What can service records reveal?

Since starting my traineeship at the Norfolk Record Office I have read extracts from a number of diaries from the World War One era, and have found them a fascinating insight into the lives of soldiers. However, I had never really given huge consideration to service records, and how much they reveal.

In the autumn, the Norfolk Record Office will hold World War One workshops for schools. As part of the workshops, pupils will recreate a life sized soldier using information gathered from service records.

In preparation for these workshops I have been reading a number of service records of men who stated that they lived in Norfolk. I have found the experience of reading these service records both interesting and moving.

Even though the information provided is restricted by the fact they are based on printed forms and tables, it is possible to flesh out the story of a soldier from this bureaucratically formatted information.

propaganda poster

Propaganda Poster

For instance, there is Charles Abbs, a man who stated his trade was ‘professional footballer’. From a quick Google I found that he is listed as playing his debut game for Norwich City on 24 October 1914. He joined the 17th Middlesex (the footballers’ battalion) in 1915.

This website gives an outline of the Footballers’ Battalion. It says that ‘Following the outbreak of World War One, a heated debate took place in the letter pages of many national newspapers about the continuance of professional football during a time of national crisis…such was the strength of feeling that it was even suggested to King George V that he should withdraw his patronage of the Football Association.’

The 17th Middlesex was raised at a meeting in Fulham Town Hall on 15 December 1914.

Charles Abbs was captured and became a prisoner of war from 28 April 1917, for a total of 261 days. He survived the War but was ‘30% disabled’ and injured in his breast and thigh.

Another compelling story is that of 21 year old Richard Plane. His service record shows that for ‘not complying with an order’ and ‘making an improper remark to a N.C.O’ he was given fourteen days field punishment Number 1. This form of punishment consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day. Later that year Plane died in hospital of pneumonia.

Richard Plane's service record

Richard Plane’s service record

But what’s also interesting about service records is what they don’t reveal.

In the service records of George William Baldry, there is a memorandum and part of it is a note from his wife saying that Mr Baldry has stopped sending his allowance to her, and she asks why she hasn’t received anything. Why would he have stopped?

Also, 17 year old Robert Edward Forsythe was promoted to Corporal on 26 September 1914. But after this point he starts to commit a number of offences such as overstaying leave, irregular conduct, and neglect of duty while in charge of brigade guard. Then on 10 May 1915 on request he changes rank back to Private. Was he misbehaving because he didn’t enjoy being a Corporal?

I wonder what other stories are held within the 2.8 million service records that survived the World War Two bombing…do readers of this blog have any interesting stories or things they’d like to share relating to Service Records?

Emily

‘How Norfolk and Norwich women can help our soldiers’ leaflet

Leaflet to co-ordinate knitting contribution

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk(the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

A Long Line Historical Background to the Gallipoli Campaign

On 5th August, 1915, the 1/4 and 1/5 (Territorial) Battalions of the Norfolk Regiment disembarked the SS Aquitania at Mudros on the Aegean island of Lemnos. On the 9th Aug the troops on board were taken in smaller vessels to Imbros, west of the Gallipoli Peninsula, whence they proceeded on the 10th to the landing-place of the 54th Division in Suvla Bay and bivouacked on the beach.

According to Homer, it was on Lemnos that Philoctetes, the leader of the Thessalian contingent, was abandoned by the Greeks as they sailed to Troy, because a bite from a water snake had become infected.  In another historical coincidence this Ancient Greek army was to spend ten years camped on a beach laying siege to Troy, almost within sight of the Gallipoli beach where the Norfolks were landed in 1915…

For this month’s posting, our regular Mesopotamian researcher has written a historical background to the deployment of the Norfolks to Gallipoli.

A Long Line Historical Background to the Gallipoli Campaign

The immediate background to the Gallipoli Campaign is well-known. Here is the summary on the website of the National Archives:

By early 1915, it was clear that this was going to be a long, hard war. It was also clear that the western front had effectively become a siege, with French and British troops trying to drive the Germans off the land they had taken. The politicians and the military began to look at campaigns that might get results, rather than a terrible stalemate.

Winston Churchill, the government minister in charge of the Royal Navy, suggested an attack on the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles are the narrow straits of water giving access to the Sea of Marmara. Controlling the straits would give the Allies several possible advantages:

  • The Royal Navy could attack Constantinople, capital city of Germany’s ally, Turkey;
  • The Navy could attack Turkish industry, which was mainly based around the Sea of Marmara;
  • Greece and Bulgaria might join the war on the side of the Allies against Turkey;
  • British and French merchant ships could send vital arms, equipment and other supplies to their ally, Russia. In January 1915, the Russian commander, Duke Nicholas, was asking for allied help because the Germans were pushing his forces backward.

