Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.
For September we have chosen Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ballard’s war diary as our key object. Unit war diaries are great resources for First World War historians and researchers because they detail each battalion’s day-to-day activities.
These diaries varied in length and detail. Lt. Col. Ballard of the 1st Battalion kept the war diary in a rough notebook for the first months of the war. The 1st Battalion’s war diary was later kept on Army Forms C 2118, the War Diary or Intelligence Summary forms that you might have seen before.
The Battle of Mons was the first battle that the 1st Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment would experience. The battle took place from the 22nd – 24th August, 1914 as the British Expeditionary Force tried to prevent the German advance towards Paris.
On August 24th, the German attack spread along the length of the Mons-Condé Canal, where the battalion had been stationed as part of the 5th Division. Lt. Col. Ballard’s war diary tells the story of what happened next.
Under heavy fire the 3rd and 5th Divisions had to pull back. A rearguard needed to be found to protect the 5th Division’s uncovered left flank, and the task fell to the 1st Norfolks and the 1st Cheshires with Ballard as their commanding officer.
The German infantry advanced, leaving the Norfolks and the Cheshires dangerously isolated. They fought on, and eventually the Norfolks managed to rejoin the rest of their brigade. Casualties were heavy but, due to the courageous actions of the two battalions, the rest of the 5th Division had been able to retreat.
By May 1915 a popular rumour arose that angels had protected the troops in battle.
However, Private Robert Sheldrake of the 1st Battalion wrote to his local newspaper to heartily dispute this story: “I and many of my old comrades who made that memorable retreat wondered at the time where our rum ration went the first fortnight. Perhaps those who saw the visions can explain.”