Entente Cordiale Comes to Norwich

On 29th July 1916 Norwich welcomed two French delegates to the city; Lieutenant Georges Weill and Private Cabannes.  Their visit was part of a tour of Britain to see munition factories and other industries related to the war effort and to promote Anglo-French relations.  It followed on from a visit to France the previous year by four British MPs from the Labour Party.

Weill was a lieutenant with the 81st French Infantry Division.  A native of Alsace-Lorraine, he had been elected a member of the German Reichstag. When war broke out he joined the French army which resulted in a court martial in his absence at Strasbourg where he was sentenced to death.  Living with this death sentence Weill served the French army as an interpreter and had a key role in interrogating German prisoners after the Battle of the Somme.

Cabannes was a private in the French artillery. Before the war he had been the organizing secretary of the French United Socialists.

The first report on their arrival in Britain appeared in the Daily Mirror on 26th July 1916.  There was a civic reception to welcome them at the Westminster Palace Hotel where many prominent trade unionists were present.

Weill and Cabannes arrived at City Station Norwich on Saturday 29th July 1916 following their visit to Sheffield.  The Eastern Evening News reported that during their tour they had been received “with an almost affectionate interest”.  The train from Sheffield arrived late by which time “the platforms were thronged and everybody who possessed a little French seemed to be giving it an airing”.  The reception committee included members of the Norwich French Circle.  After introductions the delegates were taken by a circuitous route to the Maid’s Head Hotel, this route being chosen because “of the most unfavourable impression which a stranger arriving by the City Station receives”.  After dinner in the hotel, Weill and Cabannes met the Lord Mayor, Mr E B Southwell.

Photo 1 cropped

The Delegates Arrive at Norwich City Station

The plan for the next day was to continue the delegates’ tours of various factories contributing to the war effort.  However, after all of their visits of such places in other cities, they welcomed the suggestion of spending a quiet day in the country.  They were driven to Wroxham, had lunch on a boat with various civil dignitaries and cruised along the river to St Benet’s Abbey.

On Monday 31st August they reverted to their planned visits and had lunch with the Lord Mayor.  In the evening they attended a public gathering at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich.  The gathering was presided over by the Lord Mayor and attended by the City Council.

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Souvenir of the Event at St Andrew’s Hall. Weill is on the left and Cabannes on the right. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 3205, 1062X6

The Mercury (5th August 1916) reported that:

 “Dr Bunnett played on the organ until the company assembled. The orchestra was occupied by a choir of girls chosen from about a dozen of the elementary schools, who were gaily decorated with the red, white and blue, the French colours.”

On entering the hall the audience stood and clapped and cheered.  The choir, resplendent in their French colours, sang part of the Marseillaise.

The Eastern Evening News (1st August 1916) reported on the evening and the speeches made.  The Lord Mayor spoke first and talked of the united battle to defeat the enemy.  He spoke of the resourcefulness of French and British women when they had “picked up the tools dropped by their husbands and brothers when the call to arms sounded through the land”. 

Weill’s speech followed.  He began by thanking the city for its “enthusiastic, graceful and touching welcome. . . . . . nowhere did greater joy and personal pleasure seem to be manifested at the presence of the delegates than in Norwich”.  Weill spoke of Alsace and Lorraine and their desire to be free from German rule “as they had a right to claim emancipation from a tyrant who had conquered them by brute force and their restoration to their mother country, France”.  He stressed the need for victory; “The murder of Miss Cavell and of the Captain of the Brussels had shown how little the Germans understood the rights of humanity and the rights of citizenship”.  From his work as an interpreter working with German prisoners he went on to say “there is every reason to believe that there is a glimmering of light dawning on the mind of the German soldier”.

The following day letters were exchanged between the delegates and Norwich Education Committee, each expressing their mutual thanks with the Frenchmens’ letter directed to the children who sang at the concert.

In their letter they talk of the children singing their national anthem with ardour and strength and how delicate and artistic it was for them to be dressed in the colours of the French flag.

The Education Committee’s letter thanks the delegates, on behalf of the children, for the opportunity given to them to hear of the heroic exploits of the French soldiers.  It went on to say that Norwich school children had also contributed to the war effort through various schemes and events and that, in future years, it was hoped they would remember with affection the efforts of the French soldiers in the terrible war.

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Letter from Lieutenant Georges Weill and Private Cabannes expressing their thanks to the children who sang at the concert. NRO: MC 3205, 1062X6

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Letters of thanks exchanged. NRO: MC 3205, 1062X6

Weill and Cabanne completed a comprehensive tour of Britain.  Their tour included visits to Cardiff, Newcastle, Bristol, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and newspapers around the country reported on the success of the visits.

The Daily Mail (Thursday 27th July 1916) reported on their visit to Birmingham.  It had included tours of munitions factories and other public buildings.  At an evening meeting held under the auspices of the Parliamentary Munitions Committee the committee spoke of the magnitude of France’s contribution to defeating the Germans.  With reference to Georges Weill the article went on to say:

Georges Weill (is) one of the many Lorrainers who are still faithful to their old motherland, France.  Lieutenant Weill is a journalist by profession and has represented Metz in the Reichstag since 1912:  he is a fine figure, red-haired and moustached, in his new uniform of horizon blue, which matches the clear colour of his eyes.  On his head there is a high price, for he has been sentenced to death by a German court-martial, held at Strasburg, because he enlisted in the French army on the outbreak of war”

During his speech Weill described the prisoners as thoroughly dejected who recognized that Germany had no hope of victory.

While Weill was the main speaker at the various civic events one newspaper did comment on a speech made by Cabannes. The Lanarkshire Daily Record and Mail (29th July 1916) informed readers that Weill and Cabannes were to visit the following week.  The articles reported that Weill had characterized the German Socialists as sheep and stated that Alsace was part of France not Germany.  It went on to say that:

Private Cabannes, a typical ‘pioupiou’, short but sturdy, of the 101st Regiment of French artillery, was not less communicative.  Day by day”, he said, “as your army advances, the bonds of understanding are drawn closer; and where there was once distrust there is now complete confidence”.

Weill and Cabannes returned to France after a successful visit.  Weill remained in politics for the rest of his life and died in Paris in 1970.  Cabanne’s fate is unknown.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Image from the archive

Margaret was a member of the Boileau family, baronets, of Tacolneston Hall. Margaret Lucy Augusta Boileau graduated from London University, with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. She is thought to be pictured here sometime during the First World War.

Margaret was a member of the Boileau family, baronets, of Tacolneston Hall. Margaret Lucy Augusta Boileau graduated from London University, with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. She is thought to be pictured here sometime during the First World War.

Margaret Boileau

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).

Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend – pt 2

Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend

Part 2 – 1896 to 1914

Part 1 of this account of the military career of CVFT was posted on this site on 29th December, 2015 and this post follows on directly from that research. Many thanks as ever to our researcher for helping to tell the story of the oft overlooked Mesopotamian campaign and those who took part.

 

By means of repeated telegrams to the Government of India, and applications to the India Office and the pulling of strings by Sir Redvers Buller* among others, Brevet Major Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend C.B. obtained release from the Indian Staff Corps.

(*Sir Redvers Buller, who had been awarded a Victoria Cross in 1879 during the Zulu War, and had been with Sir Garnet Wolseley in the Sudan in 1884-5, was also a cousin by marriage to CVFT – Buller had married the daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend.)

February 21, 1896 : Cairo

I am 34 to-day. Reported myself to General Sir Herbert Kitchener, commanding Egyptian Army. … General Kitchener informed me I was to be given command of the 12th Sudanese Regiment, now at the outpost of Sarras, 35 miles south of Wady Halfa – the most advanced outpost towards the enemy in the Sudan. General Kitchener congratulated me on getting the command of about the best regiment in the Egyptian Army, and he said he wanted me to go up the Nile and join as soon as I could, as there was a rumour that the Dervishes were going to attack us at Halfa.

On February 24, 1896, he lunched with Sir Evelyn Baring, Viscount Cromer, another Norfolk man, later to be created Earl of Cromer, the town in which he was born. Lord Cromer was the British Consul-General in Cairo, and was the hand upon the tiller of Egyptian affairs. In the afternoon he met the Khedive, Abbas Hilmi II, the great great grandson of Muhammad Ali Pasha, often regarded as the founder of Modern Egypt.

Muhammad Ali Pasha, Wali of Egypt, 1840  (commons:wikimedia) Isma'il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, c1865  (commons:wikimedia) Abbas Hilmi II, Khedive of Egypt, c1898  (public domain) Sir Evelyn Baring, Viscount Cromer, 1898  (© National Portrait Gallery, London) Sir Herbert Kitchener, Sirdar of Egypt, c1897  (© Imperial War Museum Q 56659)

Muhammad Ali Pasha, Wali of Egypt, 1840 (commons:wikimedia)
Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, c1865 (commons:wikimedia)
Abbas Hilmi II, Khedive of Egypt, c1898 (public domain)
Sir Evelyn Baring, Viscount Cromer, 1898 (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Herbert Kitchener, Sirdar of Egypt, c1897 (© Imperial War Museum Q 56659)

February 21, 1896 : Cairo

Lunched at Lord Cromer’s. … In the afternoon I was presented to the Khedive at the Abdin Palace. He is a young chap of about 21 or 22, enormously stout, and talks English very well. He was very nice to me, and said he hoped I should remain in his army a long time. A dance at the Continental Hotel to-night. Crowded with people. Very well done. Lots of pretty women: and the red and blue uniforms of the British officers gave it a colouring. Major Macdonald of the Egyptian Army dined with me to-night. He goes with me on Friday night as Second-in-Command of the frontier force at Halfa.

Some explanation of the situation in the Sudan in 1896 is required at this point. The cartoon (below) from the satirical magazine, Punch, depicts the ‘shade’ or ghost of General Charles George Gordon appearing before John Bull, the patriotic  personification of Britain, who has returned to the desert of the Sudan. Gordon declares, “Remember!”. But, remember what?

In The Desert Punch, March 28, 1896

In The Desert
Punch, March 28, 1896

Gordon had died at Khartoum on January 26th, 1885, two days before the Nile steamers of the advanced relief column reached the city. His plight, besieged with a garrison of Egyptian troops and Sudanese, Egyptian, and European civilians, had caught the popular imagination in England. His death, it was widely held, was due to the procrastination of Gladstone’s Liberal government before committing to a relief expedition. The Doulton pottery company produced a ‘Betrayal’ Jug at its works in Lambeth. The inscription reads: BETRAYED . JAN. 26 . 1885

Doulton's General Gordon 'Betrayal' Jug

Doulton’s General Gordon ‘Betrayal’ Jug

Gordon’s Bible, bequeathed to his sister, Augusta, was presented to Queen Victoria, who placed it inside an ornate rock crystal reliquary at Windsor Castle, where it remains.

General Gordon's Bible opened at the Book of Exekiel Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

General Gordon’s Bible opened at the Book of Exekiel
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Gordon found Chapter xxix verse 13 prophetic: I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. In his journal he writes: it is certainly the Soudan which is meant.

As the epilogue of the 1966 film, Khartoum, has it:

The relief came two days late, and for fifteen years the Sudanese paid the price with pestilence and famine, the British with shame and war.

Gordon rests in his beloved Sudan… We cannot tell how long his memory will live. But there is this: a world with no room for the Gordons is a world that will return to the sands.

Gordon would have probably disapproved of all these sentiments: but nonetheless, public pressure, particularly in response to the resurgent Arab slave trade from central Africa down the Nile to Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, eventually meant that Britain would re-establish an Anglo-Egyptian presence in the Sudan.

The Khartoum Slave Market in 1892 The Graphic, January 16, 1892 'The slaves are mostly girls of from ten to sixteen years of age'

The Khartoum Slave Market in 1892
The Graphic, January 16, 1892
‘The slaves are mostly girls of from ten to sixteen years of age’

The reasons for Britain’s involvement with the affairs of Egypt date to Napoleon’s invasion in 1798, which was viewed by the British as a French attempt to become masters of the Levant and thereby threaten Britain’s communications with India. In spite of being defeated at the Battle of the Nile (Aboukir Bay) by Norfolk’s most famous son, Horatio Nelson, the French presence in Egypt destabilized the country and opened it up to the competing European powers.

Neither the detail of Anglo-French competition in Egypt, nor the exploration to discover the source of the Nile, nor the exposure of the Arab slave trade down the Nile or through island of Zanzibar may be treated in this blog. However,  there can be no better recommendation that to read The White Nile (1960), and The Blue Nile (1962) by Alan Moorehead, a gifted Australian writer of well-researched, informative and enjoyably readable narrative history. They are available from Norfolk libraries, and second-hand copies abound. Although departing from historical chronology, it is suggested that The White Nile be read first, with an atlas, or at second-best, Google Earth, to hand. There has been much scholarly research in the half-century and more since their publication, but these two books remain a valid introduction to the the affairs of the Nile Valley and central Africa until the First World War.

Following the the murder of General Gordon by the forces of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi (The Mahdi), the British retreated to Egypt and the Sudan was left to its own devices. Egyptian rule of the Sudan, always tenuous, was now non-existent, except for garrisons at Suakin on the Red Sea and at Wadi Halfa. The Mahdi died in Khartoum not many months after Gordon, and was succeeded as leader of the Mahdist forces by Abdullah Ibn-Mohammed Al-Khalifa (The Khalifa). In accordance with Islamic custom, there is no reliable likeness of The Khalifa.

February 27, 1896 : Cairo

Tried on my uniform this morning. The uniform for British officers in the Sudan is very smart: a dark blue tunic (full dress with plastron), and black mohair cords looping across the tunic horizontally. Black shoulder cords, but gold shoulder cords for review order. Gold laced overalls.The undress jacket is dark blue serge, overalls with a broad red stripe being worn with this. The tarboosh worn on all occasions with this.

Met Slatin Pasha* this morning. … Slatin was very glad to see me. I told him I had read his book, “Fire and Sword in the Sudan,” with great interest. He is now in the Intelligence Department of the War Office under Major Wingate.

* Rudolf Carl von Slatin had been a provincial governor in the Sudan when General Gordon was Governor General. He had been captured by the Mahdists and spent eleven years a prisoner of the Khalifa. His knowledge of the Sudan in the period following the fall of Khartoum was invaluable.

CVFT now commenced his journey up the Nile to Wadi Halfa, Dongola, and the battles of Atbara and Omdurman.

The River Nile between the Mediterranean Sea and Khartoum from a map of drawn by Edward Weller, FRGS for the Weekly Dispatch, 1858

The River Nile between the Mediterranean Sea and Khartoum
from a map of drawn by Edward Weller, FRGS for the Weekly Dispatch, 1858

February 27, 1896 : The Nile

En route for Assiout on a post boat crowded with excursionists going up to Assouan., and had to put up with a dirty little cabin in the steerage.

On March 1st, 1896, the Italians, competing in the European ‘Scramble for Africa’, were defeated by the Ethiopian Empire at the Battle of Adowa. The defeat of a colonial power had the effect of reinvigorating the Khalifa’s forces in the Sudan and hastened the British push up the Nile.

March 5, 1896 : Korosko

March 7, 1896 : Sarras

After being introduced to the native officers, I went round with McKerrill to inspect the post as regards defensive arrangements. I inspected the two companies who go to Wady Halfa by the train to-day – both of 100 men in marching order. I am very pleased with the physique of the men. They are fine strapping blacks, mostly tall. I felt quite small inspecting them. … I felt I had a stroke of luck in getting command of this regiment.

