Image from the archives

Wherry on the Bure, 1917

Wherry on the Bure, 1917

As winter continues we take a break from war images to remember that life at home did continue.

Walter Clutterbuck (1853-1937) came from a wealthy Surrey family but spent much of his life (when not travelling) in Norfolk, first at Northrepps Cottage then at Marsham Hall. His main passions seem to have been travel, fishing, horticulture and photography. An accomplished photographer, he often worked using a French stereoscopic camera of a kind that was meant he was able to take pictures of people without their knowledge. He favoured the gum bichromate process and these prints often have a soft, pastel-like appearance. The Norfolk Heritage Centre holds the main body of his photographic work: 35 albums and 48 exhibition prints. The albums are a record of home life and travels including visits to Norway, Brittany, Tenerife, St Tropez, Japan, Dalmatia, Belgium and India. This image is from album 11.

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 held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Museums Service. Over the course of the next few years the images will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service).

 

Snow in the trenches, the harsh winter of 1916/1917

After the iconic images from the Trenches of soldiers wading through mud then next most common images are of snow covered battlefields. After listening to historian Steve Smith dispel myths and show how we can’t always trust photographs I decided to do some research in to this and see if it was snowy on the Western Front or if these images are actually of the Eastern and Balkan lines.

This image, was taken in early 1917. It shows a German machine-gun position in a forward trench close to the village of Le Transloy on the Somme. The photograph comes from the photo history of the 26th Division, a Wurttemberg division, who fought in Russia and on the Western Front. https://greatwarphotos.com/2014/12/13/winter-war-snow-bound-german-trench-on-the-somme/

This image, was taken in early 1917. It shows a German machine-gun position in a forward trench close to the village of Le Transloy on the Somme.
The photograph comes from the photo history of the 26th Division, a Wurttemberg division, who fought in Russia and on the Western Front. https://greatwarphotos.com/2014/12/13/winter-war-snow-bound-german-trench-on-the-somme/

Met Office reports for the UK in December 1916 list the month as having “weather conditions appropriate to the month of the winter solstice – cold and inclement, with frequent and severe frosts and a good deal of snow.” Snow depths of up to 23cm were recorded in some areas of Wales and Scotland whereas “the streets of Dublin were exceptionally dangerous on the 17th, when some 300 cases of accident were treated in the hospitals” due to the ice.

January 1917 is headlined as being “Stormy and Abnormally Mild” and the full account talks of gales across the country throughout the month and temperatures recorded in Scotland made it the warmest January for 60 years. More worryingly “a sharp Earthquake shock occurred at Shrewsbury, Craven Arms and Onndle at 7.30pm on the 14th. The rumbling noise lasted 10 seconds; houses were shaken and windows rattled.”

Picture Norfolk Image: Royal Norfolk Regiment, 2/5th Battalion group 'somewhere in England' 1917

Picture Norfolk Image: Norfolk Regiment, 2/5th Battalion group ‘somewhere in England’ 1917

February was a much worse month being listed as “Stormy, Mild, and Rainy, then Cold with much Snow.” The snow, when it arrived towards the end of the month, was particularly heavy with Norwich (specifically mentioned) recording 261% of the average expected. The drifts in Dartmoor were 3 ½ metres deep.

Picture Norfolk Image: Royal Norfolk Regiment, 2/5th Battalion group 'somewhere in England' 1917

Picture Norfolk Image: Norfolk Regiment, 2/5th Battalion group ‘somewhere in England’ 1917

This cold and snowy weather continued through March and well into April, which in places was the coldest recorded since 1856. Records show that it showed somewhere in the UK every day right up until the 19th of April.

However as was noted in a previous post about wartime weather however close to the Western Front areas of the UK are the weather conditions may not have been mirrored.

By reading some of the diaries and letters available from men serving in France and Belgium we can get an idea that the winter of 1916/1917 was exceedingly cold, snowy and unpleasant in France and Belgium too, although December and January seem to be swapped in conditions!

In the book Somewhere in Flanders: Letters of a Norfolk Padre in the Great War the Revd Green’s collected letters from the Front to his Parish give a clear indication into the weather in his sector:

Letter from 1 Jan 1917

On the day before Christmas Eve, we left the trenches to go into billets. The trenches had become very uncomfortable owing to the prevalent wet weather, and we were glad enough to leave them. We had to march six or seven miles […] There was a head wind, which at times almost brought us to a standstill.

A letter from 11th Feb 1917 written in the Neuve Chapelle sector states:

We have been having a very severe spell of cold weather. The French people say that they have not had such a frost for over 20 years. For weeks now the whole country has been covered with snow, and all the streams and ditches are covered with ice many inches thick.

