The Countryside around Witley

Walking to and from those nearby towns, for example,  or taking longer walks just to explore, Percy and his pals could enjoy the countryside. MacArthur noted not only the beauty of its landscape and the quaintness of its villages but also the ubiquity and the convenience of its pubs.

A2009.202.042a - Military - Post Card - front - Thursley, The Red Lion, We march through here

The Red Lion, Chursley “We march through here” (1)

“Witley Camp was in the midst of the Surrey hill country, a district famous for its beauty. Looking down from the Gibbet at Hindhead on a clear day the country seemed to be a great forest, though in reality it was networked with fine roads and full of towns and villages. The villages themselves were old and quaint, with their venerable grey churches and little cottages, thatched and ivycovered, set in their flower gardens. Every village boasted one or more inns, according to its size ; ‘Red Lions,’ ‘Half Moons,’ ‘Angels,’ and ‘Kings Arms,’ havens for the thirsty wayfarer. (2)

The map below dates from the 1920s, and we will refer to it again and again while Percy is in Witley. Look closely at the top right to see Milford Station where the troops arrived five days ago. Move left a little to see Witley Common. At the far top left see Frensham with its ponds, which Percy came to know.


witley to hindhead.jpg

The view of which MacArthur speaks is from Gibbet Hill (where there was no longer a gibbet, but a Celtic cross erected in 1851 to persuade locals and travellers that the place was not haunted). Just to the bottom left of the midmark of this map you will see the junction of several roads at Hindhead. The road which heads east (now the A3, tunnelling under these hills) makes a switchback at Gibbet Hill, which is marked. Quite apart from the practice of gibbetting, or exposing the bodies of executed criminals from a high post with arms until they fell to pieces, as a warning to those considering murder or highway robbery, Hindhead’s topography and ancient imaginations made it a rather scary place. In addition to Gibbet Hill, you will notice the Devil’s Punch Bowl just to the west of Gibbet Hill, and the Devil’s Jumps, farther north and slightly west again, almost due east of Frensham Great Pond.


(1) The post card can be found on a website called Bruce Remembers, an on-line project of the Bruce County [Ontario] Museum and Cultural Centre, commemorating the 160th Battalion in the Great War. The post card was sent by Charles Reed to his brother Hughie; on the back, Charles tells his brother that Britain is a “funny place,” with crooked roads and women riding wheels [bicycles].
(2) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. Toronto, 1919. 7.

The map can be found in Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers. It comes from the Royal Library of Scotland’s on-line collection of ordnance survey and other maps. If you are at all fascinated by old maps, do not click on that link.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

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