March 26, 1896 : Akasheh (Akasha)

I furnished the advance guard this day with my Battalion. Marched at 6.10 a.m. Following up came 160 camels, them my other half battalion under Hopkinson; then another 160 camels, and then the rear guard, supplied by 11th Battalion. We had to reach Akasheh in one march and it was a most severe one. I halted five minutes every hour. At about 10.30 a.m. we left the Nile and entered a broad defile in the hills which opened up into a broad plain of soft sand with hills in the distance. The heat from the rocks was terrible and tried the men very highly. They were dead beat when we reached the river again at Okmeh, 6 or 7 miles from Akasheh. A two hours’ halt and then on again.

CVFT’s attitude to native troops is puzzling: like most officers of the day he assumed a natural British superiority over other races, but in Hunza, the Sudan, Burma, India, and later in Mesopotamia he was proud of his men and took good care of them, yet when the opportunity for advancement presented itself he abandoned them without a second thought. Erroll Sherson quotes this incident from CVFT’s diary in Townshend of Chitral and Kut, 1928:

I awarded seven day’s C.B. to Private Kasamallah Hasan this morning. He had been into hot water a lot last year, but has been doing much better lately. His crime was trying to sell a pair of boots to an Egyptian cavalry soldier, and being drunk at the same time. This man had been a prisoner of war, but had enlisted in the 12th regiment, being a keen young black, so instead of trying him by court martial as I should have done, I cancelled the crime of “Making away with Govt. property” and called it “improper conduct,” and told him to turn over a new leaf and he would find a friend in me. So I let him off with “seven days” confinement to the lines, His excuse was that he was hard up and wanted money (poor devil!). I sent him privately 5/6*

* Five shillings and sixpence – represents a purchasing power of about £30 today.

Another entry on April 9th :

Crossed the river with 300 men in boats, and built a strong sangar on west bank. Built it in less than 3 hours, which was quick work, and garrisoned it with 25 rifles of my own regiment. I always take off my coat and work with the men on fatigue at this kind of job. I notice it makes a difference in the manner the men go to work. They buckle to directly when they see a British officer working also.

Akasha had been captured on 20th March. Preparations were put in hand to reconstruct a railway for the transportation of supplies brought up by long camel caravans making their way over the rocky passes and through the sandy ravines to where the regiments were dug in between Sarras and Akasha. The battalion was engaged in route marching, building blockhouses, reconnoitring and training for the first major engagement of the Sudan War, the Battle of Ferkeh (Firket). In the meantime, CVFT was to learn at first-hand of the ignorance of local conditions which pertained in London.

April 14, 1896 : Akasheh

The new rifles we have taken over are so full of sand that in many cases it is impossible to ease the springs. … I call it criminal folly that no one should have had the common sense to have cloths put round the breech blocks to keep the sand out. … Now I have ordered that the whole Battalion be set on cleaning rifles.

On May 1st, General Kitchener, Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, arrived at Akasha.

Sir Herbert Kitchener wearing the insignia of Earl Kitchener of Khartoum public domain image

Sir Herbert Kitchener wearing the insignia of Earl Kitchener of Khartoum
public domain image

May 1, 1896 : Akasheh

Kitchener arrived today… They went round the defences, and curiously enough the day brought the first serious brush with the Dervishes.

A month later on Saturday, June 5th, a determined attack, planned and executed by Kitchener, was made on Firket (Ferkeh). The topography precluded an attack on the village from the river, and the desert approach was protected by a rocky ridge and 3,000 picked Mahdist fighters including men of The Khalifa’s own Baggara tribe. One Anglo-Egyptian column with CVFT as second-in-command was to march south of the village and concentrate in the hills overlooking the Nile and Firkhet, the remainder of the force under the Sirdar himself would attack from the north.

CVFT and his force set off from Akasheh about 6 p.m. for a march into the desert. The column concentrated at 2.30 a.m., and after a further march of three miles they reached their position.

June 5, 1896 : Firkhet

I could, from this ridge, see the plain below, with the village of Firkhet quite close, about 80 yards away. … It was about 5.30 a.m. when we heard the main body of the troops under the Sirdar attacking Firkhet from the north, the attack being announced by a tremendous fire, a ceaseless hailstorm of independent firing. I never heard such a tremendous fire, and the Dervishes in Firkhet must have found it hellish. About 7,000 men were fring into it! The Dervishes were very soon running on all sides, and we could see them being bundled over, lying like dead pigeons in their white clothes.

Suddenly Burn-Murdoch sent his galloper to me to say that numbers of Dervishes were about to break out on our right, where the guns had gone, and ordered me to proceed there and head them back. I took two companies with me at the double… When we topped the rise I deployed on the move, moving on in line, and could then see the Dervishes in white groups coming out of a nullah in the rocks in front, but evidently wavering. I poured a hot fire into them, and they fled right and left. The show was over. …

Storming Firkhet public domain image

Storming Firkhet
public domain image

The Sirdar rode up about 9 a.m. He was very pleased and chatted for some time. … Our casulaties amounted to 100 killed and wounded, and the Dervishes to about 1,200. Making a rough calculation, there were about 2,500 Dervishes in Firkhet, and we were at least 9,000 men with good guns and ammunition and Maxims. …

We moved off at 5 p.m. for Amara. the Battalion looked very imposing on camels, and must have been a strange sight. I rode at the head on my horse with my orderly, Bindas, carrying my yellow standard with “12” on it.

The Ceremonial Drum of the 12th Sudanese Regiment It bears the flags of Egypt and the Regiment's battle honours including 'Firket' public domain image

The Ceremonial Drum of the 12th Sudanese Regiment
It bears the flags of Egypt and the Regiment’s battle honours including ‘Firket’
public domain image

June 14, 1896

Dined with the Sirdar. he is in great spirits. Has received congratulatory telegrams from the Queen, Khedive, Lord Salisbury [the Prime Minister], and Lord Wolseley [the Commander-in-Chief of British forces]. A Dervish this morning reports Dongola* deserted and everyone bolting.

* This is New Dongola on maps of the time (now simply Dongola), not to be confused with Old Dongola, the deserted capital of the former Christian Kingdom of Nubia.

CVFT did not have an easy relationship with his brigade commander, Major (acting Brigadier-General) Hector MacDonald, known as ‘Fighting Mac’.

July 22, 1896

Macdonald wrote officially to me yesterday to stop my Battalion holding “zikers” at night. These “zikers” are religious ceremonial laments for the wives dead at Halfa. About 30 women of this Battalion have up to date died at Halfa. I wrote back to Macdonald to the effect that the custom in Sudanese regiments was to allow the men to hold a “ziker” up to ten at night, and naturally I did not care to interfere with the religious customs of the natives. However, in accordance with his wishes I had ordered that there should be no “zikers”or any noise whatever after “Lights Out” at 9 p.m. I think Macdonald is very mistaken to interfere in any way in matters of this kind. Natives talk of these things and resent interference…

The advance on Dongola was further delayed as the rise of the Nile was slower that year than usual. The time lapse permitted the Khalifa to assemble his forces, but he was nonetheless a long way distant from his base.

By the third week in August the Nile was beginning to rise and become navigable for the troop transports and Kitchener began his advance south. Macdonald irrationally ordered his brigade to march north to Wadi Halfa whence they had come. The march was a nightmare and is testimony to CVFT’s leadership that he got his battalion through it.

The Anglo-Egyptian column advancing through the Sudan from 'The Four Feathers' by Alexander Korda, 1939

The Anglo-Egyptian column advancing through the Sudan
from ‘The Four Feathers’ by Alexander Korda, 1939

August 22, 1896

Macdonald informed us that we would march to Wady Halfa on the river about 18 miles, according to the map. … Each battalion had 35 camels for transport and they would have to carry kits of officers and companies, greatcoats, blankets, cooking pots and rations. Macdonald told us we must carry all our rations, that is to say, to the end of the month, on these camels. It was perfectly impossible…

August 23, 1896

Men employed on fatigue all the morning. A good preparation for a desert march of 18 miles in front of them and absolutely no water being carried for them! All the water the men had was in their water bottles. The hospital consisted of ten camels, mostly taken up by hospital baggage! So that if men fell out in any numbers they would have to be left in the desert. … As it turned out, lots of men would have died, had it not been for the Camel Corps coming across the river picking up many of our men.

August 24, 1896

We reached Wadi Halfa about 3.15 a.m., but found there were still two more miles to go to reach the river. The men now began falling out in threes and fours at a time. … We bivouacked for the day on the river bank, but received orders to march at 1.30 p.m. The heat was the worst I have ever known. … To march at midday was simple madness, on top of an exhausting march of 18 miles in the desert.

August 25, 1896

About 400 transport camels under Major Kitchener arrived from Kosheh. The men had to drop their loads in the desert a few miles out, mount the camels and make for the river at Absarat as hard as they could! Macdonald ordered me to send 180 men on fatigue to store sacks for the Commissariat. I felt very indignant and wrote the S.O. saying I could not help, that it was very rough on the men and that I had hoped for at least one day’s rest. But 30 of them had to make hut for Macdonald and his staff. I would not have any hut made for myself till the men’s were made…

Payne told me the scenes in the desert were awful, men falling down and lying there, and others trying to struggle on with their mouths open, reeling like drunken men. Seven died in the desert. Seven more died in the hospital here. I never saw anything like the scenes in the hospital. Some were lying naked having water poured over them, their bodies twitching about, their eyeballs staring out and foaming at the mouth… What I personally cannot understand is, “Why march in the day?” … The whole thing is most unfortunate and must have a bad effect upon the men who put it all down to the British officers.

At the end of August the river had risen sufficiently for the Sirdar to march on Dongola. But, having seen the advancing force, the Dervishes evacuated the town which was occupied without opposition on 23rd September.

With the occupation of Dongola the Sirdar had fulfilled his orders and he was in no hurry to advance on Khartoum. For the remainder of the year 1896 and for the whole of 1897, CVFT was engaged in training his regiment, the 12th Sudanese.

The Four Feathers - Alexander Korda, 1939

The Four Feathers – Alexander Korda, 1939

A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 adventure novel, The Four Feathers, is set at the time of the advance of Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian force up the Nile. The novel was made into a celebrated film by Alexander Korda in 1939 (and again, somewhat tortuously, in 2002) and leaves a powerful visual impression of the campaign which led ultimately to the battle of Omdurman.

However, CVFT was never personally idle, and laid out a course of study for himself. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday: two hours before midday for private correspondence, and three hours to French exercises and French reading; and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday he followed the same course, substituting Arabic for French. Sundays he devoted to private correspondence and the reading of military history.

On November 18th, he learned that he had been made a Brevet* Lieutenant-Colonel.

* Brevet rank was usually conferred for gallantry or meritorious conduct in the field. It was a rank that did not carry with it either precedence or pay.

CVFT obtained a short leave to go to Cairo, and left Debbeh on February 15th, 1897 arriving in Cairo on February 26th. On the journey north he stopped at Luxor, where he was introduced to the Comtesse Cahen d’Anvers and her daughter, Alice. He notes in his diary: “Both of them charming and we all sit together for meals on the boat.” During his leave in Cairo, he became great friends with the Comtesse and her daughter, riding together out into the desert. But, on March 28th he was requied to return to his regiment, and the d’Anvers returned to France. Correspondence with the Comtesse continued and their friendship deepened:

June 22, 1897

The letter of the Comtesse D’Anvers* is the sweetest I have ever had in my life. She writes as a mother to me. Never have I been touched like this. She and her daughter Alice are the best friends I have, and I look forward only to the time when I can get home and see them again.

*Louise de Morpurgo had married the wealthy banker, Louis Cahen d’Anvers, and produced three daughters: the two eldest, Alice 1876-1965 (who was to later marry CVFT) and Elisabeth, were portrayed in childhood by no less an artist than Pierre-August Renoir in study know as ‘Pink and Blue’.

Pierre-August Renoir, Pink and Blue, 1881 : Alice is in pink on the left public domain image

Pierre-August Renoir, Pink and Blue, 1881 : Alice is in pink on the left
public domain image

Rumours of the advance of Khartoum continued to abound, and on September 7th, news reached the camp that Berber had been taken without resistance.

Map of Kitchener's Advance on Khartoum from G.A. Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan, 1903

Map of Kitchener’s Advance on Khartoum
from G.A. Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan, 1903

September 10, 1897

This evening I gave an entertainment for the Battalion. This is a big sort of show called by the Sudanese a “Darluka.” Much “boosa” or Sudanese beer is given out, and everyone turned up at the 12th Sudanese quarters at 6.30.  Colonel Lewis and I paid them a visit after mess. All the tribes danced to the music of tom-toms and the accompaniment of singing in perfect time. … In the end they all got very drunk [men and women] and abandoned themselves to fiercer orgies. I was discreet and left the scene early. … Poor devils, why should they not amuse themselves in their own fashion? and, after all, as Sir Richard Burton* said, morality is largely a question of geography.

* Richard Burton was unorthodox and contradictory figure, one ill at ease in Victorian England. He was a fine swordsman, a noted linguist, and an intrepid explorer. He was fluent in more than twenty languages and translated the Kama Sutra and most famously The Arabian Nights; he discovered Lake Tanganyika, and risked death in 1853 by making the Hajj to Mecca in disguise. Most British officers of CVFT’s generation would have regarded Burton with some reservation, but perhaps he was more acceptable to the ‘theatricals’ and bohemian London figures with whom CVFT kept up a continuous correspondence even from the Sudan. In any event, CVFT was experienced and sensitive enough to allow his Sudanese troops their traditional relaxations.

Richard Burton, KCMG, FRGS by Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton 1872-75 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Richard Burton, KCMG, FRGS
by Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton 1872-75
© National Portrait Gallery, London

On December 20th, CVFT received orders to embark the 12th Sudanese aboard the river steamer, Abu Klea, anticipating a move up the Nile to Berber. In fact, they travelled north, down the Nile past Dongola and Handak to Wadi Halfa, where the troops would take to the newly constructed railway which now ran beyond Abu Hamed towards Berber (and ultimately to Atbara).

The new stern-wheeler, Abu Klea  with thanks: Donald Featherstone, Omdurman 1898, Opsrey Publishing

The new stern-wheeler, Abu Klea
with thanks: Donald Featherstone, Omdurman 1898, Opsrey Publishing

CVFT would depend upon similar shallow draught paddle steamers on the River Tigris during the Mesopotamian Campaign

Kitchener was biding his time, ensuring that his railway was running efficiently, that there was sufficient water in the Nile to navigate the cataracts, that his lines of communication were secure, and that victory was assured. Years later, in Mesopotamia, CVFT would have been grateful for similar care and efficiency on the part of his commanding officer.

Notwithstanding his appreciation of the Comtesse d’Anvers and her daughter…

December 25, 1897 : Abu Hamed

Am staying in a large house that used to belong to the Dervish Emirs and have a room in the old harem quarters, calculated to give me troublous dreams of a voluptuous and dusky-skinned Fatima in twinkling anklets and an oriental figure.

On January 7th, 1898 CVFT marched his 12th Sudanese into Berber, unopposed, almost thirteen years since Gordon had been murdered. This was the beginning of the campaign to retake Khartoum. The troops marked time for three months, but on April 8th, Good Friday, the battle of Atbara was fought.

April 7, 1898 : Umdabeah Camp

This day it was known in the morning that we were to march the same evening to attack the Dervishes in their entrenched position at Nakheila. … We marched on at one o’clock in the morning, moon up, hard sand, good going and a cool breeze. We were making now a good sweep to the eastward, so as to come down opposite Mahmoud’s camp.

The Anglo-Egyptian army was better armed, better organized, and better disciplined than the Dervish army, which comprised an assorted group of Arabs, and Africans from the south of the Sudan. The British regiments had modern rifles with bayonets and two Maxim guns, the Egyptian regiments had older rifles with bayonets, and the Sirdar could call upon 500 cavalry and 4 batteries of artillery. The Dervishes were armed with swords and spears and some older rifles taken from the British in earlier campaigns. In the heart of Mahmoud’s force were 5,000 mounted Baggara cavalry.

