Following up to “Great Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?”

Back in January we posted about the research undertaken into the naval service record of Horace Collar. More research has now been undertaken into the 1917 incident aboard HMS Centaur that lead to Horace losing all of his personal effects.

A very large envelope from the National Archives were delivered to the family and a story worthy of the BBC Radio Comedy The Navy Lark unravelled.

According to the book North Sea War 1914-1919 by Robert Malster:

On 23rd October 1917 Tyrwhitt (Commander of the Harwich Fleet) was told that a number of destroyers were expected to sale from Zebrugge for a north German port. Four light cruisers, Canterbury, Carysfort, Centaur, and Concord, with a flotilla leader and four destroyers, left Harwich to intercept them, but the enemy ships slipped past that night.


On their way back to port the flotilla ran into a severe gale and it is at this point Centuar was damaged. An explosion towards the aft of the ship  caused considerable damage to the engine room necessitating Centaur to be out of action undergoing repairs for quite some time.

The documents from the National Archive are incredibly interesting as they are so contradictory.  One document, listing the findings from an investigation dated 27th October 1917, states that it is the considered opinion that the damage was caused by a surface mine exploding near the ship:

centaur 1 centaur 2


This theory is, however, refuted in all of the other documents in the pack and in Malster’s book, where the conclusion is that the high seas and gale caused the depth charges stored at the back of Centaur to be washed overboard where at least one detonated and damaged the ship!

centaur 3


The documents make fascinating reading and include the transcript from the Court of Enquiry and instructions on how to run the Enquiry. The good news to this from the family perspective is that Horace Collar is not mentioned at all in the paperwork, and on a broader level no one was killed, indeed the report reads “I am glad to report that beyond one Officer who (was) slightly shaken no casualties were incurred.”


HMS Centaur during WW1

HMS Centaur during WW1


Guided Tour – The Norfolk Regiment in World War 1

I have been guiding the battlefields of the Western Front for twelve years and take both adult and school groups across each year. No matter where the groups come from I will always intertwine my visits with stories of Norfolk Regiment men. On my latest tour, which I conducted between 21st and 22nd March with Lydiard Park Academy, who come from Swindon, I introduced them to a number of areas where the Norfolk Regiment served and where men fell whilst also showing them various aspects of WW1.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission 741 men from Norfolk Regiment now lie in Flanders Fields. Whilst there I took the group to four specific sites where you will find them. These are Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial, the Menin Gate, Hooge Crater Cemetery and Essex Farm Cemetery.

Guiding for me is a mixture of showing groups some of the well-trodden areas of places on the Somme and the Ypres Salient and also being able to go off the beaten track to show areas that do not get visited as much. On my last tour it was looking at sites around Ypres. It is also about trying to get a balance right were myths are debated and the truth is told.

The first area on my itinerary was Hooge. Hooge is situated on the Menin Road and was a central point for the Germans pushing towards Ypres during the 1st Battle of Ypres between October and November 1914. Later on in the war this area became a focal again when we pushed the Germans back either side of the same road. 18 men from the Norfolk Regiment now rest in Hooge Cemetery. 16 men come from the 1st Battalion and 2 come from the 8th Battalion. They fell between August and October 1917 during the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Two of these men are Alan Jack Dix who was the son of Robert and Maud Dix of 87 Mill Hill Rd in Norwich and Horace Andrew Pembroke who was the son of Peter and Margaret Pembroke from Ilford in Essex.

The graves of Alan Jack Dix and Horace Andrew Pembroke who now lie in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

Horace was killed on 7th October 1917 when the 1st Battalion was relieved by the 16th Royal Warwickshires around Inverness Copse and Alan died two days later when the battalion was put back in the line to assist in the assault on Polderhoek Chateau. The Norfolks assaulted at 05.20hrs and the attack was a failure due to the battalion on the right being held up and the weather conditions being atrocious. In that period alone the battalion lost 38 killed, 144 wounded and 112 missing.

