The war affected almost every aspect of everyday life. Godalming welcomed Belgian refugees and then thousands of soldiers, many of them from Canada - billeted on local families, at the massive army camps at Witley and in the convalescence hospitals. The civilian population faced shortages of food, fuel and labour and the threat of Zeppelin bombing raids. Women undertook a wide range of war work. The Council had to extend its public services to cope with the influx of soldiers and meet new responsibilities under wartime legislation.


For enlargements, click the image

Kindly donated by B Puttick


Postcard - soldiers pose with a local family outside the Ockford Road stores

In January 1915 Godalming’s Medical Officer of Health wrote “Camps have suddenly sprung up in the neighbourhood, and troops have been billeted in the town and surrounding villages during the last three months. Our public services are being called upon to provide for this temporary increase in population – water has to be supplied, sewage disposed of, and our roads are being torn up by heavy traffic”.

Godalming Presbyterian Minister, Mr Holden, wrote in his diary for February 23rd 1915 “3,400 soldiers billeted in the town for the night” and again on 28thFeb “3,400 soldiers billeted in the town for the night. We had five at Pinehurst”. The Town Council installed temporary baths for the soldiers on the Wharf and extra public urinals.


Kindly donated by Mr A C Gibbons and Mr E W Verstage


Kindly donated by Sarah Flew and lent by John Young

Army Camps

Special Constable's badge and truncheon. Souvenirs of Witley Camp

The massive army camps at Witley shaped the local experience of the war. There were opportunities for friendship and romance, for profit and for trouble (the wartime Special Constable’s truncheon is weighted with lead). The crested china and embroidered card are souvenirs sold by local tradesmen, many of whom had branches in “Tin Town” a row of shops in the camp, which were reputed to overcharge. At the end of the war Canadian troops rioted and burnt Tin Town to the ground.


This film can be seen in the Museum's galleries

Film kindly donated by Mr Fudger

Film: The Presentation of the Godalming Ambulance

The Godalming and Farncombe Chamber of Commerce led a campaign to raise money to provide and equip a Red Cross Ambulance in 1917. They explained that “the proximity of the town to a big camp has undoubtedly been the salvation of the place since the outbreak of war and an opportunity like this to reciprocate in a small way if it is possible, the benefit which Godalming has obtained from the presence of the camp should not be missed”. The presentation of the ambulance to the Red Cross took place at the Phillips Memorial Ground and was filmed by Mr Fudger, who ran the Empire cinema in Station Road


Kindly lent by Alan & Caroline Bott and John Young

Never mind the Zeppelins

Poster and china Zepplin

The poster is by a young Alfred Bestall, who after the war would become famous for his Rupert Bear drawings and stories. The china Zeppelin was made by Candlin’s china stores in Godalming High Street. Guildford was bombed in October 1915, by a Zeppelin which was probably looking for the gunpowder mills at Shalford. Fortunately the only casualties were a swan and some chickens. In Godalming, Moss Lane School was prepared as a casualty station in case of bombing raids.

Kindly donated by Mr Pelham Bird

Convalescence Hospitals

Dr Bird with his three young sons before the war, as Officer in Charge of Charterhouse convalesence hospital, and serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Egypt

In October 1914 the Red Cross opened a hospital in Charterhouse Sanatorium with Dr Bird, the local Medical Officer of Health, in charge. Viscountess Middleton appealed for donations for the wounded soldiers and local businesses and individuals came forward with offers of newspapers, books, cigarettes and tobacco, games, a gramophone, writing materials, hot water bottles, vegetables, fruit and flowers. The following January, Dr Bird reported to the Council that “the town has been privileged to receive many sick and wounded soldiers from the front for treatment”. Great Roke (now Barrow Hills School), Limnerslease (Frederic and Mary Watts’ home at Compton), Clandon Park and Thorncombe near Bramley were also military convalescence hospitals.

For more information about Dr Bird, click here

Kindly donated by Mr Frank Ashdown

National Registration Act and Conscription

Albert Ashdown's registration card and certificate of exemption from military service. Photograph of Albert Ashdown as a young man, when he was one of the gardeners at Snowdenham House.

In September 1915, Councillor Burgess reported that 30 volunteer workers had worked for 11 days issuing 5,300 certificates to residents in the Borough of Godalming between the ages of 15 and 65, as required by the National Registration Act. Albert Ashdown’s registration card was issued by Hambledon Rural District Council. Aged 48, Albert was not called up until late in the war, in August 1918. His exemption was on the grounds of his occupation as a gardener and electrician.