The Emir Mahmoud, commander of the Dervish army, had ordered his troops to build a zariba of thorn fences, trenches and rifle pits on the east bank of the river, where he awaited the arrival of the Anglo-Egyptian army.

The action commenced with a British artillery bombardment of the Dervish position.

Plan of the Battle of Atbara from G.A. Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan, 1903

Plan of the Battle of Atbara
from G.A. Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan, 1903

(A detailed account of the battle is beyond the scope of this post.but we recommend: www.britishbattles.com/egypy-1882/battle-atbara.htm)

April 8, 1898 : Battle of Atbara

At noon we were opposite the Dervish position and we forced it in battle order. The British Brigade on the left, the first brigade; and the second (ours) on the right. We could see the Dervish position, the trenches and the zareeba and thick woods behind, stretching to the river. I could hear the beating of the “noggaras” calling the Dervishes to arms.

Battle of Atbara : The British Advance on the Dervish Zariba Note the new British uniform of Khaki and Solar Topee

Battle of Atbara : The British Advance on the Dervish Zariba
Note the new British uniform of Khaki and Solar Topee

We advanced with bayonets fixed, drums beating and colours flying: it was a grand sight. Then the Dervish riflemen opened a biting fire from the trenches. The ground was perfectly open and descended in a gentle slope towards the Dervish position, putting us up against the skyline, as it were. I soon opened fire in return, using independent fire instead of volleys, as I do not believe in volleys at short range. After a short fire I advanced again, myself leading the centre, Lieutenant Harley* leading the right wing… I knew that when we rushed the zareeba the confusion would be very bad.

Alternately firing and rushing forward, I rapidly approached the Dervish position. The men were dropping fairly fast. … I led each rush myself, sounding the “cease fire” on my whistle, which the men obeyed very well. Then I dashed through the ranks, leading the Battalion about thirty yards ahead, the men following excellently. … A lot of men were firing as I called on the 12th to charge, waving them on. They broke into a rush with cheers we swept into the zareeba. How I wasn’t hit I don’t know.

The disorder was great when we got through the zareeba, a bickering fire was being kept up on us from the interior trenches. … It was a splendid charge. We were the first in by a long way. The day before I had determined in my own mind to be the first in and to show to everyone that the 12th were second to none. I had the chance (as I had had at Chitral) and I took advantage of it. … I now collected a crowd and rushed the second line of trenches, after keeping up a short hot fire on them. Two or three mines exploded on us: one of our men had the top of his head blown off: which make me think that they must have been a sort of fougasse loaded with stones. We kept on surging though the crowds, carrying two or three lines of trenches by rushes and arrived on the river bank. The men were drunk with excitement and fight. … I had lost my voice. The men crowded round shaking and kissing my hand and said I should be a Pasha, and now lead them to Omdurman!

The scene in the trenches was awful: dead and dying Dervishes, all black riflemen, like our own men. No quarter was given, and they did not ask it. They fought heroically, but they could not stand against our splendid Sudanese. … The losses of the Dervishes were computed at 3,000 killed and many crawled away to die in the bush. General Hunter warmly congratulated me on the 12th Sudanese, and on the way in which I had led them. After forming up the Battalion I took them back through the position to the ground whence we had started. … On reaching the high ground, the Sirdar with his staff rode up and said: “Townshend, I congratulate you.” He addressed the battalion, telling them that he was proud of them. He called for the Sergeant-Major and promoted him to be Second-Lieutenant on the spot. I have never had a prouder day, nor felt more elated in my life. It had been a proud day for me when the Queen pinned on my C.B. at Osborne. To-day was prouder, for I had been congratulated by the Commander-in-Chief on the field of battle.

* This was the same Lieutenant Harley who, together with CVFT, had found fame at the siege of Chitral, and was awarded the DSO for gallantry.

The Anglo-Egyptian force suffered 572 killed and wounded, CVFT was mentioned in despatches for a fifth time, the Baggara horsemen under Osman Digna fled the field, and Emir Mahmoud was wounded in the leg and captured. He was described as a well built and good looking young man of about twenty seven years who remained proud and defiant in captivity.

Emir Mahmud wearing Mahdist patched jibba, bloodstained from a wound in the left leg, escorted by a British officer and men of the 10th Sudanese Regiment © Imperial War Museum  IWM (HU 93852)

Emir Mahmud wearing Mahdist patched jibba, bloodstained from a wound in the left leg, escorted by a British officer and men of the 10th Sudanese Regiment
© Imperial War Museum IWM (HU 93852)

The battle of Atbara is not counted as a great British battle, but a step towards the final showdown at Omdurman and the retaking of Khartoum. There was a lull in the fighting as Kitchener continued his painstaking preparations. The railway to Atbara was completed by June, and now freed from carrying loads of railway material, Kitchener was able to bring up stores and supplies to depots at Aswan, Wadi Halfa and Fort Atbara. By mid-August the Nile was open upstream to just north of the sixth cataract, where a camp was established at Shabluka, permitting British gunboats to move upriver in support of the Ango-Egyptian troops.

The Shabluka Rapids at the Sixth Cataract of the Nile by H. Rider Haggard - Wikimedia Commons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cataracts_of_the_Nile

The Shabluka Rapids at the Sixth Cataract of the Nile
by H. Rider Haggard – Wikimedia Commons
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cataracts_of_the_Nile

During the lull CVFT arranged a six-week leave and headed for the Hotel Imperiale in Paris.

May 8, 1898 : Paris – the home of Comte Cahen d’Anvers in the Rue de Bassano

At last we were together. I had long loved Alice Cahen D’Anvers and she loves me. Before luncheon, while we stood looking at the log fire in the library, I told her that whether I left the Sudan directly after Khartoum depended on her. If she would marry me I would leave it directly we had taken Khartoum. Then she said: “If it depends on me you will not stay in the Sudan very long.” I drew her to me and kissed her, putting my arms around her dear neck. It was worth waiting for, and all I had suffered last year, to be rewarded like this.

June 5, 1898 : The Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne – the country home of Count Cahen d’Anvers

To-day passed as a dream. I have settled all our plans, and we are to be married a month after I get home from Khartoum. Louise is so happy that I am really going to be her son. She showed me Madame de Pompadour’s room where she stayed with the King [Louis XV]. … my own adored Alice, I love her with such a passionate love. … Alice has given me such beautiful gold sleeve links with her name on them.

June 13, 1898 : Paris – Rue de Bassano

After dinner Alice whispered to me that she “had made up her mind,” and that it was all right. I found her father in the smoking room and told him that I had a confession to make to him, and that he must know what it was. He shook my hand warmly and said he quite approved of Alice’s choice and added: “You have won my favourite daughter.” I was quite touched and said: “You may trust her to me; I will be a good husband to her!” … I have given Alice an emerald and diamond ring, and she has given me a locket with the date “June 5th, 1898.”

Alice Cahen d'Anvers and CVFT at about the time of their Engagement

Alice Cahen d’Anvers and CVFT at about the time of their Engagement

CVFT returned to the Sudan preparatory to the assault on Omdurman, opposite Khartoum.

July 10, 1898

Jackson’s band do nothing but bray away from morning to night, and it is a damnable nuisance for me, as the barracks where they practice are next to mine, and I am continually having to listen to “Sally In Our Alley,” “The Bay Of Biscay Oh,” and other prehistoric tunes, generally finishing with “Abide With Me,” right through down to the “Amen.” It was most humorous to hear a black Sudanese band playing English hymn tunes such as poor old Phayre, the parson at Raynham, used to bombard us with years ago… This evening dined with Shackleton at the mess of the 14th Sudanese. I managed to keep the conversation on things at home. Theatres, hansom cabs, scarlet women. etc., for the eternal Sudan gossip is too awful.

July 27, 1898

I have the greatest admiration of the Sirdar as an organiser, the first of his day, at any rate as regards Egypt. He has repainted the map from Halfa to Khartoum, and has thrown open wide the gate to the mysteries of Central Africa and the Lakes*. … With all this, I do not think he is the man to lead an army in the field; he is not a leader of men, like Sir Redvers Buller, for instance.

* The geographical controversy surrounding the sources of the White Nile in the lakes of central Africa had been a consuming passion in Britain during the 1850’s and 1860’s. Victoria Nyanza had been established as the great reservoir of the river by John Hanning Speke in 1862, but the debate rolled on for a further thirteen years.

For purposes of navigation upstream from Egypt, it is the Blue Nile which is most significant, contributing 87% of the total flow below Khartoum, but dependent upon the timing of the seasonal rains in the Ethiopian Highlands.

Uganda postage stamp commemorating the Centenary of the Discovery of the Source of the White Nile.  The scene depics the Ripon Falls, where the Nile disgorges from the northern end of Lake Victoria (so named by Speke).

Uganda postage stamp commemorating the Centenary of the Discovery of the Source of the White Nile.
The scene depics the Ripon Falls, where the Nile disgorges from the northern end of Lake Victoria (so named by Speke).

The scene depicts the Ripon Falls, where the Nile disgorges from the northern end of Lake Victoria (so named by Speke).

August 24, 1898 : Wady Hamed

Everyone in the know at home seems to have come on the stage to take part in the final scene of the taking of Khartoum. Lord Roberts’ son is on his way to be extra orderly officer to the Sirdar. Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein is “Staff Officer of gunboats”: Frank Rhodes, Repington, Prince Francis of Teck and the son of Sir Evelyn Wood!

August 30, 1898 : Wady Hamed

The famous Winston Churchill, attached to the 21st Lancers, effected to-day the capture of a Dervish, and, exercising great control, did not shoot him. This Dervish turned ot to be one of Wingate’s most trusty villains! [i.e. a spy] Wingate was awfully annoyed.

By the beginning of September, Kitchener had brought up reserves from Suakin and had a force of 23,000 ready to take on the Khalifa’s army. On the river were six gunboats and ten steamers.

(Again a detailed account of the battle is beyond the scope of this post. We suggest: www.britishbattles.com/egypt-1882/battle-omdurman.htm or Donald Featherstone, Omdurman 1898, Opsrey Publishing.)

Plan of the Battle of Omdurman from G.A. Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan, 1903

Plan of the Battle of Omdurman
from G.A. Henty, With Kitchener in the Soudan, 1903

September 1, 1896 : Kerreri

It rained heavily last night. It was a night of misery. Wet and stiff, one fell in at 5.30 a.m. Marched at 5.45 a.m. Cavalry scouting in front. Topped Kerreri Hill about 10.15 a.m. and had first view of Omdurman. It was very interesting to see it in the distance, and the gunboats apparently very close to Omdurman, going along Halfiyeh Island in single fire and firing at the forts. We marched on about 3½ miles from Kerreri, and encamped in a small village on the river bank. … There was no zareeba to cut, so we entrenched ourselves. A good deep trench I made, and I am glad I did, or our losses would have been very heavy from the enemy’s fire as it afterwards proved. … In about 3 p.m. it was known that the Dervish army, which had come out of Omdurman had halted in a big plain, hidden from us by a ridge. All reports agreed it was an enormous army, about 30,000 men.

Omdurman : The 12th Sudanese Entrenched and Awaiting the Dervish Attack © National Army Museum - NAM. 1993-11-30-2

Omdurman : The 12th Sudanese Entrenched and Awaiting the Dervish Attack
© National Army Museum – NAM. 1993-11-30-2

September 1, 1896 : Battle of Omdurman

We stood to our arms at dawn, about 4 a.m. The bombardment of Omdurman by the gunboats began at 5.45. The cavalry had come out at dawn and had begun to fall back, for the whole of the Dervishes were coming on. After about an hour, the Dervish army came into sight, and a most imposing sight it was. There were masses of men in white, and masses of white turbaned heads, dense columns marching due north as if to cut off our line of retreat., a vast number of red, green and white standards, cavalry and Emirs on horseback. … They were all singing as they moved slowly across our front about 2,500 yards off, and one could see the Emirs riding up and down the columns.

Our guns then got to work, and a lively shell fire was kept up on these columns… But they never broke; they kept steadily on.

At the same time clouds of men appeared over the high ridge and hill to the south-west, and opened a heavy musketry fusillade on us. … I got the men to lie close down in the trench with which I had strengthened our front, and felt glad that we had done so.

…I turned my glasses to the mass of the enemy coming straight down on my front. On they came, running now and firing from the hip as they came. I was walking up and down the regiment, the men all lay in their trench, the rifles all ready to fire, only waiting for my order, but I was determined that not a trigger should be pulled until they were 400 yards from us.

The masses of the enemy began rushing and cheering, the Emirs leading them with flags just as one sees with the Pathans on the North-West Frontier of India. I now beagn to think that it would not do to wait until this mass got much closer, so I sang out for sights to be put at 600 yards, and then opened with heavy independent fire, and in a short while our line was all smoke and a ceaseless rattle of Martini rifles. The enemy came on till they reached 400 yards, and they seemed to enter a rain of bullets. Struck by a leaden tempest, they bundled over in heaps, and soon they stood huddled over in groups under the retaining power of the Martini Henry. I saw a brave man leading them with a large flag ( I have his flag), I have never seen a braver. Alone he came on and on, until about 150 yards from us, and then he and his flag fell like a piece of crumpled white paper on the ground, and lay motionless.

The Dervishes were now retiring, not running, but skulking away. Some of them walked off as if they were the victors. Our men were cheering now, and I got them up in the trench and we kept up our close and searching fire. No troops in the world could have lived under that fire; no Europeans would have faced it. The valour of those poor half-starved Dervishes in their patched jibbas would have graced Thermopylae…

Battle of Omdurman: The Khalifa's Army Attacking the Sirdar's Forces at Kerreri, 6.30 A.M., September 2, 1898 Illustrated London News, September 24, 1898

Battle of Omdurman: The Khalifa’s Army Attacking the Sirdar’s Forces at Kerreri, 6.30 A.M., September 2, 1898
Illustrated London News, September 24, 1898

Key to the illustration above, which is viewed from the north:

  • 1 Ruins of Gordon’s Palace in Khartoum
  • 2 Mahdi’s Tomb
  • 3 Khalifa’s Flag and Staff
  • 4 Egyptian Cavalry Coming In

I thought the battle was over, so did everyone, but we were mistaken. A large force now appeared to the north streaming over Kerreri Hill and cutting off our line of retreat. … Our guns were soon busy on the north front of our position, one of our new class gunboats went down stream at full speed, and soon the shells were searching Kerreri Hill, and the mass of Dervishes broke up and fairly fled off the hill down on to the desert side. … This force was apparently defeated, as the others had been, and we again thought the battle was over, but again we were mistaken.

Kitchener was anxious to march on Omdurman and occupy the town before the Khalifa’s forces could withdraw there. The 21st Lancers were sent ahead to clear the plain for the advancing columns. Unexpectedly they faced 2,500 Dervish infantry concealed in a depression. The Lancers drove them back in a fierce encounter and the now famous cavalry charge, in which Lieutenant Winston Churchill took part.

In the meantime, the Khalifa was able to regroup and still had about 30,000 troops in the field. He attacked from both the west and the north-west. Kitchener’s rear was protected by 3,000 Sudanese troops of Hector MacDonald’s brigade. MacDonald swung his men by companies in an arc as the Dervishes charged and by skillful manoeuvring held his ground until Kitchener could redeploy his brigades.