We next moved onto Hill 60 and the Caterpillar Mine. The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment came here in March 1915 serving both around Hill 60 and Verbranden Molen from that time onwards until June of that year. In that time they fought at the 2nd Battle of Ypres and many of their casualties were lost to artillery and gas. One of the most notable was the battalion’s Adjutant Captain William Cecil Kennedy Megaw. William was killed in action on 31st March 1915.Captain William Cecil Kennedy Megaw who was killed in action serving around Hill 60 in March 1915.

Captain William Cecil Kennedy Megaw who was killed in action serving around Hill 60 in March 1915.

I use Hill 60 as a point of reference for the fact that Germans often held the high ground and from this point you can look towards Ypres. I also talk about the mine warfare that occurred here, culminating in the Hill 60 and Caterpillar mines being exploded here on 7th June 1917 at the opening phase of the Battle of Messines.   

Essex Farm is situated on the Yser Canal and was once used as an Advanced Dressing Station between 1915 and 1917. Men would be transported there from the battlefield and treated prior to being evacuated. Sadly 1,200 Commonwealth and German servicemen did not recover and are now buried there. This includes 3 Norfolk Regiment men. They are Eli Cox, Alfred Knights and William Mason. Both Alfred and William were killed in action serving with the 9th Battalion on the night of 1st/2nd June 1916 during a working party. Alfred was the son of Arthur and Emma Jane Knights of 6 Cozens Road in Norwich and had served with the battalion since 4th October 1915. Not much is known about William but he had served with the battalion since 30th May 1915 and was born in St James.
Image 3

Alfred Knights who was killed in action 2nd June 1916.

Eli is listed as serving with the 7th Battalion but at the time of his death he was attached to the 173rd Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers and was killed in action on 9th June 1916. Like a number of men in the 7th Battalion Eli had been posted to the 7th Norfolks from other parts of the country and he was the son of Mrs. E. Cox, of Red Cottage Greenfield near Ampthill in Bedfordshire.

Image 4

The graves of Alfred Knights and William Mason in Essex Farm Cemetery.

Essex Farm is also the final resting place of the most visited 15 year old in this sector. Valentine Joe Strudwick was serving with the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade when he and a number of other men were killed in action when a shell landed in their trench. They are buried in a row next to each other. Secondly the dressing station was home to John McCrae who was serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in May 1915. He was inspired to write the famous poem In Flanders Fields after his friend Alex Helmer was killed. Whilst at Essex Farm I show my student groups both of these famous individuals and ask someone from the group to read out In Flanders Fields.

54,395 men are recorded on the Menin Gate, 138 of them are recorded on the Norfolk Regiment panel. Every evening, 365 days of the year, come rain or shine, members of the Belgian Fire Service play the Last Post at 8 p.m. in a ceremony that has been carried out since 1928 and only was only stopped in WW2 during the German occupation of Belgium. Every group I take over attend a ceremony and many lay wreaths on behalf of their school. This was the case on the night of 21st March when two pupils from Lydiard Park Academy laid a wreath. It is always a humbling experience.

Image 5

The Norfolk Regiment panel on the Menin Gate.

Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world. It now holds the remains of 11,962 men, 8,374 of those are unidentified. At the rear of the cemetery the Tyne Cot memorial records the names of 35,000 men who have no known grave and whose names could not be put on the Menin Gate Memorial. Within Tyne Cot there are 7 identified Norfolk Regiment men and 257 Norfolk Regiment are commemorated on the memorial.

One of the Norfolk Regiment men buried in Tyne Cot is William Hampston 11th August 1917. William was born in Kirton In Lindsey in Lincolnshire and was living at 7 Melbourne Street, Kings Lynn working as a Butchers Manager and was the son of Rebecca Hampston.

Image 6

The grave of William Hampston in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

On the day that William was killed the 8th Battalion were in the line around Inverness Copse. The Germans attempted a number of attacks on a strong-point vacated by the 11th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. The Norfolks were ordered to counter attack which they did and the strong-point was recaptured and consolidated. The Germans attempted a number of counter attacks, all of which were beaten off, and the battalion then reorganised the line. In this action the 8th Battalion lost 60 men killed.