On 13 January 1915, Churchill put forward a plan for a Royal Navy attack on the straits. Senior naval officers, including the most senior naval officer, Admiral Fisher, were opposed to the idea. Churchill had the support of the War Minister, Lord Kitchener, and got the go-ahead for the plan.

Churchill took some trouble to get French support. The French naval minister, Jean Augagneur, agreed to provide some ships, even though his own military commanders opposed the plan. Apparently he felt that the French should be involved so that they would gain their share of the credit if it were a success.  www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/greatwar/pdf/g4cs2background.pdf

The Dardanelles viewed towards the Asian shore withe the fortress of the Kilitbahir Kalesi in the foreground (2010).

The Dardanelles viewed towards the Asian shore withe the fortress of the Kilitbahir Kalesi in the foreground (2010).

The straits which connect the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea have been an important crossroads since the Bronze Age, and doubtless before. They are at the point where Europe meets Asia: a location which was strategically and economically valuable to possess, and which therefore excited envy and inevitably, war. In 1915 they lay within the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and had been for four centuries; before that they were part of the Greek Byzantine Empire; and before that they were held by the Romans. This overview is a personal one and spans over three thousand years of history.

The Eastern Question became one of the great diplomatic preoccupations of the nineteenth century… The decline and probable collapse of the Turkish empire was a diplomatic constant throughout the period…. It was still a major source of dispute when the Great War opened in 1914.  Britain and the Eastern Question: Missolonghi to Gallipoli, G.D. Clayton, 1971

For much of the nineteenth century Britain had sought to sustain rather than dismember the Ottoman Empire, viewing it as a bulwark against Russian expansion southward to the northern frontiers of India. The Royal Navy under Admiral Nelson had fought and won the Battle of the Nile in 1798 to dislodge a French invasion of Egypt, and thereby thwart Napoleon’s extravagant ambition to dislodge the British in India via the overland routes. The British Army led by General Wolseley had occupied Egypt in 1882 to preserve stable government in what was still nominally an Ottoman territory, and to maintain free passage (under British control) through the Suez Canal and the sea routes to India.

India was central to British foreign policy in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and had an almost sacramental hold upon the British establishment: so, why had the British attitude to Turkey changed by 1915? and why were the straits and the city of Constantinople so important? Unmentioned in the National Archives summary above was Winston Churchill’s intention to hand Constantinople over to Russian control were the Dardanelles campaign to be successful.

Venturing back in time, the Trojan War, of which just fifty-one days of a ten-year campaign are related in the Homer’s Iliad, was fought not for the honour of Helen of Sparta, but for control of the trade routes between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea and the wider Mediterranean. The site of Troy was visible to the Royal Navy ships entering the Dardanelles in 1915, as the city itself would have been to the thousand black ships (1186 according to the Iliad) of the Greeks.

The view from the hill of Hisarlik, thought to be the site of Homer's Troy. (2010) Across the plain, much of which would have been a sea bay in the Bronze Age, the southern entry to the Dardanells can be glimpsed on the horizon to the right, and the Aegean Sea to the left.

The view from the hill of Hisarlik, thought to be the site of Homer’s Troy. (2010)
Across the plain, much of which would have been a sea bay in the Bronze Age, the southern entry to the Dardanelles can be glimpsed on the horizon to the right, and the Aegean Sea to the left.

Moving forward in time, Herodotus, the Greek ‘Father of History’ provides a geographical perspective of the straits:

Here, seated in the Temple which stands by the straits, he [Darius I, King of Persia] looked out over the Black Sea. No sea is as marvellous as the Black Sea… Its mouth is half a mile wide, and the length of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait which leads into it, is nearly fifteen miles. The Bosphorus joins the Propontis… and runs into the Hellespont, a narrow strait fifty miles long but less than one mile wide. The Hellespont leads into the broad sea called the Aegean.  The Histories, Herodotus (de Sélincourt, translator), Penguin Books, 2003.