The cold weather is very trying for the troops. When we are in the trenches it is not possible to keep warm because it is impossible to move about very much, and it is not always possible to have much of a fire because the smoke might attract the unpleasant attractions of the enemy over the way. So we have been very cold in the line.somewhere

The mild December is also remarked upon in another correspondent’s, Arthur Dease letters home. (Arthur’s letters have a wonderful story behind them and I recommend exploring the whole website where they are published http://www.arthursletters.com/)

5th Jan

Curious all the frost you have had & snow, here mild for the time of year & cloudy, some rain and everlasting wind. I sincerely hope it will not freeze, so hard on the poor men in the trenches standing in mud & water up to their waists, it would mean so many frozen feet.

Sadly Arthur’s hopes for a mild winter are dashed and he mentions a change in his letter dated 14th Jan “Snowy & very slushy & beastly generally” and again on 26th Jan “Bitter cold continues, hard frosts & clear days, ground like iron & all lightly covered with snow.”

His report from 3rd Feb paints an even colder picture:

Weather still cold & bright, but not quite as bad as it was. It freezes night & day. Such a long spell. We dread rain here as this limestone country is so sticky & messy, still the roads even after rain will be a treat after the Somme. Such a job to get dry wood & keep warm. It keeps us busy cutting & splitting for kitchen & our wretched little oil drum stove in room where we eat. My friend who went home a few days ago left his petrol stove & I keep it in my room all day going & it makes quite a difference. Without it was just an icehouse. 

Which continues in his letter from the 11th

At last today a bit milder, been bitterly cold day after day, freezing day & night. Almost as you throw out water it freezes. Clear days. Seems coldest winter in France since 70! Home too it seems cold & snowy & a lot of skating, so it has given some pleasure.

first-world-war-letters-o-1After February neither Arthur nor Revd Green mention the weather again but another correspondent, Philip Hewetson writes to his parents from the Wulverghem sector on 18th March:

“we having good weather which is very nice as we are in tents.” It does seem however that this was only a temporary respite (or perhaps Philip trying to reassure his parents) as in a letter from 25th March he writes “It is bitterly cold weather, you know, freezing hard and blowing, occasionally snowing too.”

The bad weather continues and is written about on 27th March:

“It snowed hard yesterday, then it freezes in the night thaws & rains in the mornings so the roads are in a dreadful state.”

Like in the UK the weather doesn’t improve in France as April starts as Philip continues on 2nd April:

“We are having extraordinary weather, this morning when we woke up there was snow on the ground & all the puddles etc were frozen, there has been a biting wind all day too.”

Easter Sunday, 8th April is reported as being a nice day but again this seems to have been a false spring as Philip writes on 12th April that:

“it is now a land of snow! The whole place is white with it lying thick, it has been very cold all this week, and I am glad we are not in the trenches.”

It doesn’t get better as his letter from 17th April says:

“I must just say what awful weather we are having. I am not really as hard up for news as that you know. But just fancy it is the middle of April and I am wearing two waistcoats to-day. Last night there was a hurricane of cold wind and driving rain, to-day has been the same, & sometimes hail and finishing with driving snow!”

Fortunately for all of those in France this does seem to be the last report of really bad weather for this winter as the cold is not mentioned again.

This bad weather didn’t stop the fighting however and while there were no campaigns on the scales of Ypres or the Somme there were still deaths.

By using the Commonwealth War Graves websitethink I have ascertained that 47, 763 men are commemorated in France or Belgium as having died between 1st December 1916 and 20th April 1917. Further research shows that 144 of these men were from the Norfolk Regiment. (The Norfolk Regiment is listed on the same site as having lost 635 men in this 4 month period – the majority of deaths not coming from the Western Front.)

The Imperial War Museum has a recording of an actual WW1 Veteran NCO Clifford Lane recounting his memories of winter 1916/17 which you can find here along with other first-hand accounts.

 

Resources used in this Blog:

  • Imperial War Museum website
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
  • Met Office Weather Reports (accessed using the internet archive)
  • The Edwardian Era and WW1 from a Different Perspective website
  • Somewhere in Flanders: Letters of a Norfolk Padre in the Great War edited by Stuart John McLaren (borrowed from Norfolk Heritage Centre)
  • The First World War Letters of Philip and Ruth Hewetson edited by Frank Meeres (borrowed from Norfolk Heritage Centre)

Alfred Alexander Anderson in World War One

Born: 4 February 1892, Devonshire Street, Norwich

Enlisted: 30 November 1914, First East Anglian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Served: Home, France, Egypt, Palestine

Demobilised: 31 March 1920

I have three mementos of the First World War that belonged to my maternal grandfather, Alfred Alexander Anderson. The first is a sepia photograph of my grandfather with three of his colleagues. This is not a formal studio portrait, but was obviously taken somewhere out in the field. The men are posed in front of what looks like canvas and they are wearing shorts, with desert boots and puttees; they have ammunition belts slung across their jackets. Two of the men are smoking and one is holding what could be a riding crop. The men look relaxed and are all smiling slightly for the camera. We do not know who the other men are or if, like Alfred, they survived the war.

