As the Great War ground on, the numbers of wounded soldiers rose inexorably. Those with serious injuries that would take time to heal were brought back to Britain to recover. The hospitals were overflowing, so many public-spirited owners of large houses offered them as temporary hospitals.
In Cranleigh, Sir George Bonham of ‘Knowle’ had already welcomed refugees from Belgium into ‘Oaklands’, an eight-bedroomed house that he owned in Knowle Lane (since rebuilt). Now that the Belgians had moved on, he offered the house as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital. Local people responded with enthusiasm to set it up with beds, furniture and equipment, and the first soldiers were welcomed here on 5 January. They had fought in the Dardanelles, Serbia and the Western Front.
Here are some of the recovering patients outside ‘Oaklands’ at a later date. Most of them are proudly wearing uniform of blue jackets with red ties – known as ‘Blighty Blues’. Were they humming the latest popular war song, ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, And smile, smile, smile’?
People of Cranleigh rose to the challenge of the
wounded soldiers. The Boy Scouts carried out ‘orderly
duties’ every day.
Within a month, the Women’s War Work Association, beavering away in the Baptist schoolroom, produced 33 pairs of pyjama suits, 31 pairs of socks, fourteen ‘comforters’ and fourteen pairs of mittens. Mr Leslie Clair of the Common entertained the soldiers with conjuring tricks and ventriloquism. Boys from Cranleigh School gave them a concert. Landed gentry gave or lent motors and carriages for the use of patients.
Meanwhile, the Military Service Act of January 1916 introduced conscription for the first time ever in Britain. All fit single men between 18 and 41 were called up. Farms around Cranleigh were hard hit as farm labourers and skilled machinery operators joined the armed forces. Just at a time when the government was asking for more land to be taken into cultivation for food, farms had to rely on men of over 41 and boys of 14- 18. Times were becoming increasingly difficult for the people here.