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:


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.


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

More Women – Less Mustard! Women’s War Agricultural Committees and the Women of Brampton

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Before the First World War food production was largely unregulated. However Germany’s submarine warfare resulted in an increasing loss of food imports and food shortages became commonplace from 1915.

These shortages led to the creation of the War Agricultural Executive Committees. These were established in Autumn 1915 by the 2nd Earl of Selborne in collaboration with the Board of Agriculture and County Councils and backed by the government.  The committees were made up of those with local knowledge and expertise.  Their objectives were to increase food production in each county and to manage the country’s limited wartime agricultural resources.

The Norfolk War Agricultural Committee was chaired by the Right Honorable Sir Ailwyn E Fellowes. There are no records of their early meetings but the minute book for 1917 gives some insight into the wide range of work undertaken which was all linked to the land.  This included the cultivation of cottage gardens for food production, the increased use of mechanization on farms, the use of prisoners of war and reviewing mustard seed production. (C/C 10/15).

Under the umbrella of the county committees, Women’s War Agricultural Committees (WWAC) were set up. With many agricultural workers away on active service, the WWAC were involved in the placement and welfare of women to work on a range of tasks linked to food production.

Few records remain of the WWAC. However the Norfolk Record Office is fortunate to have records relating to the WWAC and the women of Brampton and how they played their part in the war. (PD 445/34, PD 445/35 and PD 445/36).

The Norfolk County Committee produced a document setting out its aims to recruit women for war work and specifically for work in agriculture. The Committee wanted to raise awareness in women of the need for them to work, to increase the number of women workers from each parish and to organize them, to educate women and girls in dairy work, gardening, light farm work, fruit farming, fruit picking, poultry farming etc. and to economise in the home.


Norfolk County Committee’s aims. Norfolk Record Office PD 445/34

The Norfolk WWAC worked with each parish in the county. It was chaired by the Hon Lady Fellowes and Miss Frances W Burton and Mrs Parish were joint honorary secretaries.   Each parish or group of parishes would have a representative who was required to keep a register of women age 16 to 60 who would be willing to work in agriculture, gardening, dairy or other work either locally or in other parts of England.

Brampton’s register lists nine women willing to volunteer. Their ages ranged from 19 to 50.  The women indicated a preference for the type of work they would prefer, what experience they already had and how many days a week they could commit.  Seven offered to work in agriculture, one offered gardening and one offered work as a grocer’s assistant which was work she was already doing.  All of the women were prepared to commit a large proportion of their week to the work ranging from four to six days.


Brampton’s Register. Norfolk Record Office, PD 445/34. The register allowed for additional comments such as expressing a preference for school hours.


In March 1916 the Board of Agriculture decided to issue an armlet of green baize bearing a red crown to all women who had registered their willingness to work on the land and who had worked at least 30 days. Miss Frances Burton, joint honorary secretary of the Norfolk WWAC, wrote to each parish in August 1916.  In her letter she requests the total number of women who have registered, the total number who have worked or continue to work whether registered or not and the number who have earned their armlets.


Letter from Frances Burton sent to each parish representative. Norfolk Record Office, PD 445/34



Armlet awarded after 30 hours of service. Norfolk Record Office, PD 445/36


Those receiving armlets in Brampton in 1916 were Mrs E Bircham, Mrs Mack, Mrs Watts, Edith Watts, Edith Mack, Mrs J Bircham, Alice Bircham, Mrs J Helsdon, Mrs Wright and Mrs George Spink (junior).

As the war continued, the need for women trained in specific skills was identified. In December 1916 Miss Frances Burton wrote again to parish representatives to inform them that Norfolk Education Committee were prepared to fund girls and women to attend Chelmsford Agricultural College for a 4 week course in milking etc. However Norfolk Education Committee needed at least 12 recruits for the course to be viable and only on condition that the women would return to work in Norfolk.  Burton’s letter asked the parish representative for any nominations.  “I should be very glad if you could find out if there are any girls – suitable – in your district. . . . Please tell your secretaries to choose suitable girls only”.

