Santa Warned to Obscure his Headlights A Carrow Christmas

Information taken from Carrow Works Magazines held at the Norfolk Record Office

The Carrow Works magazines reflected the strong community of all those employed by the Colman family in Norwich. It would routinely document the births, marriages and deaths of its employees, chronicle its social events, inform readers with interesting articles and give details about the comings and goings of the Colman family itself.

Thus, when war broke out, there was much to write about which directly concerned the Colman family and their employees with news of those on active service and those left behind at home. In the first months of the war, 250 Carrow employees had enlisted of whom 88 were married with a total of about 180 children. Christmas was a particularly difficult time and much was done to bring some cheer to all those affected by war.


A Christmas greeting in the Carrow Works magazine at the start of the war. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1915

A Christmas Gift Service had been an annual Carrow event since 1901 with gifts usually going to local causes. On December 20th 1914 the 13th Annual Christmas Gift Service was held in the Carrow Club House.

 This time it was felt that the needs of the ‘stranger within thy gates’ should be thought of, so it was decided that all gifts be sent to Belgian Refugees in England.

The gifts were largely clothes which had been made at home. 283 garments were sent and a small number of toys. The following year the annual service helped those suffering in war zones in France or Flanders. Gifts included clothing and lavender bags, the lavender having been grown in the Carrow Gardens.

On Boxing Day 1914 the wives and children of those who had gone to war were invited by Mrs Colman to a ‘Tea and Christmas Tree Entertainment’ at the Carrow Schoolroom. Some children were lucky enough to have their fathers home on leave and they went along too.


The huge tree, reaching to the ceiling, bedecked with the many toys dear to the childish heart. Carrow Works Magazine, April 1915

The April 1915 article recorded that a splendid tea of jellies, cream cakes and other tasty morsels had been provided. This was followed by crackers and, while the children on the whole were too young to understand the mottoes and jokes, they enjoyed the novelties inside and wearing the paper hats.

Afterwards there was an entertainment by Professor Greenie performing magic tricks. Some of his magic failed to convince the older children but his final trick impressed everyone as it resulted in a small gift for every child there.

The event ended with a Christmas parcel given to every child to open at home and the mothers were given a War Calendar as a souvenir of the occasion.

All felt that through the kindness of the Fairy Godmother many a young heart had been made happier at this otherwise sad Christmastide.

While the wives and children enjoyed their Boxing Day treat, Christmas on the front was no less magical despite the circumstances. In a letter from Colman employee Private J H Dawson of the Queen’s Westminsters, he wrote:

My Christmas was the most eventful I have ever or am ever likely to spend.

Dawson described how, on Christmas Eve, he witnessed a battalion exchanging Christmas greetings with the enemy who were in trenches 200 yards away. Several men went out and met them halfway and the soldiers exchanged cakes for wines. Two from his own battalion and two from another made their way into the German trenches unarmed “but as they had evidently seen too much they were kept as ‘souvenirs”.

No shots were fired that Christmas Eve night. Christmas Day was spent conversing and exchanging souvenirs with the Germans. Some of the officers took photos of the occasion.  “These were three Saxon regiments and were decent fellows”.

Dawson himself received a 1 pfennig coin, a signed card and some chocolate.

Others spent their Christmas in different circumstances. An article from the April 1916 magazine was entitled ‘How We Spent Christmas’ and was written by “Jock”, one of only four soldiers spending their Christmas in the Norwich District Nursing Home.

Waking up on Christmas morning we were surprised and delighted to find a large stocking on each of our cots. 

In the afternoon “Jock” and his comrades enjoyed a musical entertainment and on Boxing Day they were welcomed to the home of Mrs Beck in The Close. The following day they helped at a children’s party and the day after they were the guests of the Lady Mayoress Mrs Southwell.

Children at Carrow School also helped to give a little bit of Christmas cheer by sending parcels to all ex-pupils serving in the Army or Navy. The contents of the first parcels were a mixture of small treats and much needed essentials:

  • A diary and a pencil
  • 6 packets of cigarettes
  • 1 tin Boric acid powder
  • I tin Boric ointment
  • 1 tin lozenges
  • 1 tin candies
  • 1 booklet (One & All magazines, December and January)
  • 2 handkerchiefs.
  • 2 woollen articles
  • Motto card for 1915
  • Norfolk News (current week)
  • Note paper and envelopes
  • 1 bundle bootlaces

For the second Christmas of the war, parcels were once again sent to those on active service. Most parcels went to France and some to the Dardanelles. Some went to HMS Ark Royal which was “somewhere on the sea . . . no matches might be sent on account of the great amount of petrol used on board”.


Contents of a home parcel. Carrow Works Magazine, April 1916.

The April 1917 magazine reported that Christmas parcels in 1916 were sent to Egypt, Salonika and France. These had been packed in waterproof paper and then carefully sewn in calico. The gifts were understandably well-received and the children received many letters of thanks. Sergeant R. J. S. wrote from France:

It was a great and pleasant surprise – every article will be most useful, and great care must have been exercised in the choice.  It is nearly twelve months since I left, but I can plainly see I am not forgotten.

What is clear in his letter is not only his gratitude for the items sent but how reassuring it was that he had not been forgotten. Many soldiers had been away from home for a long time and needing to be remembered and to be reminded of home was a common theme in wartime letters.

