I was very fortunate to inherit a large number of bound volumes of old Norfolk parish magazines. Over the years these monthly newsletters had been collected by my family and many of the articles had been penned by my relatives who were clergymen. I soon realised that the articles were a wonderful source of fascinating social history.
One day my husband, Tony, picked up one of these volumes and began reading. Later I asked if he found it interesting. He was extremely enthusiastic and it was then that we decided to publish selected excerpts in a book and donate the profits to parish churches where the original articles had been written. It was also a real bonus that Tony, with his experience working in television news could easily help with the editing. Over the next few months we spent hours burning the midnight oil. We knew it was going to be a long job because some of the print was not easy to read.
The magazines date between 1908 to 1933 and were written by the rectors who looked after some 20 parishes in a large part of West Norfolk and a few others nearby. Part of the book covers the period of WWI and we have obviously devoted many pages relating to events leading up to the war, during, the aftermath and consequential effects that continued for years. But these events were not unique to Norfolk; readers living anywhere in the UK would be affected by the same problems and conditions.
A few villages were without their clergy during the war as they became chaplains. But they kept in touch with their flock by writing to them and their letters were published in the parish magazine.
Below are a few articles from the book 1914 to 1918 period. We have edited some stories for reasons of space but the message has not been affected.
Articles began to appear about encouraging men to join up.
Rev. W. Emery Barnes, Halsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University wrote ‘In about 5 weeks the October Term begins….. I hope to meet in my Lecture-room no man between 20 and 30, who can pass the medical test, who has not offered himself for active service… for military training. There is a time for… bearing arms…’
‘NOTE. It has been suggested, from several quarters, that the hour of Noon shall be marked by the tolling of a Church Bell in every parish, calling upon all within sound of it to pause and say a “Paster Noster” or some short Collect, On behalf of our sailors, soldiers and allies. The bell rung at our own daily service will answer the same purpose, and when I happen to be away it shall be rung at Noon.’
‘Knitting Class. The members of Mrs. Clifford Wilson’s Knitting Class have worked hard during the Autumn, and sent away the first parcel before Xmas. The parcel was sent to France to Dr. Munro, whose Motor Ambulances go daily from the Base Hospital to the Firing Line, and who gladly takes warm gifts and distributes them to men actually in the trenches. A very grateful letter of thanks has been received.’
It is with great regret that I have been forced to abandon Special Week-day Services and addresses this Lent, because it is impossible to darken Church Windows…’
There are accounts of entertainment for and by the troops. The local volunteers who knitted numerous garments, made yards of bandages and sewing parties of ladies who made pyjamas and sent them to the war hospitals. Even the children did their bit by picking blackberries to make jam and collected sheep’s wool from the fields.
‘On 19th January 1915 the German Imperial Navy sent the Zeppelin L4 with the intention of bombing the Humber Estuary. The Captain mistook the North Norfolk coast for the Humber. However this did not stop him dropping several bombs in Norfolk. They were landed on Sheringham, Thornham, Brancaster, Hunstanton, Heacham, and Snettisham. The Zeppelin continued to King’s Lynn where a further eight bombs were dropped. Two people were killed and many properties were wrecked. Some houses were badly damaged. The final bomb failed to detonate.’
We decided that we should include a representative picture of the L4 Zeppelin. I spent many hours creating a picture that appears in the book.
‘The Rifle given by the Rev. F. K. Scott, the Vicar of Swaffham, for the best shot in the District Home Defence Corps, has been won by Mr. W. Denny, with a score of 85 … We are glad to think we have such deadly shots in our midst and feel all the safer for the fact.’
‘I am commanded by the King to convey to you an expression of His Majesty’s appreciation of the patriotic spirit which has prompted your five sons to give their services at the present time to the Army. The King was much gratified to hear of the manner in which they have so readily responded to the call of their sovereign and their country…’
‘“It is a sweet and seemly thing to die for the Fatherland.” And Arthur Twiddy has done this – the first of our own lads, as I trust he may be only one. Nevertheless, since we must all die some day, and can only die once, what nobler death can a man die than that of fighting in a just and holy cause? … “Tis better to have fought and died Than never to have fought at all.”’
The sewing meetings at Narborough House had grown. ‘…it consisted of the members of the Mothers’ Union and Mrs. Herring’s old Bible Class, are doing excellent work this season for the British Red Cross Society. Some 25 to 30 members sewing, others making lavender bags, &c., for the Hospitals.’
‘Herbert Watson has written many letters from the Front … In one he speaks of a fight in which he encountered and overcame 15 Germans, after which his Company Captain entertained the men to a “ripping tea” … he tells us he has been awarded the Military Medal. This is the third Military Medal won by Narburians.’
