War Diary February 1916

War Norfolk
Conscription Begins in UK


Following the passing of the Military Service Act in January conscription of single men aged between 18 and 41 begins.



Norfolk Air Raids


Four German seaplanes appeared over Lowestoft yesterday (25/2) around 11am. They circled over the south side of the town dropping a total of 17 bombs. Considerable damage was caused to a restaurant’s outbuildings and two dwellings, but there were no casualties. Two naval seaplanes pursued them without result


Battle of Verdun


Following heavy bombardment the German launch an attack on the small city of Verdun. The battle continues until December.


Parcels for POWs


430 parcels of food and clothing were despatched to Norfolk Regiment prisoners of war in Germany.


  Advice for Farmers


With the protraction of hostilities home production of food has become vital especially of milk, butter and meat. Messrs Sutton’s Farmers Year Book for 1916 is recommended as it emphasizes the desirability of growing much larger quantities of fodder for cattle.

The War Letters of a Light Infantryman

When thinking of First World War writers of poetry and prose we often think of people such as Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Charles Blunden. However, Norfolk has a man who wrote letters home full of warmth, courage and humour to rival the finest of his generation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Edmund Henderson Neville (1897-1982), of the Neville family of Sloley, served in France and Russia during the Great War with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He wrote and received regular letters to and from his family at their home at Sloley Hall, not far from Worstead in north Norfolk.

In a book entitled The War Letters of a Light Infantryman, published in 1931, Neville recalls:

We are under fire. The only time I felt funny was at 6.30am on 17th…. The strafe lasted three quarters of an hour, we got no sleep all night, and I had a terrible shivery feeling and could not control the shaking.

This was in January 1916 in Bouzincourt, France. He and his friend Harry agreed they were shaking because of the cold.  Neither wanted to admit to feeling scared.

There were funnier moments:

The Hun always relieves the front line by day and saunters along with his hands in his pockets from post to post.  On the 18th (January, 1916) a party of them waved to us and invited us over for a beer.  They are never armed.  I simply longed to have a shot at some of them to pay off a few scores.

It was of course very cold.  Their accommodation was just a piece of canvas nailed to upright posts, not waterproof, with nails for hooks.  Mud was his constant companion.  Nevertheless, he says he enjoyed some of the marches through the woods at Fontaine-sur-Mer.  But at night:

The sky and inky trees were lit up every other second by yellow flashes coming from far away, yet not a single sound to disturb the stillness of the night.  And I realised that probably each one of those flashes might mean that some poor man, friend or foe, was being blown to bits.

The book is available at Norwich Heritage Centre at the Millennium Library in Norwich.  The Norfolk Record Office also has a short story written by Neville entitled ‘Boots and Shoes’ (Catalogue Reference: NEV 7/74, 589×9), accompanied by a rejection letter from a publisher in Edinburgh.


First page of the short story: ‘Boots and Shoes’. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: NEV 7/74, 589×9

Told in the first person, the story tells of a murder, where the guilty party is identified by the gumboots he was wearing, rather than the brown canvas shoes of the author.

Rejection letter from Edinburgh publishers. Includes: '' Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry:

Rejection letter from Edinburgh publishers. The letter writer says the story is ‘well written’ but ‘too artificial’. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: NEV 7/74, 589×9

Neville finally made it home on 4 October 1919 by ship to Liverpool in the middle of a strike.  He says:

A good many hoots and jeers from the strikers though some people seemed pleased to see us. And we have eaten abnormally, making up for the bully beef and sardines we ate with a rusty penknife. The next thing is leave, aye, LEAVE!

A Shortage of Labour

A Shortage of Labour – Kathryn from Thetford has been looking into how the Homefront was managing for labour 100 years ago – in the month when compulsory conscription looked likely to start and labour issues would worsen further.

By 1916 there was a serious shortage of labour. The Army Council made arrangements regarding the limited number of soldiers serving at home who had been accustomed to working on farms-they could undertake farm work at any season of the year except during the corn harvest. The farmers had to show that suitable labour couldn’t be found locally and had to pay 4s a day to the soldier providing his own board & lodging or 2s 6d if the latter was provided by the farmer.

