As promised last month here is some more information about the graffiti that inspired the Scars of War project that took place in West Norfolk this autumn. We are very grateful to Kevin Hitchcock for all the research he has undertaken uncovering the fascinating stories behind the names. This post will explain the general history and the following ones will be the stories of just three of the men.
Scars of War – the graffiti
King’s Lynn Library was barely ten years old when hostilities broke out in 1914. Opened by Carnegie himself, the library was a source of great civic pride, its architecture forming a much-loved landmark that still attracts tourists to this day. Few, however, realise as they pass by the Library, that it holds a sad and poignant secret story that is only now being told.
During the first world war, Norfolk was a prime location for a possible German invasion and with the full-time professional army serving abroad, it was the County Yeomanry regiments that were tasked with protecting our coast. Many of these regiments had long and proud histories and, under the Haldane reforms of 1907, became the forerunner of our modern territorial forces. Under these reforms, volunteers joining these regiments had the option to volunteer for overseas service or ‘imperial service’; what was known as being ‘emboldened’. So many volunteered for Imperial service that second line regiments were formed from those unwilling to serve abroad, or those too old or who were not A1 fit. These were tasked with home defence duties, recruiting and training. So, it was that, in June 1915, the 2/2 Mounted Division was moved to west Norfolk with its headquarters in King’s Lynn.
Up to two thousand men descended on the town, keeping their horses on The Walks and Friars Field, and billeted in local people’s homes. The Berkshire Yeomanry were later housed in the Workhouse, a move that nearly sparked a mutiny!
Those who were wealthy enough managed to secure rooms in local hotels, the Park View being particularly popular with its ample stabling. Because they were initially under strength, some of the regiments took the unprecedented step of advertising in their home counties, consequently many men travelled to Lynn to join up. At that point in the war, men could still volunteer for the regiment of their choice.
Three regiments in particular left a lasting impact on the town, the 2/1 South Midland Mounted Brigade consisted of the 2/1 Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (QOOH), the 2/1 Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars (RBH) and the 2/1 Berkshire Yeomanry. It was these regiments that (from October 1915) were ordered to man an observation point (OP), with a direct telephone line to the war office, on the Library Tower (letters show that perhaps they weren’t always 100% respectful of the building! – ed.)
The young soldiers who manned the OP left their graffiti on the bricks and in the process inspired the Scars Of War project!
With the help of the various county Yeomanry Associations and Museums, I have pieced together the stories of some of the men and their sad fates. Out of the thirty or so men traced so far, seven were killed and many more were injured. In a way their stories are the story of the war. They came to Lynn full of hope and enthusiasm in the summer of 1915, but by 1916, happy memories of Lynn were sadly extinguished. Their graffiti, a sad and unique reminder of the cruelty of war.
Kevin Hitchcock, autumn 2018