This is the story of Newdigate, a small Wealden village, on the Surrey/Sussex borders during the period of World War One.
The author says….” This book was born in the summer of 1984 when the Rector of Newdigate, the late Rev. Dennis Parker, gave the Newdigate Local History Society a set of Parish magazines for safekeeping. At the time my youngest son was seriously ill in Great Ormond Street Hospital, so- to while away the interminable hours sitting next to his bed - I gradually read the magazines one by one. I soon realised that here was an informative store of information about the village covering the First World War period. My written notes turned into a play-reading which was performed not only in Newdigate but also at Dorking Halls and the University of Surrey. The script and my notes turned into this book. My son made a complete recovery”
The sources of the material used, to compile this book, were from newspapers, magazines, local comment and National comment. Not forgetting the input from those descendants who have shared the tales told to them in years gone by. Researchers, local archives, all brought together to give us an insight into the lives of the villagers.
There are dozens of photographs, some never seen before, they show the village, the houses, streets and most of all the people of the village, from the Landed gentry to the humble farm worker. Together bringing to life a period, that has been written about many times, seen here from a different perspective.
As I started to read this book it soon became obvious that this was going to be no ordinary tale. It was put together, very skilfully, taking the reader from the outbreak of WW1 and how it affected village life, or at the beginning, how it didn’t. The snippets, taken from articles, letters and other documents, described how the war intruded upon this backwater of the English countryside. How, over a period of time, the villagers came to terms with this intrusion into their lives. When the call came for volunteers the men, like the men of all walks of life, followed the flag and went off to war not knowing anything about life in the services.
The narrative is interspersed with very personal notations as the tales of the men of the village began to drift back home. Another husband/son/brother lost somewhere ‘over there‘.
One begins to see how the people of the village, left behind, began to realise what a price their men folk were being asked to pay. For example, a comment made….Total British casualties up to 9th December 1915 was 528,227. As we now know this was just the beginning. How the Men, and Women, of the Empire kept volunteering, never realising what a hell they were going into, shall be forever amazing.
The call comes…..’we need another 100,000 men to replace those lost, your country needs you’. So off they went.
A letter sent from the front asking those at home to make sandbags, ‘we need a new sandbag for every yard we advance to protect ourselves’. So the villagers get to work making them by the thousand and sending them to the front.
We read stories of the bravery of the Officers and Men at the front. (Who would liked to have been a young 2nd Lieutenant leading his men over the top? ) They dropped like flies as they advanced towards an entrenched enemy.
The book isn’t wholly taken up with fighting the war. It also tells of life back in the village, how those left behind carried on with their lives, the Mothers, Fathers, wives, sweethearts, the young ladies who found themselves doing War work, making a vital contribution to the War effort.
This book is a window into the lives of the Newdigate people, a tale of heroism and stoicism. All the more touching as you get involved with how they coped and overcame the tragedy that was ‘The Great War’
The village lost 32 of its men during the conflict.
I give this book 3 mushroom heads.Granny.