The Norfolk Regiment in July 1915: Captain Hammond’s letters

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.

Correspondence with his men's families after their death meant a great deal to Captain John Hammond, seated furthest right

Letters from grieving family members meant a great deal to Captain John Hammond, seated furthest right

Within the Museum collection is an extremely touching set of papers that once belonged to Captain John Hammond of the 7th Battalion.

As a Commanding Officer in the First World War, one of Hammond’s duties was to write to the families of men who had been killed or were missing. Included in these papers today are letters from grieving families in reply to his original bad news.

In July 1915 the the 7th Battalion moved into the Ploegsteert Wood ( known wryly as “Plugstreet Wood” to the Tommies) at the Southern tip of the Ypres Salient. At this time one of Hammond’s men, Private A. Nobbs was killed by a shell. In the Museum collection today, Hammond’s correspondence following this action still survives. A deeply moving letter, sent to Captain Hammond by Reverend Smith of Walpole St Andrew reads;

Dear Sir

I write on behalf of the mother of Pte A. Nobbs in your Coy [company] who was killed by a shell last July.   She would be very grateful if you could furnish her, at your convenience, with some further information as to his end, whether his death was instantaneous, whether his body was buried with the Rites of the Church, with a distinguishing mark over his grave, and whether any small effects left by him will in due course be forwarded to her.   The Mother was greatly upset by the sad news so considerately conveyed in your letter, which contained a most comforting statement of your opinion that ‘he was a good man and a brave soldier’.

I have known him for many years and he was formerly one of our choir boys.

I remain, Dear Sir

Yours truly

Reginald Smith

Hammond002

Hammond001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These letters offer a startling insight into the thoughts of many families in the immediate aftermath of their loss, and show in a small way their impact within the community. The polite, deferential language commonly used make them all the more touching. Moreover, their very existence today tells us a great deal about Captain Hammond too. These letters meant a huge amount to him, and are cherished by the museum.

War Diary July 2015

War Norfolk
German South-West Africa Surrenders

 

South African forces led by General Botha accept the surrender of German South-West Africa.

 

Fishing Beyond the Limit

 

A Lowestoft skipper was fined for fishing in a prohibited area on the High Seas in breach of the Defense of the Realm regulations. His catch was seized and sold for charity.

British Registration Starts

 

National Registration Act introduced in Britain, obliging all eligible men to register for military service

 

Norfolk Man Wins Distinguished Conduct Medal

 

Sergeant W. Golder, 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment, won the D.C.M. for conspicuous gallantry on several occasions, one of which was leaving the safety of the trenches in full view of the enemy, to save a wounded soldier from the same battalion.

Military Concert at Cromer 

The Welsh male Choir of the Glamorgan Yeomanry held a concert at Cromer Town Hall which was a “great success”.

 

Mud, Mud Glorious Mud?

Trench Warfare and mud appear to go hand-in-hand when World War One appears in books, on film and in photographs which lead me to wonder what the weather was like during the first year of the war.  Was it really extraordinarily wet?

A working party in the rain.

A working party in the rain.

Weather forecasting as a science was very much in its infancy during the war, although it did improve rapidly as advance knowledge of the weather proved to be essential when planning aerial or gas attacks.  However detailed records of the daily temperature, pressure, rainfall and hours of sunshine were recorded all over the UK.

These detailed UK records have been made available thanks to the Met Office and I have found it fascinating to read through the monthly reports for the first year of the war to see what the weather was like.

Walking the trenches

Walking the trenches

Below is a very simple table of the month, the weather in the South East of England and also major events on the Western Front.

Month and Year Weather report Western Front Activity
August 1914

 

After the first 8 days of the month it was warmer and drier than average, some thunderstorms but little rain.

 

BEF arrive in France

Battle of Mons

September 1914

 

 

Windy, slightly warmer than normal but much wetter than average.

 

Battle of the Marne

Trench network started

October 1914

 

Rainfall much below average and temperatures above normal.

 

Trench network continued

Start of 1st Battle of Ypres

November 1914

 

 

Above average rainfall, often occurring in torrential downpours. As a whole temperatures above average.

 

Trenches reach the coast

1st Battle of Ypres continues

December 1914

 

Wettest December since 1876. Mainly mild for first half of the month then cold.