In February 1917, in order to maintain an accurate picture of women agricultural workers, Burton wrote to each parish asking for the names of possible volunteers and for a revision of the village registers. She instructed each parish to cross off names “of those who did not keep their promises to work when work was offered them. . . . Should sufficient local women’s labour not be available in your village, would you please find out from the farmers if they would be willing to employ whole-time women imported from elsewhere. In some districts the women working on the land have expressed a desire that the winter school time hours should be continued through the summer. Would you be very kind and find out if they have any wish for this in your village; if the wish was general all over Norfolk, we could bring the matter before the Education Committee; but we only want to do so, if the Mothers really wish for it”. PD 445/34

In January 1917 the Women’s Land Army was formed by Dame Meriel Talbot on behalf of the British Government. It was a civilian organization run and staffed by women as part of the National Service Scheme and it formalized the work that women had already been doing.

Keeping the home nation fed throughout the war years was of critical importance. As with many other occupations where women stepped into roles which had traditionally only previously been done by men, it contributed towards a growing awareness of women in the workplace.  The women of Brampton rose to the occasion as did countless others in parishes all over the country.


Certificate awarded to female agricultural workers. Norfolk Record Office, PD 445/35

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.







For the Want of a Horse . . . The Logistics of Horse Supply in World War One

At the start of the war the army had 25,000 horses and mules with a contingent remount strength of 1,200. Within days of war breaking out the supply had increased to 165,000.  It reached its peak in 1917 with 870,000 with a remount strength of 60,000.  All acquisition of horses was through compulsory purchase.  Just over 468,000 were bought in the UK and between 1914 and 1920 67.5 million pounds was spent on buying and training horses.

Remount officers were drawn from those with experience of horses in civilian life. They were local gentry, masters of fox hounds and others with relevant experience, generally from the agricultural community. Thus Norfolk, being a largely agricultural county, was well-placed both in terms of experience and supply, to play a key part in the supply of horses for the battlefields.

Henry Overman of Weasenham was one such man. The records of Overman, of Cokesford Farm, Tittleshall, give some insight into the massive scale of the operation.  Several ledgers record the different aspects of his work (BR 118). One such ledger names Overman as the government purchasing officer and a letter enclosed details the mileage he could claim in the course of his duties.  Page after page lists the number of horses purchased and the average price being paid for a horse was £75.  By March 1917 437 horses had been purchased at a cost of £31,944.  Wages for those working with the horses were paid with monies transferred from the mobilization account.  The average wage £1 1s 0d. (BR 118/47 and BR 118/144).

Overman started a new ‘Horse Purchase Book Army and Board of Agriculture’ on 1st April 1917.  In the first month alone more horses were purchased and more money spent than in the whole of the previous three years.  From April to December 3044 horses were purchased  (BR118/46).



The number of horses purchased in the first 24 days of April 1917. BR 118/46

Overmans’s government horse account details the receipt and dispatch of government horses, those horses needing to be destroyed and those in foal put out to local farmers.  At any one time around 100 – 150 horses were in stock.  Many horses went to the Remount Depot at Market Harborough and to the King’s Own Royal Regiment Norfolk Yeomany. (BR 118/140).

A typical entry reads:

May 27 1915. Received of Geo Lee Hindolveston barren mare (Canadian) put out by K.O.R.R. Norfolk Yeomanry, taken over to get fit according to instructions from Major Richardson.

Another of Overman’s accounts, showing the receipt and dispatch of Canadian horses, gives further insight to their fate. The account starts on 26th November 1914.


