The Norfolk Regiment in October: Cecil Upcher’s recovery

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 the Norfolk’s 9th battalion, October 1915 was a month of rest. The end of September had been marred by serious fighting around the quarries of Hulluch, a small mining commune, and so October was spent largely recovering from this. At Hulluch, the battalion had suffered a total of 209 casualties, including 5 Officers killed and 9 wounded.

Cecil Upcher, architect turned soldier.

Cecil Upcher, architect turned soldier.

One of these wounded Officers was 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Upcher. After the battle, he wrote in a letter to his fiancee,

“I got a bullet through the fleshy part of my left thigh…. Feeling a bit of a humbug to be leaving it all, but walking is rather a job at present.   We had to take a Bosch position at 7 am yesterday… and I got bowled over with a lot of others I fear…. It’s rotten luck being knocked out first go in.”

For Upcher, an architect before the War, October 1915 was spent in a hospital in Britain. His wound was tended, and he spent time with his fiancee, Hilda Ward, whom he had written to on a daily basis.

Transcriptions of Upcher’s letters are kept in the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum today and prove remarkable reading. Upcher’s architectural background and keen eye for detail are ever-present; he includes vivid sketches of his current dugouts and gives exact measurements.

One of many dugout sketches that Upcher drew for his fiancee.

One of many dugout sketches that Upcher drew for his fiancee.

These beautiful sketches continue after Upcher’s return to action in 1916, and reveal a great deal about day-to-day life of a 9th battalion officer during the War. On the whole he wrote about long marches and troop movements, but his sketches and occasional anecdotes are particularly insightful. One such story to his fiancee goes;

“This afternoon…. we played soccer against the officers of a neighbouring Regt.   About the first time I’ve ever played the game or any of us for that matter.   We had quite a good match but just lost.”

Upcher marrying Hilda Ward.

Upcher marrying Hilda Ward.

Unfortunately for Upcher, October 1915 and the days of playing soccer were to be short lived. In mid 1916 he succumbed to shell-shock and was gripped by deep depression. He was invalided home.

After the war he married Hilda and returned to architecture. He designed the First World War Memorial Cottages at Mousehold, and later the Second World War Bungalows close by.  He helped restore Pull’s Ferry and worked on many church projects across Norfolk. As his remarkable letters home show, it was a labour of love.

Another of Upcher's wonderfully detailed drawings.

Another of Upcher’s wonderfully detailed drawings.

From 23rd November the Regimental Museum and The Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell will be launching exhibitions based on Upcher and the Memorial Cottages. For more information email joseph.hoyle@norfolk.gov.uk

 

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