Orders came to march on Omdurman, and the British brigades started, our brigade being on their right, and the British next to the water. Macdonald’s and Lewis’ brigades followed, and also Collinson’s, but Macdonald and Lewis were some way out in the desert. I have since heard that these two brigades saw the new large force of the Dervishes advancing upon them, and that Macdonald, after sending messages off to the Sirdar who was with us, and the British, changed front and waited their onslaught. …very soon these two brigades were very heavily engaged with an enormous force of Dervishes with whom was the great black flag of the Khalifa. The Khalifa was not with it, however…

In the meantime we were hurrying across to the assistance of Macdonald and Lewis, who were very seriously pressed, and it looked at one time as if the Dervishes would have succeeded in getting hand to hand, in which case their numbers would have swept our people over. … Maxwell’s brigade hastily changed direction from south to west to relieve the pressure on Macdonald’s and Lewis’ brigades. … As we drew near them the fight was practically over, and the Dervishes were beginning to stream off under a fierce fire from Macdonald and Lewis. They had charged our people and came on in crowds to within 50 yards of Macdonald’s Sudanese, only to fall in heaps under our withering fire. A crowd of fanatics surrounded the large black flag of the Khalifa; and as each standard bearer was killed, another sprang to the flag. At last the flag lay on the ground, and as the brigades advanced it was picked up and taken to the Sirdar.

The plain was covered with Dervishes, keeping a long way out, and all in disorderly flight. The cavalry did not dare molest them, but the field batteries fired at them, as they moved along parallel to us.

In Khor Shumbat the whole force halted, and as there was water in the Khor we refilled. It was about one o’clock, the heat was awful and the men quite done.

Maxwell’s brigade and a British field battery were told they would have the honour of first entering the citadel of Omdurman, and accordingly we marched on, the heat very bad. Rumours reached us that the Khalifa had gone to the “sur” (the great wall forming the reduit or citadel of Omdurman), that he was praying in the mosque, and that 1,000 of his blacks were with him, and that all meant to die together.

The three regiments,12th (mine), 13th and 14th Sudanese, kept well spread out on as broad a front as possible. But as the houses began to grow closer together, and regular streets formed, we had to march in fours.

In last we reached the outside of the “sur”, or great wall. It is about 14 feet high and about 3 feet thick. However, in my opinion, the Khalifa was never there at all, and that is what the natives tell me in Omdurman now. They say that he rode straight back from the battle, drank at his house, and started off at once on fresh camels with his favourite women for the south, en route to Kordofan. Two men came running up the street from the “sur” towards us, waving a white flag, and I thought they must be messengers from the Khalifa to surrender. I advanced to meet them, taking two soldiers with me. They proved to be two Egyptians who had been in captivity since they had been taken in Hicks’ massacre in the Kordofan in ’83, and were overjoyed. …

We camped outside Omdurman to the west of the Great Mosque, at the Khalifa’s house… It is a very large house – my quarters now, and I am writing there. …

I think Gordon has been avenged now.

Khartoum! Punch, September 17, 1898

Khartoum!
Punch, September 17, 1898

The next morning the force marched back to Khor Shumbat to encamp, the smells and  filth of Omdurman being unendurable, but order had to be restored in the city.

September 3, 1898 : Omdurman

I have been sick off my horse with the smells. Words fail one to describe them. Dead donkeys and horses and dead Dervishes!

 I am collecting rifles and guns and ammunition and storing everything in the arsenal or “Beitel Amana.” We have found ivory also, worth, I should say, about £4,000, a large quantity of armour and helmets and arms, but up to the present the Khalifa’s treasure has escaped us. …

The Mahdi’s tomb was very interesting to see. The great dome, which can be seen miles off, was knocked about by shells from the gunboats, half one side being knocked away; the same shell had wrecked the inside, while the tomb itself had suffered greatly. The green iron railing round the tomb used to be in Gordon’s garden at Khartoum.

Omdurman: The Mahdi's Tomb after the Bombardment contemporary postcard

Omdurman: The Mahdi’s Tomb after the Bombardment
contemporary postcard

On September 12th, CVFT resigned his commission in the Egyptian Army, and the British officers of the 12th Sudanese gave him a farewell dinner.

I felt very touched [by a fond farewell speech]. I have found throughout the Egyptian Army a deal of jealousy. The Sirdar had made me a Bey, and had given me command of a Sudanese regiment immediately I was appointed to the Egyptian Army, and there must have been a lot of jealousy and bad feeling about it among the older men who had been passed over for me. Naturally, I never went out of my way to please any one, and I have kept myself very much to myself. And I leave the Egyptian Army without any regrets, except admiration for the Sirdar and General Hunter, who is a gallant fellow and a leader of men. The British officers who have served under me, like me, and are, I know, my friends. I am very sad at leaving my blacks, the old 12th Sudanese. They know me: they know that I am strict in all matters of discipline, and slack on all points concerning their beloved women! And lenient on little petty faults. They like this: and they know that I lead them in a fight, that I say, “Come on,” not “Go on,” and in that lies the whole secret of of making, not only native, but European troops fight.

CVFT was to learn how it feels to be passed over himself, in Mesopotamia, some seventeen years later.

He sailed from Omdurman on September 21st, 1898 and reached Paris on October 9th, where he was met at the Gare de Lyons by the Comtesse and his fiancée. He was given three months leave. Charlie and Alice were married at the Chateau de Champs-sur-Marne on November 22nd according to the rites of the Church of England, in spite of Alice’s Jewish parentage. On December 1st, having returned to England with his new wife, he received the D.S.O. personally from Queen Victoria.

He was also working for a transfer to the line. It must be confessed that he was one of the most restless individuals in the whole of the Army. As soon as he obtained one appointment by the incessant wire pulling among his influential friends, he thirsted for a change. If he had not been also one of the luckiest young soldiers of the day (witness his chances at Hunza Nagar, at Fort Gupis, at Chitral, and again having command of a Sudanese regiment in the Omdurman campaign) he might never have emerged from the ordinary groove of alternate service in India and at home. More than once he nearly spoiled his chances by an ineradicable habit of grumbling, added to a perhaps pardonable vanity. Erroll Sherson, Townshend of Chitral and Kut, 1923

He could also be remarkably indiscreet in criticizing senior officers. Winston Churchill asked him to read the manuscript of The River War, an account of the Sudan campaign. In a letter to Churchill, far his junior in age and army rank, he was disloyal to his superiors in the Sudan: the Sirdar, who had been his personal supporter,  Major-General Sir Archibald Hunter, Kitchener’s second-in-command, ‘a gallant fellow and a leader of men’, and Major-General Hector MacDonald, suggesting that they had ‘got a reputation – perhaps greater than they can uphold.’

He was snubbed by Lord Wolseley (Commander-in-Chief of the Forces) when seeking a transfer to a line regiment, and so considered an appointment at Army Headquarters Staff at Simla. But, at the age of thirty eight he was too old too complete staff college and obtain the prestigious psc (passed staff college). Instead, he applied for and was granted a further six months leave with pay and postponed his departure for India.

At this time the affairs of the Townshend family were in a sorry state. There were two principal properties, Balls Park, Hertford, which was let to Sir G. Faudel Phillips, and Raynham Hall, Norfolk, which was heavily mortgaged. CVFT was keen to save Raynham Hall, which had been in the Townshend Family since the reign of Edward III, but he was less interested in Balls Park. He consulted his father-in-law, but although nothing was concluded at the time, in the end Sir G. Faudel Phillips bought Balls Park. The affairs of Raynham Hall were left for a future date.

Balls Park, Hertford  (now converted into residential apartments) Creative Commons image

Balls Park, Hertford
(now converted into residential apartments)
Creative Commons image

In mid-April 1899, he brought his wife over from Paris and they settled in London at Park Place, St. James’s.

Unrest was growing in South Africa, and CVFT once again saw an opportunity of being close to the action, should active operations be commenced against the Boers. He wrote to Sir Redvers Buller, a relation, married to Audrey, daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend. Buller was soon to be appointed commander of the Natal Field Force. But these overtures were overtaken by events when, on July 13th, he received a telegram in the name of the Commander-in-Chief, India offering him the post of Deputy Assistant-Adjutant-General, Punjabi Army. He accepted this prestigious staff appointment without awaiting a response from Redvers Buller.

July 13, 1899 : Park Place

I go out to India in October from Marseilles in P.&O. ‘Egypt’. This going to the Staff will suit me very well. I can work to effect my exchange to a Line regiment and join the next regiment at the expiration of my Staff appointment.

August 1st, 1899 : Park Place

Sir Redvers Buller told Lord St. Levan [a relation, married to Elizabeth Clementina, another daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend] that he was glad I had been given this staff appointment. I put my foot in the stirrup, and I had now a big career in front of me.

October 5, 1899 : Paris

Alice and I came up from Champs to Rue de Bassano, having arranged to dine together and say good-bye, as I am leaving Marseilles the same night. I went to the Rue Tocqueville to say good-bye also to Lord Townshend [the 5th Marquess], and I was glad to get away. He broke down at our interview and cried. He told me that he had been very ill and from what the doctors told him he might go off at any time.

On board the P&O Egypt he had the company of his former brigade commander in the Sudan, Hector Macdonald, with whom he discussed the situation in South Africa. On his arrival in Bombay he was greeted with a telegram from the Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, stating, “Sorry vacancy could not be kept open longer. You should rejoin your regiment. Your claims will however not be overlooked when opportunities offer”. Not to be stymied by a mere military secretary to a commander-in-chief, CVFT came to Simla to make his case to his old acquaintance, Lord Curzon, now Viceroy.

He was quite glad to see me , and Lady Curzon was also very nice to me. We had a long chat and much laughter, the Viceroy referring to the famous supper I stood him at the Savoy in ’95 when he was on one side of Arthur Roberts and Kitchener on the other.

He told Curzon that his Punjab appointment had been filled whilst he was at home, without being told, and that in consequence he had lost the opportunity of going to the Cape with Buller.

…he showed me a wire to the Military Secretary to the Commander-in Chief, which said I had seen the Viceroy, and that his Excellency hoped the matter would be put right for me.

However, upon arrival in Simla he received news that the 5th Marquess Townshend had died three weeks earlier, by which he became heir presumptive to the title and the Townshend estates. As the estates where in some disorder, he applied for leave to return to England, and after much understandable difficulty in obtaining further leave, he returned to London via Paris and a visit to his wife. On January 21st, 1900, his first and only child, Audrey Dorothy Alice Louise, was born in Bromley, Kent.

Audrey Townshend from A.J. Barker, Townshend of Kut, 1967

Audrey Townshend
from A.J. Barker, Townshend of Kut, 1967

With the opportunity of action and possible advancement in the Cape, CVFT went to the India Office in London to request a transfer to ‘special service ‘ in South Africa. The response from India was uncompromising: Major and Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Townshend may not go to South Africa. By Indian Army Regulations, Volume XXIV, paragraph 743, an officer of the Indian Army may NOT volunteer for service outside India. Eventually, by much string pulling and an intervention once again by Lord Curzon, CVFT received a cable from India sanctioning his application for ‘special service’ in South Africa. On February 8th, 1900, he sailed from Southampton for Cape Town aboard the troopship, Armenian. He took with him an official letter from General Sir Evelyn Wood (Adjutant-General to the Forces) recommending his appointment as an Assistant-Adjutant-General in the rank of full Colonel in the South African Field Force. He was now thirty-nine years old.

Charles Townshend, who had not earned a penny of his pay since November 1898, had travelled around the world at public expense, had claimed extra leave for unfulfilled family business, had dallied in France and manipulated the system entirely to his advantage and satisfaction, was for the moment – but only briefly – content.   N.S. Nash, Chitral Charlie, 2010

The journey to Cape Town took over a month, and when the Armenian dropped anchor in Table Bay on March 1st, 1900, CVFT encountered an air of celebration, following a series of reversals at the hands of the Boers:

We passed the ‘Majestic’ at anchor. She was about a quarter of a mile away and crowded with troops. They flag-wagged from the bridge as we were passing: “Ladysmith relieved! Cronje and 4,000 Boers taken prisoners!” Tremendous cheering broke from our soldiers when they knew. Table Bay was studded with ships. I never saw so many ships together. Huge liners and dirty-looking ocean tramps and large sailing ships laden with coal lay side by side at anchor.

Table Mountain shown from across Table Bay, Cape Town Second Boer War 1899-1902  © Imperial War Museum (Q 71989)

Table Mountain shown from across Table Bay, Cape Town
Second Boer War 1899-1902
© Imperial War Museum (Q 71989)

CVFT’s cousin by marriage, General Sir Redvers Buller, had been replaced as Commander-in-Chief by Field Marshall Lord Roberts in January, 1900, but Kitchener was Roberts’ Chief-of-Staff, and Kitchener was a Townshend supporter. CVFT also came with Sir Evelyn Wood’s letter of recommendation which he duly forwarded to Kitchener.

He was ordered to proceed direct to the Orange River, but on arrival there were no further orders awaiting him. So, eager as ever, he bypassed official channels and telegraphed to Lord Methuen, whom he had known in London, and was instructed to proceed to Kimberley.

Southern  Africa during the Second Boer War, 1899-1902 Courtesy of the Autralian War Memorial: www.awm.gov.au/atwar/boer/www.awm.gov.au/atwar/boer/

Southern Africa during the Second Boer War, 1899-1902
Courtesy of the Autralian War Memorial: http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/boer/www.awm.gov.au/atwar/boer/

CVFT’s miltary career in South Africa was a short one. At Kimberley he was welcomed by Lord Methuen who was preparing for the relief of Mafeking and would have welcomed an experienced soldier like CVFT. However, there was no appointment for him there, and Headquarters even questioned CVFT’s very presence in South Africa. He was then directed to Bloemfontein to act as Assistant-Adjutant-General to Major-General George Pretyman, the Military Governor. He arrived in Bloemfontein on March 16th, to take up his first staff appointment. This involved long periods of office work for which he was ill-suited.

March 19, 1900 : Bloemfontein

I have been quill-driving from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with one hour for lunch. General Pretyman took me into his office and discussed the work to be done, and it is a very big job indeed. [Bloemfontein had only just fallen to the British, on 13th March, and was a strategically important centre on the railway line to Cape Town] The General told me that all the troops will be in my command, also the civil part of the Government of the country, [the Orange Free State] customs, schools, trade, etc. … I am afraid I shall not see any fighting, but the work will be the most important I have ever done and give me a great responsibility.

March 21, 1900 : Bloemfontein

Went round all the public buildings in Bloemfontein with the Military Governor, including barracks, powder magazines, schools and a museum.

April 3, 1900 : Bloemfontein

I find this office work very wearisome, I am at it all day. Not a moment even to write a private letter: and it is very difficult to get through any real work as the office is crowded all day with people wanting to see me on all sorts of subjects.

As April 1900 progressed he became ever more disgruntled.

Townshend’s restlessness overtook him once more at the time when the more optimistic among the soldiers though that the war was drawing to a close, though it had yet a year to run. In spite of his hopes for a transfer to the Line with the possibility of a command of some kind in England, we now find him writing to Lord Chermside to beg his remembrance of him, in case of his getting the administration of the Transvaal after the war. So that at one and the same moment he is asking for a command at home and for a billet in South Africa!   Erroll Sherson, Towshend of Chitral and Kut, 1928

On May 29th, his wife, Alice, and her mother arrived at Cape Town. At about the same time he received intelligence that his transfer to the Bedfordshire Regiment had been sanctioned. He thereupon wrote to Lord Landsdowne, the Secretary of State for War, and requested a transfer to the Irish Guards in preference to the slightly down-market Bedfordshires. Incredibly, Lord landsdowne found the time to reply to what would for most soldiers have been a most impertinent request. However, the Irish Guards was a request too far: instead he accepted a major’s appointment in the Royal Fusiliers. On August 19th, he received orders to join the 2nd Battalion of his new regiment, and he left South Africa and the tedious life of a staff officer less than seven months after his arrival.

