Too Young to Fight? The Anomalies of War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office

This blog explores the very different stories of two teenage boys who saw active service in the First World War; one a legitimately recognized naval rating and the other an enthusiastic under-age volunteer whose enlistment was fully aided and abetted by his superiors. You had to be 18 to join the Army and conscription was not introduced until 1916.  By contrast you could join the Navy at 16 and be fully involved in naval engagements.

The Oldham journals (MC 2201) recount in detail naval engagements from 1914 to 1918.  It includes the story of John Travers Cornwell, from a scrapbook, NRO,

Photo 1 Cornwell-ed

John Travers Cornwell. NRO MC 2201/5, 935×3

 

Cornwell enlisted in 1915 and was a Boy Seaman First Class. He was sixteen and serving on HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland in 1916.  The press reported that Cornwell was mortally wounded early in the action. He nevertheless remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders till the end of the action, with the gun’s crew dead and wounded all round him.  (MC 2201/5 935×3).  Cornwell died in hospital in Grimsby the next day.  He was initially buried in a common grave but, as news of his bravery spread, he was reburied in the same cemetery with full military honours.  Cornwell was awarded the Victoria Cross, the third youngest recipient to do so.

Photo 2 Cornwell at his post-ed

Cornwell at his post. NRO, MC 2201/5, 935×3

 

By contrast the personal account of William Kemp from Gorleston tells a very different story. (ACC 2003/49 Box 26).  While keen to do his bit, Kemp did not initially set out to enlist at the age of sixteen. A month after his 16th birthday Kemp wrote:

Was coming up Regent St; Yarmouth and in front was the 5th Norfolks band on a recruiting march, a Sergeant whom I knew, came to me and asked me to enlist, I told him I was too young and on top of that my Mother would not let me go although I wanted to, in any case he put my name down  and told me to be at York Rd; Yarmouth, Drill Hall, that evening, I finished work, told my Mother what I had done and she straight away forbid me to go, I got round her by saying it was for Home Service only.

Kemp volunteered and the following Monday we were marched down to the old R.G.A Barracks Yarmouth and the majority of us passed fit, before going there we were told not to give our correct ages but to put a year or two on. I was not the only one under age by far.

Following a short training spell in Dereham, Kemp was sent to Peterborough for further training. Kemp then volunteered for the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment and went to Bury St Edmunds.  While there was an aim to keep the Yarmouth men together, they had to be split to make up the numbers and Kemp became part of C Company.

On arrival at Bury we were issued with full kit and a long Lee Enfield Mk. 1 and started soldiering properly . . . . we were at Bury when the Zepps dropped bombs on the Butter Market. . . . we were then moved to Watford . . . . we came off Church Parade towards the end of July and were issued with tropical kit . . the tale was we were off to Egypt.

As Kemp left for Liverpool, his landlady threatened to write to his mother as she knew he was under age but he persuaded her not to. His company left Liverpool docks for Egypt and, after seven days at sea, they arrived at Mudros.

A sight for sore eyes, ships of all sorts from cruisers, destroyers British and French and even one Russian, the General something but called by the lads the packet of Woodbines as she had five funnels, besides troopships etc. not forgetting the “bum-boats”.

From Mudros they went onto Imbros on the Osmanieh.

The next day off again and we then came in sight of Gallipoli and could hear rifle firing etc; of course everybody crowded to that side and I remember the old Colonel shouting to us to spread out as the old boat was heeling over.

On 9th August they arrived at Suvla.  They were given a white linen bag containing food supplies and told to tie it onto their backpacks. What an ideal target for snipers but we did not realise it then.

At Suvla they marched in the darkness passing through different battalions of the Naval Brigade who were among the first to land at Suvla, the stench of dead bodies was awful.

A few days later Kemp’s company went sniper driving. Coming across a seriously wounded Australian scout, Kemp offered his own first aid kit but was told “keep that, you may need it yourself”. The scout died later that evening.   I had not experienced death before.

Death followed swiftly the next day. As Kemp and another soldier stood up to stretch, after hours of digging, his fellow soldier was shot and killed instantly. He came from Bury St Edmunds, I never knew his name.

The next part of Kemp’s account is as confusing as the incident itself. He appears to have been separated from the rest of his company and was not sure where he was or what had happened.  He spent some time wandering on his own eventually reaching a beach near a dressing station. I dropped where I was absolutely done and fell asleep . . . . I finally reached our dump to be greeted with the words “We thought you were killed”.

Kemp had clearly suffered some injuries because he was put on a hospital ship and went to Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield. He returned to duty in June 1916.

There is much more I could put about my Army days both humerous and serious, but I think for the time this is suffice, other than to say I finished up with the 1st Battn. in France being wounded in the left thigh on 21st August 1918 when we went over on the Somme.