Alfred Anderson (back, left)

My grandfather spoke very little of his First World War experiences, certainly not to me and not to my mother Beryl, his youngest daughter. The only family story my mother remembers is an account of my grandfather jumping from the side of a boat into the Suez Canal as a dare. The fact that the men are dressed in shorts in the photograph suggests that this picture could have been taken in Egypt.

medals

Alfred’s Medals

I have three medals from the First World War belonging to Alfred: the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and a Victory Medal. Both the Star and British War Medal bear the designation 1653 GNR A A Anderson RFA, but the Victory Medal is in the name of 27190 PTE A Knox E SURR R. The abbreviations GNR and RFA on the medals indicate that Alfred was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. As the Victory Medal bears a different name it seems that Alfred misplaced his own medal and decided at some point to obtain a replacement.

My final memento is a small notebook measuring only 6 x 10 cms. The notebook does not have a cover, is slightly torn, stained and brown with age, and, in places, the handwriting is difficult to read. This notebook was kept by my grandfather during his active service overseas and part of it constitutes a diary. The keeping of diaries by servicemen in front line positions was discouraged, but the practice seems to have been not uncommon. The size of Alfred’s notebook is such that it could be easily carried in a top pocket.

notebook

Alfred’s Notebook

The notebook confirms that my grandfather was in Egypt and he was engaged in the defence of the Suez Canal, although jumping into the water as a dare is not mentioned. Entries in the notebook include details of inoculations in 1915, names and addresses of family and friends, and a list of dates of “letters received” and “letters sent home” starting in October 1916. The diary entries begin in November 1916 and are brief, usually only a few words, but they do include place names and thus give an indication of my grandfather’s involvement in various actions in the Middle East. Using the notebook and a copy of my grandfather’s military record, which luckily survives in the National Archive, I have managed to piece together some of his story.

Alfred Alexander Anderson enlisted on 30 November 1914 in Norwich. His attestation papers state that he was 22 years 9 months old, 5 foot 5 inches tall and had a chest measurement of 36 inches. He was passed fit for service as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). The RFA was a mobile force, deployed close to the front line, with medium calibre guns and howitzers. It was organised in brigades, each containing a series of batteries. The Norfolk batteries were part of the First East Anglian Brigade and were artillery for the 54th (East Anglian) Division, which included infantry from the Norfolk and Suffolk Regiments. There are two service numbers in Alfred’s military record – 1653 and 875553 – reflecting a re-organisation of the artillery units as the war progressed. The First East Anglian Brigade was re-designated the 270 Brigade in May 1915 and became the 272 Brigade in December 1916 (upon the breakup of the original 272 Brigade, formerly the Third East Anglian Brigade). Alfred’s notebook records that he was a driver with B Battery, 272 Brigade. In his service record Alfred is listed as both gunner and driver, pointing to some flexibility in these roles. No doubt the men received an element of cross-training with regard to serving the guns or serving the horses, making replacements in the field easier to accomplish.

The period 30 November 1914 to 14 November 1915 was spent “at home”, presumably undergoing training, and during this time my grandfather married Rosanna Cossey. The wedding took place on 22 May 1915 at Norwich Register Office and it was some six months later that my grandfather was sent overseas.

rosanna_photo

Rosanna Cossey

The artillery had remained at home when the 54th Division sailed for service at Gallipoli in July 1915. However, Alfred’s military record shows that he left England for France on 15 November 1915, embarking at Southampton and landing in Le Havre on 16 November. The artillery joined the Expeditionary Force France and were reportedly located at Blaringhem in the Pas de Calais region where they were attachedto the 33rd Division, a Kitchener’s Army unit whose own divisional artillery were still undergoing training at home. The East Anglian Artillery were only in France for a few months before they were sent to Egypt as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). They began the move to Marseilles by train on 11 January 1916 and on 30 January Alfred embarked ship for Alexandria. He did not return to England until April 1919.

The MEF was under the command of General Archibald Murray from March 1916 and was redesignated the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). Turkey had become an ally of Germany in November 1914 and, after their victory at Gallipoli, it was feared that the Turks might launch a major offensive against the Suez Canal, an important supply route for Britain. Alfred arrived in Alexandria on 14 February and the artillery were initially concentrated at Mena Camp in Cairo before being deployed along the Suez Canal. Sadly there are no entries in Alfred’s notebook for these early days in Egypt when he was based within sight of the Pyramids.

