The Impact of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme began on 1st July 1916. It was the Dorking area’s bleakest day since the outbreak of war.

Though local regiments were not involved in the heaviest fighting, at least 21 men from the town and surrounding villages were killed on the opening day. The offensive ended on November 18th; by then over 50 more local men had been killed there. (Figures cannot be accurately established, as some men died of wounds months after having been brought back from the front.)

The area’s youngest casualty of the war, Aubrey Hudson of Newdigate, was killed at Delville Wood on the Somme on July 28th aged 15 years and one month.

By comparison there were only nine losses of local men in the Ypres area in 1916. The Great Naval Battle at Jutland on May 31st-June 1st claimed ten local lives.

The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) were serving in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and 13 men died there in 1916.

Total losses for 1916 were in the region of 170 local men killed, with many more wounded.

Edward Bovill 1888 – 1916

Edward Bovill of Betchworth died on the 1st day of the Somme. Edward’s brother Eric had died only months before.

Olaf Ranson Cuthbert. Photo Courtesy of Trevor Harkin

 Edward’s cousin Olav Cuthbert of Holmwood was killed on the same day.

Fred Buckland © Ranmore Archive

Denbies gamekeeper Frederick Buckland was killed on the 1st day of the Somme. Both his grandfathers worked on the estate.

Boyd Geake © Westcott Local History Society

Boyd Burnet Geake‘s family erected the dovecot sign and thatched bus shelter in Westcott in memory of the son who died on the 1st day of the Somme.

Widows and Orphans

The 1916 offensives widowed many local women and left scores of children fatherless.

Arthur Farmer © Dorking Advertiser

Many had not been long married: Percy Short and Olav Cuthbert had both been married only 6 months when they were killed. Dispatch rider Arthur Farmer‘s son was less than a year old when his father died in December 1916. In civilian life he had been a shop assistant at Kinghams wine merchants.

Alfred Thomas Rice © Rice Family Archive

Thomas Rice‘s daughter was a year old when he died in June 1916. His brother Albert died in service in 1919; his nephew Jack had died only weeks earlier.

The wives of those who died lost the family breadwinner at a time when women with small children struggled to undertake paid work.

William Wyatt left his wife Selina with 14 children. James Miller‘s widowed mother was left with a family of nine to support. Stephen Worsfold’s widow Lilian was left with five young children.

Some were reliant on the Dorking Relief Fund for many years to feed and clothe their children.

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