Armistice Commemorations

Cotman Housing Association, with the support of its partners and the local community, organised a special Armistice Day event to remember those who served and fell during the First World War.

cotman planting 1

In the calm surroundings of the Bowthorpe Community Gardens on 11th November 2014, over 140 people, including staff from Cotman Housing, Future Projects, Novus Solutions, Mow & Grow and children from St Michael’s V.A. Middle School and Clover Hill V.A. Infant School and the local community joined together in memory of those who served during World War I.

cotman planting 2

The proceedings began with a welcome from Vicar Mark Elvin and he introduced special guest Len Fox, a Normandy Veteran and a Cotman customer, who thanked everyone for being there.

Len Fox, Normandy Veteran

Len Fox, Normandy Veteran

The students of St Michael’s Middle School, had been assigned with writing poetry to mark this year’s Armistice Day. A selection of these were read out by the students, with their evocative poems perfectly capturing the tragic nature of the First World War and the solemn mood of the event.

cotman planting 6

Major Rushmere and Veteran Len Fox

At 11.00am the traditional two minute silence was held and following this, everyone gathered at the Heritage Gardens to plant poppy seeds and daffodil bulbs.

Cotman planting 5

The event came together as a result of the Association being awarded funding from the Norfolk Armed Forces Community Covenant Board, Norfolk World War 1 Fund. The unique nature of the occasion attracted considerable media interest, with BBC Look East on hand to capture the proceedings. The Association wishes to thank everyone involved in organising the event and those who were in attendance who helped make the day a success.

Event to Commemorate the Zeppelin Raids of 1915

Zeppelin Talk Jan 15

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Zeppelin raids on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn we are pleased to be hosting an illustrated talk from historian Steve Smith on the topic.

The talk will take place on Tuesday 20th January at 6pm in the Vernon Castle Room on the 2nd Floor of the library.

Tickets are £2 and due to limited space we do ask if you can pop into the library and collect them in advance or email to reserve your seats.


News snippets

News about a about a World War 1 Project and new book sent in by one of our colleagues in the North-West of the county.

World War One Group Photograph

Sparked by reading his great-grandfather’s letters from the trenches, Andrew Tatham went exploring and came upon a First World War group photograph with his great-grandfather in the centre. He decided to use it as the starting point for some artwork looking at the effect of the First World War on the 46 men pictured and their families. Having contacted all the families, he is now getting ready for an exhibition in In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in Belgium in September 2015.  Find out more at


1914 – 1919: The War Diaries of a Norfolk Man by William C. Bennett

This book presents the diaries of a man who enlisted in August 1914, the first month of the war and served until May 1919. William Bennett fought on the Somme and at Passchendaele. He was wounded and hospitalised more than once. William recounts the time when a German Sniper bullet passed through his nose and killed his comrade beside him. On another occasion, Bennett was struck in the thigh by shell casing and twenty years later his leg had to be amputated.

The Norfolk connection is strong as William relates episodes from his childhood and visits home from the Front.

1914-1919: The War Diaries of a Norfolk Man

1914-1919: The War Diaries of a Norfolk Man


Reading Around Mesopotamia

If you’ve been enjoying the blog posts about the history behind the war in Mesopotamia the following books may be of interest to you.


Currently all of the following are on the Norfolk Library catalogue and if you click on the title you will be taken straight though to the book information so that library members can place a reservation.

General Books about the area and politics.

A Line in the Sand by James Barr (2012)

Through a stellar cast of politicians, diplomats, spies and soldiers – including T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle – ‘A Line in the Sand’ tells the story of the short but crucial era when Britain and France ruled the Middle East.

Enemy on the Euphrates by Ian Rutledge

This is a lively and accessible account of the British campaign in the Middle East during World War I and of the Arab revolt against their occupation. Drawing on British and Arab archives and memoirs, Rutledge brings to life the human side of these violent events through vivid descriptions and anecdotes. The book is illustrated with maps and photographs.

Greenmantle by John Buchan

This classic adventure is set in war-torn Europe, and is the sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps. It shows John Buchan’s mastery of the thriller and also his immense knowledge of world politics – not strictly set in Mesopotamia but gives a great, boys-own style adventure spin to the politics of the area. Reader beware – this is very much of its time!

Books (and a film) about Lawrence of Arabia

Hero: The life and legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda

This is the story of an epic life on a grand scale, a biography of the extraordinary, mysterious & dynamic Englishman whose daring exploits & romantic profile made him an object of intense fascination, known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Michael Korda demystifies & reveals the real man – T.E. Lawrence – as he truly was.

Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

This is a thrilling and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th century history – the Arab Revolt, and the secret game to control the Middle East.