Defence of the Suez Canal was divided into three sectors (northern, central and southern) and in early April 1916 Alfred’s battery moved to the southern section near Suez. Two months after this move, Alfred became a father. Rosanna gave birth to twin girls, Edna Mabel and Margery Rose, on 9 June 1916. When Alfred got to learn about the birth of the twins is not known. Although Alfred kept a list of dates of letters sent and received, his diary makes no mention of news from home. Given that home leave was not possible for the majority of personnel of the EEF, letters from home must have been of great importance to the men.

suez_southern

Map Suez defences July 1916 (Great War Forum)

The diary section of Alfred’s notebook begins in November 1916 when his brigade is down at El Kubri, some 12 miles north of Suez, and there are Rumours of moving, but was stopped after we had packed up”. A copy of a map from the Great War Forum website shows the position of the Suez Canal defences in July 1916 and the location of El Kubri. By August 1916 the Turkish offensive into Egypt had ended and the Turkish forces retreated into Palestine. The focus then changed from defence of the canal to advance into Sinai and Palestine. The 54th (East Anglian) Division was placed on Desert Column Establishment at the end of January 1917 with orders to march east.

Alfred reports a move on 20 January 1917 from El Kubri to Moascar, near Ismailia at the bottom end of the Canal. Moascar camp is where the Allied training depots were located. It was initially a collection of tents, marquees and wooden shacks, but by the end of the war had tarmac roads, electric light and miles of railway sidings. The day after arriving at Moascar, Alfred writes See Fred. Very windy. Bad wind storms”. Various encounters with Fred are reported by Alfred throughout the diary. Fred is Alfred’s brother-in-law, 204653 Private Frederick Cossey, who was serving as an infantry man in the 1/4 Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Both men survived the war and maintained their friendship into later years. The war diary for the 1/4 Norfolk Regiment shows that they were engaged in brigade and divisional training at Moascar from 11-31 January 1917, thus giving Alfred and Fred the opportunity to meet.

There is a gap in Alfred’s diary from the end of January to beginning of April 1917. He reports leaving Moascar on 4 April, moving through El Ferdan and Kantara (east side of Suez Canal) before arriving at Deir el Belah on 8 April. Deir el Blah is located in the central Gaza strip. It was the HQ of the Eastern Force and the location of the coastal supply route. Cargoes were landed on the beaches and then transported to forward supply depots and ammunition dumps. Supplies also arrived via the Sinai railway. The artillery was transported by this route, but the war diary for the 1/4 Norfolk Regiment shows that at the beginning of February they had proceeded into the Sinai by route march, arriving at El Arish camp (north Sinai) on 6 March. The move by the artillery to Deir el Belah was connected to the build-up for the Second Battle of Gaza. The town was of strategic importance to the allied forces as they attempted to push the Turkish army north. An earlier battle for Gaza took place in March 1917, but was unsuccessful and there were heavy casualties. Alfred’s brigade does not appear to have taken part in this first battle.

Alfred’s diary is interesting with respect to the things that he does and does not mention. Some of the obvious features of desert warfare, such as heat, cold, sand or flies, are not commented upon. However, Alfred does make mention of wind, rain, thunderstorms, hail, lice, cigarettes and Christmas dinner. The diary reveals something of the logistical challenges and undoubted monotony of war. There are many references to ammunition carting, drawing rations, going after water, servicing guns and securing forage for the horses. Securing water supplies for men and animals was undoubtedly a continuing problem in such an arid landscape. Periods of routine involving care of horses, harnesses, wagons and guns, were interspersed with periods of action. This was a war of movement, with the guns being continually shifted to new positions.

The first note of any action in Alfred’s diary is a simple statement on 14 April to the effect that Enemy shelled camp” and two days later B Battery took up positions for purpose of shelling Gaza. On 19 April, Alfred reports that he went to first line of trenches with [?] Lambert of the 10 London Regiment. Saw Fred on the way. Under heavy shell fire for 2 hours”. The war diary of the 1/4 Norfolk Battalion shows that they had taken up position on Sheikh Abbas ridge prior to launching an attack.

In the next few days Alfred takes a series of camel transports up the firing line. In the desert terrain, camels were an important means of transport for supplies due to their ability to carry heavy loads and to exist for days at a time without water. An entry for 22 April reports that on taking the camel transport up the line he found that Fred was safe” and the following day Alfred writes camel transport up line and see all the boys, who were glad to see me and I was glad to see them”. Casualties are recorded on 25 April (one rigger and two smiths killed) and Alfred reports being shelled while down at the water trough with the horses. On 28 April B Battery was withdrawn from their position and they rest in a barley field fit to cut”. The landscape around the ancient city of Gaza was bisected by water courses and obviously amenable to cultivation.

gaza_april-1917

Map Gaza Battlefields, April 1917, http://www.vlib.us/ww1/resources

The second Battle of Gaza was also unsuccessful and this second defeat prompted a change in command of the EEF, with General Sir Edmund Allenby assuming control of the Allied forces in June 1917. In the immediate aftermath of the Second Battle of Gaza, stalemate ensued, with position warfare along a front stretching from the Mediterranean beaches through to the Negev desert. B Battery took up position again on 11 May. Alfred writes took up position against Dumb Bell Hill [which is to the south-east of Gaza] with wagon line 2 miles behind the guns”. On 14 May an entry in the war diary of the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment states that 20 enemy were seen filing from left to right of the Cactus Hedge position. 272 B Battery were informed and several rounds of shrapnel were fired which caused the enemy to disappear. Alfred’s diary does not make mention of this incident.