The Kildonan Castle, with the Townshends aboard, arrived in Southampton on October 5th, 1900. After reporting at the War Office and an interview with Sir Evelyn Wood he paid a short visit to Dover to meet his new colonel and officers of the Royal Fusiliers.

October 22, 1900 : Dover

My new uniform finished this morning by Johns and Pegg of 2 Clifford Street, and I got down to Dover in time to dress for mess, finding myself in a red coat again which I had not worn since I left the Marines for the India Staff Corps in January, 1886.

Four days after he rejoined his new regiment he asked for leave to go to Paris to see the end of the Paris Exhibition, and was refused. Notwithstanding his brevet rank he now returned to the status and duties of a major. Instead of being at the centre of a theatre of war in South Africa, he now found himself undertaking the routine soldiering of a home regiment. He notes in his diary:

I am now finding out what damned nonsense soldiering at home is. … My work consists of inspecting the kits of recruits, in fact keeping them clean, and listening to the tirades of a terrible C.O. of Infantry in the Orderly Room. One lives on Courts Martial and on Boards; and I never saw such a place as Dover for rain.

He did not get along with his new C.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Annesley, and matters were not improved when Annesley turned-down CVFT’s request to command the guard of honour provided by the Royal Fusiliers in Queen Victoria’s funeral procession.

He tried pulling strings to get back to South Africa or into the Egyptian Army, but to no avail. Lord Landsdowne advised him not to move just yet, and he received a snub from the Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief in which he was informed that: it is not desirable for officers to urge their own advancement in the manner in which you have continued to do for some time past in private letters to the Military Secretary, and … such claims should be put forward by an officer on full pay through the usual channels of communication.

February 20 : 1901

The Colonel I find is trying to “twist my tail”… He has given me the regimental workshops accounts as well as the company accounts, and I am given no subaltern!

In the middle of April CVFT was transferred to Hounslow, to command the Royal Fusiliers Depot. He took up residence in Hounslow Barracks, which was not normal practice for a commanding officer. He found time to attend to Townshend family affairs: he hoped for financial support from his father-in-law, the Comte Cahen d’Anvers, but eventually Balls Park was sold to the sitting tenant and Stiffkey Hall was let.

On June 12th, 1902 he sailed for Canada having gained two months leave to make a survey of the routes which the United States would take were it to invade – a seemingly unlikely occurrence. In fact, he spent a good deal of time in Quebec researching Major-General James Wolfe’s campaign to defeat the French in Canada in 1759, and the military career of an illustrious forbear. Later that year John Murray published his book, Military Life Of Field-Marshal George First Marquess Townshend, 1724-1807.

He did not return to duties with the Royal Fusiliers until January 1903, spending the intervening period on leave in France.

December 25, 1902 : Champs-sur-Marne

…great Christmas tree and day of toys for the children. Little Audrey is the prettiest little fairy ever seen, and all envy me on her account. …

On January 7th, 1903, he learned that he was to be transferred to the 1st Battalion, then serving in Burma. CVFT was pleased to be returning to India, and he and his wife, Alice, sailed for Rangoon aboard the Assaye on March 6th. Before departing England he had made soundings for another staff appointment in preference to continued regimental duties. However, on reached Aden he discovered that there was no such appointment available.

April 6, 1903 : on the Irrawaddy River, Rangoon

We were at anchor in the stream at Rangoon at 9 a.m., and after two hours of monkey tricks and chinoiserie about plague inspections by the port doctor, the steamer was allowed to go in alongside the quay. … Alice of course dragged me out to see the great Pagoda of Shive Dagon and other pagodas; and the Burmese, Chinese, Indian and Portuguese bazaars and quarters of the city. I like the look of the Burmans, pretty well-built girls, many of them decidedly handsome and beautifully made, with glossy black hair.

Colonel Cooper, commanding the 1st Battalion, gave CVFT command of a detachment of 200 men at Thayetmyo, south of Mandalay.

June 1, 1903 : Thatetmyo

Arrived at Thayetmyo and assumed command. Very good barracks for the men.

… my men are of fine physique, and look very serviceable in field dress, with putties and khaki trousers cut short so as to show bare knees

On the Irrawaddy River

On the Irrawaddy River

The routine of life in Thayetmyo was broken by hunting trips in the jungle, and by occasional visitors arriving by boat, when CVFT entertained his guests on the banjo.

Early in November the Royal Fusiliers were moved from Burma to Bengal. His wife went on ahead of him, and on his arrival in Calcutta he was made the President of the Defence Committee. He was tasked with drawing up a plan to protect the city in the event of civil disturbance or rebellion, an indication that the events of 1857 were still alive in the minds of the Indian government. He completed the task in one month, not the three he was allocated. There can be no doubt of CVFT’s capacity for hard work.

In January, 1904 he was made a brevet-colonel. This was followed by an interview with Lord Kitchener (now Commander-in-Chief, India) – he had had a earlier meeting with Kitchener in Paris on October 19th, 1902.

January 7, 1904 : Calcutta

…he [Kitchener] was very cheery, and asked me to sit down, saying that he was very glad to see me. …. I told him that I had heard from Colonel Haldane about my Brevet-Colonelcy. He congratulated me and said I was on his list for an AAG*, which would come shortly. I told him I would sooner have the command of a regiment than be on the staff, and he promised to help me to the utmost of his power…

*Assistant-Adjutant-General

Kitchener was a capable man and a shrewd judge of character. He recognised that the younger man was a competent, gallant and resourceful leader, and that those soldierly characteristics went to balance his disagreeable and unattractive ambition.   N.S. Nash, Chitral Charlie, 2010

Events moved quickly and on 30th January, 1904 he took over as acting AAG in Calcutta. Once again he found the routine work tedious. On February 14th, he was sent to Lucknow to act as AAG for the Oudh District. Lucknow had been one of the centres of rebellion during the Indian Mutiny (Sepoy Rebellion / Indian Uprising) in 1857, and here he carried out similar tasks to those he had undertaken in Calcutta.

March 8, 1904

Visited the Residency. Spent a most interesting time. The old residency, in ruins, stands silently among its trees and lawns much pitted and riddled with shells… In the cemetery adjacent to the Residency buildings the dead lie thick. All the officers with the well-known names one has read of so often lie there, including the gallant Brigadier Neill with 300 officers, N.C.O.’s and men of his regiment (Madras Fusiliers), who were killed in action relieving Lucknow. Sir Henry Lawrence’s tomb is marked: “Here lies Sir Henry Lawrence who tried to do his duty. May the Lord have mercy on his soul. Also many names of ladies.

The ruined Residency at Lucknow falcontourist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/lucknow-residency.jpg

The ruined Residency at Lucknow
falcontourist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/lucknow-residency.jpg

On reaching home, he found a telegram from his father-in-law, Count Cahen d’Anvers, saying that he had bought many pictures at the sale of the Raynham heirlooms, including the best, thereby saving them for the Townshend family.

CVFT had another meeting with Kitchener in November 1904 during which he pressed his case for command of a regiment. However, this time Kitchener was less accommodating than previously, being wearied with CVFT’s persistent letter writing to advance his career.

The routine work in Lucknow continued for the rest of 1904, but in December the Royal Fusiliers were ordered to England. They arrived back on January 18th, 1905, and while Alice joined her family in Paris CVFT returned briefly to the theatres and night life of London. He rejoined his regiment at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. Then, with the prospect of the Hounslow Depot in view once again, he had a stroke of good fortune; the newly appointed British Military Attaché to Paris had gone sick. Through frantic use of his many connections he obtained the appointment. He commented: ‘It would be more interesting than commanding at Hounslow!’

He arrived in Paris to take up his post on July 1st, 1905. It was desk work, but his wife and daughter were close to her parents; the theatre was on offer every evening; and the social life of a Military Attaché was glittering.

News reached him that his cousin, the 6th Marquess Towshend, had married for the first time on August 9th, at the age of thirty-eight. CVFT remained heir presumptive, but any issue to the marriage would deny him the title.

CVFT’s term as Military Attaché ended on October 1st, 1905. He obtained two months leave on the understanding that he would then rejoin the Royal Fusiliers on the Isle of Wight. In the meantime, the 6th Marquess had begun selling more of the family heirlooms: he was declared unfit to manage his own affairs and Raynham was put into the management of a committee of trustees for the benefit of future generations.

He was released from the command of his company on the Isle of Wight when, on February 23rd, 1906 he was posted to be second-in-command of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry at Fyzabad in India. He joined his new regiment on April 16th. He visited Kitchener at Simla who advised him to stick to the regiment for the present. In July he was appointed Acting Brigadier of the Allahabad Brigade, returning to the Shropshires in October. In July, 1907, he had the good fortune to be appointed AAG, 9th Division, at Secunderabad, under the highly regarded General James Wolfe Murray. With Murray’s support, on February 4th, 1908, CVFT was gazetted substantive colonel: a rank which could only be removed through death or dishonour. However, at the age of forty-seven, in spite of his ambition, he was not distinguishable from many of his army peers. His opportunity for advancement came in February, 1909, when he was offered command of the Orange River Colony District with the rank of brigadier-general, providing that he took up immediate appointment.

CVFT took up his command on May 14th, 1909. He found himself living in the same residence in Bloemfontein formerly occupied by General Pretyman, with whom he had not seen eye-to-eye in 1900.

Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony, in 1906

Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony, in 1906

At Bloemfontein itself the garrison consisted of a regiment of cavalry, two battalions of infantry, a brigade of field artillery, and a company of Royal Engineers. At Harrismith, artillery, mounted infantry and Army Service Corps; and at Pietermaritzburg, in the heart of Natal, the 3rd Battalion of his old regiment, the Royal Fusiliers. Additionally, he was required to administer the district which his brigade garrisoned.

Townshend was politically aware and he went to pains to be amicable to the Boers who, although defeated some seven years before, still nursed deep wounds. Between 1909 and 1911 the Townshends went about the King’s business in Bloemfontein with style. Alice added grace and charm and Audrey was growing into an attractive and confident young woman. Professionally the job was not demanding and there were only three significant events. The first of these was the death of King Edward VII on 6 May, 1910.

This was a matter of international significance and a memorial service was held on 20 May. Townshend sent an embarrasingly obsequious telegram to Lord Crewe, Secretary of State for the Colonies.

It is difficult to describe the deep loyalty and devotion manifested by all classes of the Orange River Colony population, represented by the great crowds at Bloemfontein, together with all the troops in garrison, for the strikingly impressive memorial service to our late King today.

N.S. Nash, Chitral Charlie, 1910

Orange River Colony, postage stamp of King Edward VII

Orange River Colony, postage stamp of King Edward VII

On May 31st, 1910, the Union of South Africa came into being, created from the former British colonies of Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony, and Orange River Colony, and CVFT’s role as an administrator came to an end. However, there were still military manoeuvres planned for August to be watched by Lord Methuen, Commander-in-Chief, South Africa, and the ceremonial opening of the new Union Parliament in Cape Town by the Duke and Duchess of Connaught in October. CVFT’s own review in Bloemfontein was a great success and the Duchess remembered him from a meeting in India twenty years previously. He was awarded the Union Medal, and reported the opinion of Lord Methuen that he would be promoted very soon, that he would be very sorry to lose him, as would everyone, as no one could be more popular with the troops.

Postage Stamp commemorating the Union of South Africa, 1910

Postage Stamp commemorating the Union of South Africa, 1910

He went on leave to France where he met Commandant Mardacq, whose book on military strategy CVFT had translated into English. CVFT was by now becoming an authority on military history and strategy himself. Mardacq introduced him to General Foch, who was at this time Commandant of the Ecole de Guerre.

May 4, 1911 : Paris

General Foch asked me if I knew how many army corps the Germans will put into line. … Did England contemplate the annexation of Belgium and the sea-board with equanimity? It was a case where England, france and Belgium must fight together for existence. he said, “we do not want to conquer: we want to live and it is time everyone understood this”.

CVFT had hoped his promotion would come through and obviate the necessity of returning to South Africa, but it did not and he was back in Bloemfontein on June 23rd. However, on July 21st, 1911, he was promoted to Major-General. On September 20th, he and Alice left South Africa for the last time.

They reached England on October 7th, and shortly afterwards received an offer from the War Office of the command of the Home Counties Division of the Territorial Force. What he really wanted was command of a regular division. However, he was prevailed upon to accept the appointment because other candidates for promotion had been passed over for him. He did not have to take up his new command until April, 1912, and in the meantime he went to France.

On September 23rd, he was transferred to the Command of the East Anglian Division, and was delighted to be able to base himself in Norfolk. He took the opportunity to buy Vere Lodge, a comfortable early nineteenth-century house close to Raynham Hall. It was to become his permanent home following the First World War. During this time he maintained regular contact with Mardacq and Foch.

His plans for training schemes for the Territorials came up against unforseen difficulties:

The members of the Territorial Force themselves are principally to blame. Their one idea seems to be to train on the esplanade of some seaside resort. I could have trained them at Thetford, but am given to understand that the want of amusement (cinemas, theatres, etc.) in that locality caused it to be so unpopular with the Territorials when General Byng trained them there before, that it lessened the number of recruits. Lots of them would leave. Everyone, in short, seemed to be in collusion to arrange for a “good time” when out for training.

NB The 54th (East Anglian) Division landed at Suvla on August 10th in the Gallipoli Campaign, as a part of IX Corps under Lieutenant-General Stopford. It was moved to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Murray in late 1916 and garrisoned the southern part of the Suez Canal.

Perhaps, a general who had trained warrior Dogras, Gurkhas, Sikhs, and Sudanese, was not the man best suited to English part-timers out for a good time.

To escape the Territorials he accepted another command in India. On June 30th, 1913, he took over an infantry brigade consisting of a battalion of the Berkshire Regiment and two Indian regiments based at Jhansi. He set about a programme of training:

Although certain periods are set apart for squadron, battery and company work, I propose to hold occasionally a tactical exercise of the three armies in the field in order to supplement the training of field officers imparted in tactical exercises on the map.

Recognizing their increasing importance in leading forward young soldiers under gun and rifle fire, he also issued orders for N.C.O.’s to attend the evening conferences of officers at the camp of exercise. He also thought that N.C.O’s should occasionally be entrusted with the command of a company. He wrote a stream of brigade training directives which were considered in some quarters to be unorthodox, and for which he was rebuked by General Sir Percy Lake, Chief-of-General Staff, India. In 1916, in Mesopotamia, the destinies of these two men would become inextricable intertwined.

However, his methods found praise elsewhere, notably from General Sir John Nixon, G.O.C. India’s Southern Army, and Sir Beauchamp Duff, Commander-in-Chief, India. These two men were to become prominent figures in the Mesopotamian Campaign, men upon whom CVFT and the officers and men of the 2nd Norfolk Battalion would have to depend.

Early in April, 1914 he took command of the Rawalpindi Brigade, back in the Punjab where he had seen action as a young officer.

…The country here is well wooded, pretty and green. The Murree Hills and the snow-capped Himalayas look wonderfully close.What reminiscences they bring back to me! My return from Chitral through Kashmir and Murree, and to Pindi on my way home nineteen years ago! But how long it seems!…

The Murree Hills above Rawalpindi

The Murree Hills above Rawalpindi

As war approached, CVFT wanted, as always, to be close to the action. He telegraphed Sir John French requesting him to find a command for him in France when the seemingly inevitable happened. He asked his wife to use her contacts to advance his claim to a wartime command. After war was declared on August 4th, 1914, he petitioned Lord Kitchener directly, but felt that he was being kept at arms length in India. A letter from Alice Townshend to CVFT makes clear her understanding of his impatience:

Brown’s Hotel, London

My darling Boy,

I am worrying myself to death about you in particular and the war news in general. I was so desperate I came up here the day before yesterday to see if I could do anything more for you. They all tell me you are bound to come home in time. Lord K,’s speech is the proof that he considers it will last a very long time, and he is determined to give an army to England. Of course that is your chance. … No news at all from my brothers and they are all at the front. Every precaution is being taken along the East Coast. Norwich is full of soldiers and so is Holt and Felixstowe. …

Heaps and heaps of love and how I wish for these lines not to reach you! …

There is no doubt that, whilst CVFT had an eye for a pretty lady, his marriage to Alice was a sincere love match, and they were as devoted to each other as they were to their daughter, Audrey.

