Ewhurst History Society

August 1918

Former Ewhurst man serving with the Canadian forces.

Alfred Etherington was born in Cox Green in 1884, but left England in 1906, with his younger brother Seth, to make a new life in Canada. They travelled on to British Columbia where Alfred got a job as a blacksmith’s assistant. In 1915 he joined the 54thKootaney Battalion of the Canadian army. In April 1916 he was hospitalised, in England, with a shrapnel wound, but recovered and returned to France. In December 1917 he had received 14 days leave, which he may have spent in Cox Green as he still had family in the area. His mother had died, but his father and sister were still in Cox Green. He was Killed in Action on the 9thAugust near Rosieres. Seth also joined up and survived the war.

Former Ewhurst Man awarded the Military Cross

The Surrey Advertiser reported that Lieutenant William Russell, son of Mr. and Mrs. Russell of Coneyhurst lodge had been awarded the Military Cross. “ All friends of John William Russell, late of Ewhurst will be pleased to hear of the excellent work done by him at the front where he has been for about three years. During the past year he has gained the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal and followed this up by obtaining a commission on the Field in the regiment he voluntarily joined at the outbreak of the war. Viz the signaling section of the Royal Engineers. Now comes the news that he has been awarded the Military Cross. Lieut. Russell will be well remembered in the district as a member of the Winchester Diocesan Guild and also the Ancient Society of College Youths, being a skilled and most reliable scientific change ringer. He was also a well known and enthusiastic cricketer in all parts of Surrey. His younger bother Charles has also been busily engaged at the front for the last three years in the Field Ambulance of the R.A.M.C. and will be recollected as a member and assistant master of the local troop of Boy Scouts. The four sisters and both parents are engaged in work of national importance.” (William’s mother, Catherine, was a V.A.D. at Oaklands Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital in Cranleigh). 

William Russell, the eldest child of John and Catherine Russell, was born in Mickleham in 1887 but by 1891 the family had moved to Ewhurst where his father got a job as a gardener for Mary Anne Ewart, at Coneyhurst, and they lived in the gardener’s cottage attached to the house. [now Mendip / Brakenlea] He attended Ewhurst School until the age of 13 when he left to work as a gardener’s boy, later working at Frensham, Standen and Pasture Wood at Holmbury St Mary.

He was a keen bell ringer and learnt to ring at Ewhurst, being elected to the Winchester DiocesanGuild of Bell Ringers in 1905. On 15 December 1907 he rang at Ewhurst for the visit of the Bishop of Dorking. As work took him away from home he rang at Frensham, Bently and Dorking. In 1912 he was elected a member of the Ancient Society of College Youths, a society for church bell ringers founded in 1637 and on 6thNovember 1912 he rang in a College Youths’ peal of Stedman Triples at Ashtead. 

William volunteered at the beginning of the War and his name was on the Roll of Honour pinned to the church door and on the list published in Ewhurst Parish Magazine in October 1914. The Ringing World, published regular updates on ringers serving with the forces, and listed “J. W. Russell of Ewhurst, Surrey, Royal Engineers, now at Chatham”in October 1914. After his initial training, he was transferred to 24th Divisional Signal Company.At the end of the war he was one of the 152 men named on the Surrey Association’s of Church Bell Ringers Roll of Honour for the First World War

On 15thNovember ‘The Ringing World’ published an article‘A Ringer’s experiences in Belgium’. Writing from “somewhere in Belgium,” Sergt. J. W. Russell says, in a letter to Mr. F. E. Dawe [Francis Edward Dawe of Woking, a Past Master of the College Youths, and conductor of Russell’s College Youths’ peal in 1912], that since he left England on August 31st1915 he had spent a lot of his time in travelling up and down the western front. “My first action was what is known in the papers as the ‘Great Advance,’ and since that we have been in a different part of the front altogether. Of course you must understand that we do not spend the whole of our time in the trenches. Personally, I have only spent two whole nights in them during the whole time, although some of my men are in the trenches throughout the period we are ‘up,’ as it is called. I spend more of my time, nights especially, at headquarters, although even there we are often in the danger zone, especially if the enemy gets ‘jumpy’ enough to let loose his heavy artillery- then the safest place is a dugout.

It is difficult to describe the amount of damage done to the country by heavy gunfire. In some places whole villages are practically levelled to the ground, just a base wall standing here or there, but no semblance of a house, and of course the ground around it is nothing but a series of holes that may be anything from 2ft. to 30ft. in diameter and up to 10ft. in depth. Undoubtedly the enemy’s guns are capable of doing an enormous amount of damage, although I think that now we have just about got their measure in that respect, and can hold our own easily.

How is ringing progressing? I suppose it is as quiet, as ever. One thing I am pretty certain of and that is that a good many of the good bands will never meet again. I am afraid I am getting quite, an outsider now, for I haven’t seen a ‘Ringing World’ since coming out.

We had his Majesty the King to visit us one day recently. I was lucky enough to be in the Guard of Honour. I thought he was looking very well indeed, considering the weight he has to carry just now. The Prince of Wales is making good out here.”

Russell would appear to have been typically modest. Maintaining communications was essential and if telephone cables were broken they had to be repaired quickly, often in dangerous conditions or under fire. He was to receive four awards for bravery including a ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal and, after being commissioned, a Military Cross. (Military Crosses were only awarded to officers. ‘Other Ranks’ received the Military Medal).

The ‘Mention in Dispatches’, appeared in the London Gazetteon 1 January 1916. His DCM was in the King’s Birthday Honours, Gazetted on 3 June 1916, “For conspicuous and consistent good work on his system of telephone lines. He has shown tireless energy and resource, besides great gallantry, under fire.”

Russell saw action on the Somme at the Battles of Delville Wood and Guillemont in 1916. In the spring of 1917 he was involved in the attack on Vimy Ridge and was awarded the Military Medal, which was Gazetted on 21 July 1917.

In July, 1917his company commander recommended him for a commission, and his two character references were Lady Mirrielees of Pasture Wood, Dorking and The Revd. A E Clark-Kennedy, the former Rector of Ewhurst. He was commissioned as a Temporary Second Lieutenant on 2 September 1917, continuing to serve with 24th Divisional Signal Company.

In the German Spring Offensive of 1918 he won, what would have been his second Military Medal, but this time, as he was now an officer, was awarded the Military Cross. The citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations lasting for several days, when he was continuously out laying telephone lines from divisional advance headquarters to brigade headquarters, frequently under heavy fire. On one occasion, when one of the brigades was nearly surrounded, he, although under heavy machine-gun and shell fire, succeeded in keeping through telephonic communication to the brigade, which greatly contributed to the ultimate success of the operation.

After the Armistice, 24th Division formed part of the Army of Occupation remained in Germany until the end of May 1919.

On 12 May 1922 he relinquished his commission. His discharge documents gave his address as Coneyhurst, Ewhurst, although he was, by this time, married with a child. He had marriedRosetta Pickard, at Tilehurst, Reading on 19 August 1915 and they had a daughter Olive, in 1921. After he left the army they moved to Ringwood, Hampshire.