‘NARFORD CHURCH. – I fear I shall have to ask the Bishop to allow me to close the Church during the winter months, as there is the very greatest difficulty to get coke, without which the necessarily fireless Church is, in its present sad state, alike damp, dank, and depressing.’
Christmas parcels sent to the troops and listed the contents of the parcels:
‘1 tin baked beans, 1 tin sliced bacon, 1 tin sardines, 1 tin camp – pie or plum pudding, 1 plum cake, 20 cigarettes, ½lb. biscuits, ¼lb. Chocolate.’
‘Little Massingham Depot has sent 1032 eggs for the wounded from the five villages – Great and Little Massingham, Harpley, Raynham and Weasenham during the first three months of the year.’
‘WE greatly regret that Mr. and Mrs. John Carter have lost another son – Albert, and this makes the third in this sad war.’
‘A NEW movement has been set on foot through the country to form Women’s Institutes…’
There are many wonderful accounts of a letters written back to families. One delightful letter printed in the 1918 Castle Rising and Roydon section of the parish magazine, was written by a soldier; Cpl. J. Sandham, to a lady who sent him an egg. He apologises for not writing before and tells how he was injured and when he woke in his hospital bed in France he was asked what he would like to eat. He asked for an egg and he was given the egg and letter that she had sent.
As 1918 draws to a close the excerpts from the magazines still bring us the sadness of death, suffering and sorrow but there is also hope of families being reunited and normality returning to these Norfolk villages.
’40 Service Personnel were killed or died whilst at Narborough and Marham between 1916-1918. Nearly all were as a result of accidents whilst undergoing flight training.
Creator of Biggles – W. E. Johns was a flying instructor at Narborough in 1918. The Narborough Research Group book, ‘The Great Government Aerodrome’, notes his concerns at the time that spies could have been responsible for some of the ‘plane accidents’.’
The last but one 1918 entry comes from the North Runcton. ‘The news of the signing of the armistice has brought us all great joy and thankfulness… We have had to sorrow over the loss of six or seven who went from this village, but one cannot help feeling most thankful to Almighty God that so many have been spared. Now we look for their home-coming, though we may have to wait a little while, but when they do come, I am Sure we shall make it worthy of them.’
The final entry from North Pickenham with Houghton-on-the-Hill is particularly moving. ‘In our our little village we have special reasons for rejoicing at the signing of the armistice.’ He goes on to write ‘…the total number of names on our “Roll of Honour” is well over sixty – that is one-fifth of our population.’ ‘…And how we shall miss those who will not return. They will always be in our remembrance: and the supreme sacrifice, which they have been called upon to make, has not been in vain.’
The Rev. W. T. Clifford of West Winch wrote regularly to his parishioners. Even when the war was over he was not released from his duties and he wrote that he was hopeful that he will soon be back with them all again.
There are also many intriguing and light hearted articles to be found within other pages of the book:
Eighteen members of our Church Council visited Colkirk and Narborough Churches by car. The Rectors met us and were most kind in explaining the electric lighting. We liked the story of the Narborough gentleman who was buried in a raised tomb and in an upright position, lest he should be trodden on, but whose bones were at a later date removed and placed under a seat at the end of the Church, with the result that he is now repeatedly sat upon!
And the back of the book flags up some of other articles.
‘THE CRICKET CLUB…the scoring books are not…available for reference, the scorer having taken them to Snettisham. Whether this be in the hope that sea breezes will somehow impart greater vigour to their future records, who can say?’
‘Burial of…she was a great sufferer…and we earnestly hope full of repentance.’
Suffragists…‘The best work a woman can do is HOME WORK…Do not let the woman go beyond her apron strings.’
‘… customary for the parish clerk, when chiming the three bells, to grasp one rope with each hand… his foot in a loop in the third rope… his other leg upon… the tomb…’
…‘I have been notified the office of Parish Constable will cease to exist… who are next on the list to be abolished;- let us hope it will be Tax Inspectors and Collectors.’
…‘It was easier for me to do a twenty-four hours guard on Buckingham Palace with a picket thrown in, than it is to prepare two sermons for an ordinary Sunday’s Duty.’
…‘The Rural Dean…noticed large cracks in the Church Tower…pinnacles standing at a dangerous angle. He advised it should be attended to as soon as possible.’
‘Revelations from old Parish Magazines’. Has been compiled and edited by Rosemary & Tony Jewers. Foreword by H.R.H. The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Published by Larks Press in 2010 and it is still in print. ISBN 9781904006534
All the profit from sales of the book are being donated to Norfolk Churches Trust. If you would like to read more and see a few sample pages it can be viewed at:http://www.anmerclub.co.uk/page29.html
Copies of the book are also held for loan and for reference at Norfolk Library & Information Service.