The Dogs of War

The Dogs of War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Heritage Centre

Dogs have always had a role to play in wartime.  Some larger dogs were used for the transportation of ammunition and lighter stores.  Other breeds were used for pathfinding, tracking and carrying messages.  As well as carrying out specific roles for the military they have also been a source of comfort and friendship in harrowing times.

The Military Dog

Private Bob Benifer of the Norfolk Regiment kept a photograph album during the war.  It includes several photos of dogs.  (MC 2149/1 925×5)

The photo below is annotated by Benifer who wrote “Private Kirby given to me at Bangalore 30/6/17”. 

Photo 1 Pt Benifer Pt Kirby

Private Benifer and Private Kirby (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

Benifer and Kirby also appear in a regimental photo along with several other dogs.  Kirby looks the same but Benifer has since acquired a moustache!

Photo 2 Benifer with regiment edited

Benifer (first row, right-hand side) and Kirby with the rest of the regiment (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

At Pulham Royal Naval Air Station, Peter was the station mascot.  In September 1917 the first edition of The Pulham Patrol, the air station magazine, was published.  A whole page was dedicated to this important member of the base.

For 11 months he has been with us . . . Being a staunch patriot he absolutely refuses to accept pay . . . . he has fine musical tastes, for he thoroughly objects to all bugle calls!

 

Photo 3 Peter the Pulham mascot edited

Peter the Pulham mascot (NRO, MC 2254/183)

Dogs – our faithful friends

The Carrow Works Magazines of April 1915 and January 1917 recount two stories of the lengths to which dogs would go to be with their masters.

In April 1915 Private Brown of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment left for the Front.  His wife and Irish terrier Prince accompanied him to the station to say goodbye.  Prince became very distressed at the parting.  Shortly afterwards Prince went missing.  Mrs Brown was reluctant to tell her husband that she had lost him and searched in vain without success.  However, after several weeks, she plucked up the courage and told him.  To her surprise her husband replied that Prince was with him.  Private Brown wrote:  “I could not believe my eyes till I got off my horse and he made a great fuss of me.  I believe he came over with some other troops.  Just fancy his coming and finding me”. 

 

Photo 4 Prince edited

Prince – not such a dumb dog  (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

In January 1917 an article entitled “A Dog Story” told of the tale (no pun intended) of a collie dog at Cambridge railway station.  Mr George Lambton had often noticed the dog on the platform.  When he asked about the dog he was told that some eighteen months ago the dog had come to the station with its owner who left on a train for the Front.  Since then the dog returned every morning and stayed until late at night awaiting his master’s return.  The dog was very friendly and responded to those at the station who befriended him.

The other day his fervent desire was gratified.  A soldier in khaki descended from the carriage.  At first the good dog could not believe his eyes, but another look and a sniff sufficed, and with one bound he sprang up, got his paws on his master’s shoulders, and clung hard.  His eighteen long months of waiting were at last rewarded.

Edith Cavell and her dogs

Edith Cavell had two dogs, Don and Jack, both born in 1909.  Little is known of Don and he had died by 1912.  After Cavell’s death Mlle de Meyer took on the matronship of the Edith Cavell School in Brussels and she also took on Jack.  Jack did not settle and he was sent to the Duchess of Croy’s estate.  Meyer wrote “the poor animal felt lost without its owner and in new surroundings. . . . . .. .Some nurses and I took him there and he became the great comfort of the Duchess who is well known for her great love of animals”.

 

Photo 5 Jack edited

Jack (From ‘Nurse Cavell Dog Lover’ by Rowland Johns held at NRO)

 

The Duchess of Croy later wrote:

“I was first told that after her death he had been locked up in a damp stable all alone. . . . No one in Brussels dared take the dog for fear of the Germans.  I did not know of his existence, or else I would have taken him as soon as poor Nurse Cavell was put in prison, and let her know that the dog was safe.  She was very anxious about him, and begged in several letters that he might be well looked after.  Jack was brought to me in March 1916.  He was extremely naughty and bit”.  Eventually, “he became as good and gentle as any other dog. . . . Jack seemed very happy here . . . I had him for about seven and a half years, when he died of indigestion caused by old age.”

