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.

 

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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.

Photo 1 Zigomala cropped

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

 

By December 1917, the situation was grave.

Photo 2 Aylsham DC Letter cropped

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.

Photo 3 Meat Rationing Order cropped

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.

Photo 4 Children's Meat Coupons cropped

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.

 

Photo 5 Ration allowances cropped

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

 

 

 

 

German Prisoners of War in Norfolk

German Prisoners of War in Norfolk

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Few local records have been found on German prisoners of war (GPOWs) in the First World War.  However, at the Norfolk Record Office, a picture begins to emerge of their presence in the county during the war years through the minutes of the Norfolk Agricultural War Executive Committee (NAWEC).  The following information is taken from those records: NRO, C/C 10/15, C/C 10/16, C/C 10/17, C/C 10/18 and C/C 10/19.

Norfolk was a key county in taking GPOWs as the greatest need for them was in agriculture.  Maintaining food supplies was a major concern and there were fears that there would not enough labour for the 1918 harvest.

Supplying labour was one thing, accommodating them quite another.  The NAWEC proposed that the county’s halls, farms and workhouses would be the most suitable for large numbers of men.  Premises were inspected to see if they could be adapted and be fit for use.

Many went to Kenninghall where they lived in what had been the workhouse.  It could take up to 410 GPOWs.   Other workhouses included Gressenhall, Gayton, Rockland, Swaffham and Shipmeadow in Suffolk.

Other properties included the Manor House at Stratton St Mary, Burnham Maltings, Blickling Mill and Shouldham Hall.  A camp at Heacham was closed due to its proximity to Sandringham.  Forty GPOWs were accommodated in the stables at Houghton Hall were used.  This was no meagre stable block.  Sales particulars for Houghton Hall describe them thus:

houghton-hall-stable-block.jpg

Details of Houghton Hall Stables. NRO, PD 238/137

Finding accommodation was a constant as fresh demands for labour arose but it was not always successful.  Collings’ Farm at Bacton required men but there was nowhere in Bacton to accommodate them.

Temporary camps were considered for short projects.  However the Agricultural Board in London and Eastern Command decided that this was not possible.  Instead provision for transport beyond the 3 mile limit had to be found. This was easier said than done.

There is little evidence to show how well the requisitioning of these buildings was received.  However in 1918 the NAWEC minutes record that Langford Hall was suitable but could not be obtained by agreement.  It was resolved to ask the Military Authorities to take possession under the Defence of the Realm Act.

District Committees across the county were asked about employing the GPOWs.  Men were available in teams of 75 although this was later reduced to 40.  The work undertaken was wholly on the land and was mainly drainage or farm work.  At harvest time there was a need for GPOWs to work in threshing gangs but the use of GPOWs as travelling gangs was not allowed.

Captain Byng based at Kenninghall had a key role in organizing the GPOWs across the county and reported frequently to the NAWEC.  In January 1918 he informed the committee that he had been asked to supply GPOWs to work on a Royal Flying Corps camp.  He had informed the RFC camp that the men were primarily for agricultural work and suggested a separate camp at Lakenheath should be set up instead.  Despite this some GPOWs were sent to work on aerodromes such as the one at East Harling.

The employment of GPOWs was not without its problems.  There were tensions over pay and employment and difficulties with transportation and supervision.

In August 1917 the Board of Agriculture had requested the immediate employment of the GPOWs at Kenninghall.  The committee minutes record:

Resolved to write to the Commandant of the Camp to ask him whether, if the Executive Committee can find the transport, the War Office will repay the expense and also what distance he will allow them to proceed to work, returning each night to Kenninghall.

Horses were needed for transport but many had been requisitioned for the Front.  The Commandant of Narborough Camp reported he had 80 men available for work but no transport.   A large number of GPOWs were working in Suffolk and the NAWEC agreed that Suffolk should provide their own transport.  Byng needed more horses at Kenninghall which raised three problems; availability, stabling and someone to look after the horses.  All three problems appear to have been addressed but who would pay for the transport?  Byng was opposed to the Agricultural Board’s view that farmers should pay.

GPOWs needed to be supervised.  In 1917 GPOWs were used to clear the rivers Tass and Yare.  The work would be free of charge but the River Committee had to provide supervision.  In November 1917 it was proposed to reduce the guards at Kenninghall by 15%.  Byng reported that if this happened it would be impossible to supply less than 5 GPOWs to any one farm which would result in small farms not getting any labour.

GPOWs were paid.  In February 1917 it was recommended that their rates of pay should be the same as local rates.  The issue of pay rumbled on for some time and never appears to have been fully resolved.  In an advert in the Eastern Daily Press in September 1917 promoting the use of GPOWs; the rate of pay given was 25 shillings for a 60 hour week.  This undercut the local rate of 45 shillings a week.  One can imagine how such a pay difference was viewed by farmers and agricultural labourers.