 

 

Isolated skirmishes but no major battles.

Both sides digging in to trench system

January 1915 Rain fell on every day of the month and it was also windy. Generally mild but the worst frosts were in the South of East of England. Battles in the Champagne area of France
February 1915

 

Wetter and windier than average with isolated heavy snow showers. Temperatures around normal.

 

Battles in the Champagne area continue
March 1915

 

Rainfall was below average, the month ended colder than it started. Battle of Neuve Chapelle
April 1915

 

 

A mostly dry and sunny month although cooler than average. 1st use of poison gas

2nd Battle of Ypres

May 1915

 

Heavy downpours at the start of the month make the month wetter than average overall but the second half of the month dry and warm.

 

2nd Battle of Ypres
June 1915

 

Exceptionally dry (no rain is recorded in Dover for 37 consecutive days in May/June). Heavy thunderstorms at the end of the month. Temperatures average but not much sun recorded.

 

No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place
July 1915

 

Windy, heavy and thundery downpours push the rainfall figures above average, not very warm or sunny for the time of year.

 

No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place

 

August 1915 Again heavy isolated storms push up the average rainfall totals but the month is not consistently wet. Temperatures and hours of sunshine around or just above normal. No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place

Although this is a highly unscientific and rudimentary comparison of the weather it can be seen that during the autumn and early winter of 1914, when the initial battles were being fought and the trench network on the Western Front was being dug, the weather reports do show that it was wetter than average. This analysis is backed up by reports given by members of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1915 and thus perhaps the iconic image of a muddy trench is accurate and not an over used trope.

Knee deep in mud

Knee deep in mud

A disclaimer to all of this: relying on weather reports from England to make comparisons with conditions on the continent may not give an accurate representation at all.  However close Dover maybe to France the weather patterns that affect the two areas can be very different.  The British weather is controlled by a maritime climate pattern  whereas just across the channel the weather is influenced by the continental pattern .

It must also be noted that the soil in Northern France and Belgium also played a role in the creation of the muddy trenches as it was it often drained poorly and quickly became waterlogged. Being churned up by the constant movement of men and equipment also worsened the muddy conditions.

Alexandra Rose Flag Day Poster

Alexandra Day

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 four years will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

Norfolks and Indians in Mesopotamia

Our Mesopotamian researcher has found some intriguing links between the Norfolks and the subcontinent for this month’s post.

Norfolks and Indians in Mesopotamia

This cartoon by Leonard Raven-Hill was published in the September 9, 1914 issue of the satirical magazine, Punch. It reflects, with some relief, on India’s decision to support Britain’s war effort. Contrary to British fears of a revolt in India, the outbreak of the war saw an unprecedented outpouring of loyalty and good will towards Great Britain.

India for The King! Punch, September 9, 1914

India for The King!
Punch, September 9, 1914

On the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain had two imperatives in South Asia: to recruit as many Indian soldiers to the war effort as possible and to preserve the loyalty of Indian Muslims against Ottoman and German jihad propaganda. To advance both aims, George V, the British King-Emperor, issued a proclamation to the ‘Princes and People of India’ on 4 August. He explained Britain’s reasons for declaring war on Germany and called for India’s support for the imperial war effort. Much to the British government’s relief, the Indian ruling elite responded to the King’s appeal with effusive declarations of loyalty. (The Fall of the Ottomans; the Great War in the Middle East, Eugene Rogan, 2015)

Indian political leaders and other groups were eager to support the British since they believed that such support would further the cause of Indian Home Rule. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while both the central government and the princely states sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition.

If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need. Mohandas Gandhi

Although the decision to send an Indian brigade to Mesopotamia in 1914 was made in London and raised concerns from the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, Indian Expeditionary Force D was an operation of the Government of India.

When the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment were deployed to Mesopotamia (they had been at Belgaum in India since 1911) they were attached to the 6th (Poona) Division, led firstly by Major General Arthur Barrett and then by Major General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, joining the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade commanded by Major-General Charles .I. Fry.

The 6th (Poona) Division was created through the so-called ‘Kitchener Reforms’ of the Indian Army between 1903 and 1909, when Lord Kitchener was Commander-in-Chief, India.