The Brave Dogs

The Carrow Works Magazine for April 1915 reported on several acts of canine bravery.  In February 1915 a dog show in London had a special section for fifteen dog heroes.  There was Lassie, the dog who lay at the side of W S Cowan rescued from the British ship Formidable.  Cowan was thought to be dead.  Lassie stayed by his side licking his face for quite some time and Cowan started to move.  Cowan’s movements and Lassie’s barks attracted attention and Cowan was saved.  Then there was Wubbles who had rescued a drowning Frenchman and Tony the Belgian sheep dog who had helped the wounded on the field by taking out refreshments in a tin bottle with a tin mug attached.

Photo 6 Old man and brave dog edited

Unknown man and his dog who rescued fifty fugitives in his fishing boat from the Scheldt (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

They may have been our “dumb friends at the Front” but they were clearly not dumb.

Daryl Long NRO Blogger

 

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Old Boys! The school salutes you!

Old Boys! The school salutes you!

 

City of Norwich (CNS) School Magazine – Midsummer 1917

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office (ACC 2003/15 Box 31)

For school leavers August is a time of excitement and anticipation of what is to follow as the close-knit school community is left behind and the wider world beckons. The school magazine traditionally ends its year by reflecting on past glories and wishing its leavers well for the future.  However, the future was uncertain for those leaving school as war raged on.

Since the outbreak of war each magazine was a mixture of school news, miscellaneous features and articles relating to the war. From the outset news about and from its old boys was a dominant feature.  The summer 1917 edition began on an appropriate note.

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We Plough the Fields and Scatter: The Tractor Ploughing Scheme of 1917

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office and newspaper archives at Norfolk Heritage Centre.

As horses and men were sent to the Front, there was an urgent need for both to be replaced at home to maintain food supplies.  Women replaced many of the men while tractors replaced many of the horses.

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Their Hearts were Cold as Icicles – They Took our Horses and Gave us Bicycles Yeomanry Second Line Regiments Lose Their Horses

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office HNR 709/9

The Yeomanry were part of the reserve for the British Army. In World War One there were 54 yeomanry first line regiments which increased with second line regiments when war was declared.

The Norfolk Yeomanry (The King’s Own Royal Regiment) started out in 1901 as a volunteer cavalry regiment of the British Territorial Army. During World War One it served dismounted at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.  The second line Norfolk Regiment, the 2/1st Norfolk Yeomanry, was formed in 1914.

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Give Us This Day . . . . . The Bread Pledge May 1917

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and the newspaper archives at Norfolk Heritage Centre

Food supplies were becoming a major concern as the war showed no sign of ending. The Carrow Works Magazines, held at the NRO, had frequent articles on wartime economy.  The January 1916 edition reported on a speech made by the Right Honourable H H Asquith who had spoken on the matter in the House of Commons the previous November stating “There must be a far stricter economy, both public and private.”

The April 1917 magazine reported on a display on economy at the Castle Museum. For housewives, the central section of the hall proves most attractive, from the laundry table to the home-made furniture polish, bottled fruits or jams. . . . . . On one visit I found many things that could be made from rice, as a substitute either for flour or potatoes. . . . . . . (Economy) is a difficult and engrossing art, which is apt to fill a woman’s entire time and thought.

Food economy and the possibility of rationing was a regular topic of conversation. Then, in May 1917, a Royal Proclamation by the King appeared in the press urging the nation to reduced bread consumption by a quarter.  The Proclamation appeared in the Eastern Daily Press on 3rd May and was followed by a short statement:

THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD

We are authorized to state that his Majesty is not asking his subjects to do anything which he is not prepared to do himself. Very early in February strict rationing was introduced into the Royal Household and has been strictly adhered to.