Panoramic map of the straits between the Black and the Aegean. NB - geographical names change through time: the Black sea was also known as the Euxine Sea; the Sea of Marmara as the Propontis; the Dardanelles as the Hellespont. the landmass of Turkey in Asia is sometimes referred to as Asia Minor, but also as Anatolia. Turkey extends in to Europe to the west of the Straits and includes the city of Constantinople (Istanbul)

Panoramic map of the straits between the Black and the Aegean.
NB – geographical names change through time: the Black sea was also known as the Euxine Sea; the Sea of Marmara as the Propontis; the Dardanelles as the Hellespont. the landmass of Turkey in Asia is sometimes referred to as Asia Minor, but also as Anatolia. Turkey extends in to Europe to the west of the Straits and includes the city of Constantinople (Istanbul)

Herodotus was writing to locate for his readers a bridge across the Bosphorus which Persian troops might have constructed to invade Greece in 490 BC, before being defeated at the battle of Marathon. Darius’ successor, Xerxes I, invading Greece ten years later and determined to avenge his father’s defeat, is thought to have built two bridges across the Hellespont in advance of the famous battle of Thermopylae and the heroic stand of ‘the 300’.

A visual reconstruction of Xerxes' bridges (with thanks to: www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/InventionsF.htm) Opinion is divided as to the their location, whether across the Bosphorus or the Dardanelles

A visual reconstruction of Xerxes’ bridges
(with thanks to: http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/InventionsF.htm)
Opinion is divided as to the their location, whether across the Bosphorus or the Dardanelles

Fifteen hundred years later,  in 1097, the Norman Knights of the First Crusade arrived at Constantinople in successive armies intent upon crossing the Straits in the opposite direction on their way to the Holy Land. Anna Comnena, daughter of the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenos, describes their approach to the capital:

One might have compared them for number to the stars of heaven or the grains of sand poured out over the shore… For all my desire to name their leaders, I prefer not to do so. The words fail me, partly through my inability to make the barbaric sounds – they are so unpronounceable – and partly because I recoil before their great numbers.  The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, translated from the Greek by E.R.A. Sewter, Penguin Books, 1969

It was the emperor Alexius who had sent an embassy to the Pope requesting help from his fellow Christian to stem the advance of the Muslim Turks across Anatolia, which had brought them within striking distance of the holy city of Constantinople. However, Alexius had not anticipated the scale of the crusade which followed, and he feared that the crusaders would not accept his authority, and indeed that they might pose an even greater threat to his empire than the Turks.  (His fears proved prescient, for in 1204 the knights of the Fourth Crusade, subverted by the Doge of Venice, attacked, looted and all but destroyed Constantinople.)

Alexius I Comnenos, Emperor of the Romans and God's Vice-Regent on Earth. Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Bot

Alexius I Comnenos, Emperor of the Romans and God’s Vice-Regent on Earth.
Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Bot

He [Alexius] feared and distrusted Bohemond [the Norman crusader], but promised to send troops to accompany the crusading armies, to repay them for their expenses and to ensure their revictualling and their communications… Bohemond’s army was then summoned to Constantinople and on 26 April it was conveyed across the Bosphorus…   A History of the Crusades, Volume I, Steven Runciman,1951

It was not just the east-west route across the Straits that was historically important; in 860 AD, the Rus, a people from north of the Black Sea, laid siege to Constantinople.

The Russian fleet was ravaging and overrunning what lies within the Black Sea and all its coastline. The Russians are a merciless and savage race of Scyths… They presented a severe danger to the very capital, but before long they experienced the wrath of God themselves and went home.  John Skylitzes, A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057, Translated by John Wortley, 2010

The Byzantines attributed the repulse of the Rus to the intercession of the Mother of God, the divine protectress of the city, whose mantle and icon were paraded along the great walls of Constantinople. It is also possible that the Byzantines’ most feared weapon, Greek Fire, helped to accomplish the divine will, driving the two hundred ships of the Rus back up the Bosphorus.

The Byzantines using Greek Fire, pictured in the Chronicle of John Skylitzes. The Greek inscription reads: στόλος Ρωμαίων πυρπολῶν τὸν τῶν ἐναντίων στόλον : the fleet of the Romans setting ablaze the fleet of the enemies Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Amandajm

The Byzantines using Greek Fire, pictured in the Chronicle of John Skylitzes.
The Greek inscription reads: στόλος Ρωμαίων πυρπολῶν τὸν τῶν ἐναντίων στόλον : the fleet of the Romans setting ablaze the fleet of the enemies
Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Amandajm

They then sent a delegation of their people to the capital begging to partake of sacred baptism – which they did.  John Skylitzes

From this simple statement by John Skylitzes, a civil servant in Constantinople writing more than 200 years after the event, can be traced a historical link to Winston Churchill’s declared intention to hand over the city to Russian control were the Turks defeated in 1915. But who were the Rus?