After Kitchener’s reforms, the Indian Army could muster just over seven divisions for active service. But it was still short of trained staff officers, and levels of equipment were notoriously low. (The field army units were the only ones equipped with the current British service rifle, the short Lee-Enfield, and there was not enough clothing and boots even for all the seven divisions.) …This was not an army prepared for a war like that of 1914. [There was] …a fixed belief that Indian soldiers could only reach a ‘European’ level of effectiveness if commanded by British officers who knew and understood them. Such officers, who had to know several languages and spend a lot of time with their men, could not just be multiplied at will.

…British officers – thirteen for each battalion, alongside seventeen Indian Officers (IOs) – secured the reliability of their sepoys by winning their absolute loyalty and affection. (When God Made Hell, Charles Townshend, 2010)

The other contingents of the 18th Brigade were single-battalion regiments raised in India: the 2nd Norfolks were to share a number of actions with them up to the surrender at Kut al Amara in 1916:

  • 1st Bn. 110th Mahratta Light Infantry
  • 1st Bn. 120th Rajputana Infantry
  • 1st Bn. 7th (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Rajputs

(One British battalion was maintained in every infantry brigade of the Indian Army: a lingering memory of the traumatic events for the British of the Indian Mutiny – now sometimes referred to as the Indian Rebellion or the Sepoy Rebellion – of 1857.)

The Mahrattas (The 110th is second from the left) were raised from the former army of the Bombay Presidency (one of three presidencies, the others being Bengal and Madras) and could trace the ancestry of their regiment back to 1797.

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

The 120th Rajputana Infantry were also raised from the Bombay Presidency and could trace their ancestry back to 1817.

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

A Sepoy and a Havildar of the 7th (DOC) Rajputs are shown below second and third from the left. The regiment, raised from the army of the former Bengal Presidency, could trace their ancestry to 1798. (A havildar was the equivalent rank to a British sergeant: the Indian equivalent to a British private was known in the infantry as a sepoy.) (Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, 3rd son of Queen Victoria, became colonel-in-chief of the 7th Rajputs in 1904.

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Public Domain

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Public Domain

 All Indian units also brought along a vast contingent of ‘followers’… They performed the most menial tasks – looking after tents, latrines and waste disposal. They were non-combatants, but one of their most important functions, water-carrying, routinely brought many followers into the firing line. (When God Made Hell, Charles Townshend, 2010)

The officers and men of the Indian Army were awarded 18 Victoria Crosses: between 62,000 and 67,000 Indian soldiers were killed according to varying estimates: total Indian losses of up to 75,000 have been suggested  Hence, it was on a note of regret that The Times of India reported on August 15, 2014:

In the centenary year of the Great War, which saw over a million Indians fighting in battles as diverse as Ypres, Somme and Mesopotamia… memories of their bravery has dimmed considerably in India.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Victoria_Cross_recipients_of_the_Indian_Army

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/UN-chief-honours-Indias-forgotten-heroes-from-World-War-I/articleshow/40298796.cms

Film Fest includes WW1 films by Norfolk Young People

Last week young people and their families came to a Youth Film Showcase in Great Yarmouth. This was organised by Historic England as part of the Heritage Schools Project . It was a great evening for the young film makers who stood an a red carpet and received Oscar like awards. Three of the films were about WW1 in Norfolk. ‘Grandad’s Tale’, ‘Peterhouse Will Remember Them’ (funded by English Heritage ) and ‘Yarmouth Strikes Back’, funded by Society of Chief Librariarians. You can watch Yarmouth Strikes Back here

The other films will be uploaded by Historic England to their learning platform shortly . Here is the programme.

Yarmouth Youth Film Fest

Yarmouth Youth Film Fest

Update from Ryburgh Remembers

We have recently received an update from Ryburgh Remembers about their research and commemorations in their community.

Since we last wrote about seeking the relatives of Private Harold Comer, people from across our community have been busy with its WW1 commemorations and research.
Private Ernest William Thompson

Ernest-William-Thompson-web.jpg

Private Ernest William Thompson – picture courtesy of his nephew – Ernest Thompson.
On Sunday 24 May, the community commemorated the life of Private Ernest William Thompson (Norfolk Regiment) who was killed in action on 24 May 1915.  The commemorations took various forms, Ryburgh Community Shop gave over its main window to a thoughtful display, at the community woodland Ryburgh poppies were sown around the base of the memorial red oak and children from the Pebbles Nursery in the village planted woodland flowers donated by the Ryburgh Village Amenity Group.  At St Andrew’s, a special peal of the bells was rung during the afternoon and the church was also Open for a WW1 themed tea and attended by another branch of Private Thompson’s family including another nephew also called Ernest and his sister Anne.