A follow-up article in the next edition of the EDP reported that it would be for the public, through their choice of action, to decide whether compulsory rationing would be introduced. The need for compulsory rationing may not even arise then if the public loyally observe the exhortation of the King voluntarily to reduce their consumption of bread by no less than one fourth.

A letter from Lord Lieutenant Leicester, Chair of Norfolk County Council appeared in the EDP on 7th May 1917. We therefore make the most serious and earnest appeal to the people of Norfolk to concentrate their efforts on the saving of bread.

The Proclamation was circulated amongst the public with the addition of a ‘Bread Pledge’ whereby families could pledge to reduce their bread consumption.

 

picture 1

The Proclamation and Bread Pledge Issued by Garland’s of Norwich. Norfolk Record Office, PD 178/40

 

 

picture 2

One such family who signed the pledge were the Boyle family of Honingham. Norfolk Record Office, MC 497/7, 753×4

 

Posters were also displayed to encourage the public.

picture 3

Parish Council Poster. Norfolk Record Office, PD 207/52

 

Some appealed for special allowances to be made. A letter dated 11th May 1917 to the Norfolk War Agricultural Committee requested higher bread rations for agricultural workers.  C/C 10/15

The nature of the Agricultural Labourers created a keener appetite than many of indoor employments and that the allowance was wholly inadequate . . . . further the smallness of his wages made it impossible for him to purchase a sufficient quantity of meat and other substitutes to enable him to cut down the consumption of Bread to any extent unless the price of meat was greatly reduced.

Not everyone adhered to the bread regulations. On 12th May 1917 Norwich Mercury reported that William Webb of Hall Road Norwich was fined for selling bread which did not weigh an even number of pounds. On 15th May the EDP reported that a woman in Bromley was fined £5 when the dustbin man found bread thrown away in her bin.

Others, however, were more committed to doing their bit. In the EDP on 16th May 1917 the Ipswich Cooperative Society reported a fall in the sale of bread compared to the previous month in response to the call to reduce consumption. The reduction in sales to the well-to-do having fallen 20 to 25 per cent.

Whether the not-so-well-to-do were equally committed is not made clear. However, despite or in spite of their efforts, compulsory rationing still had to be introduced the following year.

Daryl Long NRO Research Blogger

‘Quidquid delirant reges plectuntur’ – Whatever errors the great commit, the people must atone for. The Second Battle of Gaza April 1917

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

While Joseph Emms of the 5th Norfolk Regiment gives a graphic account of one particular battle in Gaza in April 1917, others wrote at greater length of the fighting within the context of their day to day life in Gaza; of the heat, the hardships, the comradeship and of the natural beauty of the landscape.   Two such men were Geoffrey Palgrave Barker and Major Thomas Wood Purdy.  MC 2847/Q7 and ACC 2015/244 Part 67 (Part 5).

Geoffrey Palgrave Barker arrived in Rafah on 8th April 1017 then travelled on to Deir Al-Balah.  The landscape made an immediate impression on him:

Like Salisbury Plain, rolling hills and dusty, but covered with thin grass and barley. . . . . . The present railhead about 7m S.W. of Gaza . . whole place a huge camp. . . . Turk aeroplanes about, our guns keep them pretty high but they are always about.

His first impressions also took account of the military implications realizing that the many gardens and farms with cactus hedges would be difficult to cross.

In the days leading up to the battle Barker wrote of heavy shelling. On 16th April they took up an outpost line at Wadi Sharta then retired to a position at Piccadilly Circus.  The next day they rested in hot sun with no shelter.  They then moved up to Charing Cross under heavy artillery fire.  On 19th April they moved to Sheihk Gibbas Ridge.  Despite heavy bombardment along Khirlet Sihan and the Beersheba Road, they suffered only a few minor casualties.

The Turk seems to love sprinkling strings of camels with shrapnel so we don’t like them too close to us. . . . .A lot of wounded from Australian Camel Corps came through us, they got it rather badly.

