When war broke out in England on August 4 1914, Wanstead, Woodford and what is now the London Borough of Redbridge, looked very different.

While Wanstead had a small but affluent population, mostly living in grand 18th century houses, Woodford still had a semi-rural atmosphere and was mainly filled with agricultural workers living in small cottages.

Author of Redbridge and The First World War, Gerard Greene, said: “Not everyone in the local area experienced the war in the same way – there were clear differences between Wanstead, Woodford and Ilford.

“Unlike Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford had a relative lack of civic buildings, fewer schools or military connections, meaning the war could seem remote at times.

“But military losses were still keenly felt throughout both districts.”

Wanstead’s larger houses were used to accommodate large numbers of Belgian refugees and were later converted into military hospitals when some of Redbridge’s 15,000 soldiers came back injured.

After Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914, Redbridge Museum records show that the first group of Belgian refugees arrived in Wanstead soon after in October.

The first three families arrived from the northern city of Mechelen and were put up in Aldersbrook, where they were supported by the Wanstead Emergency Food Fund, which helped over 200 Belgians in the area.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Belgian refugees outside Valentines Mansion January 1915, Ilford.

Many of those housed in Wanstead were from small business backgrounds, which personal accounts imply meant greater levels of sympathy from the district’s wealthy and Conservative residents.

Over in Ilford, Valentines Mansion was also transformed into a refugee shelter. Taking 80 fleeing Belgians at a time, it had accommodated over 250 of them by the end of the conflict.

After people were forced to accept that the war was not going to be over by Christmas as they first hoped, recruiting rallies like those at Woodford Memorial Hall encouraged young men to sign up.

One of them was 19-year-old Charles Cracknell of Carnarvon Road, South Woodford, who left his job as a coal business clerk to join the army in May 1915.

He was sent to France soon after where he wrote to his sister Lily in August sounding very positive about life in the trenches.

But after a year there, his letters became bleaker as he complained about “wretched” weather conditions and the constant risk of trench fever.

Just over a month after his sister received his final letter in June 2016, he was killed during the battle of Somme, aged just 20.

As more and more of Charles’ comrades came back injured, 3000 buildings nationwide were converted into temporary military hospitals.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Patients and staff at Woodford and Wanstead Military Hospital, Woodford Green. Photo: Woodford County High School.

The building that now houses Woodford County High School in High Road, Woodford Green was converted into Woodford and Wanstead Military Hospital in November 1914.

Author Gerard Greene said: “Servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to military ones because they were not so strict, were less crowded, and the surroundings more homely.

“The hospital tried to keep patients’ spirits up with entertainment, and even held a sports day in August 1917.”

But over in Claybury Asylum, a large pschyiatric hospital in Woodford Bridge, overcrowding and food shortages resulted in widespread tuberculosis, dysentery, and 77 patient deaths in January 1918 alone.

When the armistice was announced on November 11 1918, blackout blinds were left open and replaced by Union Jacks as the borough celebrated the end of the war.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Ambulance at Woodford and Wanstead Military Hospital, Woodford Green. Photo:  Woodford County High School.

As fireworks and victory dances went on in Ilford, Woodford celebrated in a quieter way with church services and a short but powerful address by Councillor James Hawkey.

Today you can see the names of nearly 300 fallen men from Wanstead and Woodford on memorials in Christ Church Green and South Woodford High Road.

But with so many bodies unaccounted for and lost in mass graves across the channel in France, there are undoubtedly many hundreds more.

This article was first published by the Guardian Series in 2016.