The favourite explanation for the name Rus, although by no means the only one, is that it is derived from the Finnish name for Sweden, Rotsi, later Ruotsi, and that this comes from Old Swedish Roper. This is thought to have had some association with the rowing of ships…  The Viking Road to Byzantium, H.R. Ellis Davidson, 1976

Ellis Davidson writes of the Rus:

…the name Rus is taken primarily to denote the Scandinavian settlers in Russia, particularly those established at Kiev in the ninth century.

Hence, it was Northmen, Vikings, who established the Russian state in consequence of their trading activities, and later by conquest and then though intermarriage with the local Slavs. The rivers along which they traded, and the overland portages between the rivers are shown on the map below:

Map showing the major Rus trade routes: the Volga trade route (in red) and the trade route from the Rus to the Greeks (in purple). Other trade routes of the 8th–11th centuries shown in orange. Wikimedia Commons : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilisateur:Spiridon_Ion_Cepleanu

Map showing the major Rus trade routes: the Volga trade route (in red) and the trade route from the Rus to the Greeks (in purple). Other trade routes of the 8th–11th centuries shown in orange.
Wikimedia Commons : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilisateur:Spiridon_Ion_Cepleanu

Eventually, the Rus followed the rivers to reach Constantinople through the Black Sea and the Bosphorus.

The strategically important confluence between the Black sea and the Bosphorus, seen from a ruined Byzantine castle at the northern end of the Straits (1995)

The strategically important confluence between the Black sea and the Bosphorus, seen from a ruined Byzantine castle at the northern end of the Straits (1995)

At this point it might be helpful to briefly elaborate the name, ‘Byzantium’.

Byzantium was a Greek city dating to the seventh century BC. Later, its splendid site, on the western side of the Bosphorus between the Sea of Marmara and an inlet which became known as the Golden Horn, was recognized by Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of the Romans. Here he built a new capital city, away from the intrigues and pagan worship of Rome. Constantinople was inaugurated in 330 AD, and named in his honour.

When the western Roman Empire ‘fell’ to the barbarian invasions in the fifth century AD, the eastern Roman Empire, although under unrelenting pressure, survived. The Emperor of an undivided Roman Empire continued to reside at Constantinople. His role was a religious as well as a temporal one: God’s Vice-Regent on Earth, and ισαπόστολος (iso apostolos), that is, equal to the apostles. By the eighth century, this being Greece, the spoken and written language of the church and the court (but not the law, which retained Latin) had become Greek. Contact with the Persians and later the Arabs lent an oriental aspect to the imperial court. Since the nineteenth century, historians have referred to this eastern Roman Empire, as the Byzantine Empire. It lasted until Constantinople finally fell to the Ottoman Turks on 29th May, 1453.

Until the end, for 1153 years, the Byzantine emperor was always known as the Βασιλεύς ΄Ρωμαίων, that is to say, Emperor of the Romans. The early Ottoman name for the Byzantine Empire, before they completely conquered it, was Rum – Rome. The apparently Turkish name for the city, Istanbul, is also derived from Greek: Εις την πόλιν (istimbolin) – to or into the city.

Saint Sophia, Η Αγία Σοφία,

Saint Sophia, Η Αγία Σοφία, (1995)

Saint Sophia, Η Αγία Σοφία, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople was built by the emperor Justinian I in the 6th century under a great dome and a series of lesser domes. It was converted to a mosque by sultan Mehmed II (the Conqueror) in 1453, with the minarets added subsequently. For centuries it was the largest covered space in the world, and the almost mystical place of worship of the Byzantine emperors. Constantinople has been described as ‘the City of the World’s Desire’, such was the magnificence of its buildings and the wealth of its church and emperors.

The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Byzantium by the Venetian painter, Gentile Bellini (Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Aguzer)

The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Byzantium
by the Venetian painter, Gentile Bellini
(Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Aguzer)

A domed space was later adopted for most of the fine mosques of Istanbul built by the Ottomans, and in Moscow, the ‘Third Rome’, the domes were elaborated almost to the point of absurdity in St. Basil’s Cathedral.

St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow (D.Wine, Wikimedia Commons : http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/E/RUS/Moscow/StBasils.htm)

St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow
(D.Wine, Wikimedia Commons : http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/E/RUS/Moscow/StBasils.htm)

Hence, when Winston Churchill was considering the future of Constantinople in 1915, he had to consider the historical and religious claims of the Greeks, for so long displaced from their spiritual home. But, to understand why Russia had a claim, too, we must return to John Skylitzes: They then sent a delegation of their people to the capital begging to partake of sacred baptism – which they did.

