Sutton's Role in World War One
The Borough's Role in World War One
To commemorate Remembrance Day 2022, we will be discussing the London Borough of Sutton and its role in both of the World Wars. This blog post will provide information on its role in the First World War.
You can find out what Civic acts of remembrance are taking place throughout Sutton, as well as visiting Whitehall Historic House’s permanent remembrance exhibition to the local men who fought and served during the war from Thursday to Saturdays, 10-5pm.
When the war was first announced, people believed the idea of it being the “Great War”. They were convinced that it was for a noble cause and, most infamously, that it would be over by Christmas. However, as the years went by, more people became aware of the atrocities of the war, especially as families lost loved ones abroad.
Initially, joining the army was voluntary, and plenty of propaganda was used to convince men to sign up. By January 1916, 168 men from Cheam had signed up to fight in the war, being sent to places as far off as India, Egypt and the Middle East. Two months later in March, conscription was introduced, which meant that all men between 18 and 41 years of age, and were able to fight, had to sign up. As Cheam had a population of 6500 at the time, this would have no doubt had a major impact on the local residents.
Those who weren’t able to help out in the army mainly contributed to the war effort back at home. They tended to work in factories on ammunition to be used in the war, hospitals helping out the injured, or at refugee centres sheltering people who came there. However, those who tried to stay out of the war due to their pacifist beliefs were treated as cowards and shunned by others, an attitude that persevered in World War 2 as well.
Some places that were originally not used for war efforts ended up being converted for these purposes. The Brocks Firework Factory, for instance, was originally set up for making fireworks, but turned to making munitions for the WW1 efforts. Most of the employees were women and the number of staff employed rose from 400 to 2000. Making the munitions was a risky job - five employees, including a Worcester Park resident, were killed in explosions at the factory.
There were around 265,000 Belgian refugees that came over to Britain during the war, because of Germany invading Belgium in order to get to France. Sutton was one of the many towns helping them out, with a Sutton Belgian Refugees Committee being set up after a meeting held by the Sutton Urban District Council on the 13th October 1914. Manor Park House in Sutton housed 60 refugees, mainly consisting of women and children, and four family houses were also offered as means of shelter. The White House in Cheam was also used as a hostel for Belgian refugees from 1916 to 1918, though not many details have been recorded relating to this time period. Almost all of the refugees had returned to Belgium by 1919.
Photo of the White House in Cheam, from Sutton Archives.
From 1918 to 1919, the White House was converted into an auxiliary hospital, possibly in response to the German spring offensive that started in March 1918. It was one of many auxiliary hospitals set up in the UK during this time, another one being the S. Croydon Relief Hospital in South Croydon. More information about the auxiliary hospitals around at the time can be found on the Red Cross website in their First World War Volunteers section.
Individual People In World War 1
There were many residents in the Borough that played their part in the war, whether it be on the frontline or back home. Cheam in particular had several of its residents play important roles.
One Cheam resident who had a particularly major role was Wing Commander Frank Brock. He was a member of the Brock family, who owned the Brocks Firework Factory in Cheam and were active VADs during the war. Brock himself was known for his inventions, such as the Brock Bullet, Dover Flare and smokescreen he developed whilst working at the Royal Navy Experimental Station in Stratford. In January 1918, he received an OBE for his services to King and Country. Three months later on the 23rd April, he died in battle whilst overseeing his smokescreen invention at Zeebrugge, leaving behind his wife Gladys.
John Stewart Muller, one of the members of the Killick and Muller family line that lived in Whitehall, was also one of the people fighting in WW1. He ultimately died from tuberculosis on the 27th July 1918, a common disease at the time and especially prevalent in soldiers due to the poor conditions in the trenches, including a lack of food and the various rats, lice and other pests that the soldiers had to deal with on a daily basis.
Photo of Nurse Anderson from the David Knights-Whittome collection at Sutton Archives
Back at home, Jane Verling-Brown was one of the nurses at the auxiliary hospital at the White House, volunteering from October 1918 to July 1919. Beforehand in 1901, she had been working at the Great Northern Central Hospital in Islington. It must have been quite a change for her - back in Islington, she would have been helping the “sick poor”, but at the White House she would have been dealing with all sorts of ghastly injuries caused by war.