There is little question that CVFT was being kept in India for a purpose. He was an experienced soldier who knew the North-West Frontier. The defeats inflicted on the Allies was the talk of the bazaars, and the Government of India feared that disaffected tribes along the Afghan border would take the opportunity to rebel. In Rawalpindi there was genuine fear of an organized rising and talk of a second mutiny among the Sikhs. CVFT approached the matter calmly and directly: when the 35th Sikhs were suspected, he addressed the Sikh officers calmly and directly, speaking of his own time with the 14th Sikhs at Chitral. He showed his faith in them by having a guard of 35th Sikhs placed over his own quarters. In fact, he never trusted them one little bit, but by putting his life in their hands he bluffed them.

To keep up the spirits of the British in Pindi he entertained a good deal and gave parties. At times of danger he made light of the situation but took the most stringent precautions. He never lost his head or let the Indians think that he distrusted them.

On March 19th, 1915, Sir John Nixon was appointed to command an expedition to the Persian Gulf for advance through Mesopotamia and he asked for CVFT as a special service officer. In last, on  April 12th, 1915, he received a telegram from the Commander-in-Chief at Simla: I have selected you to command of one of the Divisions now in force. Order will follow. Two days later he received the order to join the 6th Division in Mesopotamia leaving by boat from Karachi on April 17th.

His final act at Pindi was to to issue an order to the troops in garrison in which he thanked them “for their fine soldierly conduct and discipline in a most trying time.” He loved his men and was grateful for their support, and they loved him too as few commanders have been loved.   Erroll Sherson, Townshend of Chitral and Kut, 1928

 

Part 3 of Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, from 1914 till 1924, will follow in the autumn of 2016.

The Battle of the Somme as reported in Norfolk newspapers of 1916

Newspapers 100 years ago looked rather different from what you see at the newsagent now, and the reports that they printed were nowhere near as up to date as today’s rolling news feeds. But it’s fascinating to see how the papers reported on major events in the Great War, so I’ve been reading ‘The Norfolk Chronicle and Cromer and North Norfolk Post’ of July 1916, which is available on microfilm at the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

The newspapers from 1916 are now incredibly fragile and viewable on microfilm.

The newspapers from 1916 are now incredibly fragile and viewable on microfilm.

This was a weekly paper, published on Fridays, which meant that there was time for news of ‘The Great Push’ to reach the editor’s office and be included in the edition of Friday 7th July.

fake news paper 1

Further updates from the Press Bureau and ‘from Headquarters’ dated throughout the week are also reproduced in these columns, but it’s only in the editorial that any opinion or judgment is put forward:-

fake newspaper 2

In contrast to the official war reports, the Chronicle of 21st July, carries two columns headlined ‘The Great Battle – Thrilling experiences of Norfolk men – told by themselves’. Here are a few extracts:-

Pte Fred L Campling of the Norfolk Regiment, a well-known Norwich man, who writes…Precisely at 7.20, countless guns broke out into the promised final ten minutes’ intense bombardment and a pandemonium of noise arose which absolutely beggars description.

The assault was immediately precipitated by the explosion of a series of mines which our sappers had laid close up to the German front line, and the shower of debris had hardly fallen when the order came for the first wave to advance. I must now leave the general scheme and confine myself to my own individual progress and observations. With a thrill of excitement I received the order, shouted down the trench, “Over 16,” and every man leaped to the parapet at the exact moment our artillery “barrage” lifted from the Bosche front line to his first support line. The opposing artillery fire, consisting wholly of shrapnel, which had sent the two men on my immediate left hobbling to the first-aid post, now practically ceased. Quickly crossing our own front line trench, we reached the Bosche firing trench, and there a scene met my gaze which will remain stamped indelibly upon my memory for the rest of my mortal existence. Cowering in the trench, clad in the pale grey uniforms we had longed for twelve months to see, unarmed and minus equipment, with fear written on their faces were a few of these valiant warriors of the Kaiser, whose prowess we were out to dispute. Here let me digress to say that the absence of arms and equipment suggests that the exact moment selected for our attack had taken the Huns by surprise. This view was subsequently confirmed by prisoners who said that they had expected us earlier in the day, and had since stood down. Many Germans rushed forward, hands high in the air, cringing for mercy. It was obvious that they were past any pretence at fighting, so ignoring them, I leapt the trench – it was occupied only by dead and wounded – and gained the second line. At this stage we began to feel the effect of a deadly machine gun fire and sniping from the fourth line, and our gallant captain was amongst the first to fall, as also was my platoon officer. Not a single German did I see attempt to offer the least resistance at close quarters. I mentally relegated the whole mob to the category of a lot of miserable cowards.

Bullets were now flying fast and furious; how I escaped them I cannot explain. Without wavering for an instant the lines advanced steadily, preceded by our artillery fire, which was the marvel of us all. Glancing round I found myself amongst the regiment on our left. Seeking to correct this I bore off to the right, crossed the German third line, which like the others was practically demolished, and was delighted to see my section commander Lance Corporal R C Goulder, accompanied by Private John Hotblack (Holveston Hall) his left bomber. I came up on their right and almost immediately Goulder made a sign for us to get down; not a moment too soon for we had now topped a rise in the ground, and were in direct line of fire of a machine gun traversing from the right. Glancing over my left shoulder, I was greeted by a wave of recognition by the company officers’ cook, who had apparently lost his platoon. Almost in the act of conforming to our line he was shot. With consummate bravery, and crouching to his task, Corpl. Goulder applied the field dressing but the poor fellow soon died. Having completed this merciful act, Goulder glanced to right and left, and gave the word to advance, having observed our left flank making headway. Rising to my feet, I saw Hotblack collapse with a bullet in the foot, and Goulder a few yards ahead shot through the head. Getting down at full length, partly concealed by the vegetation, I got slowly forward, and came upon Sergeant Lewis Colman and a few of his men similarly held up. Peeping out cautiously, we observed that our bombers had gained a footing in the German fourth line trench, and were working their way up to the position of the machine gun, which was causing the discomfiture of our little band. After taking a few shots at the machine gunner we crept in single file to the left, entered the trench, and were delighted to see the survivors of our company. We had now reached our first objective, and awaiting orders to proceed, had time for a hearty handshake and a comparison of notes.

Our respite was short-lived, however, for the worse was yet to come in the shape of a cruel bombardment of our position by a battery of heavy calibre guns firing high explosive shells. Never shall I forget that night. Bursting on all sides with an ear-splitting roar, these missiles caused us several casualties. This state of affairs continued throughout the following day until evening, when we were relieved to return, exhausted, weary, but triumphant to our new support line, there to discuss our adventures and compare the helmets and other souvenirs we had captured.

 

Another Norwich lad, Pte C G Cleveland, also tells a fine story of the great charge of the Norfolk Battalion. Following are extracts from a letter dated July 4th he has written home to his parents:-

The great day has come, the charge has been made. I have been through the battle, and the gallant old 8th has covered itself with glory. No doubt you have read the glorious news by now, and you will be cheered by knowing that the Huns are beaten at last in trench warfare, and that it practically means open work now. It was all a horrible nightmare. War seemed the worst thing made by man, the Huns the most treacherous, but God the most wonderful. I’ve read of, I’ve seen pictures of, and I’ve imagined similar battles, but never did I realise how awful it was, and yet it was a most glorious victory. We won what we were supposed to win, and, what is more, we held on to it.

It was Saturday morning, the 1st of July, at half-past seven. I was in reserve. The shells from our guns were hissing over in a constant stream, when bullets began to crack and we knew the boys of the first line were over. No shouting, no cheering, all bullets and shells as the boys rushed over, scrambling round shell holes, one line catching up the other, until they leapt into what remained of their front lines. It was a mixture of mountains and valleys in miniature, no straight cut trench anywhere. We were supposed to go over at a quarter to eight, but we had equipment on, magazines on, bayonets on, and “one up the spout, and nine in the tin box.” Down in the trench we certainly felt a little windy, but once up, we felt as if we were on a field day. Shells and bullets in the air, great holes, scraps of wire, shells, etc., laying everywhere but we kept on – a little bunch of men, artillery formation. Then we crossed our front line, from one hole to another in case a machine gun opened, until we slipped into the front trench. Two Huns were running about frantically like mad men. We went into the second trench, and we had a rest, while we found out where we were, and we had to keep our eyes “skinned” to the corners and our rifles ready.

German names on boards naming the trenches, where a trench mortar gun used to be. The entrances of deep dug-outs blown in or otherwise filled up. I wonder how many men were buried in them. They had stood to from midnight till about four, expecting us to attack at dawn, and had then entered their dug-outs for a very little necessary sleep. After a rest we went along a communication trench to the third trench. Half-way along we had to stop, so we commenced to make a fire step facing the opposite way, and began to consolidate. We were near two deep dug-outs. Down the first one went a bomb, and then came up one Hun, shaking and trembling, Hands above his head, shouting as best he could, “Mercy, comrade,” with eyes staring. He seemed so utterly scared that the majority could only pity him. His hand was bleeding a good bit, the result of the bomb. Just behind him came another, as mad and shaking as the first. Then another dark one with a handsome beard, staring eyes, a wounded forehead, a red cross on his arm, to which he pointed. There were five of them. An officer told off an escort, and they were off, and the dug-out was set on fire.

Then we went on to the third trench. One of our sergeants was shot through the ankle, another fellow through his side; these were the first cases of bloodshed we had seen, but I will not speak more of it than I can help. In the third trench we had to wait. Huns lay about in the most awful conditions, and we had to steel our nerves and look away, but we tried to see the best side. We were winning, we were in German trenches; so we lit up our cigarettes and were happy.

 

The press was also full of detailed accounts of the injuries suffered by Norfolk men in the Battle.

Among the recent arrivals of wounded at the Norfolk War Hospital are some men of the Norfolk Regiment who took part in the memorable charge. One is Private Strange, a London-born youth, who joined the Norfolks for the reason that he is of Norfolk extraction, both his father and mother having come from the neighbourhood of Diss. “I had been in France,” he says, “ eleven months. On Saturday, July the 1st, at twenty-seven minutes past seven we jumped quickly over the top. It was fortunate for me that I was on the extreme left, and therefore not able to go ahead quite so quick as some of the others, for the foremost party, after going about 200 yards ran right into a mine explosion, there was an awful and almost continuous roar of shells as we ran. I could see my pals being bowled over, but I have not much knowledge of what happened to other people individually. Then at the first line of the enemy trenches came the roar of the explosion. The earth seemed to rise up and rock; and I have a memory of great clods rising high in the air, and of dodging about to escape them as they fell. The first-line trench when we reached it was almost unrecognisable as a trench. To my surprise I found myself almost on top of a dug-out, and lucky I was to have turned and seen it, for there were four Germans coming up the staircase, and they could have shot me if they had been smart. I threw five bombs among them just to cheer them up. Some of their wounded came running out at the other end. It won’t do to show these Germans too much mercy; there have been so many cases in which they have turned on us after we had spared their lives. In the second line trenches we met no opposition whatever. I had got into the third line where we dealt with some Germans, and was just getting out again when I saw a rifle pointed at me from the fourth line. I lay down to get cover, knowing that some of our men were taking the Germans in the rear, when a bit of shrapnel caught me in the thigh. Making my way back to our own lines as well as I could, I saw a wounded German. I asked him to come with me and he came, but only as far as our first line trenches, where I last saw him taking off his coat as if to look at his wound. My impression of the Germans is that they are at heart cowards. They are all right while in their trenches. But once get alongside of them and they put up their hands and scream. In my company most of the men were Norfolk bred. We lost heavily; but I saw no sign of funk among them.”

 

The convoy of wounded men who arrived at the Lakenham Military Hospital on Thursday last week included one man of the Norfolk Regiment, Private J W Knowles by name, who comes from Walsoken and who had been at the front four months. He is badly fractured in the right leg and has a lurid story to tell of how his company fared on Saturday, the 1st of July. He says: “We were in the third wave of the advance. As we approached the third line of the German trenches the machine gun fire was very hot, and our fellows were cut down severely, but we took the trench all right, and in front of me six or seven big fellows came out and gave themselves up. When we were over the trench the machine-gun fire got hotter still, so much so that to advance further was impossible, and we had to lie down a minute. It was then that I got hit, about eight o’clock in the morning. I had to lie where I fell till six o’clock at night. For about a quarter of an hour I must have been insensible; but all the rest of the time I was awake and conscious of a terrific shell fire, so severe that it was impossible for any bearer party to reach me. The Germans before us were, I was told, Bavarians. I certainly had not expected to see such big, fine men. For all their size they did not strike me as particularly brave. They worked their machine guns to the utmost while we were advancing, but as soon as we were on them they were ready enough to surrender.”

Reading these accounts with the benefit of hindsight makes them all the more poignant to me. Having the briefest details of the soldiers whose reports are reproduced here I was able to research them on our Library subscription to FindMyPast (details here) and discovered that:

  • Frederick Campling was promoted to Corporal, but died on 27th September 1916.
  • Private Strange was probably Thomas Frederick Strange, who died on 1st May 1917 and is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
  • Private Knowles was John William Knowles, discharged from service in June 1917 due to the gunshot wound in his right knee; he didn’t survive the war, however, dying at the age of 29 on 6th November 1918.
  • Private Cleveland, we think, suffered a misprint in the newspaper record – Granville George Cleveland was born in Norwich in 1896, and enlisted in September 1914. He survived the war and was discharged on 3rd April 1919 at the age of 23, having reached the rank of Lance Corporal. He married in 1931, and I wish I could report that he lived a long and happy life, but he died at the age of 41 in 1937, at least being spared the dreadful experiences of World War 2.

 

Image from the archive

30129064408157

A First World War baking notice from Norwich

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).

85550 Corporal Harry Hazel, 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers

85550 Corporal Harry Hazel, 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers

With many thanks to Alan Riches, Harry Hazel’s great-nephew who has shared his research with us.

Harry Hazel was born in East Ham, London, on 2 March 1893, the fifth of eight surviving children of Jacob Hazel and his second wife Mary Ann.  Jacob Hazel was originally from Wimbotsham in Norfolk, but in 1871 he joined the Metropolitan Police in London.  He was initially posted to D Division in Marylebone, and in 1875 he married Mary Matilda Blake, the daughter of a fellow policeman.  Sadly, Mary died in 1881 at the age of just 24.  In 1882 Jacob was posted to M Division in Bermondsey, and later that year he married Mary Ann Harris, a domestic servant from Buckland in Devon who was working for a family in Marylebone.  Their first child, a daughter called Elizabeth, was born the following year.  In about 1885 Jacob was posted to K Division in West Ham where Mary Ann gave birth to Lily in 1886 and Frederick in 1888.  Shortly afterwards Jacob moved to East Ham (still in K Division) and the family took up residence at 42 Stafford Street.  Whilst living in East Ham, Mary Ann had two more children – Victor in 1890 and Harry in 1893.