Lawrence of Arabia by David Murphy

Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, is remembered today more for his immortalisation on stage and screen rather than for his exploits in the Middle East during World War I. This book looks at his military achievements, his major campaigns and the influence he had on shaping the war in the Middle East.

Lawrence of Arabia: mirage of a desert war by Adrian Greaves

By the author of ‘Rorke’s Drift’, this biography uses primary sources to uncover the truth from all the fictions that surround the legendary figure of Lawrence of Arabia. It covers the actualities of the war Lawrence fought in greater detail than ever before, and also describes what happened to him after the war.

Lawrence of Arabia – film

Starring – Jack Hawkins – Jose Ferrer – Anthony Quayle – Claude Rains – Arthur Kennedy

Books about the Norfolk Regiment

(Please note this is a very small sample of books on this topic. Norfolk’s libraries do hold much more material about the regiment – including photos – but much is reference only and to view this you will need to visit a branch.  To search for this material please use the catalogue and in the title field type “Norfolk Regiment.”)

Part Two of: Mesopotamia – Why?

Our Middle-East researcher continues exploring just why the British Army and the Norfolk Regiment were in Mesopotamia during World War One and in this installment turns to the murky world of oil.

The Strategic Background (Part 2)

Oil, the background until 1907

Kerosene (from the Greek κηρός (keros) – wax, and -ene – the suffix used in chemistry to indicate a hydrocarbon compound) was first distilled in a clear form which could be used for lighting by the Canadian geologist, Abraham Gesner, in 1846. In 1851 kerosene (or paraffin, as it is known in Britain) was first distilled from crude oil (petroleum) by Samuel Martin Kier in Pennsylvania. Kier also invented a lamp for burning it. By the 1860’s kerosene had largely replaced whale oil and tallow as the main source of lighting for all those who could afford it in North America and Europe. It was one of the wonders of the age.

Oil lamps were still being manufactured in Birmingham as late as the 1960’s, and the large number for sale as antiques in Norfolk indicates their value in rural communities until quite recent times!

In the early days the lamps could be quite hazardous to light and explosions were not uncommon especially if the kerosene was poorly refined and contained the more flammable fraction known as gasoline. In the 1860’s gasoline had few known uses. But, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, with the rapid development of the internal combustion engine to power motor vehicles, a use was found for gasoline (or petrol, as it is known in Britain) that was to become of vital importance during the First World War. In addition to providing fuel for motor vehicles gasoline could also be used as fuel oil in the boilers of factories, trains and ships.

By 1907 there were four principal suppliers and refiners of crude oil or petroleum:

  • John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, which had first discovered oil in north-western Pennsylvania in 1859;
  • Branobel, the Nobel Brothers Petroleum Company, operating at Baku on the Caspian Sea in the Russian Empire;
  • De Rothschild Frères, with concessions at Baku, operating in association with the Shell Oil Company, founded by the Marcus and Samuel Samuel brothers of London, which revolutionized the transport of oil by tanker and distributed oil east of Suez in competition with Standard Oil;
  • the Royal Dutch Company, which had discovered oil in Sumatra and merged with Shell in 1907.

Also in 1907, a fifth source was added – the oilfields of south-western Persia, which would come under the influence of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

The Importance of Persian Oil

Persia was a neutral state during the First World War, but one which had undergone a series of constitutional upheavals in the years before which had left it independent but dominated by Russia and Britain. Its significance lay in its location between the Russian, Ottoman and British Empires, and in its oilfields.

German agents were actively encouraging unrest in Persia. If Persia were destabilized then Germany might be able to drive a wedge between the Russian and British spheres in the country and thereby leave India vulnerable to local Turkish and German supported insurrections. Another German aim was to use military means to deny Russia access to the oilfields around Baku.


The Peril of Persia in The World War (from The Graphic, November 20, 1915)

The Peril of Persia in The World War
(from The Graphic, November 20, 1915)

The November 20, 1915 issue of ‘The Graphic’, a weekly illustrated newspaper of the time, maps the area south of Baghdad eventually captured by British forces in 1915, but also shows Persia in the context of the time. It is worth noting the following:

  • the distance marker to Bombay, just 480 miles;
  • the terminus of the ‘German Railway’, 400 miles from Baghdad;
  • the location of Baku and the oil railway to the port of Batum on the Black Sea;
  • the oil field of south-western Persia and its pipeline to Mohamerrah (Abadan);
  • the British protected sheikdoms of Kuwait (Koweit) and Mohamerrah in their strategically important locations in the Persian Gulf. The Sheik of Mohamerrah was also the landlord of the Anglo-Persian oil refinery on Abadan Island.

The Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 helped stabilize relations between the two countries after nearly a century of antagonism over influence in Persia and the northern approaches to India. At this time Britain did not seek territorial gain, nor had oil yet become a significant factor; it was the security of India which was paramount.