A page from the ledger showing the accounting of 108 horses

The left-hand side of the ledger records the receipt of 108 horses from the Remount Depot at Market Harborough. The right-hand side accounts for the 108; 1 killed suffering from Flanders, 95 sent back to Market Harborough, 4 sent to local farmers as they were in foal which left a balance of 8. And so the account continues; page after page detailing the vast number of horses being cared for then sent back to the Remount Depot at Market Harborough.  The back of the account book records the costs of keeping the horses.  For the 108 above it was £135 for one week. (BR 118/139/1)

The gathering up of horses for training at the remount depots was one thing. Getting them across to France was another. The records of Fellows & Co, shipbuilders in Great Yarmouth, detail the work commissioned by the government for two horse boats.  Fellows was contracted to build two horse boats to be delivered to Her Majesty’s Dockyard in Portsmouth.  Early correspondence stated the government was not prepared to pay more than £700 per boat but eventually a sum of £825 per boat was agreed.  The records detail the work involved, not only in constructing the boats which were named S81 and S82, but in transporting them by road to Portsmouth.  (BR 36/256).

Not all horses were sent overseas. A territorial horse record details the number of horses in different territorial groups.  The Reepham Troop under Sergeant Walker had 11 horses, 14 men, 1 motor cycle and 2 cooks.  A different page in the record lists those men and horses who were sick.  One such entry notes there were 63 horses on parade and 5 sick. (MC 561/120)


The Territorial Field Artillery at Taverham (Carrow Works magazine January 1915)


The scale of the operation would clearly have had an impact at home with so many losing their horses to the war effort. The increased use of mechanization for agricultural work was one consequence and no doubt while some suffered their loss others stood to gain by focusing on horse supply.  An interesting example is to be found in a letter written by the artist A J Munnings in 1916.

Munnings, famous for his paintings of horses, was staying at Lamona in Penzance, and was in need of cash. He wrote to Nurse, a Norwich antique dealer, asking him to return some of his drawings if he is unable to buy them from him for £25.  Munnings writes of having recently sold three drawings, “but it only helped to pay my horse corn for the last 6 months. …and I must keep on with horses because after this war there’ll be no such thing as having any to paint I’m afraid and beside no money to keep ‘em.”  A year later Munnings himself became a Remount Officer. (MC 2719/3/1-2).



The R.S.P.C.A working as members of the Army Veterinary Corps supervising the return of horses from a convalescent horse depot. (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)


The work of Overman in supplying horses was replicated all over the country. At the end of the war many horses, wandering the deserted battlefields, were rounded up and sold to local abattoirs.  Animal campaigners in the UK strove to bring their plight to the nation’s attention and tried to save those who were left.  A lucky few returned home to rural counties such as Norfolk to end their days.


Carrow Works magazine April 1915


Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Life Stories: Kenneth William Base

Kenneth William Base joined up during the First World War. In the second of our posts we see what Kenneth’s letters tell us about his siblings time at war…

What active service Kenneth saw is not clear from the letters.  One can only assume that he was involved in military action between February and June 1918.  Records of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps show that the 1st Battalion were, during these months, involved in the Battle of St Quentin, the Battle of Bapaume and the 1st Battle of Arras.  Active service is also confirmed in a letter from his father dated 11th July 1918.  His father had been visiting a sick soldier at Lakenham Hospital who knew and remembered Kenneth when he joined the 1st Battalion.  His father wrote:  “He told mother how your company had to make a raid & how several were killed & a lot wounded.   Poor boy!”

While Kenneth’s early reminiscences reveal the usual sibling squabbles; letters from Charlie and Madge show a fondness that might otherwise not have been so overtly expressed in peacetime.

Brother Charlie was a lieutenant in the Chinese Labour Corps.  Writing from the Depot Chinese Labour Corps, A P O S 3y, B E F, France, Charlie comments:

“We’re having quite a good time here – Bowls, Tennis & Cricket all going strong & plenty of pretty walks round about”.

“How much longer do you expect to stay in hospital? Take my advice & stop there as long as possible!”

Meanwhile brother Frank in Canada had joined the Flying Corps.  Their mother wrote to Kenneth on 7th July 1918.  “We had a long letter from Frank a few days ago, he asked for news of you, & said he was always worrying since he heard you were in France.”  Frank was about to finish his course then would soon start to fly.  Their mother comments in the same letter: “He says he shan’t be silly enough to do any stunts”.