By Christmas 1915 the country was continuing to endure the nighttime blackness because of the fear of zeppelin raids. This caused many difficulties throughout the year but at Christmastime the children’s concern was ensuring Santa still knew how to find his way. An article in the January 1916 magazine gave Santa some sound advice while also taking the opportunity to make a pointed comment about those who had not yet enlisted:

One wonders how darkness will affect Christmas. Children who are on good terms with “Santa Claus” will have to warn him to obscure his head-lights and to exhibit a red rear-light. . . . . . Let us hope he finds the right chimneys, for a pop-gun intended for a younger brother would be hardly welcome by the bedside of a slacker, who had so far dodged the khaki.

If Santa was to find his way then it was equally important that he had some toys to deliver. A small toy-making enterprise was set up in Norwich which addressed both the problem of women with no work and the need for toys in wartime as many had previously come from Germany. The factory was at 5 St Margaret’s Street, off St Benedict’s Street. From humble beginnings it grew to be very successful.

The present season finds us busy with orders for Christmas from London firms such as Messrs. Gamage, Liberty, Harrod, Gorringe and others.


The Norwich toy-making factory. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1916.

Although the war ended in November 1918, many continued to be on active service. Christmas parcels continued to be sent to those overseas.

Owing to the uncertainty of their movements, several did not receive their parcels until the New Year, but the delay in delivery did not render the gifts less welcome.

Following the armistice, the annual Christmas message expressed the thoughts of the nation; joy for the safe return of loved ones and remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.


The 1918 Christmas message. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1919. 

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger


‘She Stoops to Conquer’ – Norwich Schoolgirls Do Their Bit for the War

From the Records of Norwich Municipal Secondary Girls’ School (NRO, D/ED 23/11 746×3) and the Carrow Works Magazines held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Unlike their male peers, girls in secondary schools during the First World War were not faced with the imminent prospect of enlisting for active service. However, they had brothers, fathers and other family and friends who were on active duty. Like many other members of the local community, the girls from The Norwich Municipal Secondary Girls’ School (which later became The Blyth-Jex School) were equally quick to respond to do their bit for the war effort.

Throughout the duration of the war the girls, while continuing with their studies, engaged in a wide variety of charitable activities. These were reported on in each school magazine under the heading “Our War Work” with the report being written by the current Head Girl. The first such report appeared in the 1915 midsummer magazine looking back on the school year September 1914 to July 1915. It covered the period just after the war had started, when children had returned to school after their summer holidays to a very different world, to the summer of 1915 when it was self-evident that the war would not be over by Christmas.

M Barber, Head Girl writing the first report, began by stating:

All of our War Work has been done in connexion with the Girls’ Patriotic Union of Secondary Schools instituted by the Association of Head Mistresses of Public Secondary Schools.  This is a fitting time to glance back over the past year, not with any idea of self satisfaction, but to see what measure of success our efforts have attained.


The final War Work Report details the range of causes supported by the girls. Norfolk Record Office, D/ED 23/11, 746X3

The girls’ efforts fell into five broad categories. Some continued for the duration of the war whilst others changed in focus, responding to the demands and needs of the time.

Fund raising was a constant. Contributions from individual girls and members of staff raised £70 15s 1d for the Belgian Girl Hospitality Fund. In the first ten months of the war 265,000 Belgian refugees had arrived in Britain and their needs were great. In addition, each form within the school had a form money box. These would be opened at Christmas, Spring and twice in the summer term. The proceeds from the ‘Form Money Boxes Fund’ went to a range of good causes, largely local eg. Lakenham Military Hospital, Christmas gifts to the wounded in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the Edith Cavell Memorial.

Some of the fundraising efforts went to national appeals. In the 1915-1916 magazine G Coman, Head Girl, reported that £3 10s 6d had been raised for cigarettes and tobacco.  Tobacco Funds were popular at this time, as the Norfolk Record Office’s October blog post demonstrates. In the 1916-1917 magazine, Head Girl A Brierley reported that £5 5s 0d had been raised for the Eastern Daily Press Christmas Pudding Appeal. This appeal linked to The Army Christmas Pudding Fund which was launched in the run-up to Christmas 1916 by The Daily News and The Daily Telegraph. The Eastern Evening News, on 13th November 1916 wrote:

The War Office have accepted the offer of The Daily News and The Daily Telegraph to collect funds for the provision of puddings for the troops of the various expeditionary forces.

By this time, through the War Charities Act 1916, it was compulsory for national appeals to be registered so that such charitable activities could be regulated. A contribution of 6d would provide a Christmas pudding for one man while £21 would provide puddings for a whole battalion. Those who donated were listed in the local papers which sent details of local units at the Front to the Daily News to ensure that Norfolk soldiers did not miss out on their Christmas pudding.

Putting on entertainments raised much needed funds while also giving the girls the opportunity to have some fun. Various concerts and dramatic productions were performed. The proceeds from an Empire Day concert went to the Edith Cavell Local Memorial Fund, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ raised money for the Mercantile Marine and ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ was in aid of the Norwich War Hospitals’ Supply Depot at 10 Castle Street, Norwich.


‘She Stoops to Conquer’ raised funds for the Norwich War Hospital Depot on 10, Castle Street. NRO,  D/ED 23/11, 746X3

The Needlework Guild in the school was active throughout the war. Knitted and sewn garments were produced for various needy causes with the girls often providing their own materials. Head Girl A Brierley reported in 1917 that 558 knitted and sewn garments had been made the previous school year. This included 12 Red Cross nightshirts, 25 nightingales, 16 helpless nightshirts and 78 treasure bags. Treasure bags were filled with essential items such as soap and handkerchiefs and given to prisoners, refugees and those in internment camps. They were distributed by the Red Cross.

