Creative Writing Competition


The Norfolk Record Office is holding a WW1 themed creative writing competition for young people between the ages of 7-14. The challenge is to make a piece of creative fiction based on provided extracts and transcripts of three different diaries written by a nurse, soldier and church army worker. The prize is an archive experience! Follow the link for more details and please share with anyone you think may be interested: WW1 Creative Writing Competition.

Holocaust Memorial Day



Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, the 27th of January was picked for this day as it marks the date that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Russians in 1945 – 70 years ago today.

The word holocaust has become synonymous with the atrocities of World War Two but there have sadly been many acts of genocide before and after the Shoah.

The word genocide was in fact coined in the 1940s to talk about the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks during World War One.

Between 1915 and 1923 over one million Armenians were forcibly deported from the Ottoman Empire and a further one and a half million perished – from starvation or disease in concentration camps, on forced marches into the Syrian desert or just out-right murdered by the ‘Young Turks.’

This massacre has never been formally acknowledged by the Turkish government and there is a new legal trial pending on this matter so we are likely to hear more about this tragedy over the next year or so.

Louis De Bernieres covers this genocide in his epic novel Birds Without Wings  and there is a non-fiction book A Shameful Act  both of which can be borrowed from Norfolk’s Libraries.

There is also an informative website giving many more details of the events of 1915-1923.

The 2nd Battalion the Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia

Summary for November 1914 – January 1915

As well as researching the background to the Mesopotamian Front during WW1 our researcher has also summarized the 2nd Norfolk Battalion’s actions quarter by quarter.

Dates and events are given here as related in The History of the Norfolk Regiment, Volume II (1914-1918) by F. Loraine Petre


Readers may wish to refer to the map, The Head of the Persian Gulf at the Outbreak of War, contained in the Mesopotamia post on December 5, 2014.  English spellings of Arabic and Turkish names can vary. The 2nd Norfolks fought alongside other regiments in most engagements; it would be too space consuming to name them all in this summary, but F. Loraine Petre’s book is very detailed.

The British may have thought they knew something of Mesopotamia’s people, but they could not deny their ignorance of its physical geography. The expedition was woefully unprepared… Beset by mirages and hampered by lack of cover… when the flotilla pushed up toward Qurna ‘we had only an old rough sketch-map of the river, showing no soundings and affording very little information’… Fortunately, the Ottoman Army was if anything worse informed than the British. When God Made Hell, by Charles Townshend, 2010


3 November 1914 2nd Norfolk departed Belgaum (Belagavi) in the hills northeast of Goa for Bombay (Mumbai) in India.
6 November 1914 2nd Norfolk sailed from Bombay on the transport ship ‘Elephanta’ for the Persian Gulf. The strength at embarkation was 23 officers, 5 warrant officers, and 907 other ranks.
13 November 1914 ‘Elephanta’ was off Fao at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab waterway.
15 November 1914 2nd Norfolk disembarked 30 miles upstream at Saniyah and formed part of the 18th (Indian) Brigade.
17 November 2014 2nd Norfolk began the march towards Basra along the palm fringed right bank of the Shatt al-Arab, meeting Turkish resistance and experiencing cold, windy nights, initially without great coats or blankets.

wreck meso

The cargo ship, ‘Ekbatana’, siezed by Turkey and scuttled as a blockship in the Shatt al-Arab on 5 November 1914 ( for further information)
21 November 1914 2nd Norfolk embarked on the SS ‘Medjidieh’ upstream to Basra. A difficult embarkation avoiding the ships which the Turkish forces had scuttled to block the river. HMS ‘Odin’ and HMS ‘Espiegle’ in support.

mouth basra

The Mouth of the Ashar Creek, the main entrance to Basra from the Shatt al-Arab. Note the low-lying and easily flooded nature of the terrain.
22 November 1914 2nd Norfolk arrived at Basra which had been abandoned by Turkish troops and was in the process of being looted. The rest of November was largely spent in searching neighbouring Arab villages for arms.
3 December 1914 ‘B’ Company joined a force embarked for Kurna at the confluence of the Tigris and the old course of the Euphrates.  The Turks had good cover in the palms and irrigation channels. The village of Mazera was cleared but the force was not strong enough to attempt the capture of Kurna.
5 December 1914 The rest of 2nd Norfolk left Basra by steamer to reinforce the attack onMazera, which had been reoccupied by the Turks, and onKurna, supported by firing from Royal Navy ships on the river.The 2nd Norfolks and the 7th Rajputs cleared Mazera ‘with the bayonet’.  Two officers and two other ranks of the 2nd Norfolks killed, and thirty-five wounded, of whom two died of wounds.
8 December 1914 2nd Norfolk provided cover for the crossing of the Tigris above Kurna. Kurna surrendered the following day.
11 December 1914 2nd Norfolk crossed to Kurna and was employed for the rest of the month on the defences of their camp there.
© Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans Picture Library (

© Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans Picture Library (

The Taking of Kurna: the day after, viewed from the left bank of the Tigris.

The Union Flag is seen flying over the former Turkish Governor’s residence. The ship lies off the angle of the confluence of the Tigris with the Euphrates. From The Illustrated London News, 6 February 1915, drawn by a British officer at the time.


N.B. The descriptive terms ‘right bank’ and ‘left bank’ are relative to an observer looking downstream, in which the right bank is to the observer’s right, and vice versa.


6 January 1915 ‘A ‘and ‘C’ companies, with the 7th Rajputs, went by steamer up the Euphrates to Cubaish, where they anchored but did not land; they returned next day to Kurna. On the night of the 6 January there was a small attack by Arabs on Norfolk Hill, a small elevation above the Tigris, but the attack was easily stopped by ‘B’ and ‘D’ companies.
19 January 1915 2nd Norfolk returned to Mazera where they acted as reserve to a reconnaissance of the defences on the left bank of the river.
20 January 1915 2nd Norfolk again crossed the Tigris and returned toKurna, where they spent the rest of the month uneventfully.‘The annual floods had commenced ere this, and the whole country about Kurna was practically a swamp, though on the left bank of the Tigris, north of Mazera, the ground was much drier. Kurna was altogether an unpleasant place, though in Mohammedan tradition it is the reputed site of the Garden of Eden.’ 


N.B. Mesopotamia has been identified as a possible site of the Garden of Eden by Jewish and Christian as well as by Islamic scholars.

date palms

The ubiquitous date palms which fringed the creeks often as much as one mile in breadth and which provided cover for Turkish snipers

(The text, and images from postcards may be freely used. Copyright and references must be cited as above.)

The Wartime Journal of Edith Upcher including Zeppelin Raids

This small diary is amongst a collection of Upcher family papers housed at the Norfolk Record Office, and gives a first-hand account of the experiences of a resident of Sheringham Hall, home to the Upchers, as well as revealing the general atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the area. The diarist, thought to be Edith Upcher, explains that she meant to start her journal in 1914 but the ‘crowding in of events’ prevented her.  She recalls the Zeppelins going overhead along the coast in January of 1915, dropping bombs in the Holt area, shaking doors and windows as they headed for a nearby aerodrome.  Nearby Bayfield Hall suffered damage, and a girl reportedly lost her power of speech after seeing the terrifying aircraft.

In the quiet of her own room at night Edith reports that she has trouble sleeping, imagining the return of the bombers, wondering where they had been next and what havoc had been wreaked by the ‘night monsters of prey’. Things are calmer during the day, though, and she walks up the hill that evening to watch the sunset despite seeing smoke over Sheringham’s Grand Hotel.  Throughout the next couple of months there was ‘a great deal of agitation about’, with soldiers on the links at night, and stories of German ships being captured offshore. One report said the enemy had landed at Weybourne, a common fear owing to its deep harbour, and that the Germans were going around shaking the hands of locals with one hand and knifing them with the other!

One another occasion, Edith recalls, the lifeboat was called out to a rescue, but orders had been given to fire on any boat trying to land on the beach.  Fresh order soon had to be issued exempting the lifeboat crew, but the fishermen who helped launch her had to have a military escort to ensure their safety.  Another alarm was caused by rattling windows and a loud bang – “Of course no-ones suggestions were the right ones”, writes the diarist, a floating mine had come ashore and burst near the town’s outflow pipe.  Locals had assembled to watch the spectacle but their hunger soon got the better of them and they left for breakfast.