Always keen to have news from home, his sister Madge would write about day to day life in Norwich.  On 9th July 1918 she wrote: “I hope you have received the parcel by this time.  We could not think of anything very nice to put in it.  There are such a few things one can send now.  Sweet things are rather hard to get & cakes get so dry.”  In the same letter she sends news of the youngest sister Olive: “She was first in the three legged and sack races . . . I expect she is too fat to do much good at the flat races”.

Another letter from Madge on 25th July 1918 makes reference to Bermondsey Military Hospital being a former workhouse and news of Charlie bringing a young lady home to meet the family.  “By the way we never thought you would have landed in a workhouse. Am sorry it has come to that. . . . . . . I do hope Dorothy is not awfully proper . . . I feel rather shy of meeting her because I have heard so much about her but have not seen her”. 

While letters from home continued to express a wish for Kenneth to return to Norwich, it is not evident that he ever did so during wartime.  Madge wrote in August 1918: “Now, how about your leave.  We are hoping that it will not begin before Aug. 17th (when the family had planned a holiday at East Runton) so that we may be home and you may spend it quietly & comfortably with us here. . . . . . I am very glad you feel so much better.  Thanks for the photo.  I think it is a very good one of you & the suit is not at all unbecoming.  Don’t tramp about too much and overdo it.  Remember you are still convalescent.”

While on holiday in East Runton his father wrote: “ . . very vexed to hear your heart is weak. . . . . Don’t be anxious about it as you are young & with care will outgrow it.  Charlie was told the same thing & he appears to be all right now.. . . We went to the Roman Camp on Tuesday. The landlord of our diggings owns a donkey & cart & we hired it for the extravagant price of 3d for the half day.  You would have been amused to see us trying to urge it to trot. . . . . .We are longing to see you & we shall have such a lot to talk about . . . . . Of course you have seen that no more boys under 19 are to be sent to the Front so anyhow you will be all right until September”.

On 25th October 1918 Kenneth was transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC).  His regimental number was S/443267.  One can only assume that he was not fully fit to return to the Rifle Corps but neither was he medically unfit to be demobilised at this time.  His army pay book records he was on half pay for active service in the UK until the end of January 1919.

Kenneth Base 3

Badge of the Royal Army Service Corps

Between October 1918 and February 1919 Kenneth was in England, probably remaining in London.  Records show that in December 1918 he was invited to a dance at GHQ 3rd Echelon held at the British Red Cross Hospital in London.  His pay reverted back to full pay in February 1919.

While in London letters from his father encouraged him to make the most of his time in the capital giving him lots of suggestions for places to visit.  “You would not be far from Hampstead Heath . . . You should go & see it & I think the zoological Gardens in Regent Park would be worth a visit”.

In March 1919 Kenneth was sent to Rouen as part of the RASC.  His banking and administrative skills probably stood him in good stead for the work of the corps.  The RASC, formerly the ASC until late 1918, was a logistics division providing food, equipment and ammunition.  While the corps was disparaged by some as the Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, “the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won”.

Kenneth Base 4

Kenneth stayed in Rouen until the end of May 1919.  In June he was given a month’s leave which was spent in England.  He may have returned to Norwich to see his family during this time.  At the end of his leave he was requested to report to Balfour House, 3rd Echelon, RASC Rouen situated at Finsbury Pavement, London and appeared to work there until October 1919 when he was given another month’s leave.

In November 1919 he was demobilised with the medical category BIII – ‘disorderly action of the heart’ due to diphtheria and was transferred to the Army Reserve. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

After the war Kenneth returned to Norfolk where he rejoined the staff at Barclay’s Bank Dereham.  He was employed in banking and finance for the rest of his working life.

In September 1939 Kenneth wrote in his diary “It looks as if, in spite of the fact that I served for 2 years in the last war, I’ve not got to give up my peaceful occupation & once more take up arms.  It seems terribly hard”.

Kenneth William Base’s death was registered in East Dereham in January 1989.

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger



Life Stories: Kenneth William Base

In the first of 2 posts we look at the life of Kenneth William Base, seen through the letters sent to him from friends and family…

“That little beggar won’t live”.  Those were the words spoken by a friend of Kenneth’s brother Frank when Kenneth was born on 26th August 1899 and recorded in Kenneth’s later diaries.