One of the greatest achievements of the Byzantine Greeks was to convert the pagan Slavic peoples to Christianity, and to provide them with an alphabet in which holy scripture could be translated into their own languages. As early as 862 AD, Ratislav, ruler of the Slavic Moravians (in the area of modern Hungary), sent an embassy to Constantinople, requesting the despatch to Moravia of a Greek missionary who could preach Christianity to his people in their own tongue. Consequently, the emperor Michael III sent two bilingual Greek monks from Thessalonica, the brothers Cyril and Methodius. The monks devised the earliest alphabet for the Slavs (who at this stage had no written language) based mostly upon Greek characters, which became known as Glagolitic script.

A tablet displaying early Glagolitic script Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Neoneo13

A tablet displaying early Glagolitic script
Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Neoneo13

(This early alphabet was later displaced by another developed in Bulgaria, also in Greek characters, which is termed Cyrillic, in honour of Cyril, although he did not devise it himself. This formed the basis of the modern-day writing of the Slavs, including the Russians.) The brothers brought with them the Bible and other liturgical texts which they translated into the language of the Moravian Slavs.

Saints Cyril and Methodius, the first Greek missionaries to the Slavs, in a 19th century icon from Bulgaria (Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Mladifilozof)

Saints Cyril and Methodius, the first Greek missionaries to the Slavs,
in a 19th century icon from Bulgaria
(Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Mladifilozof)

However, the most important state to emerge from among the Slavic peoples was that of the Russians. The first centre of  an organized Russian state was established at Kiev (in modern Ukraine) on the river Dnieper.  The first significant ruler of Kievan Russia was Igor (913-945). His wife, the Princess Olga, visited Constantinople in 957 and was baptized there. Under her grandson, Vladimir, the entire Rus people were converted to Christianity. Vladimir sent emissaries to Constantinople, and according to the Russian Chronicle:

…we went to Greece and the Greeks led us to edifices [no doubt to Η Αγία Σοφία where the domes were decorated with brilliantly coloured mosaics set in golden fields, and the walls with elaborate marble revetments, all illuminated by thousands of candles] where they worship their God, and we knew not sure whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty.

The Princess Olga would have craned her neck, as we still do today, to view the mosaic of the Virgin Mary (Η Θεοτόκος), high in the half dome of the apse of Η Αγία Σοφία Creative Commons : uploaded by David C Jones (www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones)

The Princess Olga would have craned her neck, as we still do today, to view the mosaic of the Virgin Mary (Η Θεοτόκος), high in the half dome of the apse of Η Αγία Σοφία
Creative Commons : uploaded by David C Jones (www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones)

In 987, in Kiev, Vladimir was baptized and shortly after compelled all the nobles and people to be converted to Greek Christianity. During the following centuries strong cultural ties developed between Byzantium and Russia, not least of which was Byzantine-inspired icon painting.

The key event in early Russian history was the conversion of the Rus of Kiev to Byzantine Christianity.  Medieval Western Civilization and the Byzantine and Islamic Worlds, Deno J. Geanakoplos, 1968

As early as the ninth century, tensions were apparent between the Orthodox Christians of Byzantium and the newly resurgent Roman church. There were disputes concerning the authority of the emperor in Constantinople and the pope in Rome. Later, doctrinal differences exacerbated the divisions, until in 1054 the two churches were in schism – as they still are today.

Following the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II in 1453, the rest of mainland Greece and the islands came under Ottoman domination, and so they remained until 1821 when the Greeks of the Peloponnese rose in rebellion against their Turkish overlords. The Ottoman Empire had become ‘the Sick Man of Europe’. The Greek War of Independence was marked by deeds of cruelty and massacre on both sides, but by 1827 the nucleus of an independent Greece had emerged from almost four centuries of Turkish rule.

The Great Powers of Britain, France and Russia had supported the Greeks, and at British insistence Greece became a monarchy in 1832, importing the non-Greek-speaking Prince Otto of Bavaria as King Otto I of Greece. In 1862 Otto was deposed and replaced by Prince William of Denmark who reigned as George I, King of the Hellenes, until his assassination in 1913. His son, Constantine I, despite his success in leading the Greek forces in the Second Balkan War, was determined upon Greek neutrality at the outbreak of the First World War. He was lampooned in the foreign press as a German sympathizer (he was brother-in-law to the Kaiser), and came into conflict with his prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, who wanted to declare war on the side of the Allies.Persuading Tino_Punch

This cartoon appeared in the satirical magazine, Punch, on November 24, 1915. It reflects on Greece’s neutrality and the continued attempts by both sides to turn Greece to their cause. King Constantine was mockingly known as ‘Tino’ in the British press. He is shown here in Balkan Greek costume being pulled to one side by personifications of France and Britain, and to the other by the Kaiser and ‘Ferdi’, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary.