Meanwhile, stories from abroad of the casualties of war were filtering through, and Edith’s mother started up a Red Cross working party in aid of Armenian refugees. A friend stayed at the Hall who had been sent home from the front with Rheumatic Fever, and was very depressed by the thought of having to return from ‘Heaven to Hell’. Edith herself began working in a nearby hospital for wounded soldiers and recalls the singsongs started by the nurses to try to assuage fears of patients over bombings and invasion.

A couple of years later, in August 1917, a grand Empire Pageant was held in aid of the work of the Red Cross at Sheringham Park.  The programme announces country dancing, drama with woodland scenes, the May Queen and a Flower Frolic, and a patriotic procession led by Britannia, supported by female empire builders including Joan of Arc and Queen Victoria.  The procession also included Florence Nightingale and the Red Cross nurses, munitions workers, land girls, post women, etc. representing the many areas in which women were contributing to the war effort, and ended with the singing of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and, of course, the National Anthem.

Submitted by Liz Larby, Gresham’s School Archivist.

Diary entries can be found in Norfolk Record Office, references:(NRO re. UPC 188, 642 x 2) (NRO ref. UPC 55).

Gresham’s at War: Zeppelin raids 19th January 1915

Some of the first letters from ex-pupils serving on the Western Front in 1914 had spoken of ‘exciting times up in the trenches’, but by early 1915 news was filtering through of harsh weather causing dreadful conditions.

Wet weather at home was also causing problems by holding up building work on the chapel; rainfall for the Holt area in the winter months is normally about 2-3 ins per month, but in December 1914 and January 1915 the total was 11 ins.  House matches had been abandoned in favour of drill with the Corps, and pupils had to get up even earlier for lessons with the introduction during January of Daylight Saving Time due to concerns over the School being a well-lit target for Zeppelins.

In fact, by the 27th January when this was introduced, there had already been a raid.  Two Zeppelins, the L3 and L4, trying to find the Humber, had lost their course in the wintry conditions of the night of 19th January and found North Norfolk instead.  The first one dropped bombs on Great Yarmouth, killing two people and injuring three others.  The second crossed the coastline over Bacton and passed by Cromer.

At nearby Sheringham the pilot tried to find out where he was, hovering above the cloud at only 800 feet, his face clearly visible to startled locals in the High Street as housemaster Wynne Willson recalls in his journal:

“We were among the first people to see or hear them when they came over England.  We were told at Holt that a Zeppelin was hovering over Sheringham; they had a 4.7 gun on the links there, but I believe its elevation was not great enough and its use would have meant considerable retaliation on the town.  As it was, they dropped two or three small bombs, which were the first actually dropped on English soil.  At about eight o’clock they came over us at Holt and we put out all lights.  The little boys in my boarding house were on the whole more excited than alarmed. Luckily for the inhabitants of the boarding house, the bombs all fell round a farmhouse, killing one or two sheep and a turkey, and dislodging some tiles.  Next day the school repaired thither en masse to inspect the damage and the boys searched the small craters for bits of bombs; they collected from round the farm quite a large store of old scrap iron which had probably lain there for decades.  I remember taking a parcel of sweets down for the small children at the farmhouse, who of course had been much frightened.”


Zeppelin photo which was in an album of photos taken by Gilbert Wilson (geologist) who attended from 1913-17.

Wynne Willson’s own son Bill, then a child of three, remembered 85 years later being brought downstairs for safety when the Zeppelins came over.  His six year old sister recorded that “Two boys were going home when they heard a bomb 100 yards away, “ adding, “ they turned round and threw there bykes into the hedge and bolted to the Old School House”, saying “ they where very fritened (and) several boys were crying.”

Some of the residents of the junior house were also frightened and had to be gathered round the fire and read stories to calm their tears.  Young pupil Geoffrey Diggle, however, was disappointed the Zeppelins had not caused more damage than the six small craters that appeared in a turnip field.  He also recalled the housemaster praying for a quiet night at evening prayers following the raid. The attack of 19th January caused a great sensation in Norfolk, bringing the reality of war close to home and invoking mixed feelings in the School of excitement and fear.

Mr Wynne Willson’s detailed journal of life on the home front at Holt is one of the sources we use from the School Archives to help bring this period of history to life for our Year 9 pupils.  It is featured heavily in our centenary exhibition Gresham’s at War: 1914-18 which will be available online on the re-launched Old Greshamian Club website  in January (

Anyone who has Gresham’s ancestors who fought in the War is invited to contact the School Archivist Liz Larby (author of this post) on Tel: 01263 714613 or

Fact and Fiction meeting.