Kenneth Base was born in Norwich to Sidney and Alice Base.  He was one of five children with three older siblings and one younger.  The 1911 census records Kenneth living at 78 Barrack Street in Norwich with his parents and siblings Margaret Alice (known as Madge) age 20, Reginald Charles (known as Charlie) age 16, and Olive Mary age 7.  The oldest child Frank had, by this time, left for a life in Canada.

Kenneth probably agreed with his brother’s friend’s comment about his life expectancy as he himself, in his journals, writes that he was a sickly infant, probably born prematurely, who was not expected to live into adulthood.  He also records that this also probably led to preferential treatment from his parents as a child.

In civilian life Kenneth worked in banking.  When war broke out he would have been too young to enlist.  The first indication of involvement is recorded in three letters written by his employers during 1917:

Kenneth Base 1

Letters from Kenneth’s employers. NRO, MC 3078/2

The V.T.C was probably the Voluntary Training Corps but there is no record of Kenneth joining.  In October 1917, shortly after his eighteenth birthday, Kenneth enlisted with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. Letters between Kenneth and his parents make reference to training in firing and live bombing.  At the end of his training, in February 1918, Kenneth transferred to the 1st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles as 44545 Rifleman K W Base.  This was one of 22 battalions of the Rifle Corps which saw action on the Western Front, Macedonia and Italy.

Correspondence between Kenneth and his family was frequent.  His parents wrote often and he also received letters from his brother Charlie and sister Madge. The letters kept by Kenneth reveal the depth of affection and concern for his welfare and also a mutual anxiety for news.  Their arrival was clearly haphazard as the letter below shows.

Kenneth Base 2

Letter from Kenneth’s father. NRO, MC 3078/1

News from home was clearly important to Kenneth no matter what the subject matter.  On 11th July 1918 his father wrote of being unwell with two carbuncles and a bad attack of piles feeling “altogether very weak & dicky.  I should not think of bothering you with a recital of my small grievances only that you seem to be anxious to hear how we all are.  Mother is not very grand but Madge and Olive appear to be much as usual”.

Around June/July of 1918 Kenneth contracted diphtheria.  On 1st July 1918 his mother wrote that she had heard from his regiment at Winchester “telling us you were in the 25 Hospital Rouen for diphtheria”.  Shortly after this Kenneth returned to England to the Bermondsey Military Hospital in Lewisham.  The family were given a pass for two to visit him there but there is no record of any visit from the letters.  On 21st July 1918 his father wrote to say how delighted he was to hear Kenneth was back from France and how keen he was to see him.  “I feel very anxious about you.  Would you like one to come & see you at Lewisham?”  However, in a later letter written 25th August 1918 his father wrote: “It has occurred to me several times that it seems rather unkind of us not to turn up to London & see you & one or two people seem to have commented on it.  It is only because you appear to be getting on so nicely & are able to get about & in all probability will be home shortly on leave but if you would like to see one of us I could run up next weekend or even another as you know nothing is further from our thoughts than to let you feel neglected in any way”.

Kenneth’s daughter records that he also caught Spanish flu during the summer of 1918.  While this is not referred to directly in the letters there are references that he became quite poorly in late August.


Photograph of Kenneth (right hand side of photograph).                      NRO, MC3087/11

In sister Madge’s letter of 25th July 1918 she refers to the suits worn in the military hospitals.  “Aren’t you looking forward to wearing one of those lovely blue uniforms? Some of the men here are wearing very smart hospital suits now.  They look as if they were tailor made”.

Wounded soldiers arriving in England were sent to specialist hospitals or convalescent homes throughout the UK.  They were issued with a special hospital uniform consisting of a blue jacket worn open at the neck, blue trousers, a white shirt and a red tie.  The soldier would wear his own service cap with regimental badge.  The uniform usually had no pockets.  It was also known as a ‘hospital suit’, ‘blue invalid uniform’ and ‘hospital blues’.

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger