Second Lieutenant Percy Charles Hilton Bird – Broadland During the First World War

This post was written and researched by Nicola Hems, Curator at The Museum of the Broads in Stalham.

10th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, Attached to the Loyal North 6th Battalion, Royal Lancashire Regiment.

Percy BirdBorn in 1892, Percy was killed at Falahiyah, Mesopotamia, on 5 April 1916, age 23.  He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq.

Percy left Felixstowe for Mesopotamia in November 1915.  He joined the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and travelled via Malta to Alexandria in Egypt and then through India to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).

Percy wrote detailed letters home to his parents, the Rev and Mrs MCH Bird of Brunstead.  His letters tell of his life in the army, the people he met, their customs, and the local wildlife, particularly birds.

25 Nov 1915 in Felixstowe

‘I shall always be thankful of you all and do my duty as well as I can.’

03 Dec 1915 on board ship to Malta

‘The news does not seem to get much better but trust that it may do.’

01 Feb 1916 in Alexandria

‘You should see some of the places and the women some men will go with.  It’s absolutely damnable to think that such things are allowed to go on.  Of course they get a lot of disease and you can’t keep them all away however you guard them.’

‘They are cruel to their animals, these natives.  When I see one beating or cruel to his animal, I beat him with a good stick as do most of the others here.’

Undated, and unaddressed, probably in Calcutta

‘Please don’t worry about me, but be glad that your son is at last going to do his part in the great drama of life and war.’

26 March 1916 near to Basra

‘I am very fit so don’t you worry over me.’

31 March 1916 Percy’s last letter from the front line

‘I only hope we are successful and win through and retake Kut…’

Percy’s Death

Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) was under the control of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.  However, it was important to Britain because of its oil, and Indian troops were sent to the area to protect British interests.  Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire, Germany’s ally, on 5 Nov 1914 and the two sides fought until 1918.

The First Battle of Kut began on 5 April 1916.  It was the final British attempt to relieve 10,000 troops garrisoned at Kut and under siege by the Turks.  30,000 British and Indian troops engaged the Turks at Falahiyeh.  It was eventually taken after prolonged fighting across muddy terrain.  However, casualties were heavy, and Second Lieutenant Percy Bird was killed in action.

The campaign itself failed and sealed the fate of the besieged troops.  They surrendered unconditionally on 29 April 1916.

Information reproduced by the kind permission of the family of Rev MCH Bird.

Written by Nicola Hems, The Museum of the Broads, Stalham

The Museum is currently hosting a fabulous Broadland During the First World War exhibition and we highly recommend a visit!

Men in khaki! Soldier’s club in Park Lane, Norwich


This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original posters, photographs 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 four years will be posted on  (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

Heritage Open Days and World War One



The village of Barford (Norfolk) is excited to be taking part in the annual Heritage Open Days on the 13th-14th of September 2014.

Barford,  along with seven other villages, has organised a transformation of the rural community, which will see the village turned back in time, into its WW1 state.

barford hut

Some of the heritage buildings open to the public will include:

  • The Cock Inn – which will become a recruiting station as well as providing evening entertainment where rations can be eaten and pennies exchanged for drinks.
  • The Old Shepherds Hut  – a building where a German POW lived during the war.
  • The village hall  – which will become a vintage tea room, welcomes the Norfolk Regiment in uniform as well as displays of weapons and medals.
  • St Botolph’s church  – which will be  hosting displays revealing the lost stories behind the names on the village war memorials.

There will also be a mess tent hosting the ‘Big Breakfast’, live folk music and much more, the organisers say:

All of these sites will be linked by the village trail and it serves to make a wonderful family day out.  Car parking will be available at St Botolph’s Church, the village hall and Barford Cock Inn.

For further information and a timetable of events see or our Facebook page Barford History Group. We also have twitter @barfordhistory and welcome any of the #loststories you may have which will help us commemorate the impact WW1 on rural life.


 information supplied by @Barfordhistory

The Heritage Open Day project is and annual events and this year there are over 4500 events happening all over England and Wales, with some beautiful heritage sites being opened to the viewing public.

Many of the events are free and for more information about other events taking place in Norfolk – not necessarily World War One themed – visit the Norwich HEART  website.

Norfolk’s First World War Archaeology: A talk

This talk by Claire Bradshaw, the Community Archaeologist from Norfolk Historic Environment Service is being held in libraries across Norfolk.

Find out about the archaeology of the First World War: those features which can still be seen in the local area and how to find them; as well as a look at those traces which have been swept away by the passage of time.

The talk will be illustrated with photographs from the Royal Flying Corps and Muckleburgh Collections.Events

Tickets are £2 per person and must be booked in advance. Contact the relevant library.

