A rather grandiose title perhaps, but after the initial introduction, I wanted to say a little more about the direction I’m intending to take this blog. On the one hand will be the “standard” biographical information about (hopefully) all the men on the original roll, at the moment there are still a few I can’t conclusively identify. Those familiar with the geography of Surrey will may have noticed that the roll is strongly biased toward the east of the (old) count of Surrey, I will be explaining the reasons for this in due course. The communities represented are an interesting range from what were then predominantly rural areas in the south, towards the Sussex and Kent borders, moving up to what even then were the fringes of London (though in the Edwardian period there were still large market gardens in Putney). I intend to produce a statistical breakdown based on the last known occupation of the men before they joined up – this will be based predominantly on surviving armed forces records (including the Surrey Recruitment Registers, which for this area are quite a useful supplement given the destruction of so many individual service records by enemy action during the Second World War) or the 1911 census. Ringing was then a largely working class hobby, with a few interesting exceptions (it’s also worth noitng that most would have been in full-time employment by the age of 15). It’s also noticeable that in some places there is a very obvious clustering of occupations among the ringers, to the extent that you wonder if being a ringer led to a particular job, or the job to being a ringer.
The ringing press also helps to fill out the story of these men. Throughout the war The Ringing World provided regular updates on the service of ringers; and the weekly reports of peals and quarter peals help to fill in details of lives which would not necessarily be obvious from military records alone: ringing has a long tradition of hospitality, so almost wherever ringers were posted in the UK they could find a welcome at a nearby tower if they wanted to; or given a brief weekend leave they were welcomed back to their home tower. All these reports help fill in a wider picture, and while The ringing World began only in 1911, the men’s earlier story can also be filled in from Bell News, until its demise in 1915. There were also couple of short-lived publications in the first decade of the 20th century. Fortunately, the Library Committee of the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers has digitised all of these (up to the end of 1940 in the case of The Ringing World, in their entirety for the other publications, and they are available either on CD-ROM or online for the shorter lived publications). The Biographies Committee has also placed online some of their records which also helps with the basic details of some of the men. I will link to these resources where possible, and hope to obtain permission to republish some of the other material, particular where photographs of the men were published.
I hope to do further statistical analysis on the birth year of the men and on the campaign medals and decorations awarded. I will also look at the breakdown of theatres in which they served. Most were on the Western Front, but virtually every theatre of the war is represented (except for the fighinting in Africa and Germany’s Chinese treaty port). This is slightly skewed by the fact that all the “first-line” infantry Territorial Force battalions from Surrey were sent to India, initially to relieve regualr battalions of garrison duty so that the regulars could be sent to France.