Kemp wrote that his main records never did show his correct age despite his mother sending his birth certificate to the authorities. Fortunately, unlike Cornwell, he did survive the war.

I had always said as a youth that I would never join the local regiment or marry a local girl, I did both, for I met some of the best lads one could wish to be with and I married one of the best girls there was in Yarmouth.

 Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger

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Wartime June – From the Journals of Artis Oldham

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office

June – the height of summer. A time today to think of holidays, sunshine and long summer evenings.  By contrast the June months of 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918 were continuing times of victories, defeat and loss of life.  The evidence was clear that it would not be over by Christmas and neither did there appear to be an end in sight.

Arthur Artis Oldham was born in 1886 in Wisbech. He was employed in a clerical capacity by the Royal Navy in the First World War.  Initially based in Canterbury he later served in the Shetland Isles.  After the war he returned to Wisbech then to Thorpe End in his latter years.

From the very start of the war, Oldham kept detailed journals chronicling on an almost daily basis the actions of the Royal Navy in the war. These journals, entitled by Oldham “Naval Engagements of the Great War” span eight volumes (MC 2201/1-8 935×3).

The volumes were initially completed by Oldham himself. They include newspaper cuttings (no names of the newspapers are shown), postcards, his own commentary and a wealth of facts and figures about ship tonnage and naval losses.  When he joined the Navy on 11th April 1916 the task of continuing with the journals was handed over to his sister.  These journals are predominantly newspaper cuttings.  The source of the newspapers is not known.

Photo 1 Oldham MC 2201 5 935x3-ed

Artis Oldham. NRO, MC 2201/5, 935×3

 

June 1915 – the first June of the war. On 6th June the Chief of the General Naval Staff had described naval operations in the Adriatic to the press.  Oldham commented: the cables uniting the continent to the islands of the Dalmatian Archipeligo were cut. All the lighthouses and lookout stations on these islands were destroyed.  The following day there was a vivid account of the brave actions of Flight Lieutenant R A J Warneford who had attacked and brought down a zeppelin which had dropped six bombs.  The force of the explosion turned Warneford’s aeroplane upside down and he had to make a forced landing in enemy territory.  Fortunately he was able to restart his plane and get home safely.  Warneford was awarded the VC for destroying the zeppelin single handed and he also received the Legion of Honour from the French.  Sadly he died shortly after during a trial flight near Paris.

Photo 2 Warneford-ed

R A J Warneford. NRO, MC 2201/3, 935×3

 

Two significant events dominated the news in June 1916. While it started on the last day of May, the Battle of Jutland raged into the early hours of 1st June.  Much of Oldham’s journal for June 1916 consists of newspaper cuttings giving an almost minute by minute account of the battle.  Britain lost three of its battleships; the Indefatigable, the Queen Mary and the Invincible.

Photo 3 Jutland headline MC 2201 5 935x3-ed

Battle of Jutland headlines. NRO, MC 2201/5, 935×3

 

Interestingly Oldham’s journal includes a cutting from the German press who reported “we damaged the great battleship Warspite”. The English press responded: “The Germans declared that the Warspite was destroyed.  There is nothing in our own official statement to indicate that she was even damaged”.  Fake news?  Propaganda?  One midshipman’s letter home after the battle was published in the press.  “I told you I had the best action station in the ship, and so I jolly well have. . . . I was alarmed on arriving back here to find I was dead in the Scotsman”.

On 5th June the press reported on the death of Lord Kitchener.  The cruiser Hampshire he was on was blown up in the Orkneys.  Many others also lost their lives, either in the explosion or in trying to swim to safety off the rocky shores of the islands.  Kitchener had been such a national symbol for the war and his loss was keenly felt. In a report for the inquiry the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet expressed his sorrow “that so distinguished a soldier and so great a man should have lost his life whilst under the care of the Fleet”.

June 1917 began with a “Strange German Story”. It told the tale of a German U-boat and a British submarine who had got so close to each other in the Channel that the submarine rammed the U-boat.  The shock of the collision brought the submarine to the surface bringing the U-boat with it.  “Both made frantic efforts to get free in order to attack”.  However by the time the Germans were ready to do so the British submarine had disappeared.

On the 18th June there was a lengthy report on a zeppelin shot down in East Anglia.  “To judge by the distance from which the destruction of this morning’s Zeppelin could be seen, the fight must have been witnessed by at least a quarter of the county’s population. . . . The zeppelin was fighting a life and death duel with the aeroplane”.  The damage to the town (not named) was extensive.  “Today this is a town of shattered windows… among the numerous premises denuded of glass were those of a plate-glass insurance firm”.  Three of the Zeppelin crew survived and were taken prisoner.

