Buried Battles and Veterans’ Voices

In 2003 Surrey History Centre was privileged to take in the records of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment and its distinguished predecessors, which had formerly been housed at the Regimental Museum at Clandon Park.

The records, which span four centuries, are a wonderfully rich source for the lives and campaigns of those who served in the regiments, both with the regular battalions and in the militia, volunteer, territorial and conscript battalions.

Image of new recruits with blankets, 1950s (SHC ref QRWS/11/16/11, p.35)

New recruits with blankets, 1950s (SHC ref QRWS/11/16/11, p.35)

The voices that can be heard talking through the records are not just those of the officers but of the private infantrymen too. There are plenty of examples of unofficial battalion and company newsletters and magazines which, amidst the jokes that don’t bear repeating, give some insight into how those units maintained their morale and spirit in the most appalling circumstances and contrast poignantly with the un-emotive casualty reports and the private sentiments expressed in letters.

In 2006, the Heritage Lottery Fund generously gave a grant of £48,000 for the ‘Buried Battles and Veterans’ Voices’ project, which in partnership with the National Archives, has allowed for the first time full public access to the vast collection of regimental records and recorded for posterity the experiences of veterans who served with the regiment and its predecessors the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) and the East Surrey Regiment.

Image of Veteran Roy Harding of 1st Battalion, the Queen's Royal Regiment, being interviewed for the project

Veteran Roy Harding of 1st Battalion, the Queen’s Royal Regiment, being interviewed for the project

Listen to interviews with Surrey regiment veterans recorded for the project, now available on the Surrey Infantry Museum website allowing researchers to listen to old soldiers’ experiences of life in the regiment and of some of the defining moments of the Second World War such as Dunkirk, the fall of Singapore and the North African, Italian and Burma campaigns, as well as of vital but less well known post-war operations in Palestine, Korea, Malaya and Northern Ireland. The veterans’ reminiscences are grouped into the following themes: joining up; the army life; the North West Frontier; the Second World War in Europe and North Africa; the Second World War in the Far East; prisoner of war; serving with the regiments, 1945-1959; end of an era, 1959-1966; and what it meant to belong to the regiment.

Image of Toby Taylor, veteran of the 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment

Toby Taylor, veteran of the 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment

Toby Taylor, veteran of the 1st Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, was delighted to be take part in the oral history interviews.  Describing events such as the chaotic retreat to Dunkirk, he explained “so many people don’t want to talk about the war but I do. It is a therapy for me, I live it all the time. I am reliving it, can’t escape from the damn thing. It does me good to get it off my chest a bit.”  The interviews also have accompanying transcripts; the full versions of both interviews and transcripts are available for consultation at Surrey History Centre.

Image of Sid Richardson, project volunteer and former REME serviceman

Sid Richardson, project volunteer and former REME serviceman

A team of dedicated volunteers has also spent nearly 300 days indexing over 300 regimental photograph albums dating from the 1860s, enabling visitors to the History Centre to locate photographs of many thousands of those who served with the regiments all over the world. The photographs range from official regimental albums containing group photographs and sporting teams in which every soldier and officer is listed, to private albums compiled by serving soldiers which present a more informal and personal view of regimental life. The images are varied, embracing whiskered veterans of the Crimean War, the high life in India, the South African War, trench life on the Western Front and rescue efforts following the devastating Quetta Earthquake of 1935.

View the online Buried Battles, Veterans’ Voices exhibition here.

Click here to read a summary of the arrangement of the records of the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment held at the Surrey History Centre.

Click here to read about the East Surrey Regiment’s ‘football’ charge on July 1st 1916, one of the most famous incidents to occur during the carnage of the first day of the battle of the Somme.

Click here to visit the on-line exhibition of Woking borough WWI memorials.

Click here to see the research guide (pdf) “Tracing military records at Surrey History Centre“.

Read about the Nominal Roll of 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, c.1916 to 1919

Discover Surrey’s role in the First World War with our centenary project Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers

Read about Surrey’s role at Passchendaele, 31 July – 10 November 1917

Read about The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment Prisoner of War Relief fund during the First World War

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