Fatalities of Epsom and Ewell and the roles of Horton Emergency Hospital and the Volunteer Services

Waterloo Road WW2 bomb damage.
Waterloo Road, Epsom - WW2 bomb damage.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum


The Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour 1939-45 is contained in seven leather-bound volumes, which are located at Westminster Abbey, and it records nearly 67,000 names. You can see the names for yourself by going to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website, selecting Second World War and Civilian in the advanced search section.

There were three broad categories of civilian fatalities in the Metropolitan Borough of Epsom and Ewell. Firstly, there were bombing victims who lived or worked locally; secondly, people died elsewhere but had close family connections to the Borough; thirdly, many were injured elsewhere and taken to Horton Emergency Hospital. Everyone we have identified from CWGC records who falls into these three categories is listed in the Appendix.

What follows will hopefully provide a framework and context for what civilians did and what happened to them in WW2.

World War One

Britain had experienced bombing in WW1, but fatalities and casualties were of nothing like the same magnitude as in WW2, since the German aerial hardware for large-scale attack was still very much in its infancy. Nevertheless, towards the end there was an escalation in bombardment and, ominously, signs of more efficient types of aircraft. In the first conflict the Germans initially sent Zeppelin airships, but they were prone to mechanical and navigation issues and, once the country had organised some defences against them, many were destroyed. According to Wikipedia, during the WW1 years Germany manufactured 84 airships of various types and a large number were lost, many of the losses being due to accidents. It seems that 51 raids were made on Britain, causing 557 deaths and many more injuries. The raids were designed to engender fear and panic in the population, as well as to cause material damage which would hamper our war effort, and the British propaganda machine exploited them (although the example below was probably no worse than the general run of gung-ho recruiting posters at the time).

Government recruiting poster 1915.
Government recruiting poster 1915.
Image source Wikipedia

A Graf Zeppelin photographed over West Street, Ewell
A Graf Zeppelin photographed over West Street, Ewell
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In May 1917 Germany launched Operation Turkenkreuz: 23 Gotha G.IV aircraft were sent to bomb London and, although the mission was unsuccessful in its primary objective, the Kent coast - principally Folkestone and Shorncliffe - took a major pounding, with widespread fatalities. The second such attack, on 5 June, hammered Sheerness and then on 13 June the Gothas were able to attack London in broad daylight, killing 142 people. The casualty toll would have been significantly lower had the public not come out to watch this novelty. Britain was well and truly caught short when the Gothas came, since it had no fighter aircraft able to reach the altitude of the enemy bombers. Another raid on 7 July 1917 caused 57 deaths and further disaster was avoided on 18 August due to bad weather which prevented the Gothas from reaching their targets.

A Gotha G.IV.
A Gotha G.IV.
Image source Wikimedia

Germany then abandoned daylight raids, flying by night, and an experimental attack by just five aircraft on 3 September caused 152 fatalities, the vast majority of these being naval cadets in Chatham, whose dormitory received a direct hit. At that stage effective air raid precautions were virtually non-existent. In Chatham there had been no blackout and the anti-aircraft guns were not even manned. It was a shambles and a massive wake-up call. Raids continued, with varying degrees of success from the German viewpoint, but towards the end of 1917 events took an even more alarming turn with the introduction of the enormous Zeppelin-Staaken bombers, which had the effect of instilling panic in the population, whereby many thousands of Londoners took shelter in Underground stations and others left the city. Kent continued to suffer a heavy toll. However, the tide was turning: Britain had become better at destroying the raiders and the German aircraft were needed elsewhere. Finally, the war ended and Britain could breathe a collective sigh of relief that the bombing was over but, as we know, far worse was to come little more than 20 years later.

Zeppelin - Staaken R.VI 1916
Zeppelin - Staaken R.VI 1916
Image source Tom Wigley via Flickr and used under this creative commons licence

Germany's air forces had been disbanded following the Treaty of Versailles in 1920 but it was not long before the treaty was secretly violated and, once the Nazis took power, the Luftwaffe was established (1935). By the beginning of WW2 it was one of the best air forces in the world, having honed its skills assisting Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Devastating as the bombing was in the second conflict, this time we were better prepared and had comprehensive plans for dealing with the casualties.

World War Two - The Emergency Medical Service and Horton Emergency Hospital

In 1939, with war expected imminently, the Ministry of Health needed a strategic plan to deal with casualties. Obviously they could not know how many casualties there would be or where, but perhaps more worryingly they didn't even know how many hospital beds were available. At that point there was no National Health Service and there were many public hospitals, private hospitals, convalescent homes etc of varying competence and capacity. The estimate was that 100,000 bombs would be dropped on London in the first two weeks of the war and that there would be 250,000 casualties.