Although there was prejudice about women taking on paid work, the shortage of labour meant that women took on many occupations previously held by men.

In March 1916, at a meeting of the Norfolk War Agricultural Committee, the employment of women on the land as a war expedient was discussed: the Norfolk Ladies Committee were continuing to canvass and by this time 3,500 women had enrolled to work on the land.


Recruiting poster (from Wikipedia)

The question of women’s hours and rate of pay was considered:

  • Normal working hours should be 8am – 4pm or 9am – 5pm (with a half hour for lunch)
  • Wage per day 2s
  • Payment for shorter periods than one day – 3d per hour.

There was a great deal of work that women could take on in the spring, such as hoeing, weeding, getting the land fit for the turnip crop and later on working on the harvest. They could also undertake work on dairy farms.

Before World War 1, women engineers were unheard of, but by 1916, at Charles Burrell & Sons Ltd in Thetford, a traction engine manufacturing works, approximately 150 women from Thetford and the surrounding villages were trained to use drills, grinders, lathes and other machine and hand tools to produce munitions and military hardware.

munitions worker

This image forms part of Norfolk Record Office holdings from the following archive: Records of King’s Lynn Independent (Congregational), New Conduit Street, King’s Lynn, reference FC 10/18. A note on the image reads: ‘internal combustion engines woman milling a steering arm of motor lorry engine – Labour Supply Department’

These “munitionettes” did shift work alongside a smaller number of men. They were supervised by male employees who had either reserved occupations or were too old for military service.

The Norfolk Regiment in January: Albert

Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.

On paper, January was a month of “rest” for Norfolk’s 8th battalion. The men had been stationed at the French town of Albert for over a month, aiding in its defence, away from front line trenches. A look at many diaries and letters however says little of rest.

The shattered Basilica at Albert, taken from a popular print.

The shattered Basilica at Albert, taken from a popular print. The “Golden Virgin” hangs over the edge.

Albert, which lies between Amiens and Bapaume, became a symbol of Allied resistance when the golden statue of Mary and her infant Jesus, atop the Basilica of Notre-Dame de brebieres, slumped to an almost horizontal position after a shell burst. “Protecting the Golden Virgin” therefore, was a task which gained symbolic significance and captured the imagination of people at home. This textile, made by F. W Taverham, goes some way in highlighting the romanticism of Albert and similar churches.


Silk chair cover painted with views of churches at Albert, Arras, Persomme and Ypres

Silk chair cover painted with churches on the Western Front, by F. W Taverham . Clockwise from top left – Albert, Arras, Ypres and Persomme..

For the 8th battalion however, daily life was still hard going. Fatigue duty, or manual labouring – usually digging or carrying equipment, was a constant. Private A E England wrote sombrely,

“sometimes it would be carrying boxes of explosive ammonal up muddy communication trenches or even the top of sapheads, or perhaps we would be wanted by the sappers to work in the tunnel filling sandbags with the chalky soil excavated by the engineers and passing them back on hands and knees along a chain of one’s unfortunate comrades all similarly crouched and listening from time-to-time for the sound of Jerry’s pickaxe engaged in the same fearful activity”. 

Private W H Dunnell noted,

“We badly need out of here, socks more than anything, warm home-knitted socks… Our feet are always wet now, so the more we can change our socks the better”. 

Men of the 8th Norfolks with an Indian soldier. The "Golden Virgin" lies almost toppled in the background

Men of the 8th Norfolks with an Indian soldier. The “Golden Virgin” lies almost toppled in the background.

The evident angst among the 8th battalion men is perhaps best summed up by Private G F Mason. In a fit of rage, he wrote bitterly about men back home who were yet to sign up. In a letter to his sister, he exclaimed,

“Some of them will have to leave their nice little jobs they got, after us first chaps come away… I’ve got the nark and would tell someone off if I could. Well sod the thing am [sic]  going to close now. Love from your loving brother”.