Fortunately, Ryburgh Remembers has been able to compile an extensive amount of information about Ernest William thanks to the research efforts of his nephew Ernest Thompson with contributions from others. Various items relating to Private Thompson are on display in the Regimental Museum and the up-to-date biography can be read at http://www.standrewsgreatryburgh.org.uk/world-war-1-commemorations/those-who-served/ernest-william-thompson.php

Rifleman Guy Wade Burtenshaw

GuyWadeBurtenshawOrganPanel.jpg

 Picture supplied by Peter Trent.
The third centenary WW1 commemoration will take place on Thursday 18 June for Rifleman Burtenshaw.  There is very little known about Guy other than he was born in Rotherhithe in September 1885, was living with his father to Christchurch Monmouth (1901), then Ashford Middlesex (1911), before joining the 1st/16th Battalion London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles). Guy died of his wounds on 18 June 1915 at No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station and is commemorated in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord France (I.E.73).  At this stage, it does not appear that Rifleman Burtenshaw is specifically named on any War Memorial in the UK.  However, our research continues and hopefully we will be able to find out more about his life from various genealogy sources and his regiments war diaries.  If we’re lucky maybe discover a relative or descendant of his brother Arthur born 23 May 1888.

It’s likely that Guy never even visited Ryburgh but, information on Guy’s medal index card shows that his father (Arthur) and step mother (Edith) moved to Little Ryburgh before eventually moving to 101 Fakenham Road Great Ryburgh where they spent the rest of their lives and it is their story, for as much as any anything that the new panel has been placed on the organ gallery in St Andrew’s.

For Rifleman Burtenshaw’s commemoration, Ryburgh Community Shop will once again give over its display window. At St Andrew’s a 3 hour special peal of the bells will begin at 2pm and the church will be open with the WW1 displays about the fallen from Ryburgh available to view.  St Andrew’s will also be Open for Tea – WW1 themed from 3-5pm – visitors will of course be made very welcome.

Private Harold Douglas Palmer Comer
Our blog post about Harold attracted a lot of interest and we’d like to thank everyone who got in touch to confirm information and suggest further avenues of enquiry.  There was one typo we should apologise for and that is the date of sinking of the Royal Edward which should have read the 13th not the 19th August 1915 as written. Shortly after submitting the post, we were able to contact Harold’s niece who still lives in Norfolk and shared with the family all the information we had so far.

We’ve continued to develop Harold’s story and now having obtained a copy of his certificate of marriage to Eva feel we are getting closer to finding out how they met.  On the 25 June 1915, Harold still a Private in the 3rd Norfolk Regiment residing at Castle Down, Moordown married Eva Blanche Pope Dunman now a Domestic Servant to David Templeton and family of Carrick Lodge, St Winifred’s Road Bournemouth at The Register Office in the District of Christchurch.  Their marriage was witnessed by Cecil Hutchings (a solicitors clerk) and Cyril Keith Marshall (who would have been aged about 17 at the time).  As Harold has declared he was a member of the 3rd Norfolk’s at the time of his wedding, we now have to assume he was part of the second draft that transferred to the Essex Regiment in July 1915.  But what was a member of the 3rd Norfolk Regiment doing living in Dorset one month before leaving Avonmouth aboard the Royal Edward and did he meet Eva there?

 We now know that in 1919 Eva was using the surname Smith but have struggled to find any evidence of her second marriage. However, the electoral roll for Dorchester Road Weymouth in 1924 records Eva Blanche Smith and a Walter Smith.  Perhaps Eva had married for the second time overseas?  It seems that Eva didn’t stray far from Dorset in her life dying in Weymouth in 1972.

If anyone has any information about any of these 3 soldiers, please get in touch with Ryburgh Remembers by e-mailSBRVAG@aol.com, facebook Ryburgh Village Amenity Group or Twitter @ryburghaction