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)

Love on the Wards – Broadland During the First World War

Dorothy Brindid met David (Dai) David in August 1918.  She was a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse at Ingham Auxiliary War Hospital and he was a patient.  Dai had enlisted in October 1915 and had served in France.  He was a bombardier in the 321 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, and had been sent to Ingham to recuperate after tonsillitis.  He had previously suffered from TB.

Dorothy was the daughter of a farm worker and a Dorothy Brindidschool teacher from Hickling.  Together with Dorothy’s brother, Haylett, they lived at Hook Farm, Stubb.  Dorothy was 19 when she volunteered to work at Ingham Hospital, in March 1917.  She enrolled as a supernumerary nurse and stayed there until September 1918, cycling in each day from Hickling.

Ingham Old Hall was an Auxiliary War Hospital from 29 October 1914 to 28 January 1919. The Commandant of the Ingham War Hospital was Sarah Gamzu Gurney MBE.  In total, 1082 patients were admitted, usually to convalesce after a serious injury or illness.

The nurses washed, dressed, bandaged and generally cared for their patients.  Dorothy's id cardPrior to working, they had to pass exams in both first aid and nursing.  However, medical equipment was basic.  For example, Dorothy recalled that only saline was available as a disinfectant for cleaning wounds, equipment and furniture.

Whilst the War Office paid a small daily allowance for the care of patients, the running costs and equipment needed was often paid for by the owners of the houses and by local fundraising.  The training and the uniforms were usually paid for by the girls themselves, and a nurse had to sew on her own red cross.   Once appointed, the volunteers could only claim travel, board, and laundry expenses.

Dai and Dorothy married in December 1918.  Dai was still in the army and working on railway construction.  He was officially discharged on 09 March 1919.  The couple moved to Wales and Dai resumed working at the steelworks at Port Talbot.  Dai and Dorothy had one son, Glyndwr, born at the end of 1919, at Dorothy’s parents’ house.  They lived in Hickling after Dai’s retirement and until his death.  Dorothy died in Ipswich in 1989.

Dorothy's certificatePhotos and information reproduced by kind permission of Carol Prosser, granddaughter of Dorothy and Dai David.





Further information from


The Peppermint Boys in the Great War

‘The Peppermint Boys in the Great War’ new book

For most of the past two centuries, Bracondale School, Norwich, situated on one of the main routes in to the city, provided an excellent education to boys from the county and beyond. Forty four past pupils gave their lives in the First World War, and their names are listed on the school’s War Memorial. Our book, The Peppermint Boys in the Great War, published to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of WW1, seeks to uncover the stories behind the names on this memorial.

Four of those who died were part of the Royal Flying Corps, or, as it later became, the Royal Air Force. Two of these young men died in training, before they ever reached France and the front line, the other two acquitted themselves with distinction during their short time in active service.

Lt David Alexander Glen attended Bracondale School. He joined the Royal Flying Corps, making his first solo flight on 1 June 1915, gaining his pilot’s certificate four days later. He arrived in France at the end of that month, and flew a total of fifteen flights before being shot down and killed in December 1915.

The wreckage of Major Glen's plane

The wreckage of  David Glen’s plane

He was escorting Lt William Sholto Douglas (later to become chief of the
RAF) on reconnaissance as far as Cambrai and St Quentin, when they saw six enemy planes heading towards them. Reluctant to turn back, Douglas turned towards and underneath the attack, whilst Glen held his course – they had earlier debated which tactic was the more effective. Two Fokkers dived in pursuit of Glen’s plane, which was hit and spiralled down in flames. His death deprived 8 Squadron of one of their most able pilots; just two months earlier he had been awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Cpt Donald Charles Cunnell was born and brought up in Norwich, where his father was a brick maker. After attending Bracondale School he spent a year at Gresham’s. He joined up in September 1914, serving with the Hampshire Regiment, and was attached to the Royal Flying Corps.

On 6 July 1917 he and his air gunner, 2 Lt Albert Woodbridge, were flying a sortie against the enemy near Ypres, when they encountered the notorious German aerial ace, Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron. Woodbridge and Cunnell both opened fire, and, despite the distance of over three hundred metres, scored a lucky hit, causing the Red Baron to slip into a spin and plunge to the ground. Von Richthofen survived the incident, but sustained a head wound that would badly affect his flying ability, and he was shot down and killed on 21 April 1918.

Cunnell himself was killed just a week after his encounter with the Red Baron, hit by artillery fire as he was returning to base on 12 July 1917. He was aged 23 years.

Lt Meyer Joseph Levine

Lt Meyer Joseph Levine


 Lt Meyer Joseph Levine died in training on 8 May 1918, aged 19 years. The aircraft he was flying collided in mid-air over Stamford, both aircraft spun out of control to the ground, killing two trainee pilots and a flying instructor. Taking place just over a month after the RFC became the Royal Air Force, this may have been the first mid-air collision of the newly constituted RAF.


 Lt William Miles died in training later that summer, on 24 July 1918, at Reading. He was at No 1 School of Aeronautics, which had its headquarters at Wantage Hall. He was aged 24, and had transferred from the Worcester Regiment to the RAF. He was born in Norwich.

In the early days of the RFC and RAF, pilots were selected for their practical skills, in particular engineering or blacksmith work. Aeronautics was so new that all had to be trained from scratch. Instructors were often pilots who were no longer fit for combat. Of the 14,000 pilots who died in the Great War, 8,000 were killed in training. Among those who reached the Front, life expectancy often just a few short weeks.

 Contributed by Ed Bulpett and Rosemary Duff, Bracondale History Group –




Come Now Join the Norfolk Yeomanry!


This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original posters, photographs, 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)

A Message from the King ….

In August 1914 as British troops started leaving for War, the King sent this message to them……

“You are leaving home to fight for the safety and honour of my Empire. Belgium, whose country we are pledged to defend has been attacked and France is about to be invaded by the same powerful foe.  I have implicit confidence in you, my soldiers. Duty is your watchword and I know your duty will be nobly done.”

“I shall follow your every movement with deepest interest and mark with eager satisfaction your daily progress: indeed, your welfare will never be absent from my thoughts”

“I pray God to bless you and guard you and bring you back victorious”

(Taken from the Lynn News 18th August 1914)