All of the girls were encouraged to come up with their own ideas to help the war effort and there was a range of miscellaneous activities undertaken. Eggs were collected and shared between the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Lakenham Hospital. Magazines were collected for wounded soldiers. A large doll was dressed in Russian costume and sold for £1. Sandbags were sent to the Norwich War Hospital Supply Depot. Form VA ‘adopted’ two prisoners of war in Germany and sent them food and comforts. In summer 1916 Head Girl G Coman wrote:

In all forms flowers and various other commodities have been sold, and girls have earned money in many ways.

The girls’ activities responded to the needs of the time. Having supported The Belgian Girl Hospitality Fund for two years, their efforts were redirected to the War Savings Association in 1916-1917. When rationing was introduced in 1917 the girls had helped by checking meat coupons. The school also took on responsibility for the Swab Department at the Castle Street Hospital Supply Depot working there on Saturday afternoons from November 1915 to December 1918.


The Norwich War Hospital Depot. Norfolk Record Office, Carrow Works magazines

By the end of the war a total of £437 0s 9d had been raised. Their efforts did not end in 1918. Two thanksgiving memorials were established. The school founded the M.M.S (Municipal Secondary School) Cot in the Jenny Lind Infirmary and an annual school prize which was called the School Thanksgiving Memorial Prize.

While their war efforts largely ceased, the girls were mindful that the immediate future would also bring its difficulties. In winding up the School War Savings Association after the armistice, and in her final War Report, the Head Girl wrote:

The need for thrift both from the national and individual point of view is still acute, and it is sincerely hoped that all will continue to save as much as possible and to invest their money in War Savings Certificates through the Post Office.

The City of Norwich Peace Celebrations in 1919 were an opportunity for the staff and girls at the school to celebrate the end of the war with their own party although many, no doubt, would have also been mourning the loss of their loved ones and would be welcoming home those who would be troubled by their war experiences for the rest of their lives.


An invitation to the school’s Peace Party. NRO, D/ED 23/11, 746X3

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Heigham Woodbine Willie and the “Kindly Dole”

Tobacco Funds in the First World War

From the Records of St Barnabas Church, Heigham and the Meade Family Records held at the Norfolk Record Office (ACC 2007/9 Box 20 and MEA 11/112, 663×6)

When you are privileged enough to read the personal letters shared between soldiers at the Front and family and friends back home, common threads reveal themselves. There is the need for news from home. There is the often unsaid appeal that, having been away for so long, the soldiers have not been forgotten. Then there is the gratitude for gifts sent which did much to not only alleviate physical discomforts but also bring some morale-boosting pleasure to the tedium and dangers of the battlefield. It is in this final context that cigarettes played such a huge role in boosting the morale of the troops during the First World War.

In October 2014 Lord Kitchener asked that a ‘Smokes for Soldiers and Sailors Fund’ be set up for those on active service as well as those in hospitals and convalescent homes. At the time there was no real awareness of the dangers of smoking and cigarettes were greatly enjoyed by many, as described in the correspondence of the Amherst sisters. The Post Office helped facilitate this by allowing cigarettes to be sent by the cheaper letter post instead of parcel post. Customs duty in France was also waived.

This blog looks at two sets of records held at the Norfolk Record Office. Each illustrates a different approach to Lord Kitchener’s request. The illustrations are all taken from the Meade collection.

The newspaper ‘The Weekly Dispatch’ set up ‘The Weekly Dispatch Tobacco Fund’. Their slogan was ‘Every 6d will gladden the heart of a HERO’.  Subscribers would pay into the Fund.  Cigarettes would then be sent out to the troops along with an addressed postcard for the recipients to reply to the donor. Some of the postcards asked that the returned card be subsequently sent on to the Tobacco Fund to stimulate more subscriptions. The postcards featured different cartoons on the front.


Caption reads ‘More BACCY. Better fighting. Quicker Peace. Vere SAP.’ Norfolk Record Office: MEA 11/112, 663X6.

The soldiers’ replies were a mixture of gratitude and insight into life at the Front:

Just a line to thank you for your parcel of tobacco and cigarettes of which I was the lucky recipient.  It is indeed a great source of comfort to have tobacco to smoke while in the trenches, for which we have to rely on the generosity of our kind friends at home.  I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to you for your kindness, the packet arrived just at the time when I was wondering where the next smoke was coming from.

 It comes a pleasure when you are in the trenches for that is all you can do except watch one another for the ground (is) very wet.

Just received cigarettes from the firm mentioned on the other side of card from you.   I was very pleased and also some of my comrades who I have been sharing them with.  These little comforts help to cheer us up a bit and it’s nice to know that we are not forgot in the old land.

Having just come out of the trenches we find it very refreshing to sit down and take a nice quiet smoke.


A message of thanks for cigarettes and tobacco received. NRO: MEA 11/112, 663X6

While the Meade family responded to a national appeal, Samuel Frederick Leighton Green set up his own tobacco fund within his parish of St Barnabas Church in Heigham, Norwich.

Green was an army chaplain from February 1916 to February 1919. He served with distinction throughout that time working alongside his London Regiment on the Front.  Each month he would write a letter to his parishioners which would be published in the parish magazine and it was through this that the ‘Mag-Fag Fund’ was established. The collection of Green’s letter was put together in the booklet ‘The Happy Padre’ (NRO: ACC 2007/9 Box 20).

Almost every letter Green wrote made some reference to the ‘Mag-Fag Fund’ and how important cigarettes were to the troops. He was ably abetted by Mr Frazer from St Barnabas who ran the fund from the church. In his very first letter Green wrote:

March 1916.  The Vicar has kindly consented to a fund at St Barnabas . . . There is one chronic complaint  which you can all help to control. It is lack of cigarettes. True the Army rations include forty cigarettes on every Sunday morning. This kindly dole alleviates the complaint for some thirty-six hours, and then it breaks out vehemently again.


Caption reads ‘A smoke is meat and drink to us out here’. NRO: MEA 11/112, 663X6

Green made sure his parishioners knew how important the cigarettes were to the soldiers and also how it aided his work as an army chaplain.

April 1916.  Let me thank you for the first parcel of goods for this station from the “Mag-Fag” Fund. . . If you could only see the faces of the recipients, as I go round the ward with your cigarettes and magazines.. . . . He (the army chaplain) must needs be a good listener . . . . there is little need for him to talk when once the ice is broken.  At this point your cigarettes and papers come in useful to cement the friendly relationship established.

When Green had leave he returned to St Barnabas and kept up his efforts to raise money for the ‘Mag-Fag Fund’. In March 1917 he visited families and collected for the fund and in August 1917, again on leave, a concert was held.

Maintaining the momentum of the Fund was a constant theme in Green’s letters. He did this by continually expressing his thanks to the parishioners and giving examples of how their funds made an impact on troop morale.

December 1916. I hope too that the Vicar will agree to the carrying on of our “Mag-Fag” Fund in the interest of my Battalions. In the trenches both run short from time to time and I shall always be glad to fill my pack with cigarettes and magazines as I go on my wandering in the trenches. 

February 1917. A cigarette makes all the difference when you are cold, and have to stand about, and somehow or other we view a bombardment in a different light if we have a cigarette between our lips.

May 1917. During the battle a Company Commander sent me a message: “Not a single man in my Company has had a cigarette for two days.  Can you help me?”  Fortunately I had one of my parcels in the rear. I sent for it and took it up, and earned undying gratitude. Well carry on and buck up the Mag-Fag Fund and earn some more gratitude.

July 1917.  Green wrote about receiving a note which read as follows:  “Dear Padre.  Can you help us?  We have been in this first line five days, there is not a fag amongst my men.  The Boche is shelling like blazes.  Yours etc. A-B Capt. O.C.C.Co.”


Caption reads ‘Are we downhearted?’. NRO: MEA 11/112, 663X6

Green became known as ‘Heigham Woodbine Willie’ because of his own, local tobacco fund. The original ‘Woodbine Willie’ was the Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy who was well-known for handing out cigarettes in the trenches.

During the war Green was badly gassed and wounded. He was awarded the Military Cross and bar. After the war he returned to St Barnabas then moved to Mundesley in 1921. He died suddenly in 1929 and was accorded by the War Office a funeral with full military honours.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.



“Dousing the Glim” and Other Essential Activities

The Role of Special Constables in the First World War

From the records of Frederick Eaton, held at the Norfolk Record Office (ETN 6/14/1/1-52)

There is a long history of the voluntary role of Special Constables which predates the First World War. By the early 1860s a regular paid police reduced the need for a volunteer constabulary. It was in the First World War that their role was redefined with the passing of the Special Constables Act 1914. A large force was recruited to both compensate for the loss of regular members who joined the war effort and to add an extra layer of protection during wartime.

Frederick Ray Eaton, a Norwich solicitor and notary, played a key role in the Special Constabulary in the First World War. His records give some insight into the valuable and yet often under-valued role of the Specials in keeping the city safe.


Certificate of Service issued to Frederick Eaton after the war. Norfolk Record Office: ETN 6/14/1/12

The following account is taken from the records of Frederick Eaton. Where there are quotes, these are from a handwritten record in Eaton’s collection written by C.E.T in January 1919 (ETN 6/14/1/40). C.E.T began as a Special in another part of the country before moving to Norwich in 1915. His identity remains a mystery.

On enlisting C.E.T wrote:

“I am sure my dear Enemies and friends thought I was a fool. . . . and I began to think so too . . . and surely the War could not possibly last more than six months at most. . . . . . many people looked upon the SC as one who was trying to ease his conscience by serving his country in the least disagreeable manner to himself . . . . but few Englishmen I am sure joined with any less motive than that of patriotism”.

The first group of Specials was sworn in at St Andrew’s Hall, in Norwich following an initial meeting at Caley’s Factory on 2nd September 1914. Four companies were formed with each company taking charge of the whole city a week in turn, initially alongside the regular constables. Eaton was commander of the fourth company. When C.E.T moved to Norwich, he joined the third company. He did 3-4 duties every 28 days.

After enlisting the Specials would be issued with a warrant card, an armlet and a truncheon. C.E.T was also given a pair of handcuffs when he served in another part of the country but in Norwich he was given a silver whistle and chain instead. At first the handcuffs proved to be somewhat of a challenge! C.E.T tested them on his aunt who escaped unscathed. Then he put them on himself.

It required the united efforts of the whole family to say nothing of the Cat and Dog and took nearly half an hour before the key could be made to work”.

After Christmas 1915 Specials were issued with uniform. “At least the Specials provided their own overcoats and the City provided a hat”. C.E.T bought an ex- Navy coat for 12s 6d “and a splendid coat it has proved”.  They were later given a summer uniform too. They were also given an enamel badge to wear with ordinary clothes and, after 3 years of service they were given a silver star to wear on their right arm sleeve of their uniform.

Eaton kept a record book of all the Specials in his company along with their address and availability as the role was in addition to their day to day job. For example; “ill, don’t summon”, “evening duty only”, “joined up”. He noted there was great enthusiasm for drills particularly those held in the open air at Earlham Road Recreation Ground. Training also took place in the Drill Hall at Chapelfield. Route marches were also part of the training. Starting at Norwich market place they would take a circular route venturing as far afield as Wymondham, Wroxham and Attlebridge.