The Constantinople Agreement of 1915 was another of the understandings among the nations of the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) for the division of the Ottoman Empire in the event of its defeat and dissolution in the war. Its significance for the Mesopotamian Campaign lies in the evolving British priorities post 1907.

The Constantinople Agreement awarded Russia control of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles – that is, the straits which link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea – a prize long sought by the Russian Empire. (As it happened, the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign meant that Russia never achieved this goal.) In return, Russia agreed that the neutral zone of Persia between the Russian and British zones should now come under British influence.

Britain now found itself with two concerns in the region: as always, the security of India, but now maintenance of the oilfields of south-western Persia, too.

What were the circumstances that brought about this change of priorities?

The name William Knox D’Arcy is not widely known today, but at the turn of the Twentieth Century he was a major investor and speculator. He had emigrated from Devon and had made a fortune from gold mining in Australia and New Zealand. In 1901 he negotiated a 60 year concession from the cash-strapped Shah of Persia for oil exploration and exploitation rights over most of the country.

In 1907 oil exploration moved from Chiakh Surkh to an area known as Maidan-i-Napthan, where, in 1908, the first oil ‘gusher’ erupted. In 1909 D’Arcy’s concession (with some additional investment from Burmah Oil) went public as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company – later to be known as British Petroleum (BP).

By 1911 a 138 mile (222 km) pipeline had been constructed from the oilfields to a refinery at Abadan on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, formed from the confluence of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, at the head of the Persian Gulf. The waterway forms the frequently disputed border between what in 1911 was Ottoman Mesopotamia and Persia (modern Iraq and Iran). The town of Basra lies 37 miles (60 km) upstream of Abadan, and Baghdad approximately 370 miles (600 km) upstream.

However, by the close of 1912, Anglo-Persian was in financial difficulties. In the same year Admiral Sir John Fisher, a former First Sea Lord, was appointed Chairman of the ‘Royal Commission… on Supply and Storage of Liquid Fuel… and its Application to Warship Engines…’ Fisher wanted to convert the Royal Navy fleet from coal to oil. As early as 1904 he had met William Knox D’Arcy and discussed how the Royal Navy could become a market for Persian oil.

Oil brought advantages for naval vessels:

  • they could remain on operations longer since they could be refueled at sea,
  • were faster and got up to speed faster than coal-powered ships
  • were more manoeuvrable,
  • required fewer hands to man them
  • used manpower more effectively than in shovelling coal from bunkers to furnaces

At a time when Britain was in a naval race with Germany, both in the size of the fleets and in technological advance, a fuel that was more efficient and, East of Suez, cheaper than coal, had clear military benefits. Already Britain was building destroyers and submarines that were oil driven, but the battleships still burned coal.

The First Lord of the Admiralty at the time was Winston Churchill. In 1910, as Home Secretary, he had opposed higher naval expenditure and favoured an Anglo-German naval agreement, but by 1911, having witnessed German naval aggression in Morocco, he had been converted to the case for modernization of the fleet if Britain were to maintain its mastery of the high seas.

However, at that time the British Isles did not have any significant known oil reserves, and to base Britain’s naval supremacy upon oil meant that it had to be available in sufficient quantities at secure prices, that there were adequate facilities for oil storage, and that continuity of supply would be guaranteed in time of war. Consequently, in 1914, with the support of the Foreign Office fearful of Anglo-Persian falling into foreign ownership, the British Government signed an agreement with the company for the supply of fuel oil, and in 1915 took a 51% controlling stake in the company for an investment of £2.2 million. Within 18 months of the start of the war Anglo-Persian was supplying 20% of the Royal Navy’s fuel oil requirements from Abadan.

Hence, by 1914 Britain was committed to a strategic involvement at the head of the Persian Gulf – where the Anglo-Persian Oil Company had opened its refinery at Abadan in 1912 – an area within striking distance of India and within a few hours march of Turkish troops in Basra.

The Head of the Persian Gulf at the Outbreak of War (from J.A. Hammerton and H.W. Wilson, 'The Great War', London 1919)

The Head of the Persian Gulf at the Outbreak of War
(from J.A. Hammerton and H.W. Wilson, ‘The Great War’, London 1919)

With the outbreak of war, the governments in London and India both became convinced of the need to defend British oil interests at the head of the Gulf and to show support for the British protected sheikdoms of Kuwait and Mohamerrah. The dispatch of the 18th Indian Brigade, including the 2nd Battalion the Norfolk Regiment, together with gunboats sent to the Shatt al-Arab Waterway, was intended to make good a show of strength.

On 14 November a fatwa calling for jihad against the British was issued in the name of Ottoman Sultan.

