of the regimental records, and the regimental museum at Clandon also has some interesting displays.
In future blog entries I hope to examine further the experiences of the battalions in both regiments and post information about some of the individuals and actions that have caught my eye.