On 16 May a section of guns was moved to Mansura Ridgeat night. The 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment war diary indicates that a working party of 200 enemy soldiers were seen on 17 May around 600 yards north-west of Cactus Garden. 272 B Battery opened fire and managed to land 4 out of 7 shots into the party, which scattered. An entry for the following day, 18 May, reports that 272 B Battery and 265 C Battery were engaged in gapping the wire on Outpost Hill and registering the gaps. Alfred’s diary reports ammunition carting on that day. An entry in the diary for 22 May shows that the section was withdrawn from position, having lost ourselves at night”.

An attack by the Turks on 11 June is described by Alfred as the loveliest sight I ever saw at night. Alfred’s notebook suggests continued activity on Mansura Ridge with the guns taken forward on 7 July for wire cutting. Another attack by the Turks occurred on 19 July, followed by two days of bombardment when the ridge was reportedly taken – We bombard and take the ridge. Out all night. Got lost”. On 22 July Alfred documents seeing an aircraft brought down by the Turks. Planes were initially used as spotters for artillery rather than necessarily for attack purposes.

B Battery was withdrawn from their position to a rest camp (not stated) on 5 August. On 20 August there is the first mention by Alfred of gas drill – went through a gas tent. Gas was used in the second Battle of Gaza, as were tanks, although there is no mention of the latter by Alfred. At the endof August, Alfred reports that the battery moved back to its old position. The month of September passes without major incident and on 23 October Alfred heads to El Arish on leave.

Alfred returns from leave on 30 October and the following day he comments that the Stunt starts. Went with ammo to new gun pits”. The stunt in question is the third Battle of Gaza. Alfred is concerned again with transporting ammunition to the gun pits and an all-night bombardment takes place on 1 November. Alfred mentions that a Sergeant Chapman is killed and some of the boys wounded on 2 November. By 8 November the Turkish Eighth Army was in retreat and Alfred’s battery moved up after the retreating forces, a move that Alfred describes as the worst I ever had. On 14 November the battery moves again, towards Jaffa, and one of the few mentions of food appears in Alfred’s diary – boys get plenty of oranges, the best you could get”. Jaffa was taken by the Allied forces on 16 November.

In the following days the battery remains in the vicinity of Jaffa, with Alfred reporting a series of moves to Midze, Ramleh (ancient Arimathea), Surafend, Ludd and Wilhelma. The weather is inclement as the rainy season begins and Alfred remarks on heavy downpours at night. The wet and cold undoubtedly added to the logistical difficulties of supplying the men and animals. During this time the 54th Division was involved in establishing a bridgehead to the north of Jaffa across the Nahr el Auja river. The division’s main camp was established at Wilhelma.

The Turkish forces counter-attacked at the end of November. Alfred’s diary entry for 27 November reads Turks shell us out of village, horse killed and two wounded, and eight men wounded. Out all night”. The same occurs the following day, when Alfred says one man was killed, as well as several horses, and my team had a nasty fall, but thank god we came through safely with a bruise or two. The guns were moved forward to a new position and Alfred brings ammunition forward by camel. He states Caught spies up a tree. Have not had a wash for four days. Properly chatty [infested with lice]. Took camels to gun line. Heavy firing at night”. It is interesting to speculate as to whether the “spies” were indeed individuals trying to gather intelligence on troop movements or local people who had got caught up in the action.

Alfred carries out a service of the guns on 30 November and the battery is then involved in another series of moves, with Alfred engaged in ammunition carting. Places mentioned by Alfred at this point include Dirty Reach and Railway Junction. It was at this time that, sadly, one of Alfred’s baby daughters, Edna, died of convulsions (9 December 1917). The diary gives no indication of the arrival of bad news, but it must have been hard for Alfred to lose a baby daughter he had never seen and to be away from Rosanna when she needed support.

