Mesopotamia continued

Our researcher is still working hard on part two of his explanation of why the Norfolk Regiment where in the Middle East during WW1 but in the meantime has come across the following to add to his first post.

The New Haroun Al Raschid (from Punch, January 25, 1911)

The New Haroun Al Raschid
(from Punch, January 25, 1911)

This cartoon appeared in the humorous magazine ‘Punch’ in 1911. It illustrates an important element of German foreign policy in the years before the deployment of the 2nd Battalion the Norfolk Regiment to Mesopotamia in 1914.


Kaiser Wilhelm II, dressed as the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, is riding a train on the proposed Berlin to Baghdad Railway, heading for the Persian Gulf and the routes to India and the East, and to the oil interests of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at the head of the Gulf. A personification of Turkey, a smaller figure complete with Fez, typical of the national stereotypes of the time, is shown behind the Kaiser, suggestive of Turkish complicity in German ambitions. The domes of the mosques of Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the Ottoman (Turkish) capital, appear in the background.



Route of theProposed Berlin to Baghdad Railway 1914 (from Roland G.Usher: The Story of the Great War  New York  1919)

Route of theProposed Berlin to Baghdad Railway 1914
(from Roland G.Usher: The Story of the Great War  New York  1919)


Harun al-Rashid (763-809 CE) is the most famous of the Caliphs of Baghdad who presided over a golden age of Islamic science, art and music. He founded the great Library of Baghdad, and some of the fictitious stories of ‘The One Thousand and One Nights’ are set against the backdrop of his magnificent court.


About the time when this cartoon appeared, or shortly afterwards, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) is believed to have been collecting intelligence about the construction of the railway when he was working as an archaeologist at Carchemish on the Euphrates in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire, modern Syria.


Part two of Mesopotamia – Why? should hopefully be published in the first week of December.

If you have an area of WW1 research with links to Norfolk you’d like to share here please do email

Norfolk Memorials

Almost every village and town in Norfolk put up a memorial to the dead of the First World War.  If this were on consecrated ground – in the church itself or in the churchyard – a faculty was needed and the record of this will be preserved among the diocesan records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

The faculty papers may include supporting papers, such as those for Cromer, which reveal a local dispute as to the form and siting of the memorial.  There was often a local War Memorial Committee and its records may survive, often with the parish or parish council archives.  These can show who paid for the memorial and, occasionally, record decisions as to whether or not an individual name was to be recorded on the memorial.

The large towns, naturally, had ideas for grander memorials not always fulfilled: the intended memorial at Yarmouth was designed by the creator of the Cenotaph in London, Edwin Lutyens.

Lutyens’s proposed memorial for Yarmouth (NRO, Y/TC 90/47)

Lutyens’s proposed memorial for Yarmouth (NRO, Y/TC 90/47)

Unfortunately, sufficient funds could not be raised in the town and an alternative design by a local architect had to be adopted instead.

Local architect's plan

Local architect’s plan

Lutyens’s design for the memorial in Norwich was however adopted: the memorial was originally beside the Guildhall before being moved to its present site in front of City Hall.

After the Second World War, the same memorials were very often also used to commemorate the new heroes. Again, there are faculty papers for memorials in churches or churchyards.  For example, at Kenninghall in 1947, a War Memorial Committee proposed to place a stone tablet in the parish church: it was unanimously decided that a memorial of simple design bearing just the dates 1939-45 and the names of the fallen would be the most suitable memorial to be placed under the 1914-18 one.  Seven names were to be placed on the tablet, with their ranks and the arm in which they served.

Where the original memorial was a cross rather than a plaque, other solutions had to be adopted.  At Ludham, the First World War memorial consisted of a granite cross on a stone step.  It was decided to dismantle it and re-erect it on three stone steps, on which the names of the dead could be inscribed.

One striking difference between lists of names is that it is most uncommon to find females on the First World War lists, but those of the Second World War will include members of the three female arms of the services.  Some memorials, such as that at Yarmouth, also include victims of air raids, both male and female.

Other memorials have been erected at the major battle sites.  The sacrifices made by thousands of Norfolk men and women in their home county and throughout the world can best be summed up in the words of the memorial at Kohima in Burma, which itself commemorates so many men of Norfolk who died there:

When You Go Home

Tell Them Of Us And Say

For Their Tomorrow

We Gave Our Today.