Winston Churchill was an admirer of Venizelos, who, because of his constitutional reforms, is often described as ‘the Father of Modern Greece’. However, the differences between king and premier led to Venizelos being twice dismissed from office, until Constantine went into exile in 1917. Both men had supporters among the Greek population, and the polarization of opinion which developed in Greece during the First World War became known as the Εθνικός Διχασμός or the ‘schism of the people’ and was to blight Greek society for decades after.

Eleftherios Venizelos (Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Dantadd)

Eleftherios Venizelos
(Wikimedia Commons : uploaded by Dantadd)

In 1914 there were still many ‘unredeemed’ Greeks living outside the recently established Greek state, notably in Anatolia, the Aegean islands, in the Balkans, and in Constantinople. Venizelos’ contacts with the British pre-dated the outbreak of war: he had been in discussion with Loyd George and Churchill regarding a Greek sub-empire in the Mediterranean at the expense of the Ottomans, in exchange for bases for the Royal Navy. His preference was always for an alliance with the British rather than the Germans or the French. But, whereas Lloyd George was a romantic philhellene who would have been happy to see the Turks despatched bag and baggage from Europe and even from Constantinople, Churchill’s pro-Greekness was more pragmatic.

Churchill recognized that Britain had more to gain in 1915 by supporting Russia than by making territorial promises to their Orthodox Christian co-religionists in Greece; and thus it was that a favourable outcome to the Dardanelles campaign would have seen the Entente controlling the Straits and a Russian occupation of Constantinople. But, Churchill’s plan was not successful.

The failure of the Dardanelles-Gallipoli campaign and the slaughter is well-known and has become integral to the national consciousness’ of Britain, and particularly Australia and New Zealand. The Gallipoli Peninsula has memorials to the dead of Turkey as well as those of the British Empire. When parties of Turkish schoolchildren visit Gallipoli they take away postcards bearing the image of one man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk public domain

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
public domain

‘Atatürk’ was a sobriquet that Mustafa Kemal acquired after the First World War: it means ‘Father of the Turks’, and he is credited with creating the modern secular Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. But, in 1915 he was the front-line commander at Gallipoli who had acquired a reputation for anticipating his enemy and holding his ground. In Louis de Bernières 2004 novel, Birds Without Wings, Karatavuk, son of the Iskander the Potter, becomes a soldier at Gallipoli and is fearful of coming under Kemal’s direct command ‘not only to fight but to die, telling them that in the time they took to die, reinforcements would have time to arrive’.

This posting is concerned with the background to the campaign, not the campaign itself, but this fictional letter from Karatavuk at Gallipoli tells something of the story from a Turkish perspective, but one which would have been familiar to all who fought there:

It was when we were burying the dead that everything changed between us and the Australian and New Zealander Franks. The British Franks sent a special officer who spoke Turkish and Arabic, and his name was Honourable Herbert. This officer was the only one who could coordinate what all of us were doing, so we Turks took orders from him, and so did the Australian and New Zealander Franks. Honourable Herbert gave us receipts for money and other things that were found on the dead.

I will tell you about the dead. There had been fighting for one month, and the dead had never been collected. The bodies were of different ages, and so they were all in different stages of decomposition. Some bodies were swollen up and some were black, and they were seething with maggots, and others were turning to green slime, and others were fully rotted and shriveling up so that the bones stuck through the skin. A lot of them were built into the parapets and fortifications, so that you might say they were being employed as sandbags. Most of the dead at that time were ours.

There were also some other Franks… They were from a place called India, and they had big beards and turbans, so naturally we thought they were Muslims. They fought like devils. We couldn’t understand why Muslims would be fighting against us when this was a jihad… Lieutenant Orhan said, ‘Maybe not everyone who looks like a Muslim is one’. This was true, because it turned out that these soldiers were called Sikh, and were not Muslim at all… and it is also true that for a long time we thought the Gurkhas were Muslim…, but it turned out they were of another religion completely…  Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières, 2004

Atatürk became a controversial figure, when in 1922 he led the Turkish assault on the Greek army which had retreated to Smyrna: but this piece might fittingly be concluded with his words of consolation to the families of the Allied dead, inscribed on this memorial above the Gallipoli beaches. Between the pine trees it looks out over  Homer’s swift-flowing Hellespont, beyond which lies the dusty plain of Troy, where the dead of another war for the straits lie buried.Ataturk memorialattaturk

All unacknowledged photographs are by the writer of this piece and may be freely used. Other images should be referenced as in the text. The panoramic map and the illustration from Punch are out of copyright, and the writer owns the original printed copies.