Dersingham Library, Tuesday 16th September, 7-8pm. 01485 540181

Mile Cross Library, Tuesday 23rd September, 6-7pm. 01603 425906

Thetford Library, Thursday 2nd October, 2-3pm. 01842 752048

Plumstead Road Library, Saturday 4th October, 11am-12noon. 01603 433455

Watton Library, Thursday 9th October, 2-3pm. 01953 881671

Swaffham Library, Wednesday 15th October, 2-3pm. 01760 721513

Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library, Wednesday 22nd October, 12.30-1.30pm. 01603 774781

Stalham Library, Thursday 23rd October, 6-7pm. 01692 580794

King’s Lynn Library, Thursday 6th November, 10-11am. 01553 772568

Hunstanton Library, Thursday 6th November, 2-3pm. 01485 532280

Fakenham Library, Wednesday 12th November, 2-3pm. 01328 862715

Holt Library, Thursday 13th November, 10-11am. 01263 712202

Wroxham Library, Thursday 13th November, 6-7pm. 01603 782560

Downham Market Library, Monday 17th November, 2-3pm. 01366 383073

Dereham Library, Thursday 20th November, 4-5pm. 01362 693184

Gaywood Library, Wednesday 26th November, 2-3pm. 01553 768498

Loddon Library, Friday 28th November, 3-4pm. 01508 520678


The Norfolk Regiment in September 1914: A War Diary

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.

For September we have chosen Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ballard’s war diary as our key object. Unit war diaries are great resources for First World War historians and researchers because they detail each battalion’s day-to-day activities.

These diaries varied in length and detail. Lt. Col. Ballard of the 1st Battalion kept the war diary in a rough notebook for the first months of the war. The 1st Battalion’s war diary was later kept on Army Forms C 2118, the War Diary or Intelligence Summary forms that you might have seen before.

Map used by Lt. Col. Ballard at the Battle of Mons, 1914

Map used by Lt. Col. Ballard at the Battle of Mons, 1914

The Battle of Mons was the first battle that the 1st Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment would experience. The battle took place from the 22nd – 24th August, 1914 as the British Expeditionary Force tried to prevent the German advance towards Paris.

On August 24th, the German attack spread along the length of the Mons-Condé Canal, where the battalion had been stationed as part of the 5th Division. Lt. Col. Ballard’s war diary tells the story of what happened next.

Under heavy fire the 3rd and 5th Divisions had to pull back. A rearguard needed to be found to protect the 5th Division’s uncovered left flank, and the task fell to the 1st Norfolks and the 1st Cheshires with Ballard as their commanding officer.

The German infantry advanced, leaving the Norfolks and the Cheshires dangerously isolated. They fought on, and eventually the Norfolks managed to rejoin the rest of their brigade. Casualties were heavy but, due to the courageous actions of the two battalions, the rest of the 5th Division had been able to retreat.

From a sketch by an officer of the 1st Battalion

From a sketch by an officer of the 1st Battalion

By May 1915 a popular rumour arose that angels had protected the troops in battle.

However, Private Robert Sheldrake of the 1st Battalion wrote to his local newspaper to heartily dispute this story: “I and many of my old comrades who made that memorable retreat wondered at the time where our rum ration went the first fortnight. Perhaps those who saw the visions can explain.”

War Diary September 1914

War Norfolk
Battle of the Marne

French and British forces stop the German advance through Northern France only a short distance from Paris.



Belgian Refugees Arrive in Norwich

Catholic refugees from Belgium arrived at Thorpe Station following an appeal to Norfolk residents to provide accommodation to refugees.


First Air Raid Carried Out by the UK

British planes carry out an attack on airship sheds in Cologne and Dusseldorf.


Children’s Gifts to the Front Line.

The children of Thorpe Hamlet Girls’ School have sent 220 packets of cigarettes and boxes of matches to the troops in France.


Further afield

Before moving to Norfolk I lived in Kent and I spent  some time back there recently, specifically in Folkestone – from where so many soldiers departed for the Front during the war.




The last part of the route taken by the soldiers on their way to the harbour was renamed The Road of Remembrance after the war and at present is festooned with beautiful knitted poppies.

road poppies


At the top of the hill a new memorial was dedicated on 4th August 2014 and is a stylish arch to mark where most of the soldiers would have walked.




It is a moving memorial to the soldiers (including my own great-grandfather) who departed for the front from Folkestone.

Life in Folkestone in 1914 is coming to life wonderfully in the BBC Radio 4 serial “Home Front” and I am certainly enjoying catching up with the omnibus episode each week.

After undertaking some family history research thanks to colleagues at the Norfolk Record Office the series is really helping me to understand what life was like for my direct ancestors.



(photos in this post taken from The Folkestone Herald, The Daily Telegraph and Step Short)