William Charles Earl – My Great Uncle

I first became aware of my Great Uncle Billy when I was a small child, I’d asked my Nan if she had any brothers and sisters, she told me she did and what all their names were, then she told me about William Charles, her oldest brother whom she’d never met.  How did you never meet him Nanny? I asked, she told me he went to war and never came back, and that she was born after he left.

Nanny kept a photograph of him in the back of her wedding picture, which she took out and showed me.

William Earl

Some years later I was inspired partly by this story to research my family history, and this is William Charles Earl’s story:

Billy was born in 1897 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk and attended St Nicolas School. His parents were William Jacob Earl and Sarah Francis Earl (Nee Fysh), they lived at 39 George Street. He was a well known local sportsman excelling at Football and Boxing, and while serving with the colours at Cambridge he won a medal for swimming.

On leaving school he was employed by Bristow and Copley who were a timber merchant in the town.

Billy enlisted as a territorial on 4th February 1915 in East Dereham where he joined the 1st/5th Norfolk Battalion (Service No 240827). For the first few months they were stationed in East Dereham, then on 30th January 1916 they sailed for Alexandria from Liverpool.

The regiment then supported front line troops in defending the Suez Canal, then in 1917 they embarked on the First Battle of Gaza. During the Second Battle of Gaza, Billy was taken prisoner of war by the Turks.

His last letter to his parents was sent on 23rd November 1917 but was not received until 16th February 1918 sadly 3 days after his death. In it he mentioned that he was in hospital but was expected shortly to be removed to a rest camp, no reference was made to a wound and the official report attributed his death to sickness.

It was consoling to know that he was treated kindly by the ‘Turks’ during captivity; testimony to this effect was furnished by Pte Charles Sheen of King’s Lynn, a fellow prisoner.

Billy died on the 13th February 1918 he was 21 years old, he was buried in Baghdad on 14th July 1918.

To my knowledge no member of the family has ever made it to his grave, but we remember him each year on Remembrance Day and thank him for the sacrifice he made.

Ian Wakefield

Nursing the wounded in Norwich 1916 -tented wards showing the Roman Catholic Cathedral in the background

Note: wounded are also housed in covered walk-ways in the background.

Note: wounded are also housed in covered walk-ways in the background.

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)

Battlefields Visit Opportunity

Thorpe Visit to the World War One Battlefields next year. 

The trip will take in visits to battlefield sites and memorials in the Ypres Salient and the Somme, including places connected with the Norfolk Regiment.

Details are as follows:

Tuesday, May 26th to Saturday, May 30th, 2015 (Half term).

Leaving from Thorpe St. Andrew for France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel, in an Executive Coach.

The cost for the Coach, Channel Tunnel, Hotel and Guide is £329 with a Single Supplement of £99.

Further details are available from John Balls – 01603 433712

Mesopotamia – why?

As posted about earlier in the month the Norfolk Regiment were posted to the Middle East during World War One and one of our blog readers has written a series of posts explaining just why this often forgotten battlefield was fought over during the years 1914-18.

The Norfolk Regiment in Mesopotamia

The Strategic Background (Part 1)

On 15 November 1914 the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment was deployed from India to Lower Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq. Why?

Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, (from the Greek μέσος (meso) – between, and ποταμός (potamos) – river) had been one of the cradles of world civilization and in 1914 was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

During the Crimean War (1853-56) the Ottoman Empire, then in decline, had fought alongside France and Britain to stop Russian expansion southwards into weakened Ottoman territory. In 1877 Russia and Turkey went to war again resulting in considerable loss of Ottoman territory in the Balkans.

After the revolt of the Young Turks against the feeble rule of the Turkish Sultan in 1908 German influence had begun to dominate Ottoman affairs: German banks agreed to fund the extension of a  railway from Berlin via Constantinople (modern Istanbul) to Baghdad, thereby linking remote areas of the remaining Ottoman Empire with its capital and with Germany; German geologists and engineers were searching for oil in Mesopotamia; and in 1913 Enver Pasha, a former military attaché to Germany, became the Turkish Minister of War. On 2 August 1914 Enver Pasha concluded a secret treaty which would commit Turkey to the German side in the event of war.


The Ottoman Empire was strategically significant for Great Britain because it lay between Britain, the Mediterranean Sea and the British Empire in India and the sea routes to the Far East, Australia and New Zealand.  Consequently, the British Government was reluctant to allow an unfriendly power to occupy such a strategically important area.