Food shortages and Rationing

Sugar ration card

By 1917, German submarines were sinking 300,000 tons of shipping a month, while a shortage of men and horses was limiting the production of food at home. Farnham farmer, George Sturt noted in his journal that “the contrast between food queues on one hand and luxurious “West End” hotel luncheons on the other is too glaring. And it is directing attention on class inequalities which have only to be noticed to be reprobated.” Sugar was rationed from January 1918; meat, butter, cheese and margarine from April, and coal from July. Godalming Council established a Food Control Committee (which set up the country’s first milk rationing scheme), a National Kitchen in the old Grammar School and a food distribution centre at the Church Rooms in Farncombe.

This film can be seen in the Museum's galleries

Kindly donated by Mr Fudger

Film: Surrey Women War Workers – Demonstration at Cross Farm Shackleford, 1917

With the country under siege from German submarines and ships, it was vital that British farms should produce more food. This became even more difficult as horses were requisitioned for the front and farm workers joined up. Women were encouraged to volunteer for farm work and in 1917 a Land Army demonstration was arranged at Shackleford. In the same year Farnham farmer George Sturt, recorded in his journal a conversation on a train with “a young woman who had come …from farm-work at Bude. She looked capable, self-reliant…had taken her post six months ago, answering an advertisement to relieve a man who wished to join the Navy. This was her contribution to the War. Beginning with no experience of horses or cattle, and loathing her duties for a few days, she would not now, she said, lose them for any consideration. She rises o’mornings between 4 and 5: attends to two horses, milks 4 cows, then puts a horse into cart and delivers milk in and around Bude. Is in general too busy to try ploughing or field work; her day being done by about 6 at night. Her father being in the Reserve, and her brother fighting in Flanders, she felt it incumbent on her to be also doing something for the nation.”

Kindly donated by Joan Bennett

Basket-making for Shells at Busbridge

Picture from The Great War, A History, 1916

Mr Seed, the Busbridge school master had been trained in basket making by a gypsy, Caleb Chapman, and had in his turn trained villagers in Busbridge, Hascombe and Hambledon. Before the war, the villagers had made baskets for packing flowers. But in July 1915 the Surrey Advertiser reported that they had received a trial order for 100 baskets for eighteen pounder high explosive shells. To make the sample which secured the order, Mr Seed had visited Witley Camp with the Vicar of Busbridge, the Revd. Larner, to see how the shell casings were stored and brought back a dummy shell as a model.

Kindly donated by David Coombs

Winston Churchill (Hascombe)

First Lord of the Admiralty at the beginning of the War, Churchill was forced to resign after the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign. He became severely depressed and his wife worried that he would die. In the summer of 1915 Churchill and his brother Jack rented Hoe Farm at Hascombe and here Gwendoline Churchill taught her brother-in-law to paint. After experimenting with watercolour he took up oils and discovered a pastime which was to be a great comfort to him for the rest of his life.

For more information about Winston Churchill, click here.

RFD Archive kindly donated by Mr Kenneth Lucas

Reginald Foster Dagnall (Catteshall Lane, Godalming)

The founder of Godalming based firm RFD, which had its factory and offices in Catteshall Lane from the 1930s, Reginald Foster Dagnall was an airship pioneer. During the First World War he ran a factory in Merton manufacturing observation balloons. Both sides in the First World War used tethered observation balloons, linked to the ground by field telephone, to report on enemy positions and direct artillery fire. Filled with hydrogen, the balloons were obvious targets for enemy fire and the balloonists were equipped with primitive parachutes. The RFD archive at the museum includes a fascinating series of photographs of women making observation balloons in a former skating rink in Merton and of balloons under test.

For more information about Reginald Dagnall, click here.



Arthur Jex Davey (Ockford, Godalming)

The only civilian to be included in Godalming’s Roll of Honour, Arthur Jex Davey was founder and director of the Mills Equipment Company which made the webbing belts, straps and haversacks which were standard in the British Army from 1908 . He resigned from the company in the First World War to become the Government’s Deputy Director of Army Contracts. He was also a Godalming Councillor and served as Mayor 1914 – 1916. In October 1918 he was returning from an official visit to Ireland on the Leinster, an Irish mail steamer, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Irish Sea. Mr Davey was one of 500 people to lose their lives.

For more information about Arthur Jex Davey, click here.