A First Wave of Recruits – 6th September 1914

As the news of the some of Mitcham’s and the surrounding area’s first casualties trickles home, recruitment continues at a pace in a feverish atmosphere. Committees are formed, posters are everywhere and leaflets pushed through doors encouraging men to sign up for “Lord Kitchener’s Army”.  The nearby New Wimbledon Theatre, first open to the public in 1910, becomes a centre for recruitment The patriotic public are reported to have flooded in from Merton, Mitcham, New Malden, Southfields and Tooting as well as Wimbledon, drawn to meetings and rousing speeches.  There are marches, processions and the bands play.


In France, the BEF’s retreat from Mons comes to and end on 5th September 1914.  The advance of the German Army is finally halted by Allied forces.  Between 6 to 10 September 1914 the counter attack of the French 5th and 6th Armies and the BEF develops into the First Battle of the Marne.  B y 11th September the Germans are in full retreat, but only to the Lower Aisne River. Here the advantage of defence over attack becomes clear as the Germans repell successive Allied attacks from the shelter of trenches.  The First Battle of the Aisne marks the beginning of trench warfare on the Western Front.

In Britain, military and political leaders might have known better, but the ordinary volunteer had little idea of what really lie ahead. The “Over by Christmas” sentiment was rife.

In 1914, the 6th September was a Sunday. On that day alone, the Surrey Recruitment Registers show that at Kingston 68 men had volunteered from across the county, 19 were to serve in battalions of the East Surrey Regiment.

Amongst those standing in line to be processed were brothers Samuel “George” and Reuben Burge from Tooting Junction, my grandfather’s cousins. They emerged as privates 1809 and 1821 of the East Surrey Regiment, and were to serve in the 2nd Battalion when first sent to France in the Spring of 1915.  Of those 19 recruits, four would not return home, two would become Silver War Badge holders, and at least one would become a prisoner of war.

Pte. 1738 Earnest John Noel, 2nd Bn. East Surrey – KIA 08/05/1915
Pte. 1809 Samuel George Burge, 2nd Bn. East Surrey – KIA 08/05/1915
Pte. 653 William Burgess, 1st Bn. East Surrey – KIA 15/06/1915
Pte. 22678 Sidney Lawrence Dann, 1st Bn. Borders (was 1681 E.Surrey) – DOW 21/07/1916
Pte. 1732 Albert John Pither, East Surrey – discharged due to wounds 09/10/1915
Pte. 2553 Herbert Well, East Surrey – awarded SWB 09/05/1919
Pte 1821 Reuben J Burge – POW 21/03/1918

BURGE S. G. becomes one of the 587 names on the Mitcham War Memorial, and one of 31 Mitcham men named along with thousands of others on the Menin Gate.