 

 

Blackout instructions for hotel guests 1915

Servants have strict instructions to close blinds before duskBlackout measures were introduced during the First World War due to the new bomb threat posed to the civilian population from German Zeppelin airship raids. This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

War Diary August 1915

War Norfolk
Second Landing at Gallipoli

 

A new attack is launched in the Dardanelles by Allied soldiers but is a total failure.

 

Coltishall Lad Wins D.C.M

 

Private Signey H Chapman of the 2nd Norfolks has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallant conduct during the Turkish campaign.

 

German U-Boat Attack

 

Whitehaven in Cumberland, on Britain’s west coast was shelled by a German U-boat

 

Shortage of Men to Bring in Harvest

 

It is considered that there are still lots of young, single men serving behind counters and in offices when they could be freed to work in the fields. At present there seems to be no organised movement in favour of training women for a larger share of office work which would in turn release more men.

 

The Diary of David Frederick Strauss Reid

Diaries are a great way of getting to know a place or a time through the story of one individual.

The Norfolk Record Office holds a huge collection of unpublished material and amongst this are many diaries, personal papers and notes. We continue to actively add to our collections and were delighted to recently receive a WW1 Diary recently, discovered and donated by Revd David Hagan-Palmer. The diary was received via  Elizabeth Budd, Genealogist and Manager of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, who had completed some research into its author.

diary

The diary is that of David Frederick Strauss Reid, who was born and died in Norfolk but who travelled far in the years between.

The research completed by Elizabeth concluded that David was born in Norwich but moved to Scotland with his family at a young age. The family later immigrated to Canada.

David Frederick Strauss Reid attested on 16 February 1916 and was given the number 626295 in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. At the time he lived in Irvine, Alberta, but he was born in Norwich, England. (Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-18, available at www.ancestry.co.uk).  Ancestry Library edition is available for free at all Norfolk libraries and the Norfolk Record Office.

He is recorded as being 23 years and two months at enlistment, and he was  5’ 8”. He had a ‘medium’ complexion with blue eyes and brown hair and was Church of England. He had three vaccination marks on his left arm – most likely from smallpox vaccination. The medical officer considered him fit for service, and so his military career began.

His diary then takes up part of the story, and tells us that he went to France with the 49th Canadians. diary friends

David survived the war and in the 1921 Census of Canada he is recorded as living in Sub-district 33, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

David Frederick Strauss Reid’s last resting place however, does not appear to be Canada. A death record for him appears in Norwich, England, at the end of 1969. (Death Index; December 1969; Norwich Registration District. ; Vol 4b, Page 2102).Death certificates along with birth certificates from 1837 to 31/03/1969 can be purchased from Norfolk Record Office. After this date copies such as this can be obtained from the Norfolk Registration Service.  

An obituary notice appeared for David in the Eastern Evening News on 5 December 1969. It reads:

“REID – Dec 3rd at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where he was pronounced dead. DAVID FREDERICK beloved husband of Hettie and father of Teddy. At Peace.” (sic)

(Newspaper archives dating back to the early 1700s are available at the Norfolk Heritage Centre.)

A marriage for David F Reid and Hetty E Lake (sic) appears in September Quarter 1958 in Norwich. (Marriage Index; September Quarter 1958; Norwich RD; Vol 4b, Page 1494).).

The obituary for David FS Reid notes that David had at least one son, called Teddy. There are few entries for ‘Teddy’ but we might assume that this is short for ‘Edward’. A David Edward Reid, born on 6 December 1925, is registered as having died in March 1985, in the registration district of ‘Norwich Outer’. (Death Index; March 1985; Norwich Outer RD; Vol 10, Page 2456).

Like his father, David Edward Reid’s obituary appeared in the newspaper:

“Reid, David Edward (Teddy) Neighbour and dear friend of Basil, Effie, Gina and Michael.”

 “Reid, David. Nephew of Aunt Lily, Aunt Janet, Uncle Leslie and Cousin of Penny, Brian and Family.”

(Eastern Evening News; 13 March 1985; Repository: Norfolk Heritage Centre)

Elizabeth’s investigations revealed that David FS Reid travelled to England with 6 year-old David Reid and 39 year-old Laura Reid in 1932. This is presumably his son David Edward (Teddy).  He later married a Hettie Lake.  It doesn’t appear that David FS Reid had any other children or that his son had any children of his own, but please correct us if we’re wrong. There are almost certainly cousins living in Norfolk still.