Before coming to Norwich C.E.T had had to guard a river mouth. He took his collie dog Rollo with him. In November 1914 orders were received to keep the telegraph office open all night. As the postmaster was over 80, C.E.T offered to keep vigil and slept on the sofa.  Occasionally a nighttime call was received to see if all was well. “I suppose the enquiry was really to find out if I was awake”.

When C.E.T. arrived in Norwich he commented on how dark the city was.

I did not at that time realise the efforts being made by the Police and Special Constabulary to save the ancient and noble City from the attentions of the Flying Hun”. 

One of the key roles of the specials was to “douse the glim”, ie. to ensure no lights were showing to protect the city from zeppelin raids. The instruction was not always well received.

People could not seem to understand that even if the Zeppelins came their little light could be seen.  Then there was the expense of buying dark curtains.  No they were certainly not going to bother”.

When doing beat duty Specials nearly always worked in pairs. “Occasionally another Special and I were placed on top of the Castle Keep. This was a very cold duty even in the summer. . . . . We found it practically impossible without a compass to say exactly what building or even from which street the light proceeded”. In pursuing a light in a residential district the householder explained he could not close the blind in the bathroom as his wife was having a bath. “The lady in question was sitting in a hot bath in the dark and could not see to get out”.

C.E.T concluded:

I have stood on duty in the streets on more than one occasion when the Zeppelins buzzed over the city . . . . . . I believe the Specials saved the City from damage by hostile bombs”.


Detailed instructions were issued should there be an air raid. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/20

At the end of 1917 the Norwich Emergency Committee met to plan the measures that would be taken if the city was under threat. The confidential minutes of 28th December 1917 detailed what had been agreed:

  • The city’s 900 specials would be divided into 8 companies and would be called upon only when a total emergency had been declared.
  • Each company had a specific role. 1 Company would collect tools and dispose of petrol. 2 and 3 Companies would form working parties to execute any work required.  4 Company would remove horses and mules. 5 and 6 Companies would remove or destroy vehicles. 7 Company would remove or destroy barges and lighters at quays and harbours. 8 Company would remove or render useless motor cars and cycles.  Electrical lighting equipment and tramway equipment would also be dismantled.
  • Specials would be required to control traffic at busy crossings.
  • With regard to an exodus from the city, 600 specials would patrol to prevent disorder. Three exit routes were identified; Earlham Road to Watton, Hall Road to New Buckenham or Stoke Holy Cross and City Road to the county via Stoke Holy Cross.

Being a Special certainly took its toll. C.E.T caught a very bad chill from regular nighttime exposure.

I only mention this to bring into prominence the fact that many Specials have actually died through the effects of unaccustomed exposure on cold winter nights”. He reminds the reader that Specials were working all day then on duty at night. “This for no pay, little hope of glory or honour or even thanks and a little ridicule”.

Their wives too were affected.

How many times have those dear Wives of ours waited our return in the early hours of the morning. How we have appreciated the hot bacon or bread and milk they have had ready for us. They have been alone in the Great Cities and in the lonely country while the bombs have been falling”.

Not all duties involved keeping the city in the dark. Rationing was introduced in 1918. C.E. T describes regulating queues for butter, meat and margarine. One day he noticed a large queue outside a greengrocers. “I heard that the people were waiting for Dates!”  The dates were 6d a pound and very popular.


Other duties of the Specials taken from the booklet ‘Work & Duties of Special Constables’ by John Henry Dain, Chief Constable of Norwich (1917). It was issued to all Specials. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/7

C.E.T describes the occasion of Queen Alexandra’s visit to Norwich on 12th November 1918 to unveil the Edith Cavell Memorial.

A very gracious Lady visited Norwich just before the Armistice was signed in order to unveil a War Memorial. 



Those Specials guarding the Queen’s route were issued with an enamel star as a memento of the occasion. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/26

After the end of the war Eaton organized a social evening at Buntings Restaurant in Norwich. This was no doubt to thank his company for their service throughout the war.


Social evening for Eaton’s 4th Company in January 1919. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/41-52

C.E.T and his company had their final inspection after 11th November 1918 and did his last duty before Christmas. At the end of his account, he reflected on his role as a special.

What we, whom the Army or Navy did not claim, have tried to do to keep the home fires burning and paradoxically the lights from shining”.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Canaries, Camels and Other Acts of Kindness

Correspondence of the Amherst Sisters

The five Amherst sisters; Mary, Sybil, Florence, Margaret and Alicia were the daughters of Lord and Lady Amherst of Foulden Hall in Norfolk. Sybil, Florence and Margaret never married and, at the outbreak of the First World War, all three sisters, in their fifties, were still living at the family home.

The Amherst letters (MC84/204 528×1) is a collection of correspondence largely related to Margaret’s role at the hospital.  There is also some correspondence to the sisters from soldiers from the village who were known to them.

Margaret was the Commandant of the British Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital at Buckenham Tofts Hall at Mundford for the short time it was open between January and May 1916.  During that time it admitted 52 patients.  It closed when the area was required for military training. (Reference: ‘The Auxiliary Hospitals of The British Red Cross Society and St John Ambulance in Norfolk 1914-1919’. Compiled by Colonel C E Knight M.B.E. K.St.J).

Photo 1 cropped

One of the Amherst sisters, thought to be Florence, sitting at her desk. Norfolk Record Office: MC 84/206 

Letters from the soldiers give some insight into how time was spent at the hospital.

Corporal H Kirke wrote:

“Do look sharp and get another house so I can come back to you . . .I was glad with the flowers Miss Florence sent over, we never see any flowers here from one day to another and the patients never get any cigarettes or tobacco . . . . I am ready for going out of this place, it doesn’t suit me a little bit”.