 

Photo 4 MC 2201 5 935x3-ed

Cartoon attempts at humour may have helped life the nation’s mood. NRO, MC 2201/5, 935×3

 

June 1918 – the last June of the war although this clearly was not known at the time. The news was largely concerned with Canada and the USA with the latter having entered the war in April 1917. On 6th June there was a U-boat raid on the Eastern coast of the USA and several ships were sunk.  This was followed by a report that fifty German enemy aliens were arrested in New York having been caught celebrating the raid in various nightclubs in the city.  As a result New York citizens, like many of their British counterparts, experienced their first lighting restrictions as a precautionary measure.

Photo 5 Journal cover page MC 2201 1 935 x 3-ed

The title page of Oldham’s first volume. NRO MC 2201/1, 935×3

 

Oldham’s first volume began with the start of the war in August 1914. How sadly prophetic then that, when the general view was that “it would all be over by Christmas”, the front page of his first journal bears the title “The Great European War”.  Perhaps he completed the title page at the end rather than the beginning of the war.  Even this would demonstrate a reservation on his part about the duration of the conflict to come.

Daryl Long

NRO Blogger

 

 

 

The Demand for Land The Impact of the Defence of the Realm Act on Agricultural Land in Norfolk

 

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office

The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed on 8th August 1914, four days after war was declared.   It gave the government wide ranging powers.  There were various social control mechanisms such as censorship and certain seemingly trivial activities were banned eg. flying kites.  It also gave the government the power to requisition land and buildings for the war effort.

This demand for land was felt acutely in Norfolk. Norfolk land was in demand both for food production and for military use given its strategic military position on the east coast.

Aerial warfare was in its infancy but its growing importance led to farmland being requisitioned for aerodromes and landing grounds. The minutes of the Norfolk War Agricultural Committee (NWAC)  (NRO, C/C 10/16, C/C 10/17 and C/C 10/18) record various issues relating to these sites.

No better example of the tensions between the military and local landowners exists than the ongoing difficulties and disputes which occurred at the Earl of Orford’s estate at Weybourne. A detailed file,  (NRO, WLP 8/114) kept meticulously by the Estate Manager Douglas Smith, records the almost daily difficulties encountered by Smith as he worked on the Earl’s behalf to help the military while appearing to receive little but trouble in return.

In June 1915 Smith received a letter concerning the establishment of a military camp at Weybourne for the 67th Provisional Battalion.  Smith replied that Lord Orford was agreeable to this ‘provided that you agree to compensate the tenant for any damage to the Agricultural Value of the Land’. Thus began the saga of Field 163.  A temporary rent of £2 15s a month was agreed to include the loss of future crops.  The full amount would be calculated later.  A formal agreement was drawn up stating that possession of the land would be from 20th June 1916. It stated that compensation would be paid for all damage as long as any claim did not exceed ‘the actual present freehold value of the said premises as agricultural land’. The document has Smith’s annotations written alongside – perhaps the most pertinent of which was “Not Agreed To”!

 

Photo 1.jpg-ed

Defence of the Realm Order. NRO, WLP 8/114

 

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Site of land to be taken. NRO, WLP 8/114

 

 

It was not just the loss of crops to be considered. Mr Lane, the tenant at Weybourne Hall, held an annual shoot on the land.  In April 1916 Lane wrote to Smith. ‘I find that the Military Authorities have taken possession of the best part of my partridge shooting at Weybourne’. Lane gave up the shoot and, a month later, terminated his tenancy at Weybourne Hall.

Other land appeared to be taken without permission. Mr Dixon, a tenant farmer, complained that one of his fields was being used as a recreation ground when it should have been planted with wheat.  Smith wrote:  ‘as agent for the Owner, I think that I am entitled to be notified in accord with the Defence of the Realm Act for any lands taken under the Act. Believe me that I write in no antagonistic manner’.

Trees were another source of dispute. Trees were felled without permission and there were a series of fires caused by the troops damaging both woodland and heath.  The estate woodman Mr Humphrey reported the fires to Smith.  Lieutenant Paynter wrote to Smith: ‘the loss sustained by the matters referred to appear to be very trivial and there are no grounds which enable me to recommend payment’. Smith replied:  ‘I cannot regard the loss as “trivial” as suggested by you. I am entitled to repayment of the actual loss sustained.  Half an acre of peat has been destroyed and also 734 Birch trees, 18 Scots Pine, 16 Oak, 33 young Douglas Pine & Sitka Spruce.  To refuse any compensation for this loss, to my mind speaks for itself’.  As Smith penned this reply he received a telegram from Humphrey: ‘Great fire occurred caught Bulmans much damage Humphrey’. The matter was not resolved and a Court of Enquiry was finally arranged for July 1918.  The outcome is unknown.

Other disputes included the removal of the top of a sea defence wall. The Military’s response was that ‘it has considerably strengthened the defence of this locality from a military point of view’. It no doubt did, but it did not strengthen the defence of the locality from the sea itself.