Between the end of April and Barker’s last entry in June, his daily life is occupied with troop movement, trench digging and occasional attacks from the Turks. His diaries resume in October 1917 when he was in Beersheeba and Jerusalem.

Thomas Wood Purdy from Woodgate near Aylsham was Major of the 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.  His war diary seamlessly mixes his account of the fighting, his great concern for his men and his passionate interest in wildlife, particularly birds.

Purdy was involved in the first battle on 26th March which gives some context to what followed in April.  On 26th March he wrote:

We being intended as a surprise packet for the Turk in Gaza who it was hoped would move out of the Town to attack the Mounted Divisions who were to make a feint attack to the S.E. . . . . we had, as we usually do, gravely underestimated the Turk. He was present in the Town in much greater numbers and put up a tremendous fight. 

By nightfall the British had almost cleared the town of the enemy. Later that same day they were in action again.

We started without drawing water or food under the idea that the camels would accompany us, a grave error for which we suffered heavily. Brigade again.

In the days following, Purdy reflected on events:

Photo 1 29 March 1917- ed

Purdy’s diary entry 28th and 29th March 1917

 

Purdy did not actually take part in the second battle having been taken to Ras El Tin hospital in Alexandria with kidney inflammation. Ironically it is probably because of this that he was able to give such a detailed account of the battle because he was able to meet up with some of his wounded men who ended up in the same hospital.

23rd April.  Heard the awful news that Gardiner and 12 men of the Battalion are reported killed. . . . .In other words the Battalion is wiped out and worse than at Sulva. God has indeed been good to me once more. 

Amongst the names he mentions is Captain Blyth who was with Joseph Emms in Tank Redoubt. However, on 24th April, on returning to the hospital after visiting the town he was overjoyed to find some of his men there including Blyth who he had thought dead.

Photo 2 25 April 1917-ed

Purdy’s diary entry 25th April 1917

 

Purdy tells the story of the second battle from the account given by his wounded men.

Apparently they took Sheikh Abbas Ridge and the 52nd took Mansura on Tuesday morning without much trouble.  On Thursday they attacked the Turkish position along and the other side of Beersheba Road.  Byford said they had to advance over absolutely open country under a tremendous barrage of shrapnel and H.E. from the left for about a mile and a half.  They went in 4 lines and were extended to 10 paces.  The 162nd Brigade were on our left and the 52nd Division on their left.  There was a gap between the 162nd and the 163rd.  In the latter Bdge. 4th Norfolk were on the left, 5th Norfolk on the right, 1/8 Hants. In support and barrage, machine guns opened on them from either flank.  He got about 200 yards from Turkish Trenches but was absolutely alone the rest of his men having become casualties.  Gibbons said he got quite close to the Turkish wire.  Apparently they were not supported and lay in the open until wounded, when they crawled back into a little hollow, and then got back at night.  The 52nd on the left had got as far as Green Hill but then had to withdraw.  The 53rd took Samson Ridge by the Sandhills, but apparently withdrew from it two or three days later.  Two Tanks supported the 54th.  One was stopped by a direct hit from an H.E. soon after it left our trenches and then was hit twice again.  The other reached the Turkish trenches and then went up and down them clearing away the wire, but then one of its caterpillar wheels came off and it was set on fire.  It is rumoured that 4 more tanks have been put out of action.  Our guns bombarded the Turkish trenches for two hours before the attack, but Byford said that as far as he could see, our shells were directed mainly against some dummy trenches on rising ground and not against the front trenches which were 400 or 55 yards in front of the dummy ones and so beautifully sited that they were invisible till one was nearly on them. He had heard that the Camel Corps and the Imperial Mounted Division attacked on our right with no better success and lost heavily, that the 74th Division were afterwards brought up on the right and dug in on the Beersheba Road; that we still held Sheikh Abbas and Mansura. 

