Read All About It!

Read All About It!

I’ve been looking at some newspapers recently, and thought I’d see what they were reporting about the effect the war was having at home in Norfolk. We have a number of different local newspapers in the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Millennium Library, so I chose to concentrate on a county publication rather than a Norwich title.


The first title I looked at was the Diss Express, which is available on microfilm in the Heritage Centre, like most of the papers held here. This paper, like many of this period, contains a front page of adverts for local traders and a couple of pages of generic content including very short ‘news’ items which report events and incidents from around Britain, though without giving very much detail. Space is also given to reporting on local news in a standard pattern. There are short reports from local villages, letters to the Editor, summaries of meetings of local councils and other organisations and information about local agricultural activity.


I looked through the weekly issues of the Diss Express that covered the early months of 1916, and my general impression was that the war was acknowledged as being an ever-present feature of life at the time, but not something that overtook daily routines and activities at home. I guess it’s a similar situation to looking at a local paper during the period of the Falklands War in the 1980s.


One of the regular weekly items is a message from the Diss VAD Hospital, where the Committee gratefully acknowledges a list of gifts received during the week. Items given and donors’ names are listed – there are usually eggs, groceries, fruit and vegetables, bread and cakes, and sometimes cigarettes and tickets for the Picture House.



Kirstead Hospital

Kirstead Hospital – photo courtesy of Picture Norfolk


On the 14th January there’s a report on Women’s work on the land. The Norfolk Ladies’ Committee re Shortage of Labour and Registration of War Work for Women is reported to be “doing good work in the direction of recruiting for agricultural labour”. The report goes on to note that there were over 1700 women war workers in hand, representing 130 villages and they’d been occupied with “pulling beet, spreading manure, topping and tailing, and…doing a heavy kind of carting.”

(East Wretham, loading the carts with beet crops early 20th century, from Picture Norfolk)

(East Wretham, loading the carts with beet crops early 20th century, from Picture Norfolk)

The farmers were encouraged to support the war effort, too. There’s a report on the 21st January about a recent “conference of agriculturists” held in Diss. Mr Arthur Amos MA of the Cambridge School of Agriculture gave an address on Cropping in war time. His speech is summarised in the article, but briefly he told the assembled farmers that they had “three points to aim at: firstly to produce as much food as possible; secondly to produce it with the utmost economy of labour and thirdly to keep the land as clean as it could be.”


Not all country pursuits were to be recommended however. The following item was published in the 7th January edition:pigeon

In the 28th January edition I found an interesting report about Comforts for Diss interned prisoners in Germany. “Mr and Mrs Johnson of the Crown and Anchor have recently raised funds for sending parcels to 5 Diss soldiers known to be interned in Germany.” It’s fascinating to read the list of contents of the parcels – each man received

  •                     1 tin coffee and milk
  •                     1 tin cocoa
  •                     1lb Oxo cubes
  •                     ¼lb tea
  •                     2lb tinned beef
  •                     1lb tinned salmon
  •                     ½lb peppermints
  •                     2lb biscuits
  •                     Tablet Pear’s soap
  •                     6 boxes matches
  •                     4 cases cigars
  •                     8oz tobacco
  •                     4pkts Gold Flakes

The paper reports that postcards acknowledging receipt of the parcels had been received from the men.

Letters from other soldiers to Mrs Thomas, of the local Red Cross are also regularly published – here are a couple that tell the reader about conditions abroad:

The Fort, Allahabad, India

January 20th, 1916

Dear Madam

I am writing this to thank you and the people of Diss for your kindness in sending out the parcel of comforts which I received safely. We of the Regular Army, who have been forced to remain behind in India while our more favoured comrades have gone to one or the other of the fighting fronts, have felt the disappointment very much, and the fact of you having remembered us as well as the boys actually in the firing line has made the disappointment less keen.

I can assure you that your efforts on behalf of the men from Diss are very much appreciated, and the men themselves do not mind the hardships half so much when they know that the people at home are thinking of their welfare. Again thanking you all for your kindness,-I remain yours very sincerely,

Percy Pleasance, Gnr


Dear Mrs Thomas

Just a line to thank you for the parcel of woollies etc., which I received last night. Never was a parcel more gratefully received as had just got back from the trenches after a ten days innings, the last five of which I and twenty others (bomb throwers) had spent in the sap heads [listening posts] in a large crater, bombing. It has been awfully wet and cold and the trenches are flooded in many places. We got back to this small mining village, a mile or two behind the lines, about 11pm, absolutely wet through to the thighs and was awfully glad when I found such a fine thick pair of socks, as had got “Trench Feet”. I had got no other socks left in my pack, so you can guess how grateful I was. Am sure you and the other kind friends in Diss are well pleased when you find how appreciated your parcels are by us fellows out here. Our Batt. has started leave, so may soon be able to thank you personally for your kindness. With kind regards to yourself and the kind friends in Diss, I remain, yours sincerely

Pte G S Palmer

15Plt D Co (5 Batt) Royal Fus.

I’m tempted to read my way through our entire collection of papers between 1914 and 1918, and include many more snippets from them here, but there are limits on space and time available, so will draw to a close now with the promise that I’ll find some more news items to include in a future contribution to the blog, and an open invitation to all readers to come along to the Norfolk Heritage Centre (open 6 days each week) and look at some of the old newspapers, free of charge, with helpful staff to assist with finding microfilms and putting them onto the reading machines.


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