In 1896 Sergeant Jacob Hazel retired from the Metropolitan Police after 25 years’ service and took his family back to Wimbotsham.  Mary Ann had two more children – Sidney in 1897 and Harold in 1900 – and the 1901 Census shows Jacob, Mary Ann and all seven children living in a house on The Street in Wimbotsham.  Jacob was a police pensioner and Elizabeth a draper’s assistant; Lily, Frederick, Victor and Harry were at school; and Sidney and Harold were at home with their mother.  The following year Mary Ann gave birth to her eighth and final child, a daughter called Ivy.

In 1907 Elizabeth Hazel married Walter Jarvis, a local bricklayer, and moved out of the family home.  Shortly afterwards Harry moved in with his sister and brother-in-law, and the 1911 Census shows Elizabeth, Walter, their two young children and Harry living at a house on Stow Bridge Road in Wimbotsham.  Harry, now eighteen years old, was working as an ironmonger.  In his spare time he was a member of the Territorial Force, possibly the 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment whose “B” Company was based at nearby Downham Market.

In February 1912 Harry Hazel was discharged from the Territorial Force, probably because he moved to Norwich at about this time.  He found employment with Mr John Self, an ironmonger, and lived in digs at 92 Leicester Street.  Later that same year Harry decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a policeman.  On 6 December 1912 he was appointed a constable with the Norwich City Police, his attestation form showing that he was six feet tall with a 37-inch chest.  A few weeks later, on 27 January 1913, he commenced duty as PC 51[1].

Norwich City Police, Mounted Branch, during the visit of King Edward VII in 1909 (Norfolk Constabulary).

Norwich City Police, Mounted Branch, during the visit of King Edward VII in 1909 (Norfolk Constabulary).

Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Harry Hazel decided to volunteer for Kitchener’s New Army, and on 7 June 1915 he enlisted at Norwich as 85550 Sapper Hazel in the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company of the Royal Engineers.

Pals Battalions

On the outbreak of war Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War.  Kitchener believed that overwhelming manpower was the key to winning the war and he set about looking for ways to encourage men of all classes to join the army.  General Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more inclined to enlist in the army if they knew that they were going to serve alongside their friends and work colleagues.  Rawlinson asked his friend, Robert White, to raise a battalion composed of men who worked in the City.  White opened a recruiting office in Throgmorton Street and in the first two hours, 210 City workers joined the army.  Within a week the Stockbrokers’ Battalion, as it became known, had 1,600 men.2Kitchener

A few days later, Lord Derby decided to organise the formation of a battalion of men from Liverpool.  Within two days 1,500 Liverpudlians had joined the new battalion.  Speaking to these men Lord Derby said: “This should be a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool.”  Within the next few days three more battalions were raised in Liverpool.

When Kitchener heard about Derby’s success in Liverpool he decided to encourage towns and villages all over Britain to organise recruitment campaigns based on the promise that the men could serve with friends, neighbours and workmates.  These units were raised by local authorities, industrialists or committees of private citizens.  Pals battalions became synonymous with the industrial towns of northern Britain.  Men from cities including Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Barnsley, Newcastle, Hull, Glasgow and Edinburgh all enlisted in their thousands in 1914 and 1915.  But the Pals phenomenon was not confined to the large urban areas of the north; some of the smaller rural towns of southern and eastern England, although unable to raise whole battalions of men, were able to raise units of at least company strength.  One such town was Norwich.

The 208th (Norfolk) Field Company of the Royal Engineers

In February 1915 the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Dr John Gordon-Munn, raised three Royal Engineer field companies for Kitchener’s New Army.  These were titled the 207th, 208th and 209th (Norfolk) Field Companies and were, in effect, Pals units.  On 7/8 June 1915 five constables from the Norwich City Police joined the 208th Field Company: 85503 William Jinks[2], 85542 William Thomas Green, 85544 Herbert James Whitehand, 85549 William Sawford Andrew and 85550 Harry Hazel.  These were followed a few weeks later by two more: 85595 Henry Crisp and 85666 Arthur Bell.

The war of 1914-1918 relied on engineering.  Without engineers there would have been no supply to the armies, because the REs maintained the railways, roads, water supply, bridges and transport.  REs also operated the railways and inland waterways.  There would have been no communications, because the REs maintained the telephones, wireless and other signalling equipment.  There would have been little cover for the infantry and no positions for the artillery, because the REs designed and built the front-line fortifications.  It fell to the technically skilled REs to develop responses to chemical and underground warfare.  And finally, without the REs the infantry and artillery would have soon been powerless, as they maintained the guns and other weapons.  Little wonder that the Royal Engineers grew into a large and complex organisation.

The various specialisations of the Royal Engineers were organised into different types of units, none of which was bigger than a company in size.  The most numerous of the RE units were the field companies and the signals companies.  By 1915 there were three RE field companies in each division.  Their role was to provide direct engineering support to the infantry.  When the division was holding the line, the field companies supervised the construction and maintenance of the defences – trenches, dug-outs, saps, strongpoints, mortar and machine gun emplacements and so on.  Most of the actual work was done by the divisional pioneers and the infantrymen themselves, which led the men of one battalion to make up the following rhyme[3]:

God made the world,

Bees make honey,

The Essex do the work,

The REs get the money.

 

In an attack, the field companies would follow the infantry across No Man’s Land equipped with all the tools and material necessary to consolidate the positions that had been captured.  On many occasions the engineers were forced to abandon their tools and fight alongside the infantry in repelling enemy attacks.

A typical RE field company had an establishment of 217 men, as follows:

  • Major in command of the company
  • Captain second-in-command
  • Three Lieutenants (or 2nd Lieutenants), each commanding a section
  • 23 NCOs (Company Sergeant-Major, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, Farrier Sergeant, six sergeants, seven corporals and seven 2nd corporals)
  • 186 other ranks (one shoeing smith, one trumpeter, one bugler, 138 sappers, 37 drivers and eight batmen)
  • Two attached privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps for water duties
  • One attached driver of the Army Service Corps (not counted into strength as officially he was part of the Divisional Train)

The men were organised into two branches: Mounted (which included the CQMS, farrier, shoeing smith, trumpeter, three NCOs and the drivers and batmen) and Dismounted.  The latter represented many kinds of trades required by the army in the field, including 15 blacksmiths, 20 bricklayers, 40 carpenters, 5 clerks, 12 masons, 6 painters and 8 plumbers, plus surveyors, draughtsmen, wheelwrights, engine drivers and others.  With the exception of the trumpeter and bugler, all other ranks were armed as infantrymen, carrying the SMLE rifle.

The field companies relied on horses for transport and had an establishment of 17 riding horses for the officers and NCOs of the Mounted Branch, 50 heavy draught horses and 4 pack horses.  There were also 5 spare draught horses as replacements.

Following their formation in February 1915, the 207th, 208th and 209th (Norfolk) Field Companies were placed under the command of Colonel A C MacDonnell RE and attached to the 34th Division.  The 34th was a typical New Army Division, largely made up of Pals units.  Its three infantry brigades were the 101st Brigade, consisting of the two Edinburgh City Battalions, the Cambridge Battalion and the Grimsby Chums; the 102nd Brigade, consisting of the four Tyneside Scottish Battalions; and the 103rd Brigade, consisting of the four Tyneside Irish Battalions.  After initially training close to home, in mid-June 1915 the units of the 34th Division began to concentrate at Ripon in North Yorkshire.  The Divisional troops (including the Royal Artillery Batteries, RE Field Companies and RAMC Field Ambulances) were encamped at Kirkby Malzeard, six miles west of Ripon, while the 101st Brigade collected at Fountains Abbey.  However, the 102nd and 103rd Brigades remained at their training camps in Northumberland for the time being.

It was not until the end of August 1915 that the whole of the 34th Division finally came together at Sutton Veny on Salisbury Plain.  The Division was placed under the command of Major General E C Ingouville-Williams CB DSO, known to the men as “Inky Bill”.  For the next four months the men continued their training, which now included brigade and divisional manoeuvres.  Christmas 1915 came and went, and it began to seem as though the 34th Division would never be sent to war.  Then in the New Year of 1916 embarkation orders arrived and the Division was mobilised for service in France.

The 208th (Norfolk) Field Company left Sutton Veny on 9 January and travelled by train to Southampton where they embarked on the SS Archimedes for passage to France[4].  They arrived at Le Havre the following day and entrained for St Omer from where they marched to billets at Wardrecques.  After two weeks’ training at Wardreques, on 23 January the 208th Field Company moved with the rest of the 34th Division to the III Corps area west of Armentières, the 208th being billeted between Steenbecque and Morbecque.3Map

 

In early February the 34th Division was considered ready for duty in the front line.  The infantry brigades were attached to units of the 8th and 23rd Divisions for instruction in trench warfare, following which they took over their own stretch of the front line.  The three Norfolk Field Companies were each attached to one of the Brigades: the 207th to the 101st Brigade, the 208th to the 102nd Brigade and the 209th to the 103rd Brigade.  For the next two months the Brigades rotated into and out of the trenches, the men resting in billets behind the lines when not in the trenches.  The Field Companies, however, did not move with their Brigades when the latter were relieved in the front line; the continuity of the engineering policy in the trench system required them to be shifted as little as possible.  Thus for the whole of this period the 208th Field Company worked in the trenches, their billets being just behind the front line at Rue Marle, near Chapelle d’Armentières.  The Divisional front extended from the Lille Road on the left some 3,000 yards to just beyond the Bridoux Salient on the right (the latter being a prominent feature of the British front line about a mile east of Bois Grenier).  There was also another salient, the Rue du Bois, near the centre.  Both were dangerous positions, being very near to the enemy line.  The front line was a continuous breastwork with a ditch in front and a trench behind, the latter very shallow on account of the proximity of surface water.  Some 1000 yards behind the front line was the reserve line, and between the two were the support and subsidiary support lines (S & SS lines).  The lines were linked by a network of communication trenches.

On its arrival, the 34th Division found the trenches in a very poor state.  The winter had been a wet one, and the land was low and almost level, so that drainage was a very difficult problem.  The 208th Field Company worked tirelessly to improve the state of the trenches.  The War Diary entry for 30/31 March 1916 gives a good indication of the type of work undertaken[5]:

SALIENT.  Repairing parapet in front of Estaminet.  Machine gun emplacement.  Drainage.

FRONT LINE.  Altering traverses and parapet: revetting, building new traverses, new fire step, building new bridge; boarding and draining.  New machine gun emplacement.

S & SS LINES.  Boarding and draining PARK ROW.  Draining near FERME DE BIEZ.  Extending and reclaiming; revetting and building fire bays, repairing dug-outs. 

British troops carrying timber up to the front line trenches (IWM).

British troops carrying timber up to the front line trenches (IWM).

 In early April 1916 the 34th Division was relieved by the 2nd Australian Division which was arriving in France from Gallipoli.  On 6 April the 208th Field Company spent the morning handing over to the 7th Australian Field Company and the afternoon packing up their stores and equipment.  The 34th Division moved to the Second Army training area near St Omer to prepare for the summer offensive, the 208th Company marching by stages to the village of Munq Nieurlet.  From 14-21 April the mounted and dismounted men undertook separate training programmes, then on 22 April the 208th marched to Boisdinghem where they spent the rest of the month on company training.  From 1-3 May the emphasis was on divisional training, and the Company practised trench attacks under the instructions of the 102nd Brigade.

In the first week of May the 34th Division moved to the Somme and rejoined III Corps.  The Divisional front extended from Mash Valley on the left some 2000 yards to Sausage Valley on the right.  In the centre, on the other side of No Man’s Land, was the village of La Boisselle.  The 208th Field Company left Boisdinghem on 6 May and entrained at St Omer for Longueau.  The following day they marched to Dernancourt, a couple of miles south-west of Albert.  While the 207th and 209th Field Companies were detailed to work in the forward area, the 208th Company remained at Dernancourt and spent the next seven weeks working behind the lines.  The scope of the Company’s work was wide-ranging and included the following:

  • Setting up and running the RE Yard at Dernancourt
  • Constructing a tramway east of Albert
  • Making a crossroads between the Albert-Dernancourt Road and the Albert-Méaulte Road
  • Building dugouts for the Divisional Headquarters at Moulin Vivier
  • Constructing wire entanglements and defences at Albert
  • Repairing the baths and laundry at Albert
  • Work on the quarries near Dernancourt
  • Work on the trenches near Usna Redoubt

On 25 June the 208th Field Company moved to a new camp near Dernancourt and began making preparations for the offensive.  Equipment was overhauled, stores were replenished and ammunition was stockpiled.  The men were kept busy with work in the RE Yard and camp fatigues.  On the night of 27/28 June the Company marched to Fir Wood in readiness for the assault which was due to begin on the 29th.  However, on the afternoon of the 28th word was received that the attack had been postponed by 48 hours owing to unfavourable weather, and the men marched back to camp at Dernancourt.  Finally, on the morning of 30 June, the 208th Field Company returned to Fir Wood and waited for the “Big Push” – the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme

In January 1916 the commanders-in-chief of the French and British armies, Joffre and Haig, had reached agreement to mount a joint offensive on the Western Front in the coming summer.  Although Haig had argued for an offensive in Flanders, the decision was taken to attack along a wide front at the point where the two armies met close to the Somme river.  The choice could hardly have been worse; the chalk-based nature of the ground here had allowed the Germans to construct deep underground shelters, largely untouchable by artillery.  North of the Somme river, the German lines ran along the higher ground, protected by dense concentrations of barbed wire and linked by heavily fortified villages and redoubts.  The offensive would be led by the French and was scheduled for mid-August 1916.

On 21 February 1916, however, everything changed.  The Germans launched a massive offensive further south against Verdun, and the French were forced to divert huge numbers of troops in the town’s defence.  The fighting at Verdun ran from February to December and radically changed the priorities of the Somme offensive.  From being in a supporting role, the British would now have to take the lead, although French forces would still be heavily involved.  Furthermore, to relieve the pressure on Verdun, the British would have to attack six weeks earlier than originally planned.  The new date for the start of the Somme offensive was 29 June 1916.

In essence, the plan involved a massive artillery bombardment of the German lines, followed by attacks from the British Fourth Army and the French Sixth Army across a broad front.  The British Third Army would contribute a limited diversionary attack at the northern end of the main attack front.  The major objective for the British was the town of Bapaume, while the French aimed for Peronne.  If a breakthrough could be achieved, the Allied forces could then attack north into the German flank, and cavalry could surge through to exploit the gap.

On 24 June the British artillery opened a bombardment that was to continue until the morning of the attack.  The bombardment was intended to destroy the German defences completely, but the shells failed to penetrate through to the underground shelters and left much of the barbed wire intact.  Indications that things were not going quite to plan came around 28 June.  Patrols sent out at night to examine the German defences found that the results of the bombardment were not as effective as expected.  Because of this, and because of recent heavy rain, the barrage was extended for another two days, pushing back the attack date to 1 July. 5Map

Dawn broke over the Somme on 1 July 1916 with a final intensification of the week-old artillery bombardment, the British guns firing for an hour at a combined rate of 3,500 rounds per minute.  In addition, between 07.20 and 07.30, ten explosive-filled mine works, dug beneath the German trenches, were detonated.  The largest of the mines contained more than 60,000 lbs of ammonal explosive, and they literally lifted large sections of the German trenches into the air.  Two minutes after the last mine detonated, the whistles blew and thousands of British and French infantry surged from their trenches into the attack.

The Somme attack plan broke down as follows.  General Edmund Allenby’s Third Army was to make a diversionary attack in the far north of the battlefield around Gommecourt.  Its purpose was to draw fire away from the main attack further south, made by General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s Fourth Army from just east of Serre to Maricourt.  Waiting to exploit any British breakthrough was Lieutenant General Sir Hubert Gough’s Reserve Army.  The French Sixth and Tenth Armies, meanwhile, were to attack in the south below Maricourt.