From Tyne Cot you can look back towards Ypres. On a clear day you can see the spires of the town silhouetted against the skyline approximately 4.5 miles away. The bunkers within the cemetery were used as a stretcher bearer post and a doctor and his staff were in another who were part of the 11th Canadian Field Ambulance. On 26th October 1917 the stretcher bearers lost 10 men and one of them that survived noted that, ‘Hell was never like that…’

Tyne Cot is now a focal point of virtually every group that visits this area. The King visited Tyne Cot in 1922 and it is said that King George V had expressed his views that the largest German blockhouse be retained, rather than removed as planned, so it sits under the cross. The architect of the cemetery Sir Herbert Baker noted,

‘I was told that the King, when he was there [in 1922], said that this blockhouse should remain. He expressed a natural sentiment, but in order to avoid the repellent sight of a mass of concrete in the midst of hallowed peace, which we wished to emphasize, a pyramid of stepped stone was built above it, leaving a small square of the concrete exposed in the stonework;…’

Image 7

The Cross of Sacrifice at Tyne Cot

If you do climb up the cross of sacrifice and look back towards Ypres it is a good place to stop and reflect on the sacrifice made by men from the Norfolk Regiment who now lie in Flanders Fields.

Submitted by Steve Smith.

Wood Norton Remembers

We Will Remember: Exhibition to remember Alfred William Ducker, who fell at the Seige of Kut.

We’ve been contacted by the project team who are undertaking a Heritage Project in the Norfolk village of Wood Norton.

This team is looking into the lives of the 44 people commemorated on the village memorial, all bar one who appear to relate to WW1. The team are concentrating mostly on the twelve men (10 soldiers and 2 sailors) who lost their lives during the First World War and impressively have managed to establish  the dates of death for all these men, as well as who they served with and where they fell.

The research is resulting in regular exhibitions and the team’s next event will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Alfred William Ducker who fell at the Siege of Kut.  (Our regular Mesopotamian researcher will write more about this later in April – ed.)

We have been working on the names on our War Memorial, and information can be found on our village website at

The team’s exhibition sounds fascinating, and full details can be found in the poster below:

Wood Norton Heritage Project exhibition poster-page-0



Images from the Archive

Thorpe St Andrew, a wartime wedding in uniform


Cicely Spencer marries J.B. Fathers in 1818. Mrs Fathers was an Officer in the Forage Corps, Royal Army Service Corps in Norfolk during the First World War. The Women’s Forage Corps was established by the Government in 1915, at that time the British Army was reliant chiefly on horse power and the demand for forage was huge.

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted on (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

Shakespeare at War

2016 is being celebrated as #Shakespeare400 around the world as this year marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.  On first glance it didn’t seem like there would be many links between this anniversary and the First World War but we were quickly surprised…

Hiding in our reserve collections was this gem of a book:

Shakespearean War Calendar by Rev. Fredk. Askew

Shakespearean War Calendar by Rev. Fredk. Askew


Compiled by the Rev. Frederick Askew the foreword is incredibly jingoistic:


foreword Sh ww1 2


The contents are equally fascinating, as each day lists which Saint is celebrated on the day, what happened in the war during 1916 and then has the quote. They months have also been split into topics, for example the beginning of April takes Peace Mongers as a theme:april theme

The exact entry for April 4th (1917) reads:

april 4

I’m not 100% certain that this quote (or indeed many that the Rev. Askew uses) fill me with patriotic fervour but this book must have found an audience for at the back a second publication called Two Years of War: A Nation’s Psychology in Shakespeare’s Words is listed as being available to order.

Sadly we don’t have a copy of this in our collection (in fact if any one does have a copy then please do contact us as we would love to see it!) but this second publication has been quoted in books looking at the role Shakespeare has played in shaping Britain’s culture and national identity.

More research into these publications, and Shakespeare in general, during the First World War has also lead to the discovery that copies of the Complete Works of Shakespeare were presented to soldier’s disabled in the war “as a token of gratitude for their service and in the hope of providing comfort.”  These were financed by donations to the Kitchener Souvenir Committee which had been set up after Lord Kitchener’s death in 1916.

Again if anyone has a copy of this book in their family collection we would love to see a physical copy.


Throughout April all of Norfolk’s Libraries are promoting the Shakespeare to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of his death – pop in and find books about the Bard, his plays and more modern novels based which are based on the play as well as Shakespeare themed activities.