While Alfred’s battery was involved in maintaining a defensive position around Jaffa, other forces under Allenby’s command had moved to secure Jerusalem and on 11 December Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot via the Jaffa Gate. Alfred reports a cheerless Christmas day during a period of heavy rain – the worst I have ever spent, not a smoke or any signs of them”. Given the level of advance of the Allied forces, it seems probable that it took some time for new supply lines to be established. The new year starts in Mulebbis, a settlement south of the Nahr el Auja river. The entries for January 1918 reveal that Alfred is again involved in ammunition carting, drawing rations, bringing up the water cart, and collecting forage for the animals. On 14 January he sees his brother-in-law Fred, having broken down when going after the forage wagon. Christmas dinner is provided on 25January, but is apparentlynot very good for the time”. There are few diary entries in February, with the bad weather continuing.

On 2 and 3 March Alfred reports that the Turks shell Mulebbis and on 11 March B Battery guns take up a forward position in front of the first line trenches, before moving again the next day to Tin Town. There are no further entries by Alfred until 24 March, when he reports hail stones, largest stones I have ever seen”. This is corroborated by an account by the officer historians of the 1/5th Suffolks of seeing hail stones as large as potatoes on that day.

In early April, the diary documents that three Turkish aircraft are brought down and there is another round of gas training. On 18 and 20 April, Alfred is carting ammunition for the Suffolk Regiment (most likely in support of the Battle of Berukin) and on 26 April his battery takes up a new position in a vineyard. There are no reports of further ammunition carting, only a trip to Ludd (purpose unknown) when Alfred gets caught up in a thunderstorm. On 15 May Alfred reports a move to a rest camp and the battery then heads to El Arish for a period of leave. Back home Alfred’s paternal grandfather died on 11 May 1918, age 73, of bronchopneumonia and heart failure. As a child, Alfred and his father had lived with his paternal grandparents. Again there is no mention in the diary about the arrival of bad news.

Alfred’s period of leave ends on 8 June, but the diary gives no indication of activities until a march past on 17 June, which apparently went off grand. On 21 June there is a move to Orange Post with reports of the enemy shelling the ration dump and bringing down a balloon. The battery then appears to be withdrawn again, moving to Surafend (near Ramleh) on 25 June, then to Ludd, and arriving in Kantara on 27 June (these movements were done by rail). Gas drill takes place on 2 July and then Alfred states that he goes to Port Said for the day. On 9 July, Alfred leaves Kantara for the front line, going through Surafend before arriving at Selmeh (near Jaffa) on 16 July.

There are no further entries until, at the end of July, Alfred reports that they move for 3 days’ action on MG Ridge and have no sleep for 2 days. The battery then moves to Mejdal Yaba (4 kms east of Jaffa). Activity continues into August, with the Turk forces shelling the water wagon, another series of moves and reports of a Turkish plane brought down. At the end of August, Alfred states Saw Freddy again and we had a good time.

Not long after seeing his brother-in-law, Alfred is admitted to hospital in Ludd and transferred to Kantara and Cairo (2 September). He starts back for his unit on 14 September and reaches his battery on 1 October. While Alfred was in hospital, the British undertook a major offensive along the coastal Plain of Sharon and into the Judaen Hills, known as the Battle of Megiddo. The dates of the attack were 19-25 September. A combination of cavalry, artillery, infantry, armoured vehicles and aircraft produced a decisive victory for the Allied forces. A deception campaign in the Jordan Valley convinced the Ottoman forces that the attack was going to be launched further east, while the main offensive was actually further west and up the coast.

When Alfred rejoins his battery they are moving north in pursuit of the retreating Turkish and German forces – Reached battery. Still keep marching up. On 3 October 1918, Alfred states Stopped for a rest at Haifa. Saw Fred again’”. The battery passes through Acre, Tyre and Sidon, before arriving just outside Beirut on 31 October. The Turks signed an armistice on 31 October and the following day there is a ceremonial march into Beirut, during which Alfred says Had a man commit suicide while mounted”. The 1/4 Norfolks had also made their way up the coast, with their war diary documenting that the 21st Corps Commander (Lieutenant General Edward Bulfin) took the salute at the ceremonial march. Alfred then has a day’s pass into Beirut where he reports that Things were very down, some of the people were starving”.

megiddo_1918

Map Battle of Megiddo, September 1918 (Wikipedia)

As the military action ended, the Allied forces had to contend with another enemy – disease. The Spanish flu epidemic and a concurrent       malaria epidemic impacted servicemen and local people alike. In early November Alfred has another problem with his health and reports to number 15 Casualty Clearing Station. He was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia and transferred to the American hospital in Beirut on 13 November. An entry in his service record for 16 November reports he was very ill with  tuberculosis and on 13 December he was taken by hospital shipfrom BeiruttoAlexandria, where he is kept in bed. On Christmas Day Alfred says he got up for the event but suffered for it next day or so”.  He was in the 87th General Hospital in Alexandria until 26 February 1919 when he was moved to the British Red Cross Hospital at Montazah.