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger

Norfolk Boys and ‘The Nutty’ Capture Tank Redoubt: Second Battle of Gaza April 1917

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

During 1916 the British had steadily advanced from the Sinai desert in Egypt as part of their plans to invade Palestine in 1917. By January 1917 they had defeated the Turks at Rafa and the borders of Palestine were in sight.

However Turkish strongholds in Gaza prevented the British advance. The first battle of Gaza on 26th and 27th March had been unsuccessful following a British retreat. This failure only strengthened the Turks resolve to make a stand at Gaza.

The second battle of Gaza took place between 17th and 19th April.  It involved the 163rd (Norfolk and Suffolk) Brigade which was made up of the 4th and 5th Territorial Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment drawn mainly from North Norfolk as well as the 54th (East Anglian) Division.

map

Private Joseph Emms, service number 3247, was in B Company of the 5th Norfolk Regiment. He recounted in detail his part in the attack.  FX 296/1.

“On the 19th of April we made the attack on a very ancient town in part of Palestine.  The 5th Norfolk Regiment was in the first line to advance & suffered rather heavy losses”.

At 5am that day they were told they would be advancing about 2000 yards and that they would be under heavy fire throughout. The gunfire was so intense that the regiment, initially in artillery formation, extended themselves out and went at intervals.  Emms approached a Turkish redoubt with his friend Dent on one side and a comrade, Eastie (sic), on the other. Both Dent and Eastie were hit.

“I began to think my time was coming, but luck was good for me that day and I managed to get as far as any man in the line”.

The Turkish redoubt was strongly fortified and comprised lines of trenches one behind the other forming a half circle. As they approached they encountered barbed wire in front of the trenches.  Emms wrote that as they considered how to get past the wire “we suddenly heard a tremendous rattling noise coming from behind & keeping my head as low as possible I chanced a look behind & saw a tank coming at full speed not a hundred yards behind & firing all her guns which was a fine sight to see”.

The tank was known as ‘The Nutty’. As it made short work of the wire, Emms and his company followed behind and made it to the second trench.  The Turks shot at the tank hitting one of its wheels and putting it out of action.  Rather than let the Turks get hold of the tank, the tank crew set fire to it and joined Emms and the others in the trench.  Emms found himself with a group of men all of whom appeared to be wounded.  This included his company officer Captain Blyth.

“By the amount of blood on his shorts I saw that he was hit rather badly in the lower part of his body, but he said nothing about it & only smiled”.

Things then took a turn for the worse. The line retired leaving Emms with eighteen others in the trench. They were heavily outnumbered.

“Almost at once there were scores of Turks swarming round us and I began to think it was all U.P”.

There were two Lewis guns in the trench but no ammunition. The men emptied their pockets and used what they had to fire the guns.

“When it was all done we sat down on the dead Turks who were in the trench as there were so many that we couldn’t help it”.

Having no more ammunition they waited for the next onslaught. After a few hours around a dozen Turks arrived.

“We only had our bayonets to fight them with. Someone managed to find a “bomber’s” coat full of bombs and we kept them off for a short time with these”. 

Captain Blyth then shouted that it was either surrender or make a dash for it. They chose the latter but only one officer and seven men, including Emms, managed to get away.  Blyth was treated in hospital in Alexandria and survived his injuries.

“All of us who came back recommended him for his coolness & bravery which he showed in many ways, one by way of using & cleaning a Turkish rifle & by sticking (at) it though severely wounded”.

Photo 1

5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. Norfolk Record Office ACC 2015/244

 

The capture of Tank Redoubt by Blyth and his men was a significant gain for the British until all their ammunition was spent. The 4th and 5th battalions suffered heavy losses and the second battle of Gaza was another defeat for the British.

It is not known what happened to Emms after his escape from Tank Redoubt. While his account is particularly graphic, others also wrote not only of battle but of the daily monotony and also beauty of this foreign landscape. We will explore these records next month.

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger