In the evening of 4 August 1914 crowds gathered in Market Street, Guildford, home of the offices of the Surrey Advertiser. They were awaiting news of Germany's response to the ultimatum issued by the British government, which expired at 11pm GMT. At 11.35pm a newly received telegram was posted up: 'England [sic] has declared war on Germany'. The Great War had begun.
It was a war waged across the globe by the huge conscripted armies of modern, industrial powers, using the most sophisticated and deadly weaponry which had yet been devised. When it ended over four years later, thousands of Surrey men had been left dead on foreign battlefields with thousands more suffering permanent mental or physical disabilities; while it raged it made unprecedented demands on those who remained at home; and it changed the country and this county for ever.
Over the five years of the commemoration, 2014-2019, Surrey Heritage will be marking the centenary of this terrible, transforming conflict in a number of ways and through a range of projects. Many of our activities will draw on our magnificent collections of archives, photographs, books and newspapers, which tell the story of how Surrey's people endured the war, supported (or in some cases, rejected) the struggle, and remembered and came to terms with the sacrifice of those who died.
These webpages will tell you about our commemoration projects and events and will also guide you through the extraordinary range of material here and elsewhere which will enable you to discover for yourself the impact of the Great War on your family or community.
Image: Croydon Q Regiment 5 August 1914 (SHC ref 7502/QR/96)
First World War research guides
- Researching a soldier, sailor or airman who served in the First World War A step by step guide to using the resources at Surrey History Centre
- Researching the home front in Surrey in the First World War A guide to the archive, local studies library and online resources at Surrey History Centre
First World War centenary projects
- Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers A major countywide First World War commemoration project which is leading, collecting and publishing online community-based research exploring all aspects of the impact of the war on the county and the stories of those who served in the armed forces and those who contributed on the home front.
- To Journey's End and Beyond: the Life and Legacy of R C Sherriff A project which has preserved the extensive archive and celebrates the cultural legacy of the Surrey playwright R C Sherriff, in particular his great play Journey's End, the action of which takes place in a British dugout on the eve of the great German offensive of March 1918. Sherriff's papers are held at Surrey History Centre in Woking.
First World War centenary activities
There are several presentations on our YouTube channel including the following:
- Armistice, 11 November 1918 A soldier's view
- One Among Millions: Letters from the Frontline inspired by the works of RC Sherriff
- One Among Millions: The military career of RC Sherriff
- George Alexander Birnie, an Australian Doctor at Passchendaele
- Audio Clips from Brian and Peter Hurn Interviews. Part of the Surrey in the Great war project
School learning resources
We have created topic packs looking at local Surrey World War I resources. Topic packs can be purchased by contacting our Heritage Learning and Communities Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org.