Tens of thousands of Allied soldiers now climbed out of their trenches into No Man’s Land, in good visibility with no element of surprise – the blowing of the mines and the cessation of the bombardment told the Germans they were coming.  German machine-gunners, who had emerged from their dugouts and quickly set up their weapons, and the largely untouched German artillery now delivered slaughter on an industrial scale.  Entire battalions were almost wiped out within minutes.  Those who managed to cross No Man’s Land often found themselves stuck against uncut barbed-wire, where they were picked off by accurate rifle fire.

In a devastating day of killing, the British sustained 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 were fatalities.  Nor was the loss for any great gain.  British attacks in the north made no progress at all, while the furthest British penetrations made by Fourth Army were about a mile in depth at their greatest extent further south, taking the villages of Montauban and Mametz.  In the far south, by contrast, the French armies actually exceeded most of their Day One objectives, being better supported by artillery and their infantry using more sensible and effective tactics of surprise and manoeuvre.

By the time night fell on 1 July 1916, the Somme battlefield was choked with British dead and wounded, the worst one-day loss in British history.

The 34th Division Attack on La Boisselle[6] 

La Boisselle, the fortified village on the main Albert-Bapaume Road, was the key to the advance to Pozières and any eventual breakthrough to Bapaume.  The task of capturing La Boisselle was given to Major General Ingouville-Williams’s 34th Division.

6Map

Ingouville-Williams placed two brigades in the front line (the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) on the left and the 101st on the right) whose duty it was to capture the German trenches on either side of the village and then the village itself.  In support along the Tara-Usna line was his third brigade, the 103rd (Tyneside Irish).  Their task was to pass through the leading brigades after these had captured the German trenches and the village and push into the rear, helping to widen the gap.  If a real collapse of the German defences in this sector occurred, the 19th (Western) Division and the cavalry were to follow the Tyneside Irish – Gough’s Reserve Army would get its chance.

The divisional attack would be in four columns, with each column consisting of two battalions of the leading brigade and one battalion of the 103rd Brigade.  Within the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade, the left column comprised the 20th Battalion, followed by the 23rd Battalion, with the 25th (2nd Tyneside Irish) Battalion in support and would pass to the north of La Boisselle.  The right column comprised the 21st Battalion, followed by the 22nd Battalion, with the 26th (3rd Tyneside Irish) Battalion in support and would pass south of the village.  Ingouville-Williams’s plan was straightforward.  At zero hour every battalion in his division would leave their trenches and advance; he left nothing in reserve.  He was determined to force the defences guarding the main road to Pozières.

At 22.00 on the evening of 30 June the 208th Field Company left Fir Wood and took up their positions in St Andrew’s Avenue, a communication trench which ran across Usna Hill a few yards to the north of the Albert-Bapaume Road.  Their task on 1 July was to follow the attacking infantry and assist in consolidating the ground gained.  To this end, one half-company, consisting of Nos 1 and 2 Sections, was assigned to the 23rd Battalion on the left, and the other half-company, consisting of Nos 3 and 4 Sections, was assigned to the 22nd Battalion on the right.  The half-companies were to wait until the 103rd Brigade had passed, whereupon they would collect material from the RE Dump, move forward to their respective Battalion’s objectives and assist in consolidation, in particular the construction of strongpoints.

The morning sun was breaking through the mist as the British barrage, pounding the German defences, reached its crescendo.  At 07.28, two minutes before zero, the mines at “Y Sap” and “Lochnagar” were detonated, the ground shook and tons of debris rained down on the forward enemy positions.  At precisely 07.30 the whistles blew and, led by their pipers, the 3,000 men of the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade went over the top.

Aerial photograph showing Y Sap crater and Lochnagar crater to north and southeast of La Boisselle respectively.  The lines of attack of the Tyneside Scottish battalions have been overlaid in white (Tyneside Scottish).

Aerial photograph showing Y Sap crater and Lochnagar crater to north and southeast of La Boisselle respectively.  The lines of attack of the Tyneside Scottish battalions have been overlaid in white (Tyneside Scottish).

Behind the German front line the defenders of La Boisselle had not been destroyed by the bombardment.  The two-minute gap between the explosion of the mines and the beginning of the advance had given the German machine gunners a head start; they quickly manned their positions and waited, allowing the waves of British infantry to reach a point of no return.  “You know Fritzie had let us come on just enough so that we were exposed coming down that slope.  That way we would cop it if we came forward and cop it just as bad if we tried to go back.  We were just scythed down.  We found out later that they must have aimed their machine guns at our thighs so that when we went down, we got hit again as we fell.” (Private J Elliot, 20th Battalion)

On the left the advance of the 20th and 23rd Battalions was heroically pressed forward.  The German front line followed the contours of Mash Valley and there were nearly 800 yards of No Man’s Land to be crossed.  Immediately the two battalions crossed the parapet they came under accurate cross-fire from machine guns in Ovillers and La Boisselle.  The effect of the German fire was dramatic.  Wave after wave of the Geordies was cut down but still they kept coming on, individual men or small parties stepping out when all around them had gone down.  “It was hell on earth; that is the only name I can give it.  We were the first over the trenches after the signal to advance and never a man faltered.  It was like going to a picnic, the way the men marched on, but it was only for a few yards, until the Hun got sight of us.  Then every kind of shell they possess was dropped amongst us and their machine guns also got in on the act”. (23-696 Private W Bloomfield, 23rd Battalion).  Within a few minutes these two battalions had practically ceased to exist; the survivors had no choice but to take cover and were pinned down in No Man’s Land.

Meanwhile on the right the 21st and 22nd Battalions were also suffering tremendous casualties.  However, some men managed to fight their way through to the enemy second line, and a bombing party set off for the third line: “…our bombers were at work and reached their third line which they held for a short time, but out of which we were bombed step by step – all our bombs being used up.  While this was happening we were consolidating the other two lines, which we held against repeated bombing attacks.  The men were splendid but very tired; I had to pull myself together with a mouthful of brandy once or twice.  We were now busy digging the Bosches out of their dugouts.  They all threw their hands in the air and yelled “Mercy Kamerad”. (Captain W Herries, 22nd Battalion).  The COs of both the 21st and 22nd Battalions had been killed, and Major Acklom now took command of the remnants of these two battalions.  With seven officers and approximately 200 men, Acklom grimly held on to their gains in the German lines.

The 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade had nearly a mile to advance from their positions along the Tara-Usna line before they even reached the original British starting line.  Artillery and machine gun fire cut these men down as soon as they came within range: “I could see, away to my left and right, long lines of men.  Then I heard the “patter, patter” of machine guns in the distance.  By the time I’d gone another ten yards there seemed to be only a few men left around me; by the time I had gone twenty yards, I seemed to be on my own.  Then I was hit myself.” (26-936 Sergeant J Galloway, 26th Battalion).  Most of the casualties in the Tyneside Irish were taken before they reached their own front line.  Eventually, after twenty minutes, the survivors reached the British trenches and their chance to shelter from the terrible fire.  But they did not stop; their orders had been to follow the leading brigades, and they continued their advance across No Man’s Land.  A few men managed to reach the German front line where they found the remnants of the Tyneside Scottish holding on.  However, instead of taking shelter with them, the Tyneside Irish, still mindful of their orders, set off again to fight their way through the German trench system.  A small group even penetrated as far as Contalmaison, but these determined men were cut off and destroyed.

The Tyneside Irish Brigade advancing from the Tara-Usna Line to La Boisselle, 1 July 1916 (IWM).

The Tyneside Irish Brigade advancing from the Tara-Usna Line to La Boisselle, 1 July 1916 (IWM).

All this time the German artillery was keeping up a stiff barrage, and the survivors spent the remainder of the day under very trying conditions.  In No Man’s Land Private Elliot was trying to help Sergeant Billy Grant: “During a lull we tried to dress Billy’s wound but Fritzie was on his toes and every movement attracted fire.  Anyway the wound was a big mush, the flies were on him as soon as he got hit and he was helpless on his back, poor Billy was soon beyond human help.  The Germans started shelling the battlefield with artillery and I think that did for a lot of our fellows who were stuck out there without cover.  Certainly those shells were lashing us late afternoon.  We could do absolutely nothing.  There was about ten of us just stuck there on our bellies, heads down as far as they would go.  We were thirsty but none dared reach for his water bottle.  For me it was the longest day of my life and I never thought it would end”.

As the day wore on the stretcher bearers were busy and conspicuous by their gallant attempts to bring in the wounded.  Medical officers worked continuously to try and clear the wounded from the congested trenches, and as dusk arrived the survivors in No Man’s Land were brought, tired and thirsty, back to the British lines.

In the German front line, Major Acklom and his men spent a weary night, waiting for the German counter-attack that never came.  On 2 July the Germans shelled their positions, causing some casualties, but the men held on.  In the afternoon the 9th Cheshires (58th Brigade, 19th Division) began to arrive in preparation for a further advance.  The Tynesiders started to move back, but on the way Acklom received a message that they must return to the front line and hold it at all costs, so back they went.  Food, water and ammunition were brought up, as well as several machine guns, and by midnight they were able to report that the position was secure and that the strength of the party was now five officers and 155 men.

It was not until midnight on 3 July that the 58th Brigade began the relief of the remnants of the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish Brigade), and the weary survivors started making their way back to the British lines.

What of the fate of the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company?  As the attack developed, the engineers could only watch as the infantrymen advanced into a hail of artillery and machine gun fire.  Their orders were to wait until the 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade had passed them, whereupon they would follow with their stores and equipment.  The War Diary takes up the story:

“When the 103rd Brigade had gone by, Nos 1 and 2 Sections collected their materials and attempted to cross No Man’s Land, but owing to heavy shell and machine gun fire were unable to do so and retired.  Several casualties were sustained, and the Sections became somewhat scattered.  About 40 men were collected and remained in our lines under 2nd Lieutenant C A Ablett until 2 pm, when they were utilised to carry bombs and water to the South Mine Crater, via the tunnels, until 9.30 pm.

Nos 3 and 4 Sections also collected RE material and moved forward with it, but owing to both their section officers and several other ranks being wounded by shell fire, they did not get into No Man’s Land and were ordered by their officers to get into dug-outs.  They became scattered and were not collected until 8 pm.  Orders were received from the GOC for the Company to proceed to dug-outs in Becourt Wood and the Company was reassembled there – Nos 3 and 4 Sections marching, to be joined later by Nos 1 and 2 Sections.”

The Cost

The 34th Division’s attack on La Boisselle on 1 July was a failure.  The battle was resumed the next day when the 19th (Western) Division, which had been held in reserve, was put into the attack.  By 15.30 some of the men had bombed their way into the village, leading to some severe house-to-house fighting with the German defenders, and the village was eventually taken the following day.  German counter-attacks had to be fought off and only by 5 July could the village be said to be safely in Allied hands.

The 34th Division suffered 6,380 casualties on 1 July 1916, making it the worst-hit of the sixteen divisions used on the day.  The 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade lost 87 officers and 2,201 other ranks killed, wounded and missing[7].

The 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers’ War Diary does not record casualties, but according to Soldiers Died in the Great War, one officer and five other ranks were killed on 1 July 1916.  One of these was Corporal Harry Hazel.  Harry’s body was not recovered, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial along with 72,194 other British and Commonwealth soldiers who died on the Somme and who have no known grave.

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial

10Inscription

Harry Hazel is also commemorated on the Wimbotsham and Stow Bardolph War Memorial (below) and on the 34th Norfolk Division Royal Engineers War Memorial in Norwich Cathedral.

11Cross

12Close up

13Plaque

14NamesPostscript

Of the seven Norwich City Police constables who joined the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers in the summer of 1915, only three survived the war.  Harry Hazel was the first to be killed.  The second was 85542 Sapper William Green who contracted trench fever and died at home on 18 November 1916.  85544 Pioneer Herbert Whitehand was killed on 6 May 1917 during the Battle of Arras while serving with “Z” Special Company RE[8], and 85595 Sapper Henry Crisp was killed on 1 September 1917 during the 34th Division’s attack on the Hindenburg Line.  These four men, together with the three survivors – 85503 William Jinks, 85549 William Andrew and 85666 Arthur Bell – are commemorated on the Norwich City Police War Memorial which is located in Bethel Street Police Station in Norwich.

15Police memorial

 

The Norwich City Police was one of four police forces that comprised the Norfolk Constabulary in 1914.  The others were the Great Yarmouth County Borough Police, the King’s Lynn Borough Police and the Norfolk County Constabulary.  Altogether, twenty officers and police staff from the Norfolk Constabulary fell in the Great War.  On 11 November 2015 a new Roll of Honour to commemorate these men was dedicated at the Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters at Wymondham by the Chief Constable.

16Wall

17Police names

Acknowledgments and Sources

Clare Agate: Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library

Peter Billingham, Peter Pilgram and Tom Walton: Norfolk Constabulary Historians

Rosie Foottit: Friends of Norwich Cathedral

Steve Smith: Historian, Author and Battlefield Tour Guide

Norfolk Constabulary Roll of Honour by Steve Smith (Great War Britain Norfolk Monthly Archives November 2015 – stevesmith1944.wordpress.com)

Slaughter on the Somme by John Grehan & Martin Mace (Pen & Sword 2013)

The First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook (Penguin 1984)

The Somme, France 1916 by Chris McNab (Pitkin Publishing 2010)

Tracing British Battalions on the Somme by Ray Westlake (Pen & Sword 2009)

Tyneside Scottish by Graham Stewart & John Sheen (Pen & Sword 1998)

The Thirty-Fourth Division 1915-1919 by Lt Col J Shakespeare (H, F & G Witherby 1921)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Imperial War Museum

National Archives:-

War Diary of the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers (Reference:                   WO 95/2449/2)

Metropolitan Police Register of Leavers (Reference: MEPO 4/340)

Ancestry.com:-

England & Wales Birth, Marriage and Death Indices 1837-1915

England Census Records 1851-1911

Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards

British WW1 Service Medal & Award Rolls 1914-1920

British Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929

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[1] The biographical information in this paragraph was provided by the Norfolk Constabulary Historians.

[2] Shortly afterwards Jinks was transferred to the Military Foot Police.

[3] L/Cpl W G Sanders, 10th Essex Regiment, quoted in The First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook.

[4] It follows that no man who was with the original contingent was awarded the 1914-15 Star.

[5] National Archives, Reference: WO 95/2449/2.

[6] The quotations from soldiers are taken from Tyneside Scottish by Graham Stewart and John Sheen (Pen & Sword Books Limited).

[7] The dead included the COs of all four Tyneside Scottish battalions.  The 34th Division’s commander, Major General Ingouville-Williams, was killed near Mametz Wood on 22 July.

[8] “Z” Special Company RE was formed in 1916 to develop a British version of the German flamethrower, but it proved to be unwieldy and was soon abandoned.  However, the Company’s CO, Captain Livens, went on to develop the Livens Projector, a type of mortar which was used to fire gas-filled projectiles.

War Diary July 1916

War Norfolk
The Battle of the Somme  

A Major Anglo-French offensive is launched in Picardy. On the opening day, the British Army suffers 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 killed – its heaviest ever casualty toll in a 24 hour period. The battle continues until 18 November.

Books for the Troops 

The Lord Mayor of Norwich wrote that “the response of the citizens to that appeal has been a generous one, for no less than 432 novels and 877 magazines have been forwarded to the Public Library for transmission to the troops.”

Fund Raising Fete 

The Soldiers’ Fete held in the grounds of Carrow House and Carrow Abbey was hailed as great success. The fete “in aid of local patriotic war institutions” had over 6,000 visitors and took £150 on the gates alone.