On 23 March 1919 Alfred embarked for home on hospital ship Dongala. On 25 March, Alfred records that a man jumps overboard and was lost, while the following day they pass Italy and Sicily and go through the Straits of Messina. Very lovely sights. Mount Etna and Stromboli”. Alfred’s diary ends with an entry on 28 March Sea very rough. Arrive at Marseilles but could not go in to harbour”.

endellstreet

Commemorative plaque at Endell Street Hospital

Alfred’s military record marks him as “home” from 2 April 1919 and he initially spent some time in the military hospital at Endell Street in Covent Garden. The Endell Street hospital was established in May 1915 by two women doctors and was the only hospital to be staffed entirely by suffragettes. We do not know how long Alfred was in the Endell Street hospital or what duties he returned to after his convalescence.                               Alfred had much to contend with upon his return home – recovering his health, coming to terms with his experiences of war and the loss of his baby daughter and grandfather, as well as the prospect of readjusting to civilian life and looking for gainful employment. To add to this, not long after Alfred’s return to England, on 24 May, his father died at age 51 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Alfred was finally demobilized on 31 March 1920.

Alfred and Rosanna went on to have five more children: Sidney, Joyce, Kenneth, Ronald and Beryl. Life was not always easy, with Alfred enduring periods of unemployment. My mother Beryl, who was born in 1930, remembers that money was tight and that Rosanna sought to boost the family income by making and selling items such as toffee apples and ice lollies. Alfred worked as a labourer for Norwich City Corporation and served as an air raid warden during the Second World War. Alfred and Rosanna celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in May 1975, but sadly Rosanna died only a few months later. Alfred adjusted to life on his own and looked after himself, with support from his family. He died on 13 April 1983, age 91.

Compiled by:

Julie Houghton, January 2017

 

Images from the Archives

Norwich, Notice of Lighting Restictions, 1917.

Norwich, Notice of Lighting Restictions, 1917.

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 held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Museums Service. Over the course of the next few years the images will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk/ (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service).

The Battle of Gaza – a call for family stories

The Forum, in the heart of Norwich recently contacted us to see if we could help them with their next World War One project…

wwi-gaza-poster-north-norfolk

The Forum, Norwich, appeals for stories about Norfolk soldiers who fell in the Second Battle of Gaza, 17-19 April 1917.

We are appealing for the people of Norfolk to share their stories and memories of relatives who fought in the Second Battle of Gaza to mark its centenary in April 2017. There are hundreds of Norfolk men who served in The Norfolk Regiment & fought in this battle and here at The Forum we’re keen to hear from local people who may also have photographs, letters and objects relating to the Second Battle of Gaza.

Information and stories of local soldiers will help add to the research for The Forum’s community project ‘Norfolk in the First World War: Somme to Armistice’. The project honours Norfolk’s First World War heroes and runs until November 2018 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

If you have any information on connections to the Second Battle of Gaza please get in touch with The Forum’s Learning Manager, Sarah Power via email: sarah.power@theforumnorwich.co.uk or telephone: 01603 727977.

The Forum is currently working with primary and secondary schools from King’s Lynn and North Norfolk on the young person’s strand of the project called ‘Finding the Fallen’. Students are spending three days with local military historian, Neil Storey, to include research sessions, object handling and a visit to their closest war memorial to uncover information about soldiers’ local roots and their fates in the Battle of Gaza.

While The Forum is particularly keen to receive stories about men from these areas, we also welcome any information about the involvement of any Norfolk men in the Battle of Gaza that people may hold.

All of the research and learning from the project will culminate in a Battle of Gaza exhibition starting at The Forum and the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library on 18 April 2017. Following this, the exhibition and an accompanying film will go on tour to other schools and community venues around Norfolk.

 

War Diary February 1917

War Norfolk
German Retreat

German forces facing the Somme withdraw around 40km (25 miles) to new, strongly prepared defences known to the British as the Hindenburg Line. The withdrawal continues until 5 April.

Art Exhibition

An exhibition of art work was displayed in Norwich Marketplace it had been created by wounded soldiers from the Norfolk War Hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and many of the V.A.D. auxiliary hospitals

 Food Shortages

Public campaign launched in Britain to encourage people to eat less bread as a result of shortages. The shortages are worsened by the Germans navy restarting unrestricted submarine warfare.

Appeal to Housewives

The Lady Mayoress of Norwich appealed to the women of Norwich “to arrange, voluntarily, the provision of her household… as to make compulsory rationing unnecessary” as this would be of great benefit to the State.

For the Want of a Horse . . . The Logistics of Horse Supply in World War One

At the start of the war the army had 25,000 horses and mules with a contingent remount strength of 1,200. Within days of war breaking out the supply had increased to 165,000.  It reached its peak in 1917 with 870,000 with a remount strength of 60,000.  All acquisition of horses was through compulsory purchase.  Just over 468,000 were bought in the UK and between 1914 and 1920 67.5 million pounds was spent on buying and training horses.