In 1919 a detailed compensation claim was submitted which included:

  • Loss of rental of Weybourne Hall
  • The encampment in Field 163.
  • Agricultural depreciation.
  • Portions of Weyboune Heath and Woods used as a gun station and for manoeuvres. Sheringham Rifle Range had also mistakenly been handed over to the Territorials after the war.
  • Cutting of bracken in the area.
  • Roads constructed between Kelling Camp and Sheringham. The Macadamized roads are so laid out as to be of no use to the Estate.
  • Taking other fields for training.
  • Defense measures along the cliff, beach and Estate.
  • Destruction of game.
  • Conversion of Weybourne from a peaceful health resort into an encampment of great magnitude.
  • Woods, trees and peat damaged by fire
  • Turf cut from the cliff or damaged. Some of it was used to create a lawn in front of the Officers’ Mess.

 

Photo 3-ed

Sheringham Riffle Range. NRO, WLP 8/114

 

The claim, totaling £593 14s 4d, was disputed. In March 1920 Captain Biggs proposed that once the road, paths and foundations were taken up the fields would be good in two years.  Smith disagreed: ‘at least 4 years cultivation would be essential with the application of artificial manure. The bulk of the land has been used as a parade and drill ground’.

An offer of £375 was rejected. Biggs pointed out that the War Department had the right to compulsorily purchase the land and, if it did, would only pay £375 for it.  He wrote: ‘it is not the wish of the department to be compelled to purchase land, and I do not think it is Lord Orford’s interest that this particular field should be sold away from the Estate. . . . . I have never yet had to ask Headquarters for authority for the land to be compulsorily purchased, and I shall be very disappointed if this has to be the first case in my Area’.

Smith was not one to be threatened. He replied:I fear there is little chance of his (Lord Orford) accepting your offer of £375, which, to my mind is little less than robbery. . . . . I am quite sure that His Lordship will require Field No 163 to be reinstated to its original condition, which was the conditions on which it was acquired by the Military Authorities . .. failing your acceptance . . I fear we shall have to fight the matter out’.

There is a great deal of admiration for the diligence of estate manager Douglas Smith. He did his best to help the Military Authorities throughout the war and to seek justice for his employer at the end of it.  While DORA’s aims were understandable, those carrying out the legislation sometimes demonstrated a lack of understanding of or respect for agricultural life.

Daryl Long NRO Blogger

 

Invasion and Evacuation

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office

Unpalatable a thought as it was, plans for possible invasion and evacuation had to be considered during the First World War. Norfolk, along with other places along the east coast, was particularly vulnerable.

An Emergency Committee memorandum was issued in December 8th 1914.  Local Emergency Committees were set up across Norfolk operating under a Central Emergency Committee (NRO, MC 561/123 808×9).  These committees had to act with the military authorities in case of invasion.  Necessary arrangements for the conduct of civilians would be carried out by the police and special constables.

 

Photo 1. Emergency Committees-ed.

Details of the objectives of the local Emergency Committees. NRO, MC 561/123, 808×9

 

While invasion may have been regarded as improbable, evacuation plans needed to be in place. Posters were displayed around the county explaining the function of the Emergency Committees (NRO, MC 1129/1 805×9).  There were three strands to the evacuation plans; the evacuation of the civilian population, transport and livestock.

Photo 2. Evacuation instructions-ed

The introductory part of the Defence of the Realm posters which went on to detail what needed to be done with regard to people, transport and livestock. NRO, MC 1129/1, 805×9

 

Unless the military authorities suggested evacuation, the civilian population ‘must decide for themselves whether they prefer to remain at home or retreat inland. No advice is given by the Government.  If they remain at home they must on no account use firearms.  In case of a raid, word will be passed round to “Stand By”, when all persons intending to leave their homes should take their carts etc. with warm clothes, blankets, and enough provisions for about two days’ (NRO, MC 166/273 633×4).

Evacuation routes were detailed on local posters (NRO, MC 166/273 633×4). All forms of transport were to be removed along these specified routes and taking the elderly and infirm with them. It was important that transport was not left behind to fall into enemy hands.  Such transport had to be rendered useless by sawing out half of the spokes in each wheel.  Some transport might be commandeered by the military authorities.

 

Photo 3. Lines of evacuation. Loddon-ed

The evacuation route from the Loddon Emergency Committee poster. NRO MC 166/273, 633×4

 

The instructions for livestock were clear and simple. Move them or kill them.

Having received a “Stand By” warning of a raid, preparations for evacuation would begin. This would be followed by “Partial Emergency”, “Total Emergency” or “As you were”.  For “Partial Emergency” all transport was to be removed or rendered useless.  For “Total Emergency” all the measures planned by the Emergency Committees would be carried out (NRO, MC 1129/1 805×9).