David Knights-Whittome was a prominent photographer in Sutton from 1904-1918. During this time he took many photographs of people during the First World War. Many of these photographs can be found here. Our sister blog, Past on Glass, features research on some of the people found in these photos, you can read some of these here
“Lest We Forget”
Throughout the borough, many war memorials have been erected. They are still standing today and have often been used to pay tribute to those that died in later wars. These are just a few of the memorials erected in the borough.
On the 13th March 1921, the Carshalton War Memorial was unveiled by Major-General, Sir John Langley. Initially, 237 names were inscribed on it, but the number has increased throughout the years in order to take other wars into account. As a result, it expanded over the road so it now comes in two parts. Both parts stand near Honeywood Museum next to the pond.
Both parts of the Carshalton War Memorial as they stand today.
On the 16th March 1921, the Cheam War Memorial was unveiled. Made from Portland stone, it was designed by Charles J. Marshall and paid for by local community fundraising. However, much scorn was directed towards the decision to include a field gun next to it, especially when it was discovered to be a German field gun. One night, some local youths took the gun and threw it into the old Cheam Brickworks sandpit near Springclose Lane, never for it to be seen again. Since then, Cheam Library has been built on the site where the gun once stood. The memorial itself still remains, though the stone seats surrounding it have since been removed. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war, new benches were set up around the area.
Cheam War Memorial with the accompanying field gun. Photo from the Sutton Archives’s Local Studies Collection.
Cheam War Memorial as it stands today.
On the 26th June 1921, the Sutton War Memorial was unveiled by Sir Ralph Forster, with the Bishop of Southward attending the ceremony. It was made from Portland Stone with brass plaques on all four sides of its base. It currently stands in Manor Park.
Sutton War Memorial as it stands today.
To commemorate the centurion of the War, the Borough put on several events from 2014 to 2018. A ceremony was held at Carshalton Memorial Gardens in August 2014, led by the Royal British Legion, the Mayor and local councillors. The Battle of the Somme was commemorated in 2016, on the 1st July 2016 as members of the Carshalton and Wallington Royal British Legion gathered at Carshalton War Memorial, and on the 11th November 2016 as a documentary on the Somme was shown at St. Andrew’s Church to an audience of around 700 people. In 2017, a major project called Sutton Remembers World War 1: The Graves took place to commemorate those who died from the effects of war and were buried in the borough. These are only some of the many extraordinary events that took place during those four years.
If you are curious about finding out more about the Borough’s role in World War 1, you can come and see the WW1 exhibit at Whitehall Historic House. It has both facts about the people in WW1 and photos taken during that period. Some of the photos here were even used in the Golden Globe winning movie 1917.
If you are interested in finding out more about Sutton’s local history during either of the two World Wars, visit Sutton Archives Local Studies Searchroom. Read the follow up blog article on Sutton's Role in World War 2.
Marshall, Charles J. History of Cheam & Sutton, S.R. Publishers Limited, 1971.
Bower, Dick, Brett Young, Tony, Mills, Roger and Tope, Graham. Sutton Remembers: 2014-2018, 2019.
“A House Through the Ages: S3, Ep.6 – The Auxiliary Hospital.” The Past on Glass and Other Stories…, 19 May 2022, https://pastonglass.wordpress.com/2022/05/19/a-house-through-the-ages-s3-ep-6-the-auxiliary-hospital/
“The Belgian Refugees in Sutton, 1914-1917.” The Past on Glass and Other Stories…, 4 Aug. 2022, https://pastonglass.wordpress.com/2022/08/04/the-belgian-refugees-in-sutton-1914-1917/
“The Belgian Refugees in Sutton, 1914-1917: Part 2.” The Past on Glass and Other Stories…, 24 Aug. 2022, https://pastonglass.wordpress.com/2022/08/24/the-belgian-refugees-in-sutton-1914-1917-part-2/