It Started With Cycling…

Author Tessa West has sent us this wonderful piece about how she went about the research for writing her World War One novel As Best We Can.


best we


It started with cycling. I’m keen on cycling and, having read a bit about military cyclists, I had begun to envision a novel about a character in a cycling battalion. It was a bonus to find that Suffolk (where I live) had such a battalion, so I didn’t have to invent one.  WW1 was not a key feature for me as I planned the book, but when I found that the Suffolk Battalion was founded in 1911, I decided to use its actual movements.

To begin with, I decided that my cyclist (who would have to be a man, unless I was going to write a very different story from the one I had in mind), would grow up in Bury St Edmunds. This local setting was important because my three other novels are set in East Anglia, and I wanted to sustain the interest of those many readers who have told me how much they enjoy this feature. I soon created a family around this man and began to get a feel for him and for his family members.

My narrative started in 1916, but although I was not sure how or when it would finish I was happy to start writing as I was confident that a suitable end would present itself.  The book began to take shape, and I soon saw that it was by no means the story of one man, but rather about the impact of war on each person in a family.

I realised at once that I needed a detailed knowledge of the geography of the area, of local affairs and issues, and about the Suffolk Cyclists. This meant researching in three directions. Firstly, I studied maps and visited places that had some particular use or relevance at the time of my story. I went to Elveden where Duleep Singh had lived, to Hawstead church, along the Lark. I read about the Ampton Military Hospital, troops arriving at Ingham station, about early tanks.

Secondly, I found an extremely helpful website which told me all about the 25th London Cyclists, which is the battalion into which the Suffolk Cyclists were eventually amalgamated as infantrymen.

Thirdly, I became a regular user of a microfiche in the Bury Records Office because I needed to work my way through numerous past copies of the Bury Free Press and its predecessors.

I enjoyed all three tasks, but it was the research into newspapers which gave me the best picture of what life was like in the war years: shock when Britain was attacked; the changing role of women; Zeppelins; reactions to conscription; the film “The Somme”; the lists and lists of the dead, the missing and the wounded.

But significant chunks of the story are told through letters from France and the North-West Frontier. I focused on the latter because the London Cyclists were involved in a situation there which few people know about. The word “war” only just stretches to encompass what happened both on the soggy Western Front as well as amongst terrain which became scorched and frozen in turn.

My fictional characters developed in the face of shortages of food and fuel, together with an overload of grief and loss, as well as getting on with their ordinary everyday lives.  I found them trying to cope “as best they could”.

I extended the time frame of the book to the end of 1921, as I wanted to include the Amritsar Massacre (which the Cyclists were very close to). I also had in mind a particular event in Suffolk, in November 1921, which would provide, I believed, a fitting end.

Writing “As Best We Can” caused me, as writing my others books did, to read, learn, think, feel and understand more about the human condition.  I’m hoping the book will find plenty of readers who enjoy this combination of an East Anglian setting, domestic family life in wartime, and letters home from two different theatres of war.

January 2015

For more information about Tess please visit her website, and As Best We Can is available to borrow from Norfolk’s libraries.

We hope to arrange a talk with Tessa during 2015 and would also love to feature reader reviews of her book on the blog so please do drop us a line ( or leave a comment below.

Relief Work in Thetford

A lot of work was done by the Mayor of Thetford’s War Committee to help the sick and wounded and those in distress through the war. It was decided to concentrate their efforts on providing garments for the sick and wounded, finding a suitable local building for use as an emergency hospital and providing equipment and training local people in the care of sick and wounded.

By January 1915, sewing meetings had been arranged and work at home organised : 44 nightshirts, 51 day shirts, 17 pyjamas, 26 draw sheets and 29 odd garments had been sent to the Central Red Cross, the mine sweepers had received 22 thick flannel vests and the Belgians had been sent 12 day shirts and 37 various garments.

The YMCA buildings, after an inspection by the British Red Cross County Director, were approved for use as an emergency 20 bed hospital and plans were put in place to ensure that it could function as a hospital if required.

Again by January 1915, 136 women and 84 men had been trained in first aid and home nursing by attending classes at the Town Hall.