Proceeding on this basis, the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) had been set up and the section that concerns us here was 'London and Home Counties' under the direction of surgeon Sir Claude Frankau. One needs to bear in mind that the demand for 'normal' beds would not abate to accommodate casualties, so there was a complicated juggling act to perform. What would happen in practice was that resources in large centres of population were all but overwhelmed at times and hospitals in less vulnerable areas were often under-utilised. However, the EMS master plan was designed to handle this as best it could, given all the unknowns in the equation. 'The Lancet' of 25 March 1939 explained how it would work. The capital was divided into ten sections, radiating from the centre, as shown in the map below.

Map showing how the London area was divided into 10 EMS sections
The section which included Epsom is shaded yellow.
Image source The Lancet Volume 233, Issue 6030, Pages 677-740 (25 March 1939)
Originally published as Volume 1, Issue 6030

Each section contained a variety of hospitals and of particular importance to Horton was the fact that some institutions, e.g. mental hospitals, would be cleared of their usual patients and converted to the care of casualties. Additional equipment and staff would be provided. This had happened to Horton in WW1 when the existing patients were relocated and Horton became a war hospital under military control. However, on this occasion it would be dealing with the civilian victims of air raids as well as wounded military personnel (for example, following the evacuation of Dunkirk).

The plan went on to detail that each of the ten sections would have a large central teaching hospital (such as Guy's, Bart's and St Thomas's) at its head, their role being to provide immediate treatment for the worst injuries and then move them on as quickly as possible to an appropriate institution in their section. The authorities did concede that, owing to the unpredictability of air attack, it might be necessary to bypass the head hospital and send patients to one of the more outlying establishments. Staff and equipment would be swapped around as required at the time.

We don't actually know how well this worked, since the casualty toll was so heavy and conditions were chaotic when the bombing was at its worst. In the end, no one was going to ask if Mr and Mrs X might have survived had they been sent to the nearby Hospital A rather than Hospital B 30 miles away. It was just the nature of the emergency and everyone did their best.

Horton was allocated to Section 9, headed by King's College Hospital (KCH) in Denmark Hill, Camberwell. KCH says on its own website that it was a casualty clearing station and that after initial treatment patients were transferred to Epsom or Leatherhead. Horton was the designated 'Advance Base', where serious casualties were dealt with, and then patients were 'cascaded' to other institutions in the section as appropriate. Section 9 was originally set up as shown below.

  • St Giles's Hospital (Camberwell)
  • Dulwich Hospital (East Dulwich)
  • Norwood Children's Home (West Norwood)
  • South Eastern Children's Hospital (Sydenham)
  • Croydon General Hospital
  • Mayday Hospital, Croydon
  • Carshalton and District Hospital
  • Queen Mary's Children's Hospital (Carshalton)
  • Beckenham Hospital
  • Bromley and District Hospital
  • Purley General Hospital
  • Redhill County Hospital (later Redhill General)
  • Radcliffe Convalescent Home (Limpsfield)
  • East Surrey Hospital (Redhill)
  • Epsom County Hospital
  • Epsom Public Assistance Institution
  • Royal Blind School, Leatherhead
  • Surrey County Hospital (Dorking)
  • Dorking and District Hospital
  • King Edward V11 Hospital Haywards Heath
  • Cuckfield Institution
  • Horsham Institution
  • Netherne Mental Hospital (Coulsdon)
  • Haywards Heath Mental Hospital

I believe that this list changed over time, as wartime events unfolded, but Horton remained the advance base until 1948, when the EMS moved out, leaving it in a bad state. In WW1 the mental patients had been relocated over a phased period of several weeks to accommodate wounded soldiers, but in WW2 this happened in a matter of hours, because of the London Blitz.

A casualty is carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance at Guy's Hospital in LondonThe Green Line coach ambulance taking patients away from Guy's Hospital to base hospitals in the country
Left: A casualty is carried to a waiting ambulance at Guy's Hospital in London and
Right: A Green Line coach ambulance taking patients away to a base hospital in the country
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (D 2344) and © IWM (D 2349)

The Blitz

War was declared on Sunday, 3 September 1939 and straightaway there was a mass evacuation of children. In the initial stages German bombers attacked strategic targets such as military installations and airfields, as preparation for an invasion, but from Hitler's viewpoint this was not going to work, so he decided to bomb Britain into submission. The idea was to destroy London and other big cities, decimating the infrastructure and demoralising the population. As far as bombing was concerned the first year of the war was the relative calm before the storm. When the aerial assault on London came it was huge and devastating.