Oil in Mesopotamia (Iraq)

As the war progressed and demand for oil increased for aviation fuel, for gasoline for the tanks and lorries of a progressively mechanized war other oil companies, notably Royal Dutch and Shell which had merged in 1907, supplied British military needs from sources in the Dutch East Indies and from Baku on the Caspian Sea. But, both oil companies and national governments were now in a race to secure reliable supplies of oil as well as refining and storage facilities.

Geology does not respect the frontiers of nations. The oilfields discovered in the 1900’s straddled the borderlands between the nominally independent kingdom of Persia and Ottoman Mesopotamia. However, it was not until 1918 that Anglo-Persian geologists became convinced of the oil-producing potential of two areas, one close to the Persian border and another north-east of Baghdad in what was by then British occupied territory. Other reserves were known near Mosul.

Ian Rutledge, in his book ‘Enemy on the Euphrates’, quotes a 1905 dossier received at the Foreign Office in London marked SECRET: from H.M. Ambassador in Constantinople. ‘Report on the Petroliferous Districts of the Vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul and Bitlis, prepared by Sir Mark Sykes, Hon. Attach. The dossier was based upon information from an informant working on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway.

This was the same Sir Mark Sykes who, ten years later, was the co-architect of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Although, by 1918 with the withdrawal of Russia from the war, Sykes-Picot was dead in all but name, it nonetheless formed the basis of the post-war carve-up of Ottoman territories in the Middle East. Mosul came under French control and Baghdad and Basra formed the core of the State of Iraq under British mandate from the League of Nations.

The politics of that arrangement are a long story and must await another day.

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


The Norfolk Regiment in December 1914: “World Famous Whistle”

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.

Sergeant Hoy's "World Famous Whistle"

Sergeant Hoy’s “World Famous Whistle”

Back in January 2014 we had some special visitors to the Royal Norfolk Regimental galleries at Norwich Castle. The son and daughter of Sergeant Hoy, of the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, came to see a whistle which belonged to him and is on display.

Sergeant Hoy’s son and daughter could remember him playing the whistle for them as children. But what made the whistle really significant was that Hoy had played it from the trenches during the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914.

Sergeant Edward Charles Hoy with his framed whistle at the Royal Hotel, Norwich.

Sergeant Edward Charles Hoy (to right of  framed whistle) at the Royal Hotel, Norwich.

Hoy described the scene: “On Christmas morning 1914 I was in the trenches in France on the Ypres sector and I was playing some carols on my whistle, which I always carried with me. Suddenly a German called out, “Play ‘Home Sweet Home’ Tommy!” I started to play it and to my surprise a German who was near our trench produced a mouth organ and joined in with me. That started us and the Germans fraternising on top of the trench. Later a football was produced, and not a shot was fired that day.”

A First World War Christmas card depicting the trenches of the Western Front

A First World War Christmas card depicting the trenches of the Western Front

At some points of the Western Front, the German and British soldiers decided that they could not bear to continue fighting on their first Christmas in the trenches, and so declared an unofficial truce. There are stories of the soldiers singing carols, putting up Christmas trees and playing football. Men shared stories and family photographs. As this fraternisation was frowned upon, it was not recorded in official unit war diaries – so becoming mythologised.

However, many men fighting had no idea that others were having a merry Christmas. The 25th December was one of the worst days that month for fatalities on the Western Front. Sixty-nine British soldiers were either killed in action or died from wounds received on that day.

This image from a Christmas card shows a lone soldier in No-Mans Land.

This image from a Christmas card shows a lone soldier in No-Mans Land.

For those who got to enjoy it, the unofficial truce was short-lived. On Boxing Day shots were fired. Officers from both sides climbed onto the parapets, bowed, saluted and returned to the trenches. The war was to continue.

War Diary December 1914

War Norfolk
ANZAC Troops Arrive in Egypt

The first Australian and New Zealand soldiers arrive in Egypt to finish their training after it is decided that conditions in Britain are unsuitable.

Smoke Concerts Organised

A smoking concert is established at Sheringham Unionist Club to be held every Friday for the “amusement of the members of his Majesty’s forces” stationed in the district.

Bombardment of English Coast

The East Coast resorts of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby are shelled by German battle cruisers, 137 civilians are killed.

Drowning in Lowestoft Harbour

A crewman of H.M. minesweeper Bracklyn is drowned after falling into the Inner Harbour after returning to his vessel due to badly-lighting in the area.

Heavy Fighting in Serbia and Russia

Initial losses by Allied armies are reversed during the month in both Russia and the Balkans.

Santa Claus Ship Deliveries

100s of tons of gifts arrive at Dover filled with gifts donated by U.S. children, two large packing crates of which reach arrived at Norwich Shirehall to be given to Belgian and Norfolk orphans.