Map of Ottoman Empire in 1914

Map of Ottoman Empire in 1914 (URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Aug-2014)

The strategic focus was the Suez Canal which links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea through Egyptian territory. Great Britain had occupied Egypt in 1882 and in 1914 deposed the nominal ruler, the Khedive, and declared a protectorate in order to more effectively defend the Canal. Cairo, the Egyptian capital, was to become the centre of British operations against Turkey during the First World War.

The British government in London and the Government of India both had an interest in maintaining the security of the Canal and in the future of Mesopotamia, although they didn’t always work hand-in-hand.  The Government of India was concerned to avoid unrest among minority groups: India had a Muslim population of 100 millions and therefore Islamic opinion was important. With civil unrest in Istanbul, growing Arab nationalism in Egypt, and Persia (modern Iran) in state of flux, the possibility of jihad or holy war engaged political minds in both London and Simla, the seat of the Viceroy, the head of the Anglo-Indian government. The British wanted to avoid the spread of unrest to Mesopotamia, to its interests in Persia, and to the borders of India.

The Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph, regarded by Muslims as the successor to the Prophet Mohammed and able to proclaim jihad against those seen to be enemies of Islam.  In 1914 the pro-German government in Istanbul was urging jihad against the interests of the Allies: France, Russia and Britain.

The situation for the British was complicated by the ambitions of the Government of India to exercise control of Mesopotamia, its oil and the fertile farmland between the rivers.  Aden, the vital Royal Navy coaling station between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, was already governed from India, and the extension of Anglo-Indian administration in Arabia and Mesopotamia was seen to be a logical extension of its influence in the region.


The Ottoman Empire was not expected to survive the war intact, and it was critical for Britain to look not just to the ambitions of Germany but also to the territorial rivalry of its allies for control of Mesopotamia.


Russia had been attempting to extend its empire southwards towards British India in search of territory and a warm water port since the 1860’s. For Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, Persia was one of ‘the pieces on a chessboard, upon which is being played out a game for the domination of the world’.


In 1907, Britain and Russia entered into a convention which acknowledged Russian influence in Persia’s northern provinces, and British influence in the southeast adjacent to India and the entrance to the Persian Gulf, with a neutral zone between.


The Russo-British Pact in 1907 (spheres of influence in Persia) (from W. Morgan Shuster: The Strangling of Persia. New York 1912)

The Russo-British Pact in 1907 (spheres of influence in Persia)
(from W. Morgan Shuster: The Strangling of Persia. New York 1912)

Between 1905 and 1908, British interests had discovered oil at two sites close to the border of Persia and Mesopotamia, both in the neutral zone.


In France, too, there was an energetic campaign for a share of the spoils when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. A small group of imperialists maintained that France had an all but right to a colony in Syria and Lebanon since France had maintained a powerful influence at least in the Mediterranean coastal zone since the time of the Crusades.


In 1915 Britain, France and Russia concluded a secret agreement for a division of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East – the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Northern Mesoptamia around Mosul was to be in the French sphere of influence – a buffer against Russian expansion, whilst Britain would have a protectorate from just north of Baghdad southeast to Basra and the Persian Gulf. Britain would be able to protect the land routes to India and both Britain and France would have access to the oil fields of what was later to become Iraq.

Map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement showing Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia, and areas of control and influence agreed between the British and the French. (Royal Geographical Society (Map), Mark Sykes & Franois Georges-Picot (Authors), National Archives of the UK)

Map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement showing Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia, and areas of control and influence agreed between the British and the French.
(Royal Geographical Society (Map), Mark Sykes & Franois Georges-Picot (Authors), National Archives of the UK)




On 5 November 1914 war broke out with Turkey and the Norfolk Regiment arrived in the area 100 years ago today.


Part 2 – Oil (coming soon)


(The text of this article may be freely used, but the maps must be titled and cited as above)

The Norfolk Regiment on the Somme

Last night the Millennium Library played host to local author Steve Smith’s book launch, when he gave an illustrated talk about the Norfolk Regiment and the offensives it was involved in on the Somme between July and November 1916.

Steve held the audience of 50 people captive whilst he detailed the battles in which the Norfolk’s had played a role from La Boiselle in July 1916 to the Schwaben Redoubt in November.

The book ‘Norfolk: Remembering 1914 – 1918 not only covers the war and the part played by the Norfolk Regiment but also highlights the impact of it here at home – the work that went on to support the war effort, the blackouts, fund-raising, the role of women and a whole lot more.


Steve's book - Norfolk: Remembering 1914-1918

Steve’s book – Norfolk: Remembering 1914-1918

Given the success of Steve’s talk, we are planning more in the not too distant future so watch this space!