The Norfolk Regiment in April: Lodge Diaries

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.

April 1916 was a disastrous month for Norfolk’s 2nd battalion’s in Mesopotamia. Their winter campaign (which included defeat at the battle of Ctesiphon, and their retreat to Kut – Al – Amara) ended with the eventual collapse of Kut and the surrender of the whole fighting force, numbering over 10,000 men.

The events that took place through April and the following months are extremely well documented through the diaries of Lieutenant Colonel F C Lodge, of the 2nd Norfolk’s, who was present at the surrender. These diaries are now kept at the museum.

Lodge, far left, with Strickland, Gordon and Jickling, officers of the Norfolk Regiment

Lodge, far left, with Strickland, Gordon and Jickling, fellow officers of the Norfolk Regiment

On 29th April and over the following days, Lodge wrote;

“All guns and howitzers were destroyed this morning, also a large percentage of rifles and bayonets. Ammtn. [ammunition], revolvers, field glasses, thrown into the Tigris… Turkish Infantry entered Kut about 12 noon.”

“Many men fell out owing to feebleness…. The men were so ravenous that they ate some of the Turkish biscuits dry. This caused an outbreak of acute enteritis, due possibly to their interiors being in a weak state and quite unable to assimilate the hard tack. This caused a good many deaths in some of the units.”

'Adjutants of the 2nd Battalion'. Lodge is second from right, second row.

‘Adjutants of the 2nd Battalion’. Lodge is second from right, second row. Officers were treated extremely differently to their men following the surrender at Kut

For the Norfolk’s, some of whom were were already tired, starving and extremely ill, April marked the beginning of the end. Captivity under the Turks resulted in forced marching, extreme heat, disease, malnutrition and for many, death. Lodge’s diaries, like many other Officers, show a different picture however. It is startling to compare the fate of many Officers with the the fate of their men. On 4th April, Lodge writes;

“We were ordered to embark [by steamer] for BAGHDAD. We were sent up in echelons: the 1st… consisted of 100 British officers, including 4 Generals, 50 native officers with an orderly apiece. Each General was allowed a cook and 2 orderlies; a colonel 2, Lt. Col 2, others 1 each. I as a temporary Lt. Col. Took two – Rogers, and Wigger as a cook… The men were then left with the NCOs.”

Indian Army Soldier after Siege at Kut. Taken from the UK National Archives

Indian Army soldier after Siege at Kut. A very different picture to Lodge and his fellow officers. Taken from the UK National Archives

Although still in a dire situation, Lodge’s following entries suggest a degree of comfort not shared by men, that improves over time. On 9th, 10th and 13th May he writes;

“arrived at a ramshackle empty hotel called Hotel Babylon., an evil smelling place. More delay whilst rooms were allotted…  were taken to a restaurant where we had a meal – the best I’ve had had in months…. Slept fairly well. Our room smelt so much, caused by a cesspool immediately below the window, we moved out and slept on the verandah which was a very large one… Our little party pitched out belonging near a Greek engineer’s house. They were very kind to us, giving us what they could spare – tea, cheese, milk.”

We may never know the extent to which which Lodge and of his fellow Officers were told of the fate of their men. Perhaps they never knew, or were simply naive. His diaries illuminate a great deal about the Officer class during 1916, and spark some real emotion. It is difficult to empathise with Lodge, who still celebrated “PAYDAY”, and received 3 parcels on his birthday, including 2 from Fortnum and Mason. Regardless, the diaries are an invaluable source to the museum and well worth a read.

War Diary April 1916

War Norfolk
Dublin Uprising 


The Irish republicans launch an uprising in Dublin. It lasts until 1 May and is suppressed by the British authorities. The leaders are executed, causing deep resentment.

Great Yarmouth Shelled


Heavy shelling caused damage at the Electricity Corporation building as well as a fire in some of the fishermen’s premises.

Seige of Kut Ends 


The Anglo-Indian garrison in Kut finally surrenders to the besieging Turkish forces after holding out for 143 days

Made to Measure Uniform


A recent recruit to Norfolk Regiment, 27 year old  Pte Lambert, had to have his kit specially made as he was almost 6ft 6″ tall and had size 13 feet.