WORLD WAR ONE- 1914-1918
9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ - Tel: 01502 725600 email


Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914, and the peace and tranquillity of the little coastal town of Southwold was shattered. Within weeks, recruits mustered in the Market Place and marched with the band and crowds to the railway station. A troop of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry arrived and set up camp on The Common.

Eighty miles from the Allied front in Belgium, and 250 miles from Germany’s naval bases, Southwold was at war. And it regarded itself as a special place, more vulnerable to the Germans than almost anywhere in England.



A crowd gathers outside Chapman's the Newsagent in the early days of the War. Click to enlarge. P1507

Waiting for news outside Chapmans, the newsagents
We think you ought to go!
  National Reserves assemble in the Market Place  

Volunteers for the National Reserves assemble in Southwold Market Place, cheered on by townsfolk. P836

Click the picture to see a larger version.

Your King and your country, they both need you so...
Local recruiting poster

Local recruiting poster.

Click to see the whole poster.

Reg Carter WWI postcard encouraging young men to enlist
Reg Carter cartoon. Caption: "Life at Holt Camp... I don't think!"

Local cartoonist, Reg Carter, toes the politically correct line (top) but can't resist a touch of subversive irony (bottom).

Click on the images for enlargements

Click to read a larger version

Listen to one resident's vivid memory of a Zeppelin in flames




The town was on the direct path of Zeppelins crossing the North Sea to bomb London and other targets in south-east England. Moreover, it was at the mercy of German naval raiders and invading troops. The fear of invasion persisted up to the last month of the war.

Holidaymakers had gone, but the town began to receive hundreds of refugees from Belgium. Dr D W Collings, Southwold’s Medical Officer for Health met the incomers, who were cared for at the Constitutional Hall.

In 1915 the Army and the Town Council introduced tough regulations about lights. Special constables used St Edmund’s Church tower as an observation post, pinpointing offenders. Many Southwold people, as well as soldiers, were prosecuted and fined.



Armoured cars of the Duke of Westminster units

Fifteen armoured cars of the Duke of Westminster Units were based in Southwold High Street for a short time. They are pictured here outside the Crown Hotel. Click to enlarge.



Army units came and went as the carnage continued in Flanders. The Yeomanry were replaced by the Duke of Westminster units, with 15 armoured cars. In March the Royal Sussex cyclists (a bicycle mounted regiment) arrived, 670 strong.

The Sussex cyclists left for France. They were replaced by the Bedfords, who mounted guard in the Market Place at 6.30pm, and cheered up the town with a brass band. Next came the Montgomery Yeomanry with 500 horses, many of which were stabled on the Common along Rope Walk. Tons of shingle were put down – bedevilling allotment holders there to this very day!

April 1915 saw our first air raid. To read about Southwold under Zeppelin attack, click here. To listen to a first-hand account, click here

Left: Preparing for invasion; barbed-wire beach defences are erected. (P2995.10) Right: Burnt-out Zeppelin which was brought down near Theberton. (P850). Click the pictures for enlargements and to read more about Southwold's first experience of air raids.

The major excitement of 1917 was the brief bombardment of the town by German naval vessels, including a submarine. Two star shells lit up buildings and 68 shells were fired. Many fell on the marshes but three hit buildings: the Police Station, Iona Cottage on Constitution Hill (which was badly damaged) and Balmore. Another highlight of the year was the shooting down of the Zeppelin pictured above, which eventually crashed in flames at Theberton.

Diaries kept at the time show clearly the people of Southwold had something to complain about during the war – and not just the Zeppelin raids and occasional coastal bombardments. They were unhappy at the price of food and its scarcity, the behaviour of troops billeted on the town, and of course the weather.

The real war was elsewhere – in another world – although on still nights Southwold residents could hear the dull boom of the guns in Flanders.

Eventually the holidaymakers came back. In August 1918 the town was full of visitors, the best season since 1914.

At the end there was a tragic irony. The town that for four years had lived in dread of air raids, bombardments and invasion and which still bristled with pillboxes, barbed wire and gun emplacements, was defenceless, in the last weeks of the war, against a virulent germ.

Britain was gripped by Spanish flu which killed some 200,000 people. Several died in Southwold, including the landlord of the Red Lion.

On 11th November, 1918, the guns fell silent. The Mayor, Mr Edgar Pipe, ordered the church bells to ring and read the official telegram from the balcony of the Swan. Some soldiers tied an effigy of the Kaiser to the Town pump and set fire to it. There was a short thanksgiving service in St Edmund’s Church.

The war memorial near the church gate on St Bartholomew Green was dedicated in July 1921. It has the names of 51 men and one woman killed during the war.

Explore Southwold’s other war stories below.

The Battle of Sole Bay
The Second World War

War-wounded at the Red Cross hospital, Henham Hall.
In the beginning
The Sea
Natural Southwold
Transport to Southwold
Christianity in Southwold
Arts & Crafts
Holidays & Leisure
Southwold the town
Southwold Shops & Trades


Southwold Museum & Historical Society, 9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ
Tel:01502 725600 email

A Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Registered Charity No 1159790,