A later letter he thanks Miss Florence for sending a golf club and three balls.

Photo 2 cropped

Hospital staff playing golf. NRO: MC 84/206

Private Bateson wrote:

You say you missed me in the kitchen.  I only wish I was there now or Playing Golf . . . I expect the Billiard Table will get well Patronised”.

Lyle Craig wrote:

“Have you got any one to paint postcards, if not I shall come back and do this”

Photo 3

Painting postcards was a regular pastime. NRO: MC 84/204, 528X1

Thank-you letters reveal the range of gifts the sisters sent. These included books, photos, knitted garments and even guinea pigs sent to soldiers’ children. Tobacco was a commonly well-received gift and clearly the perils of smoking were unknown at the time.

In June 1916 Private Twigg, having been transferred to the Norfolk War Hospital in Norwich, wrote:

“As I do not smoke much it gave me great satisfaction to distribute the cigarettes among my chums many of whom miss a smoke more than anything.  I had just used my last piece of soap so yours saved me the trouble of getting more from these French shops”. 

Parents of those in the Amherst’s care also wrote expressing their gratitude.

H Claxton’s mother wrote:

“My son asked me to send you one of my cannary (sic) birds . . . I will send it by the 9.20. . . . . thanking you for your kindness to my son”.

Grace Croxford, living in South Africa, wrote about her daughter Joy who was working at the hospital.

“My daughter Joy’s letters are so full of her bright and happy life with you . . . . It is such a comfort to us to know she is in such kind hands and such a lovely home . . .We hope she will do her duty to our poor wounded boys . . it is a great pleasure to us that she should have the opportunity of seeing so much of dear old England”.

Soldiers who were transferred to other Red Cross Hospitals when Buckenham Tofts Hall closed were quick to compare.

H Lingwood of the Norfolk Regiment was transferred to Bilney.  He wrote:

“I am sorry to tell you that we are not so happy as we were at Buckenham and I am sure that we shall never find another hospital like (yours) where ever we go”.

Private Twigg also transferred to Bilney and was equally unhappy.  He accused the Matron of withholding a letter from him and wrote:

“I have been out once since I have been here.  I am sure now that she is doing this for making money, she thinks more of her chickens and dogs than us”.

The care shown extended beyond the soldiers’ stay at the hospital. Margaret Amherst was anxious to know that the soldiers, on discharge, had reached their next destination safely.  The soldiers would be given a stamped addressed postcard to send back to her confirming their safe arrival at their next destination.

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Stamped addressed postcard issued to soldiers on discharge. NRO: MC 84/204 528X1

Lance Corporal William Robert English (Service number 20103) and Isaac Eagle (Service number 18750) were known to the Amherst family and corresponded with the sisters throughout the war. English was the village schoolteacher and Eagle was an agricultural labourer in Foulden.

English had promised to write to Florence Amherst once he had received a promotion and duly did so:

“The promotion came on Saturday night I donned my stripe with all due importance on Sunday morning.  I am an “unpaid  L.Cpl. but that does not matter as there is the satisfaction of knowing that one has risen one step. . . . . The uncertainty, and the fact that all one’s actions are planned for him, -have rendered me – and others too – almost careless of the future. . . . . . The average Britisher loves to grumble & yet performs.  I think it is amusing. . . . . . I have been kept well informed of Foulden news for I have received from time to time letters from the school children.  Strange to say the girls write but the boys do not”.

Eagle found himself in Cairo in 1915 and wrote:

“I have done my best to observe all the rules of health as laid down by the authorities for our personal benefit.  But unfortunately a good many have been laid low with that awful dysentery caused sometimes by indulging in eating too much native fruit and as you know the natives are none too clean personally!  I believe they have a dislike for soap…..I have lately paid a visit to the Pyramids. . . I had my long desired ride on a camel”. 

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Eagle on a camel. NRO: MC 84/204 528X1

English served in Mesoptomaia, India and Egypt and returned home in 1917. Eagle died at sea on the ship Victory in November 1916.

This collection of correspondence reflects one of the many ways that support was given during the war by those at home and it is testimony to the level of care and kindness shown by the Amherst sisters that such a wealth of letters exist.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Entente Cordiale Comes to Norwich

On 29th July 1916 Norwich welcomed two French delegates to the city; Lieutenant Georges Weill and Private Cabannes.  Their visit was part of a tour of Britain to see munition factories and other industries related to the war effort and to promote Anglo-French relations.  It followed on from a visit to France the previous year by four British MPs from the Labour Party.

Weill was a lieutenant with the 81st French Infantry Division.  A native of Alsace-Lorraine, he had been elected a member of the German Reichstag. When war broke out he joined the French army which resulted in a court martial in his absence at Strasbourg where he was sentenced to death.  Living with this death sentence Weill served the French army as an interpreter and had a key role in interrogating German prisoners after the Battle of the Somme.

Cabannes was a private in the French artillery. Before the war he had been the organizing secretary of the French United Socialists.

The first report on their arrival in Britain appeared in the Daily Mirror on 26th July 1916.  There was a civic reception to welcome them at the Westminster Palace Hotel where many prominent trade unionists were present.

Weill and Cabannes arrived at City Station Norwich on Saturday 29th July 1916 following their visit to Sheffield.  The Eastern Evening News reported that during their tour they had been received “with an almost affectionate interest”.  The train from Sheffield arrived late by which time “the platforms were thronged and everybody who possessed a little French seemed to be giving it an airing”.  The reception committee included members of the Norwich French Circle.  After introductions the delegates were taken by a circuitous route to the Maid’s Head Hotel, this route being chosen because “of the most unfavourable impression which a stranger arriving by the City Station receives”.  After dinner in the hotel, Weill and Cabannes met the Lord Mayor, Mr E B Southwell.