Once the Emergency Committees were set up, the hard work began. Chairs of these committees would often be local dignitaries and landowners such as Sir Robert Gurney of Ingham Hall.  The first task was to carry out a detailed inventory of the parish to establish just how many people might need to be evacuated, who needed transport, what transport was available and what to do with the livestock.

Gurney reported that in his area there were 40 school children of whom 30 were able to walk. There were 15 old and infirm who would also need transport and he had five available wagons which could carry 100 people.  Other farmers in his area reported to him on the transport they had available (NRO, MC 1129/1 805×9).

 

Photo 4. Transport inventory-ed.

Ingham transport inventory from farmers Edward Gladden and H W Wenn. MC 1129/1, 805×9

 

Gurney gave detailed instructions on what to do if the need for evacuation arose. The typed note below to Bowell, one of his employees, made clear how Ingham Hall was to be evacuated (NRO, MC 1129/1 805×9).  As Ingham Hall was an auxiliary war hospital, one of the wagons was needed for wounded soldiers

 

Photo 5. Gurney's instructions to employee-ed.

Gurney’s orders for the evacuation of Ingham Hall. MC 1129/1, 805×9

 

Needless to say the plans were not without their problems. H Wivers wrote to Gurney detailing all that he had done.  His frustration and exasperation is evident.  He had organized the counting of everyone in the parish and noted those who needed transport.  He had prepared notices on what to do which were to be delivered to every home and he had organized the Scouts to deliver them.  He had made a list of all transport including boats.  Farmers would be told to take their transport to one of four locations for loading up purposes; Stalham Green, Chapel Corner, St John’s Road and Stalham Staithe for boats only.  ‘The only difficulty that appears now is can we have the farmers’ horses? If not our rather elaborate paper arrangements will go crooked . . . an empty wagon is of no use without horses.  Who will pay the men?  Who will pay the farmer for his already overworked horses which will be required to stand for 6 hours?’ (NRO, MC 1129/1 805×9).

The frustration and exasperation eventually got to Gurney too. In June 1918 he had received an order to destroy all petrol that had not been commandeered by the military authorities and yet the farmers in his district were relying on petrol for their cars to evacuate their own families. ‘The whole thing is so obviously absurd that I shall be glad if you will allow me to resign from a position in which I can be of no use’. (NRO, MC 1129/1 805×9).

Records of the Aylsham Emergency Committee present a similar picture and also include details of the role of the Special Constables (NRO, MC 561/123 808×9).

Photo 6 Aylsham's instructions to Special Constables-ed

Aylsham Emergency Committee’s orders for Special Constables. NRO, MC 561/123, 808×9.

 

These records show that the duties for Special Constables was first issued May 1916 and largely involved directing the civilian population, guarding bridges, keeping road clear for the military and acting as dispatch riders. In April 1918 the Norfolk Constabulary decided to see if the 18 Norfolk Emergency Committees were still up to date with their procedures and planned an evacuation drill. Instructions would be given as to how far the emergency measures should be carried out. ‘Any Special Constable absent from his post will be dealt with according to Law’. (NRO, MC 561/123 808×9). 

There is no record of when in 1918 this evacuation drill took place. It would have happened before Gurney wrote in his frustration of the absurd situation over petrol.  Whatever the outcome it is clear that local landowners, farmers and the civilian population all did their bit to make sure they were prepared for the worst.  The hope for an evacuation plan is that it will never be needed and fortunately this was the case.

Daryl Long, NRO Blogger

 

 

 

 

 

Nelson the Tank Bank: Norfolk’s Tank Weeks

From Records Held at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO)

The use of tanks in warfare began during the First World War.  These mammoth metal machines captured the public’s imagination.  The National War Savings Committee seized on this fascination in a publicity campaign to promote the sale of War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.  Tank Weeks were held all over the country with the incentive that the town raising the most money per capita would get to keep battle scarred Egbert, one of the tanks which had been brought over from France.

Six tanks toured the country;  Julian, Old Bill, Nelson, Drake, Egbert and Iron Ration.  Unsurprisingly and most appropriately Nelson came to Norfolk.  Tanks would visit towns staying for up to a week during which time rallying speeches by local dignitaries would encourage the crowds who thronged to see the tank to buy War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.  Often, as was the case with Nelson, the tank itself would be used as a “Tank Bank” from which Bonds and Certificates could be bought.  Norwich Tank Week, held during the first week of April 1918, offered a further inducement with a lottery of £500 of War Savings Certificates to give away.

This blog uses records held or accessible online at the NRO.  See also the blog based on records held at the Norfolk Heritage Centre, A New Secret Weapon.

Diss Express reported on 5th April 1918 that the aim of Norwich Tank Week was to raise £250,000.  However the photo below shows a Norwich City Engineer’s plan for a fundraising barometer to be displayed at the Guildhall that had a target of one million pounds.

