A rare image of an operation taking place at the Norfolk and Norwich War Hospital in 1916

A rare image of an operation taking place at the Norfolk and Norwich War Hospital in 1916

A rare image of an operation taking place at the Norfolk and Norwich War Hospital in 1916

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 http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

Remembering a Gresham’s School Old Boy

Remembering Midshipman John Kempson

On 15th October 1914 Midshipman John Kempson went down with his ship HMS Hawke in the North Sea.  He was seventeen years of age.  His old School, Gresham’s, is remembering  John, the first of over 100 ex-pupils to die in the conflict, with a special commemorative service on the anniversary of his death.


John Reginald Kempson was born in Knighton, Leicestershire on 17th June 1897.  By 1892 the family was living in Norfolk in a large house at South Street, Sheringham.  John entered Gresham’s as a day boy in May 1909, but soon obtained a scholarship allowing him to become a boarder in Old School House. Although John was only at the School for three terms the Gresham magazine records that he played cricket for the day boys against one of the boarding houses, Bengal Lodge, and came second in a 500 yard running race in an athletics competition.

At the tender age of thirteen John decided on a career in the Royal Navy and by May 1910 had been accepted as a cadet at Osborne. His training was completed at Dartmouth where he did so well that on his first posting, to HMS Cumberland, he was promoted after only a month and reallocated as Midshipman to the cruiser HMS Hawke in August 1914 as the ship’s crew was brought up to strength in preparation for war.

Hawke had been recommissioned in February 1913 as a training ship, but with the outbreak of war became part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron engaged in blockading duties.  Their mission was to block access to the North Sea for German ships and to ensure that neutral ships were not carrying materials destined for Germany.

On Thursday 15th October HMS Hawke was approximately 60 miles off Aberdeen when she was stopped in order to receive mails and signals from another cruiser, Endymion, via a cutter between the two ships.  The manoeuvre was observed by the commander of a nearby German submarine, Otto Weddingen, and following the delivery of mail, Endymion got away but Hawke was struck by a torpedo on the starboard side causing two simultaneous explosions sending her to the bottom in less than eight minutes at 11 am.

Nearly 600 seamen subsequently found themselves trapped or struggling to survive the freezing waters.  One survivor commented – “I have never been on a ship so well equipped with lifesaving apparatus, but the way the vessel heeled over made it almost impossible to get the boats out,” whilst another stated – “many of the crew had scrambled on to the side of the sinking cruiser as she turned turtle and were sliding and diving into the sea.”  Several rafts had floated clear along with the mailboat cutter, but for the vast majority of the seamen there was little hope.  Hawke’s fate was not realised until later that day, and the first of 70 men to be rescued not picked up until early on Friday morning.

Kempson’s naval record, published in the Gresham magazine in December, stated that he was “killed in action, vessel torpedoed by submarine in the North Sea.”  His name was the first to be carved on the memorial screen in the School Chapel and the first to be listed on Sheringham’s War Memorial.  As one of the earliest and youngest of the Great War casualties his name is also remembered on other memorials including that at Chatham and the Roll of Honour for the City of Norwich.  Dallas Wynne Willson, housemaster of the Old School House, was moved to create his own roll of honour in memory of the little boys in his House who lost their lives.  The vellum document is a treasured part of the Gresham’s School Archive and bears the photograph (above) of young John Kempson as a naval cadet.


This post was written  by Liz Larby,  the Gresham’s School Archivist, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hawke and the loss of the first Gresham’s boy in the Great War 

Remembering Two World Wars Through Fiction

Afternoon tea, cakes and conversation with two authors.

We’re very excited at the Millennium Library to be playing host to two fabulous authors this November as we commemorate Armistice Day.


Anna Hope, who has written a fantastic debut novel called Wake all about the burial of the Unknown Warrior, and Lissa Evans, whose novel Crooked Heart is about the impact of WW2 on people, will be in conversation about their books with Alison Barrow from Transworld publishing.

The event will start at 2pm with tea and cakes and then the authors will talk about their books and take questions from the audience for about an hour.

Tickets to this event are just £2.50 and thanks to the generosity of the publisher the first twenty people to book a place will receive a free hardback novel from one of our guests.

anna lissa


The Norfolk Regiment on the Somme

We’re very pleased to announce that in November we will be holding two very different events to commemorate Armistice Day at the Millennium Library.

poppy B

On Thursday 13th November historian Steve Smith will be giving a talk about the Battle of the Somme from the point of view of the Norfolk Regiment.

The talk will start at 6.00pm and will be fully illustrated as Steve intends to visit the battlefield this month to have the most up to date images possible.

Steve will talk for about an hour and then there will be time for questions.  Steve’s brand new book about Norfolk during WW1 will also be on sale at the event.

Tickets are £2 and can be purchased from the Sound and Vision Desk at the library or by emailing norwich.admin.lib@norfolk.gov.uk

regiment event


The Norfolk Regiment in October 1914: The Casualty Book

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.

The Norfolk Regiment's First World War Casualty Book

The Norfolk Regiment’s First World War Casualty Book

One of the most useful and important records that we have at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum is the regimental Casualty Book. This unique record lists the sickness and injuries of more than 15,000 soldiers who served during the First World War.

As information about casualties from the 1st and 2nd (Regular) and the 7th, 8th and 9th (Service) Battalions arrived at Britannia Barracks, clerks compiled the details into this large leather-bound volume. No other regiments appear to have such a comprehensive record.

Each soldier’s entry contains his service number, battalion, name, details of their injury or sickness, and which hospital they were sent to. A wide variety of wounds, from gun shot to frost bite, and sickness, from tonsillitis to shell shock, are listed. The entries are written in a mixture of abbreviations, acronyms and shorthand, making them quite difficult to decipher.

The Casualty Book before being re-bound.

The Casualty Book before being re-bound.

This picture shows the book as it looked before it was restored by paper conservators at the Norfolk Record Office. They rebound the volume, and took high-quality photographs of each page for use in our transcription project.

We are currently working to digitise the book, through an online crowd-sourcing project. We are going to create a website on which the public will be able to access images pages from the book and tag names, dates, events, types of injury and sickness and so on. Currently, we’re looking for volunteers to help refine our term lists before the website goes live – if you’re interested please email rachel.willis@norfolk.gov.uk.

The book has been indexed by name already, but once it has been transcribed we will be able to search in many different ways, such as by date or battle. For example, we would be able to search for October 1914, and see what was happening to the men of the Norfolk Regiment exactly one hundred years ago.

Casualty Book entry for F. Baker

Casualty Book entry for F. Baker – click to enlarge

We would be able to find entries such as this one for Private F. Baker of the 1st Battalion. It starts with him being wounded and sent to 2 Northern General Hospital at Becket’s Park, Leeds on 29th October 1914.

We know that on this date one company of the 1st Norfolks was sent to help the Devonshire Regiment who were under heavy fire near Festubert and Givenchy. We can assume that it was in this attack that Baker was injured. He is injured again during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and received a “G.S.W.” (gun shot wound) to his left hand.

On February 20th, 1917, it is reported in the Casualty Book that Baker was suffering from “N.Y.D. (Not Yet Diagnosed) Shell Shock.” Millions of men like Baker experienced psychological trauma as a result of their war experiences, but the condition was not yet fully understood and treatment was often harsh.

We would love to be able to make this record more accessible for researchers. If you’d like to be involved with our Casualty Book project please contact rachel.willis@norfolk.gov.uk for more information or click the link below for more information.

Information for Volunteers

War Diary October 1914

War Norfolk
City of Antwerp Falls

The Belgian city of Antwerp is taken by German forces.


Wounded Soldiers Arrive in Norfolk

A party of 10 men who were wounded at Soissons arrived at Thorpe Station. They have been taken to Woodbastwick Hall, which is a fully equipped voluntary aid hospital.


First Battle of Ypres

British and French troops stand firm at the town of Ypres and stop the German Army from advancing to the Channel Ports


Women and the War

It is proposed that meetings for women are held in North Norfolk and especially in the villages, to explain why we are at war and what it will mean to the British Empire if we are defeated and how the Women of England can help. A committee has been formed to arrange meetings.


Turkey Joins the War

Turkey joins the war on the German side and warships shell Russian towns on the Black Sea coast



Commonwealth War Grave Site

Etaples Military Cemetery, Etaples, France

Etaples 1


Recently I was lucky enough to take a trip to France and one of the points of interest we wanted to visit was the Etaples Military Cemetery.

Military cem 2

This is the largest War Graves cemetery in France and is the final resting place of over 10000 soldiers, nurses and doctors from all over the Commonwealth. There are also about 600 German graves to be found in the cemetery.
Etaples was the site of many of the Allied hospitals during World War One and many of those buried here were casualties from the hospitals and so as a result only 35 of the graves mark unknown people.

Military cem 1

As with all of the CWGC sites that I have visited the Etaples Cemetery was beautifully well tended with no dead flowers or plants to be seen.  For those actually searching for a lost relative there are easy to use books at the entrance listing all of those buried in the cemetery and exactly how to find them.

Royal Norfolk stone

We couldn’t stay too long but it was a peaceful place to walk around in the autumn sunshine and we did locate the final resting place of a soldier from the Norfolk Regiment as well one for  a nurse from one of the hospitals.

military cem 3

Etaples-sur-Mer just a few miles down the road has a fascinating museum with a large area set aside to explain the role of the town in World War One, and if you are interested in learning more about life in the hospitals then I really recommend the book Dorothea’s War by Dorothea Crewdson – a nurse in the area right through until 1919.


Sarah (all photos my own and taken Sept 2014)