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The Delegates Arrive at Norwich City Station

The plan for the next day was to continue the delegates’ tours of various factories contributing to the war effort.  However, after all of their visits of such places in other cities, they welcomed the suggestion of spending a quiet day in the country.  They were driven to Wroxham, had lunch on a boat with various civil dignitaries and cruised along the river to St Benet’s Abbey.

On Monday 31st August they reverted to their planned visits and had lunch with the Lord Mayor.  In the evening they attended a public gathering at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich.  The gathering was presided over by the Lord Mayor and attended by the City Council.

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Souvenir of the Event at St Andrew’s Hall. Weill is on the left and Cabannes on the right. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 3205, 1062X6

The Mercury (5th August 1916) reported that:

 “Dr Bunnett played on the organ until the company assembled. The orchestra was occupied by a choir of girls chosen from about a dozen of the elementary schools, who were gaily decorated with the red, white and blue, the French colours.”

On entering the hall the audience stood and clapped and cheered.  The choir, resplendent in their French colours, sang part of the Marseillaise.

The Eastern Evening News (1st August 1916) reported on the evening and the speeches made.  The Lord Mayor spoke first and talked of the united battle to defeat the enemy.  He spoke of the resourcefulness of French and British women when they had “picked up the tools dropped by their husbands and brothers when the call to arms sounded through the land”. 

Weill’s speech followed.  He began by thanking the city for its “enthusiastic, graceful and touching welcome. . . . . . nowhere did greater joy and personal pleasure seem to be manifested at the presence of the delegates than in Norwich”.  Weill spoke of Alsace and Lorraine and their desire to be free from German rule “as they had a right to claim emancipation from a tyrant who had conquered them by brute force and their restoration to their mother country, France”.  He stressed the need for victory; “The murder of Miss Cavell and of the Captain of the Brussels had shown how little the Germans understood the rights of humanity and the rights of citizenship”.  From his work as an interpreter working with German prisoners he went on to say “there is every reason to believe that there is a glimmering of light dawning on the mind of the German soldier”.

The following day letters were exchanged between the delegates and Norwich Education Committee, each expressing their mutual thanks with the Frenchmens’ letter directed to the children who sang at the concert.

In their letter they talk of the children singing their national anthem with ardour and strength and how delicate and artistic it was for them to be dressed in the colours of the French flag.

The Education Committee’s letter thanks the delegates, on behalf of the children, for the opportunity given to them to hear of the heroic exploits of the French soldiers.  It went on to say that Norwich school children had also contributed to the war effort through various schemes and events and that, in future years, it was hoped they would remember with affection the efforts of the French soldiers in the terrible war.

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Letter from Lieutenant Georges Weill and Private Cabannes expressing their thanks to the children who sang at the concert. NRO: MC 3205, 1062X6

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Letters of thanks exchanged. NRO: MC 3205, 1062X6

Weill and Cabanne completed a comprehensive tour of Britain.  Their tour included visits to Cardiff, Newcastle, Bristol, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and newspapers around the country reported on the success of the visits.

The Daily Mail (Thursday 27th July 1916) reported on their visit to Birmingham.  It had included tours of munitions factories and other public buildings.  At an evening meeting held under the auspices of the Parliamentary Munitions Committee the committee spoke of the magnitude of France’s contribution to defeating the Germans.  With reference to Georges Weill the article went on to say:

Georges Weill (is) one of the many Lorrainers who are still faithful to their old motherland, France.  Lieutenant Weill is a journalist by profession and has represented Metz in the Reichstag since 1912:  he is a fine figure, red-haired and moustached, in his new uniform of horizon blue, which matches the clear colour of his eyes.  On his head there is a high price, for he has been sentenced to death by a German court-martial, held at Strasburg, because he enlisted in the French army on the outbreak of war”

During his speech Weill described the prisoners as thoroughly dejected who recognized that Germany had no hope of victory.

While Weill was the main speaker at the various civic events one newspaper did comment on a speech made by Cabannes. The Lanarkshire Daily Record and Mail (29th July 1916) informed readers that Weill and Cabannes were to visit the following week.  The articles reported that Weill had characterized the German Socialists as sheep and stated that Alsace was part of France not Germany.  It went on to say that:

Private Cabannes, a typical ‘pioupiou’, short but sturdy, of the 101st Regiment of French artillery, was not less communicative.  Day by day”, he said, “as your army advances, the bonds of understanding are drawn closer; and where there was once distrust there is now complete confidence”.

Weill and Cabannes returned to France after a successful visit.  Weill remained in politics for the rest of his life and died in Paris in 1970.  Cabanne’s fate is unknown.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Boy Scouts Undeterred by an ‘Ass and a Militant Suffragette’

The Role of the Stalham Boy Scouts Association in the First World War

Stalham Boy Scouts Association was founded in 1912 and its secretary was Robert Gurney of Ingham Old Hall, Stalham. Initially the Troop Charter was issued to troops from Stalham and Catfield.  Ingham, Ludham and Sea Palling joined in 1913 followed by Horning in 1914. Gurney’s record book, held at the Norfolk Record Office, details the Scouts’ activities during the First World War.

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The Stalham Boy Scouts Association takes part in the Norwich Rally 20th June 1914. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

In January 1914 the programme for the Ingham Scout Concert gave some indication of times to come with patriotic songs such as “I want to be a soldier”, “Hearts of Oak”, “Boys be Prepared” and “All Patrols Look Out”.

