The Wartime Journal of Edith Upcher including Zeppelin Raids

This small diary is amongst a collection of Upcher family papers housed at the Norfolk Record Office, and gives a first-hand account of the experiences of a resident of Sheringham Hall, home to the Upchers, as well as revealing the general atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the area. The diarist, thought to be Edith Upcher, explains that she meant to start her journal in 1914 but the ‘crowding in of events’ prevented her.  She recalls the Zeppelins going overhead along the coast in January of 1915, dropping bombs in the Holt area, shaking doors and windows as they headed for a nearby aerodrome.  Nearby Bayfield Hall suffered damage, and a girl reportedly lost her power of speech after seeing the terrifying aircraft.

In the quiet of her own room at night Edith reports that she has trouble sleeping, imagining the return of the bombers, wondering where they had been next and what havoc had been wreaked by the ‘night monsters of prey’. Things are calmer during the day, though, and she walks up the hill that evening to watch the sunset despite seeing smoke over Sheringham’s Grand Hotel.  Throughout the next couple of months there was ‘a great deal of agitation about’, with soldiers on the links at night, and stories of German ships being captured offshore. One report said the enemy had landed at Weybourne, a common fear owing to its deep harbour, and that the Germans were going around shaking the hands of locals with one hand and knifing them with the other!

One another occasion, Edith recalls, the lifeboat was called out to a rescue, but orders had been given to fire on any boat trying to land on the beach.  Fresh order soon had to be issued exempting the lifeboat crew, but the fishermen who helped launch her had to have a military escort to ensure their safety.  Another alarm was caused by rattling windows and a loud bang – “Of course no-ones suggestions were the right ones”, writes the diarist, a floating mine had come ashore and burst near the town’s outflow pipe.  Locals had assembled to watch the spectacle but their hunger soon got the better of them and they left for breakfast.

Meanwhile, stories from abroad of the casualties of war were filtering through, and Edith’s mother started up a Red Cross working party in aid of Armenian refugees. A friend stayed at the Hall who had been sent home from the front with Rheumatic Fever, and was very depressed by the thought of having to return from ‘Heaven to Hell’. Edith herself began working in a nearby hospital for wounded soldiers and recalls the singsongs started by the nurses to try to assuage fears of patients over bombings and invasion.

A couple of years later, in August 1917, a grand Empire Pageant was held in aid of the work of the Red Cross at Sheringham Park.  The programme announces country dancing, drama with woodland scenes, the May Queen and a Flower Frolic, and a patriotic procession led by Britannia, supported by female empire builders including Joan of Arc and Queen Victoria.  The procession also included Florence Nightingale and the Red Cross nurses, munitions workers, land girls, post women, etc. representing the many areas in which women were contributing to the war effort, and ended with the singing of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and, of course, the National Anthem.

Submitted by Liz Larby, Gresham’s School Archivist.

Diary entries can be found in Norfolk Record Office, references:(NRO re. UPC 188, 642 x 2) (NRO ref. UPC 55).

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