Remount officers were drawn from those with experience of horses in civilian life. They were local gentry, masters of fox hounds and others with relevant experience, generally from the agricultural community. Thus Norfolk, being a largely agricultural county, was well-placed both in terms of experience and supply, to play a key part in the supply of horses for the battlefields.

Henry Overman of Weasenham was one such man. The records of Overman, of Cokesford Farm, Tittleshall, give some insight into the massive scale of the operation.  Several ledgers record the different aspects of his work (BR 118). One such ledger names Overman as the government purchasing officer and a letter enclosed details the mileage he could claim in the course of his duties.  Page after page lists the number of horses purchased and the average price being paid for a horse was £75.  By March 1917 437 horses had been purchased at a cost of £31,944.  Wages for those working with the horses were paid with monies transferred from the mobilization account.  The average wage £1 1s 0d. (BR 118/47 and BR 118/144).

Overman started a new ‘Horse Purchase Book Army and Board of Agriculture’ on 1st April 1917.  In the first month alone more horses were purchased and more money spent than in the whole of the previous three years.  From April to December 3044 horses were purchased  (BR118/46).

 

photo-1

The number of horses purchased in the first 24 days of April 1917. BR 118/46

Overmans’s government horse account details the receipt and dispatch of government horses, those horses needing to be destroyed and those in foal put out to local farmers.  At any one time around 100 – 150 horses were in stock.  Many horses went to the Remount Depot at Market Harborough and to the King’s Own Royal Regiment Norfolk Yeomany. (BR 118/140).

A typical entry reads:

May 27 1915. Received of Geo Lee Hindolveston barren mare (Canadian) put out by K.O.R.R. Norfolk Yeomanry, taken over to get fit according to instructions from Major Richardson.

Another of Overman’s accounts, showing the receipt and dispatch of Canadian horses, gives further insight to their fate. The account starts on 26th November 1914.

photo-2

A page from the ledger showing the accounting of 108 horses

The left-hand side of the ledger records the receipt of 108 horses from the Remount Depot at Market Harborough. The right-hand side accounts for the 108; 1 killed suffering from Flanders, 95 sent back to Market Harborough, 4 sent to local farmers as they were in foal which left a balance of 8. And so the account continues; page after page detailing the vast number of horses being cared for then sent back to the Remount Depot at Market Harborough.  The back of the account book records the costs of keeping the horses.  For the 108 above it was £135 for one week. (BR 118/139/1)

The gathering up of horses for training at the remount depots was one thing. Getting them across to France was another. The records of Fellows & Co, shipbuilders in Great Yarmouth, detail the work commissioned by the government for two horse boats.  Fellows was contracted to build two horse boats to be delivered to Her Majesty’s Dockyard in Portsmouth.  Early correspondence stated the government was not prepared to pay more than £700 per boat but eventually a sum of £825 per boat was agreed.  The records detail the work involved, not only in constructing the boats which were named S81 and S82, but in transporting them by road to Portsmouth.  (BR 36/256).

Not all horses were sent overseas. A territorial horse record details the number of horses in different territorial groups.  The Reepham Troop under Sergeant Walker had 11 horses, 14 men, 1 motor cycle and 2 cooks.  A different page in the record lists those men and horses who were sick.  One such entry notes there were 63 horses on parade and 5 sick. (MC 561/120)

photo-3

The Territorial Field Artillery at Taverham (Carrow Works magazine January 1915)

 

The scale of the operation would clearly have had an impact at home with so many losing their horses to the war effort. The increased use of mechanization for agricultural work was one consequence and no doubt while some suffered their loss others stood to gain by focusing on horse supply.  An interesting example is to be found in a letter written by the artist A J Munnings in 1916.

Munnings, famous for his paintings of horses, was staying at Lamona in Penzance, and was in need of cash. He wrote to Nurse, a Norwich antique dealer, asking him to return some of his drawings if he is unable to buy them from him for £25.  Munnings writes of having recently sold three drawings, “but it only helped to pay my horse corn for the last 6 months. …and I must keep on with horses because after this war there’ll be no such thing as having any to paint I’m afraid and beside no money to keep ‘em.”  A year later Munnings himself became a Remount Officer. (MC 2719/3/1-2).

 

photo-4

The R.S.P.C.A working as members of the Army Veterinary Corps supervising the return of horses from a convalescent horse depot. (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

 

The work of Overman in supplying horses was replicated all over the country. At the end of the war many horses, wandering the deserted battlefields, were rounded up and sold to local abattoirs.  Animal campaigners in the UK strove to bring their plight to the nation’s attention and tried to save those who were left.  A lucky few returned home to rural counties such as Norfolk to end their days.

photo-5

Carrow Works magazine April 1915

 

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.