Mason’s remarks, typical of a soldier in poor conditions and bad weather, were soon to ring true. Conscription became the order of the day in the early months of 1916. In the meantime, the 8th would have to make the best of Albert; mud, monotony, weet feet and occasional “rest”.

Great-Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?

Seeing family at Christmas time and being asked to research some family history appears to becoming a new family tradition. Last year I was asked to investigate my husband’s grandfather and this year it is my great-grand father.

My mum has been investigating our family tree for many years, and while we knew that my paternal great-grandfather served in the navy we hadn’t researched his career in depth.  A chance tweet on the @NorfolkinWW1 twitter led us to the Naval-history.net website. This wonderful resource dedicated to the Senior Service is a place to lose hours but a sub-section of the site is dedicated to the (ongoing) transcription of ships’ logbooks. This means that you can now see exactly where ships were – and what the crews were up to – throughout the war this information can in turn add real ‘colour’ to family history data.

In 2015 it also became easier to find out which ships relatives did serve on during WW1 as the Registers of Seamen’s Service (1900-1928) has become available on ancestry.com (This website can currently be accessed free of charge at all of Norfolk’s Libraries)

With this in mind and armed with information about my great-grandfather, Horace Edward Collar, I set off to find out more about his service.

Horace Edward Collar, c.1920

Horace Edward Collar, c.1920

Horace officially joined up on 31st July 1916, the actual date of his 18th birthday, and from reading his service record it can be seen that his wartime ships were:

  • HMS Ganges
  • HMS Impregnable
  • HMS Pembroke
  • HMS Centaur
  • HMS Curacoa
  • HMS Dido
Screenshot of Horace Collar's Naval record taken from ancestry.co.uk

Screenshot of Horace Collar’s Naval record taken from ancestry.co.uk

(It is interesting to note from the dates on this documents that Horace actually started his service on HMS Ganges & HMS Pembroke in May 1916 a couple of months before his official enlistment date.)

The first thing I discovered on comparing this list of ships to those on the naval history website is that only one of them actually appears (HMS Centaur).  Google became my friend at this point and I found out that Ganges, Impregnable and Pembroke were all non-sea-going training ships. HMS Dido was also not on active service but was a depot ship based in Harwich.

HMS Centaur and HMS Curacoa were on active service and formed part of the Harwich Force. This was a patrol flotilla which supported both the Dover Patrol (protecting the English Channel) and the Grand Fleet, based in Scapa Flow (protecting the Atlantic).  Ships in the Harwich Force also escorted Allied and neutral ships between Holland and the UK and undertook some missions within the North Sea.  The Harwich Force didn’t actually take part in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 but had been on patrols and other ‘shouts’ shortly beforehand. After the German naval surrender in 1918 the Harwich Force became responsible for the remaining German submarines, which were surrendered at Harwich.

Although not a part of any major battle it can be surmised that at some point during 1917 Horace saw some action as in December of that year he was reimbursed £1.7.6 for “loss of effects.” There is a record on the National Archive website, Damage to HMS Centaur by Mine, which tantalisingly hints at what happened. Intriguingly a website dedicated to the history of Harwich lists this happening in June 1918 which deepens the mystery… As yet this document has not been digitised and I haven’t ordered a physical copy of it, although I feel that my interest in knowing what happened will lead me to do so very soon!

Horace signed up as a Ship’s Boy in 1916 and by the end of the war was listed as Ordinary Telegraphist, he ended his career in 1928 as a Telegraphist. Wikipedia’s entry for this role reads:

A telegraphist or telegraph operator is an operator who uses the Morse code in order to communicate by land or radio lines. Telegraphists were indispensable at sea in the early day of Wireless Telegraphy. During the Great War the Royal Navy enlisted many volunteers as telegraphists.

In the case of Horace Collar these new (well new to me and my family at least!) websites haven’t actually added a lot of details to our knowledge of his war time service as he was so land based but my mum informs me that he did have a brother who also served in the Navy during the First World War and then there are the following 10 years of Horace’s service to investigate too…