Photo 1. Fundraising barometer_ cropped

Fundraising barometer to be displayed at the Guildhall. NRO, N/EN 20/49

Nelson arrived in Norwich on 31st March 1918 and made its way to the Guildhall.  Tank week at Norwich was officially opened on Monday.  The ‘task’ was that of raising a quarter of a million, but this was easily accomplished within fifteen minutes of the opening.  (Diss Express 5th April 1918).  The formal opening by the Lord Mayor was followed by an address by George Roberts, MP and Minister of Labour.  He spoke of the crisis faced by the country and of the great bravery of the men fighting at the Front which no doubt did much to rally the crowds to make their contributions.

Over £380,000 was invested in the first fifteen minutes.  Norwich Corporation invested £55,000, Norwich Union Fire Insurance £100,000, Norwich Union Life Insurance £150,000, Pearl Insurance £10,000 and Jewsons £20,000.  Just over £40,000 came from private investors and the Special Constables of Norwich who were in attendance at the opening event.

Photo 2. Local dignitaries cropped

The Lord Mayor opening Tank Week. NRO, ETN 6/14/2/1-11

Prior to Tank Week Sir Eustace Gurney had written to the National Council of Women, Norfolk & Norwich Branch to ask whether the women of Norwich could be involved.  At their meeting it was agreed that it would be a great pity to refuse help on the first occasion when it was asked.  It was decided to hold a Women’s Afternoon (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).

Wednesday was the designated day for women and children.  A demonstration in support of the campaign was organized by the newly formed local branch of the National Union of Women Workers.

In the morning school children handed over their contributions which included £400 from the Blyth Jex School and £210 from the City of Norwich School.  The presence of the women in the afternoon was formidable and came from a wide range of trades including munition girls, railway workers, Carrow Works, the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Cooperative Guild.

The Lady Mayoress spoke of the opportunity to support the campaign.  Those who, like herself, had always been in favour of the enfranchisement of women, had known all along that they only needed an opportunity to serve the State (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).  Other female dignitaries also addressed the crowds including Miss Bignold who, despite her 83 years, climbed onto the Tank to speak. Two military bands played throughout the day and there was a military concert that evening at St Andrew’s Hall.  By the end of Wednesday the Guildhall Barometer showed £691,000.

The newspaper clippings from the minute book of the National Council of Women give a flavour of that day.

The third day of the Norwich tank campaign was marked in the forenoon by a great gathering of children from the schools.  They marched in procession to the Market Place.

A women’s demonstration in support of the tank campaign was celebrated in the afternoon with a weight and momentum incomparably greater than anything the week has witnessed so far. 

The tank was flying the small and smoke-and-grease stained flag that it had carried at Ypres and in the Cambrai Push.

The women marched up by thousands; and for hours in the afternoon there was a most exhilarating pressure of business in the Sessions Court, and in the tank stamping office.

Not everyone was happy about the event.  The National Council of Women recorded that one member was so unhappy about the Council’s involvement that she had resigned.  Her reasons, unfortunately, were not given (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).  Equally disgruntled was Frank Palmer who lived on St Gregory’s Plain.  In a letter to his father he wrote:

A Tank comes here on Easter Monday & the usual humbug  will be (?)  in procession composed of Spec Cons, Volunteers, Boy Scouts & causing a hell of a lot of work which to my mind is unnecessary. 

(NRO, MC 2440/1/7 973×4)

Photo 3. The Special Constables_ cropped

Norfolk’s Special Constables at the Formal Opening of Tank Week. NRO, ETN 6/14/2/1-11

Tank Weeks were held in other parts of the county.  Thetford had a model tank and raised £6000 (Diss Express 31st May 1918).  Yarmouth raised £217,000 and the Mayor, Arthur Harbord, was commended for his enthusiasm and effort in the fundraising campaign.  In May 1918 the Yarmouth Independent reported on a presentation made to Harbord and his wife.  Mrs Harbord was presented with a pair of scissors while he was presented with a pair of white gloves and an album with the Yarmouth arms in gold on its cover inside which was one War Savings prize draw.

While the prize of Egbert for the most money raised per capita finally went to West Hartlepool, the various communities of Norfolk raised a considerable sum for the war effort and Norwich surpassed its one million pound target.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

 

Thick Heads, Cowards and Unmitigated Scoundrels – A Personal Perspective of War. The Naval Letters of Fairman Rackham Mann.

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Fairham Rackham Mann, known as Rack, was a fleet surgeon with the Navy during the First World War.  He was the son of Mary Elizabeth Mann whose family records are also held at the Norfolk Record Office.  Rack’s frequent letters to his mother reveal a very frank and personal perspective of the war. (NRO, MC 2716 A1/30)

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Fairham Rackham Mann. NRO, MC 2716 G8

Rack was 44 when war broke out and, with the benefit of hindsight, he confessed that he wished he had retired before war had been declared so that he could have joined the Territorials instead.  It is having to be a doctor doing a job I loathe, running all the risks getting none of the glory that sticks in my gizzard.

