Joy Of Cranleigh – What was happening in Cranleigh in December 1916?

The food situation throughout the country was beginning to give cause for alarm. German Uboats were targeting food imports from North and South America with considerable success. An
article in the Surrey Advertiser stressed the need for every farmer to make the most of the food-producing potential of his land, so that the country would not have to depend so much on foreign supplies. Wheat and oats were especially needed.

It was not easy for farmers to respond to this call, having lost so many of their labourers to the armed forces. But in the same issue of the Advertiser, the Army announced that at the Training Depot, Aldershot, there were over 80 former agricultural labourers, who were either temporarily unfit for service overseas or fit for home service only. These were available for farmers in the district to employ. Their pay would be 4s per day, if they found their own bed and breakfast, or 2s 6d, if the farmer provided these. Only men experienced in agriculture would be sent.

The Surrey Advertiser also carried this advertisement: ‘Xmas presents for the Forces. Send your soldier friends a pudding made with ‘ATORA’ Shredded Beef Suet. Requires no chopping and makes the best puddings and mincemeat. British made and owned. Your Grocer sells it. 1s per 1 lb, and 6½d per ½lb boxes’. This product had been invented in 1893 by a Frenchman living in Manchester, and promoted around the country by a wagon pulled by Hereford bullocks.

At Christmas, the wounded soldiers at Oaklands Military Hospital in Knowle Lane were showered with gifts from Cranleigh shops and residents. Turkeys, beef, plum puddings, mince pies, fruit cakes, sweets, nuts and crackers were delivered. Sir George and Lady Bonham invited them to Knowle for ‘tree and tea and Father Christmas’ on 23 December. The wards were decorated by the soldiers, and on Christmas Day each man received a stocking. After a service held in the hospital, those men who were able went also to the parish church. A great lunch followed, at which the King’s message was read, with all standing, and hearty toasts were drunk. The commandant, Mrs Rowcliffe, provided a bran tub full of presents. Entertainment, conjuring and a whist drive completed the day.

Meanwhile, on the Western Front, Rennie Crick, son of the owner of the Cranleigh shoe shop, celebrated Christmas in a more modest manner. He was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was currently working in a hospital at the 11th Division’s Rest Station at Léalvillers, west of Thiepval. The Army Service Corps served up ‘a grand dinner of roast pork and plum pudding’. Rennie contrived to watch or play plenty of football, too, involving different teams all stationed near this Divisional Rest Station. On December 31st, for example, ‘our Ambulance team played the 15th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, and we won 3-2. It was a grand match.’

The December issue of The Cranleighan reported that Cranleigh School’s Officers’ Training Corps was now 230 strong, and had been concentrating on musketry, signalling and bayonet fighting. They had held ‘operations’ on Farley Heath and Blackheath. The Prep School, opened in 1913, now had 64 boys, and during the summer holiday a school chapel (a wooden hut) had been built quickly by Mr Frederick Warren. He ‘had taken a great deal of pains to make everything as nice as possible’, and had very kindly agreed to be paid by instalments.


The Cranleigh History Society meets on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 8.00pm in the Band Room. The next meeting will be on Thursday December 8th, when Yvonne Jackson’s subject
will be ‘Sir Christopher Wren and St Paul’s’.


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