A rare find from the Great War in Surrey

The Portable Antiquities Scheme doesn’t often record items from the last century, except when they turn out to be something quite special, or have considerable historic interest. One such item from Surrey which was recorded recently, is a rare example of an object which tells a story of the patriotic fervour and intense social pressures experienced on the home front during the early days of World War One.

The Strachey Badge. Image Copyright: Surrey County Council. Licence: CC-BY

This find, SUR-07E25F, is a copper alloy badge found by a detectorist at Send, near Woking, of a type that was commissioned by John St Loe Strachey, High Sheriff of Surrey in 1914, to support and encourage local men who wanted to join up. The badge shows a rose surrounded by the legend SURREY 1914 and a paraphrased biblical quote on the theme of service and sacrifice taken from the book of Judges, verse 2: WHEN THE PEOPLE WILLINGLY / OFFERED THEMSELVES. The badge was designed by the artist Henry Strachey, brother of John St Loe Strachey, and reproduced by Messrs. Elkington, Silversmiths, of 22 Regent Street, London.

The function of this badge was publicised by Strachey in an article published in the Surrey Press and the Spectator Magazine on September 26th 1914. In the article he talked about the badge offering “proof of service proffered to the state” for those who tried to enlist in the early months of the war, but who were turned down on the grounds of poor health or for not making the recruitment grade in terms of height or physical fitness. The badge was intended to be worn by those individuals to mark their desire to serve and to encourage them to continue to train and to ultimately try to enlist again at a later date.

The need for such a badge becomes clear when the intense climate of social pressure placed upon those pilloried as “cowards” for not being in uniform is remembered. Against this background, this object represents a story of a well-meaning attempt by a local dignitary to protect local men from the “white feathers” and shame dealt out to those of enlistment age who remained behind in Surrey. It also tells the wider tale of the jingoism and enthusiasm for enlistment which gripped the nation in the autumn of 1914, before the horrors of the Western Front and the return of broken survivors from the trenches changed the tone of the war.

The finder has generously agreed to loan this very poignant find to the Surrey History Centre in Woking and it was presented to the current High Sheriff of Surrey at a heritage event on the centenary of the armistice. It will now be displayed alongside other local items related to the Great War in Surrey.