The war-time diary/album of David Frederick Strauss Reid is now deposited in the Norfolk Record Office.

This includes his own writings as well as notes from friends, sketches, an invitation from the Medicine Hat Returned Soldiers League and a photograph of ”St Pauls, London by night”st pauls diary

To search for this and any other diaries from the world wars and otherwise go to archives.norfolk.gov.uk, click on “NROCAT” the online catalogue, hit “Advanced Search” and under the “category” tab select diaries.  Click search to bring up details of all diaries in the collection.

The diary of David Frederick Strauss Reid is held at the NRO Archive Centre on Martineau Lane under the accession number : ACC 2015/44

Orla – Archive Specialist

The Vanished Battalion

Many people in Norfolk and further afield will have heard about the ‘Vanished Battalion’ or the ‘Lost Sandringhams’. The story goes that the ‘Sandringham Battalion’ of the Norfolk Regiment went into battle in Turkey in August 1915 and promptly disappeared, possibly in some supernatural manner, with no sign afterwards of casualties, survivors or dead bodies to be found.

There have been various accounts of this event over the years, in news reports, books, a TV drama and now on internet sites. Some repeat the mythical version but others are the result of deeper research, and present a much more likely version of what happened.

Sandringham House, 2014

Sandringham House, 2014

The first correction to make is that the soldiers concerned were the First Fifth Battalion, which originated as a Territorial battalion, recruited throughout North Norfolk. The Sandringham Company came from the Royal Estate, but was merged with another Company early in 1915 to form the King’s Company, which was one of the 4 companies that made up the battalion at that time.

According to Ben Johnson in his article ‘The Lost Sandringhams

‘One minute the men, led by their commanding officer, Sir Horace Proctor-Beauchamp, were charging bravely against the Turkish enemy. The next they had disappeared. Their bodies were never found. There were no survivors. They did not turn up as prisoners of war.’

They simply vanished.

Image from the Daily Mail archive

Image from the Daily Mail archive

General Sir Ian Hamilton, the British Commander-in-Chief in Gallipoli, appeared as puzzled as everyone else. He reported ‘there happened a very mysterious thing’. Explaining that during the attack, the Norfolks had drawn somewhat ahead of the rest of the British line. He went on ‘The fighting grew hotter, and the ground became more wooded and broken.‘ But Colonel Beauchamp with 16 officers and 250 men, ‘still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before him.’

‘Among these ardent souls was part of a fine company enlisted from the King’s Sandringham estates. Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight and sound. Not one of them ever came back.’

The full report, Sir Ian Hamilton’s 3rd Gallipoli Despatch, is reproduced on an  amazingly comprehensive website, The Long, Long Trail, which aims to be ‘All about the soldiers, units, regiments and battles of the British Army of the First World War, and how to research and understand them’. Find it here: Hamilton Despatch

Image taken from the Getty website

Image taken from the Getty website

Another contributor to historic-uk.com is Steve Smith, author of a book on the history of Worstead and Westwick’s war memorial and war dead. See Steve’s article here.

He notes that “the local papers initially reported the loss of 5th Norfolk officers on 28th August 1915 and accounts from men who were there were published soon after, especially in the Yarmouth Mercury and the Lynn News.

These newspapers can be consulted at Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn Libraries respectively. He also reports that

“When the 50th Anniversary of Gallipoli came round in 1965, references to the Sandringham Company, Battalion and Regiment first started to emerge when three New Zealand veterans claimed to have seen a British regiment marching up a sunken road to be swallowed up in a cloud.”

Nigel McCrery gives his version of the story in his book All the King’s Men, which is available to borrow from Norfolk Libraries.

All the King's Men

The TV drama, starring David Jason, was based on the book for which the author consulted royal archives during his research.

The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum website  offers a succinct summary of events, stating that

“on the 12th August 1915, the Battalion was part of an attack on Turkish positions inland from Suvla Bay. They received conflicting orders and advanced beyond the point where they could be supported by other troops. They were surrounded and suffered extremely heavy losses. Their unmarked graves were found in 1919. Despite the facts being published immediately after the war, the fate of the 1/5th battalion has given rise to all kinds of wild speculation and myths.”

The story of the Sandringhams is truly poignant, and perhaps a good example of the saying about the first casualty of war being truth. My hunt for the author of this phrase only led me to discover that there doesn’t seem to be a definitive attribution, but I did find an article that summarises the beginning of the Gallipoli story and the part that the ANZAC troops played in it, and discusses the omission or misrepresentation of the facts by journalists, politicians and military leaders, see it here.

Clare A – Local Studies Librarian, Norwich.