St Paul's Cathedral, rising above the bombed London skyline, is shrouded in smoke during the Blitz.
St Paul's Cathedral, rising above the bombed London skyline, is shrouded in smoke during the Blitz.
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (HU 36220A)

In the late afternoon of 7 September 1940 Operation Loge began. The main targets were the London docks and the industrial infrastructure in the wider area. The attack force comprised 350 bombers, escorted by 617 fighter aircraft. The first assault lasted approximately 90 minutes but very soon afterwards another wave came. London suffered 57 consecutive days and nights of heavy air raids (until 2 November), sustaining huge numbers of casualties and massive damage. There were fears in government circles of 'civil insurgency' but, as we know, the opposite was true. Everyone got stuck in and made the best of it.

This article is primarily about the effects of bombing on the Borough of Epsom and Ewell, both directly and indirectly, which is the reason why London features so heavily. However, we must remember that intense bombing was going on in cities all over Britain and they all suffered heavily. To take just one particularly sad example, Coventry was decimated. This was a city of about a quarter of a million inhabitants with an economy based on metal-working industries; it had already endured many small raids but was then singled out as a particular target. On the night of 14/15 November 1940 a total of over 500 German bombers arrived in waves with the sole aim of destroying it and they very nearly succeeded. Coventry had little in the way of anti-aircraft guns and they were useless that night.

The smoking ruins of buildings two days after they were destroyed by the severe German air raids on the night of 14-15 November 1940.
The smoking ruins of buildings two days after they were destroyed by the severe German air raids on the night of 14-15 November 1940.
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (H 5595)

You will see from the Appendix that there were two distinct peak periods for bombing fatalities at Horton Emergency Hospital. The first ran from the autumn of 1940 into 1941, which is what we describe as the Blitz period, and then there was something of a hiatus until 1944. The main reasons that the British population got something of a breather after May 1941 were that the stratagem of bombing us into submission wasn't working, many German aircraft had been lost and Hitler wanted the Luftwaffe for an invasion of Russia.

The V-1s and V-2s

Germany had been working on the idea of a flying bomb since late 1936, but it wasn't until the end of 1942 that a powered test flight was made. The idea was sound enough but, fortunately for us, the reality of the V-1 (the so-called Doodlebug) was not as effective as Hitler had hoped. They were mechanically unreliable and we were very good at shooting them down before they reached a centre of population. Nevertheless, the Doodlebugs killed a very large number of civilians and Croydon was particularly badly hit, simply because so many V-1s fell short of their target, which was London. You could hear the sound of the pilotless Doodlebug's engine and, when it ran out of fuel, that sound stopped; it then fell from the sky and detonated on whatever was beneath it. The V-1s and V-2s were Hitler's last throw of the dice in aerial warfare terms, since they were launched immediately after D-Day.

Stretcher party recovering casualty after V-1 attack in London
Stretcher party recovering casualty after V-1 attack in London
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (MH 24293)

Tea and sympathy to a now homeless man after a V1 attack that sadly killed his wife and destroyed his home.
Tea and sympathy to a now homeless man after a V1 attack that sadly killed his wife and destroyed his home.
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (D 21213)

V-1s largely ceased to trouble Britain in the autumn of 1944, since the Allied advance put the launch sites out of action and the remaining sites were too far away to reach us, although they could and did reach Belgium.

The V-2 was a different proposition altogether: it was a supersonic long-range rocket and you couldn't really hear it or see it until it hit. The first one to land on Britain killed three people in Chiswick in September 1944. 1402 of them were fired on Britain, the vast majority being aimed at London, with an estimated death toll of well over 2,500 people. However, they had come much too late for Germany and the ever-advancing Allies rushed to destroy the production sites. (The inventor of the V-2, Wernher von Braun, later became an American citizen and designed the Saturn V space rocket).

The Volunteers

Volunteers played an indispensable part in helping Britain to survive and this section is a tribute to them.

The Red Cross and the St John's Ambulance Service formed the Joint War Organisation, as they had in WW1, helping those who were sick, wounded and displaced from their homes and training other volunteers. We had the Home Guard, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (founded in 1938 as the Women's Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions), the Air Raid Wardens, the Auxiliary Fire Service, volunteers from various of the organisations who drove ambulances and just ordinary people who did what they could to help in some way. As to what was happening locally, I can probably do no better than refer you to our page on Mrs Hilda Andrews, who was in charge of a First Aid Post, and show you some photos of the men and women who did their bit in the Borough when it was needed most.

ARP Wardens.
ARP wardens of post no.21 at Plough Road
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Ewell Court Red Cross nurses.
Ewell Court Red Cross nurses.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Auxiliary Fire Service.
Auxiliary Fire Service.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).
Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Women ambulance drivers Ewell Court.
Women ambulance drivers Ewell Court.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

A woman ambulance driver outside its garage at Ewell Court.
A woman ambulance driver outside its garage at Ewell Court.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Click here for the Appendix.

Main Sources

Linda Jackson, March 2016

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