In 1914 Rack was on HMS Pactolus at the submarine depot in Ardrossan, Scotland.  He was not enamoured with his posting.  I am fed up with Scotland and long to be away.  I think I would rather go to sea than stay on here much longer.

Rack’s first letter was written before war had been declared. He seemed resigned to the inevitable but tried to reassure his mother.  It seems absolute madness for us to think of fighting over this Balkan business. . . . I have heard news that I think war is practically certain . . . I want you to realise that while I remain here I am perfectly safe. . . . . You must try not to worry.  If the newspapers worry you don’t read them.

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HMS Pactolus. NRO, MC 2716 G7

HMS Pactolus’ role was to protect the Nobel dynamite works at Ardrossan.  Life there seemed to consist of drunken soldiers falling in the Basin and drowning and of the frequent explosions at the very dynamite factory they had been sent to protect.

At first, Rack was quite dismissive of the Zeppelins.  I think the Zeppelins won’t do very much.  They may drop a bomb or two in London which would be no bad thing in my opinion.  It’d certainly buck up recruiting. Doubtless this would not have been a view shared by Londoners!

However his views changed over time.  He attempted to explain to his mother why the Navy was not in a position to stop the raids.  They do this (Zeppelin raids) for purely political reasons.  The Hun has got the idea into his thick head that we are a race of cowards & that a little frightfulness of this sort will help his side; and besides it bucks up the German masses at home who are in a pretty bad way.

He later described the bombardment of Scarborough and how the Navy was thwarted from preventing it due to the fog.  The whole navy has been weeping about it ever since . . . I think you and your pals in Ormesby will now modify your views about the navy habitually being too drunk or too taken up with dances to attend to their job.

In the early days, Rack was not keen on the Americans getting involved.  Following the sinking of the Lusitania he wrote:  Suppose the U.S. will have to stomach it.  They can do nothing & we don’t particularly want them in.

However by 1917 he felt that their involvement would shorten the war.  Not because the Yanks are in a position to do much fighting – but because they can lend us money, patrol a bit by the sea, & more than anything else, the Huns can now say they can’t fight the whole world.

Rack also wrote of the trials of life both for himself and for his mother.  He was not one for officialdom and directed his anger towards the little creatures who live at Tooting in £30 a year houses.  They sit in a little office at the Admiralty all day and write insulting letters to the men who are helping to keep them safe.

He was also concerned for his mother’s welfare.  The prices of things at home seem to be terrible.  I hope you are feeding yourselves properly.  Remember I have tons of money which is quite useless to me under present conditions and you can have as much as you like whenever you want it.

In 1916 Rack became the staff surgeon on HMS Agamemnon in the Aegean, based mainly at Mudros and Salonika.  He was there for two years.

His frequent letters did not equate to his news.  On one occasion he told her I simply have nothing to write to you about.  I was ashore about 8 days ago was bored stiff in ten minutes but had to wait 3 hours there for a boat to take me back to the ship.

Various entertainments were provided for the crew.  He described a fancy dress ball on the ship.  All men of course but many were dressed as females & a few looked quite fetching. . . . . The men take their dancing very seriously & do it very well . . . . They lead a deadly existence & the making of the dresses kept them interested for weeks.

In April 1918 Rack moved to Bedenham Camp at Fareham.  This prompted a visit to Brighton to see a similar camp.  His comments were unusual in that he had rarely written about his work before.  The medical arrangements in utter chaos owing to lack of staff & accommodation – so yesterday I went to London to see the Director General & told him about it – He was very enraged . . .Anyway I think I so shook them up at the admiralty that I think I may get some stores . . . We are to have 2000 men here with another 2000 to follow . . They are under canvas in a rain sodden field – no bottom boards available for tents & no mattresses. 

In October 1918 Rack was promoted to Surgeon Commander.  Why they made this change nobody knows as very few people wanted it.  I suppose I shall have to get a new coat & buy a new hat.

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Surgeon Commander Fairham Rackham Mann. NRO, MC 2716 G12/13

Rack’s final letters commented on the political situation and his prospects of returning home.  He was pessimistic about the outcome of a forthcoming election.  The ignorant masses have these votes. It will be mob rule. . . . In my opinion Winston Churchill, the most unmitigated scoundrel that this country has ever produced, will be first president of the republic.

Rack finally returned home.  For his mother his letters were undoubtedly precious and reassuring.  They are also an important record, giving a frank account of daily life during the war years as it affected one particular individual.  Fairham Rackham Mann died in 1943.

