Stranded, arrested, but optimistic: student tells of being trapped behind WWI enemy lines

Mobilisation: Col. A P Drayson, commanding officer of the 6th East Surreys

Mobilisation: Col. A P Drayson, commanding officer of the 6th East Surreys

First published in News Surrey Comet: Photograph of the Author by , Senior reporter

  • The Surrey Comet looks back
  • The centenary of the outbreak of World War I
  • Exhibition at the Rose Theatre

This is one in a series of features looking back at our area’s involvement in the First World War.

The stories, including of mobilisation, stranded holidaymakers, and the tale of a lonely prisoner of war, were uncovered in the Surrey Comet archives by researcher Sarah Hayward.

  • Stranded, arrested, but optimistic

From August 29, 1914

A student wrote to the Surrey Comet to tell of his misadventures on the continent, after finding himself trapped on holiday in Germany days before the war began.

H Eaton Hart, of Gloucester Road in Kingston Hill, was a Cambridge University student visiting Germany with a friend.

Together they were arrested on suspicion of being spies while trying to get home.

Mr Hart wrote he learned of transport problems caused by troop mobilisation while playing tennis, but took the news “far from seriously”, and crossed his fingers in hope the trains would start to run again.

The next day, on the way to the station in Frankfurt, the pair were arrested. Mr Hart said his “bad habit” of reading in bed had raised suspicion.

He said that, in the view of the Germans, “there could be no doubt that people who burn a light at 1am were at least of suspicious character, and, being foreigners, the chances of their being spies were doubled.”

He and his companion were brought lunch, tobacco and cards by their German friends to pass the time.

Mr Hart even received a telegram from England which read: “You had better come home!”

He added: “Throughout the day we had been treated with the utmost courtesy; indeed our gaolers almost seemed to apologise for the trouble they were giving us.”

After their release the pair managed to obtain passports – on the day before England declared war on Germany.

They made it back to Folkestone via Holland.

Mr Hart signed off by saying: “We have no doubt as to the reasons why we are at war with Germany, and they certainly do not include personal animosity against the German people, which, as everybody is aware, has for many years been kept sedulously in the dark concerning political affairs.

“It is devoutly to be wished that this war will see the end of Pan- Germanism of the ‘Gott mit Uns’ kind, and the liberation of the peoples of Europe from shackles which have become intolerable and impossible.”

Surrey Comet:

  • On the march

A Surrey Comet reporter, camping with the East Surreys at in Bordon, Hampshire, came across soldiers from areas near our borough preparing to mobilise.

Men from the Surrey Yeomanry formed a column with the Surrey and Middlesex Infantry Brigades and the 1st and 3rd Home Counties’ Field Ambulance Corps, along with brigade and divisional staff.

The Yeomanry’s four squadrons were based in Clapham Park, Guildford, west Croydon and Wimbledon.

‘A’ column, of which the Yeomanry formed part, passed through Alton and was cheered on by residents and workers learning in their shop doorways.

Our reporter added: “Several generous residents regaled the dusty and hot troops with lemonade.”

The column, one of three spent a night in the village of Chawton, before reaching Salisbury plain.

  • What is this all about?

These features tie in with an audio-visual exhibit at the Rose Theatre, to open in September, based on the campaign by Edwardian author John Galsworthy for better conditions for injured servicemen.

Galsworthy was born in Kingston Hill and worked as a hospital orderly. Eventually he set up the first magazine for disabled servicemen.

Organisers are also asking readers with a connection to the Great War to get in touch.

If you have any family memorabilia, stories or memories from the First World War visit digitaldrama.org for more information, or contact Kate Valentine on 07786 142 330 or kate@digitaldrama.org.

The deadline for contributions is Friday, March 28.

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