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Ingham Scouts’ Concert Programme, January 1914. NRO: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

The Scouts were one of the first youth organisations to get involved in the war effort.  There was great concern about the possibly of communication lines being sabotaged, air raids and invasion. Being so near to the coast, the Stalham Boy Scout Association was ideally placed to help and they responded immediately when the call came.

Britain declared war on Germany on Tuesday 4th August 1914.  At 10.30pm that same evening a message was issued by Colonel Barclay which reached Stalham the following day.  It read:

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Telegraph received from Colonel Barclay. NRO: MC 3126/1, 103X7

Following this message the troop Scoutmasters issued notes to each of their boys:

To Scout …..

Your services are required by the Government for duty beginning today.  Report yourself to me at ……… in uniform with great coat and complete camp kit.  1/- a day.

While the boys were ordered to report at 11am on the following Monday, one Scoutmaster set off to North Walsham to get more information about the telegraph cable line they were being asked to guard.  Gurney records in the minute book:

“After much difficulty found that it ran, not via Tunstead as advised by Col Charles, but via Worstead and Scottow. I went at same time to Horning & Worstead & whipped up Scouts there.  At about 11.15 we got off with 6 Palling Scouts & camp outfit, and by noon we had placed all our boys along a line from North Walsham main road to Cook’s farm at Worstead.”

In defending the line most boys camped but the Worstead boys were able to continue living at home.  A series of numbered poles was erected along the line and the boys were divided up and allocated to different sections.  Each section had a book carried by the boys to make notes in.

The night watches were carried out by boys in pairs except for the two Scouts who were over the age of 17.  The road was patrolled each day and night by a GPO man on a bicycle.

“The day man reported on Aug 10 that wire had been cut at Cromer and tapped at Bacton during the night.  Said that the wires here form a ‘cable pack’ going via Bacton to London, but that the Cable was now cut at sea deliberately & the wires used for inland military purposes & not for telegraph but for telephone.”

Overall the boys rose well to the occasion.  Sixty seven Scouts, ten Scoutmasters and other volunteers were soon in place.  Two small ones got homesick and cried and were sent back home.  Gurney comments:

They were not overworked, only silly”.

The troops appear to have responded quickly and with great diligence.  Disappointment was expressed by Gurney at the lack of a speedy response from other groups.

“The Wroxham troop . . . failed to get into touch till Thursday 13th.  Part of the time they watched a road without wires at all”.

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Extract from Parish Magazine kept in Gurney’s record book. NRO: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

On 10th August a telegraph was received instructing Gurney not to use boys under the age of fourteen.  The 1/- a day was an allowance in lieu of rations.  And so, on 13th August, the boys under 14 were sent home.  The manning of the poles was reassigned to three separate camps.  On 13th August Gurney received notice that night duty was no longer required “so thinking the whole thing was a farce”.  Gurney went to see Colonel Charles the next day to be told that all Scouts should be withdrawn, “pay ceasing as on the 4th day!”

Gurney then received another telegraph requesting the Scouts’ assistance with coastguard duties.

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Telegraph recieved requesting help for the coastguards. NRO: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

Gurney once again acted promptly and set up a small group of Scouts by Sandhill.  This was not seen kindly by a local resident whose wife was expecting a baby:

Received strong protest from an ass called Watson . . . . . as his wife expected a baby by end of month, couldn’t have them there.  Expostulated with him & left them there.  Wife is militant suffragette”. 

Gurney did eventually move the boys’ camp.  “During first day or two saw much in way of activity at Sea – and Aeroplanes, but have not been of any serious assistance to Coastguard”.  The boys remained on duty for twenty eight days “they gave complete satisfaction to the Coastguard officer”. 

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Coastguard Watching. Image courtesy of

The troops were active in other war efforts too.  Stalham and Ingham Troops took part in the sale of War Relief Stamps and proceeds went to the National Relief Fund.  Eight carts of newspapers were also collected for the same fund.

The Ingham Troop helped at the Red Cross Hospital for wounded soldiers.  Gurney writes:

Most of them have undertaken some regular voluntary duty which they carry out cheerfully and very efficiently”.

The hospital was located in Ingham Old Hall, home of the Gurneys.  It opened on 29th October 1914 with 40 beds and did not close until 28th January 1919.  Gurney’s wife, Sarah Gamzu Gurney, was the Commandant and was awarded the MBE in 1918 for her services to the hospital.

Six Scouts were awarded War Service Badges; G Whittleton, A Harris, Ray Spanton, G Allard, C Allison and H Sutton.  Five of these boys were from Ingham.

Following the Association’s annual committee meeting in October 1915, there is a significant gap in the record book until October 1919 due to the war.  Scoutmasters would have been called up as would some of the Scouts once they reached the required age. Gurney was somewhat surprised, when activities resumed in 1919, to be informed that the Stalham Boy Scout Association had been dissolved without the Association being informed.  As Gurney records, the Association had been “in abeyance during the war”.  G Spanton, a committed Scoutmaster for several years, was killed in action as was S Wilkins, also from the Stalham troop.

Gurney soon set about reinstating the Scout troops which resumed their many activities, hopefully undisturbed by world events until 1939.

This blog post has been researched using two sets of records held at the Norfolk Record Office:

  • Stalham Boy Scouts Association record book, 1912-1927 (MC 3126/1, 1036X7)
  • ‘The Auxiliary Hospitals of the British Red Cross Society & St John Ambulance in Norfolk 1914-1919’ by Col. C.E. Knight (SO 161/1, 762X8)

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.