Daryl Long – NRO Blogger

 

 

Rationing in the First World War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

With attacks on merchant shipping, agricultural labourers leaving the land to fight on the Front and horses being requisitioned for the war, there had been growing concerns about food shortages as the war progressed.  Articles abounded on wartime economies and in May 1917 the Bread Pledge was introduced encouraging people to eat less grain. However, as food shortages continued to be an ever growing concern, compulsory rationing was introduced in January 1918.  At first only sugar was rationed but, in April, it was followed by the rationing of meat, flour, butter, margarine and milk.

Before rationing, in time-honoured fashion, women in the home had been called upon to make economies.  The Carrow Works magazines, held at the Norfolk Record Office, give a typical picture of the situation.  In July 1916 the magazine announced:

Three rules for housewives.  Buy Economically.  Prepare Carefully.  Avoid all Waste.

The earlier edition in January 1916 quoted the Right Honourable Arthur Henderson of the Board of Education:

Economy in food at the present time is absolutely necessary.  It is part of the patriotic duty of every British citizen, rich and poor alike”. 

The following year an economy exhibition was held at the Castle Museum.  The Carrow Works magazine for April 1917 reported:

“. . . . cakes without eggs” were on view, and various preparations of nuts, cheese and lentils.  It has to be remembered that dishes of this kind will probably become necessities during the present year.

‘Dig for Victory’ may have been a slogan from the Second World War but the message was the same for the First World War.  The Carrow Works magazine for July 1917 stated:

Let us all who have any available ground cultivate it . . even window-boxes may be set with cress .  . and many an otherwise waste spot may be made to produce some form of vegetable life.

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Potatoes were even grown outside Buckingham Palace. NRO, MC 2738/14 

 

By December 1917, the situation was grave.

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Letter issued by Aylsham District Council. NRO, MS 21630/114

But, despite the best efforts of the majority, sugar rationing was introduced the following January.  The Ministry of Food issued a Meat Rationing Order in March 1918 in preparation for meat rationing the following month (NRO, BR 254/65).  The Order issued guidance to butchers and others such as caterers on how to obtain meat supplies under the Meat Rationing Scheme.  The scheme applied to those living in England and Wales and outside London.  From April 7th 1918 meat could only be sold to those who had registered with butchers as customers.  Registration was carried out in March and butchers had to send a list of those who had registered with them to the Food Control Committee.  If the Committee considered the butcher had too many registered then they had the power to transfer some of the customers to another butcher.

The guidance recommended that butchers in a local area should group together to form Butchers’ Committees which would act as trade associations.  One person on the committee should be responsible for buying livestock and another for dead stock.  A levy should be paid for each butcher joining the committee and this money would provide a working fund and pay for any expenses incurred by the butchers.  It was recommended that the committees drew up rules limiting the financial responsibilities of each member to avoid any irregularities.

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Part of the guidance issued to butchers in 1918. NRO, BR 254/65

The meat rationing scheme started on April 7th from which time butchers needed a permit to buy meat.  If there was insufficient meat to provide for those registered with the butcher then this would be reported to the Deputy Meat Agent who would try to procure supplies. Equally the agent was to be informed if there were surpluses so that the stock could be redistributed where there was a need.

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Children had their own coupons.  These shown here were handed in to butchers D W Bellamy & Sons of 136 King St, Gt Yarmouth. NRO, Y/D 74/58

 

Margarine was also rationed from April 1918.  The Carrow Works magazine for that month wrote:

Any Margarine?  Well four ounces a week – when you can get it.  But please don’t call it Mar-jer-ine.  Ask for Mar-gar-ine, and if you detect a smile on the face of the shopkeeper, tell him that the word “Margarine” comes from the Latin word ‘Margarita’, signifying a pearl; and that the ‘g’ is hard.

A letter written by Frank Palmer to his father about his father’s imminent visit to Norwich expresses concern about the availability of food supplies that his father had requested.  (NRO, MC 2440/1/16, 973×4).  From his address at 9 Market Place, Norwich Frank wrote:

Unfortunately it does not lay in my power to obtain only such quantities of Butter, Tea & Sgr to which we are entitled to.  Here we are only allowed 1oz of Butter and 5 ounces of Margarine each per week.   2 ounces of Tea & 1/2lb Sugar per week also.

 

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Ration allowances for adults. NRO, MS 21630/114

 

 

Hardships continued throughout the war but these were ameliorated by several initiatives.  The work of the Woman’s War Agricultural Committee recruited women to work on the land.  This was later formalised into the Women’s Land Army in January 1917.  The introduction of mechanization with tractors made up for the loss of horses and men,  The employment of German prisoners of war, while not without its problems, also helped fill the gap in labour shortages.  Such initiatives, along with the determined efforts of men, women and children to do their bit, ensured that Britain may have been hungry but it did not starve.

NRO Blogger – Daryl Long