Home Front News

March 2016 - Selected articles from the Mitcham & Tooting Mercury - 1916

Instead of representing one article from a local newspaper of March, 1916, we have decided to provide a selection of articles which demonstrate some of the roles women in Merton undertook during wartime.

This article is a testament to the quality of medical care provided by Merton nursing staff during the First World War.















Local residents were not only eager to care for the physical and psychological welfare of wounded servicemen. As this article shows they were also concerned for the needs of those four-footed friends that were supporting the war effort.

To aid the recovery of wounded servicemen, it was important to raise their spirits. This article shows the vital role of local women in boosting morale by organising entertainment, special outings and a range of home comforts.

February 2016 - The Y.M.C.A. Hut on Wimbledon Common

On 25 th  February 1916 Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, formally opened the Y.M.C.A. hut in the army camp on Wimbledon Common. The hut was set up to provide recreational activities and support for soldiers preparing for frontline service abroad. Money for the project had been donated by the people of Wimbledon and a team of volunteers recruited to help ease the lot of the young men facing a daunting future far from home. 

The hut had a Recreation Room with billiard tables, a Canteen, a Writing Room and a Post Office. Religious services of all denominations were held in the Quiet Room and a programme of concerts, lectures and sporting events was established from the outset. Other activities were added later in the year. August saw the introduction of a ‘Mothers' Day' for soldiers whose mothers were able to visit. Each one was presented with a white flower on entering the hut for the social tea that had been arranged for them. The following month local people were encouraged by the hut staff to open up their homes to give a kind word and home life to ‘men who have left good homes and friends and are now miles from those they love and know'.














The first men to use the hut were "Wimbledon's Own" army reservists and men from other battalions billeted in the area. However, the majority of the 240,000 men who passed through its doors over the first 6 months were billeted at the army training camp which spread across 200 acres of the Common.

The Wimbledon hut was just one of a network of YMCA centres set up in the early months of the conflict. The organisation had opened no less than 250 recreation centres for troops in the UK within ten days of the declaration of war. By the end of 1915 it had small centres in hundreds of places near the front, some of them very close to the firing line.

January 2016 - Departure of the 3/5th East Surrey Regiment

A selection of newspaper articles dated January 1916 describes the departure of the 3/5 th  East Surrey Regiment for active service. Whilst only stationed in Wimbledon for six months, this territorial unit became a familiar sight around the town. The men were clearly going to be missed by local residents, who were used to watching them marching through the streets or staging field exercises. The 3/5th was based at the Drill Hall, St Georges Road, Wimbledon, where troops practiced moving in formation, in addition to other forms of training.

The articles printed in the Wimbledon Boro' News  and Wimbledon & District Gazette  reflect the fondness which people felt for the regiment and their hopes that the young soldiers would uphold the honour of Wimbledon wherever they served. As one journalist wrote: ‘We shall miss them and look forward to the time when we can welcome them home again.'





















After leaving Wimbledon, the 3/5 th  East Surreys were transferred to Cambridge in January 1916.  By April they had relocated to Crowborough and became the 5th and 6th (Reserve) Battalions. In September 1916, these two units were merged as part of the Home Counties Reserve Brigade Territorial Force, moving to Tonbridge in October 1916. The brigade was ultimately transferred to Tunbridge Wells in September 1918.

December 2015 - "Soldiers and Sailors ‘smokes' fund"

Civilians felt that they could do little to help the war effort, particularly the many wounded recuperating in hospitals throughout the country.  Smoking was extremely popular at this time but as hospital funds could not be used for such luxuries, individuals could ‘do their bit' by donating funds for consoling cigarettes. Donors could send money to their designated hospitals free of charge via The Red Cross.

Articles in The  Mitcham and Tooting Mercury  of December 1915 refer to ‘smokes' funds in the Borough, including a letter from written by Streatham Nurse Mina du Mosch, of the Throat Hospital, Central London.  She requested goods from the tobacco firm Messrs A. H. Cornish and Co, a business which had already collected £2 1s 5d for patients. A second article by L'Inconnu (The Unknown) used emotive language for the ‘Mercury" Christmas Appeal.  The text aimed to boost morale and encourage donations with a witty quote, "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Snore, and you sleep alone..."













These Mitcham "smokes" appeals were just two examples of charitable initiatives started throughout Merton to provide comfort to British servicemen during the festive period.