Discipline does not appear to have been an issue.  There is one reference in the NAWEC minutes in October 1917 that GPOWs working on the Waveney had been warned their pay would be reduced if their work continued to be unsatisfactory and that they were not to smoke while working.

In October 1918 Colonel Howell from the War Office visited Norfolk to inspect the camps.  There was a proposal to decentralize the control of GPOWs to give greater local control but this does not appear to have happened.

When men returned home at the end of the war many had no jobs.  They would claim unemployment benefit and it was reported that some men were refusing to work on the farms because of the benefits they were receiving.  The Employment Office enquired of farmers whether they were still employing GPOWs.  In February 1919 it was agreed that GPOWs were only to be employed if no civilian labour was available.

The NAWEC met for the last time on 31st May 1919.  In those latter months it acknowledged and thanked Byng for his valuable work with the GPOWs.  Repatriation started in September 1919.

Daryl Long – NRO Blogger

 

 

Sheringham – A Frontline Town

Sheringham – A Frontline Town

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Edith Upcher’s diary started and ended with a very loud bang (UPC 188 642×2).  In the short time that she kept her diary, spanning the first three months of 1916, she captured the fears both real and imaginary of the people of Sheringham.

Crash.  Bang.  Shake.  A loud explosion.  Every door & window in the house struggling to break free. 

Thus wrote Edith in her first entry recounting a zeppelin raid on 31st January 1916.  The servants had seen the zeppelin flying low over the wood near Edith’s home, Sheringham Hall.  It appeared to be following the coastline.  Such was the noise that Edith’s mother thought it must be a naval battle.  Edith describes bombs being hurled from the sky, some in the direction of Holt.  Following the raid there was much talk both in the town and at Sheringham Auxiliary Hospital where Edith worked voluntarily.

Everyone claimed that it went “right over my house”.  Hospital calm tho’ the locals had been a little excited.

Edith’s home – Sheringham Hall (NRO, UPC 245 643×3)

 

30 bombs were dropped at Bayfield Lodge probably thinking it was the aerodrome:

Windows of house broken, barn damaged and forge blown to bits.  Many dropped in fields.  8 large holes in which 22 men could stand.  Report told of aircraft party having left on their large light and finding “things too hot for them” fled to Holt leaving the searchlight turned on Holt Lodge. 

The fear of further raids was ever present.  Unconfirmed stories circulated about zeppelins approaching.  Mrs Steward, a local resident, is said to have desired a gun so that she could shoot them down adding that neither guns on the cliff at Bodham would fire and they needed someone to come up from London to look at them because the man from London “knew more about guns than what those soldiers do”.

Residents were understandably fearful of any unexplained noises or anything flying overhead.  On one occasion Edith was chatting to a local neighbour when an aeroplane flew by.

Old Mrs Dawson Sidney fled indoors in tears crying “Oh I do hate them things.  I don’t care if they’re ours or not they do frighten me”.

On 5th March there was another zeppelin scare, heavy snow providing ample light for the zeppelins to see.  Edith wrote:

Music for a bit then to bed wondering how used one got to the idea of Zepps about but hoping that a hurricane would meet them on the way back.

Residents were also worried that the presence of troops in the area would invite attack.  On 8th March Edith remonstrated with a soldier about the danger of leaving ammunition wagons close to local houses.  The residents were anxious that if the wagons were attacked by zeppelins then their houses would be blown up too.  The unsympathetic soldier replied, “We could have put em in your back yard if we had had a mind to”. 

While strangers were welcome in the seaside town before the war, now they were viewed with suspicion. Two women checked into one of the town’s hotels, one demanding a room overlooking the sea and the other a room at the back of the hotel.  Edith wrote that they were:

Suspiciously like spies – but after a time proved to be officers’ wives coming to stay to the finish.

When the lifeboat went missing during a rescue mission, there were again fears of invasion.  Rumours circulated that the Germans had landed and were dressed in khaki so that no-one would know who they were.

Good deal of agitation about many soldiers on Links and round Hospital.  Found out from outpatient that a landing was expected, all the soldiers had been out all night & not come in for morning rations. . . . . One after another the men came in with the same tale & always ending in awestruck voices. . . . . .As it happened there were a most unusual amount of ships hanging about all the morning.  As we were looking at them we saw one of the soldiers from the Hospital hoist up the Union Jack & the Red Cross Flag.  He had got leave to do this to calm his feelings but it had the contrary effect on most of them as they again came to pour out their fears.

The missing lifeboat eventually returned having taken its rescued vessel safely to Grimsby.  Fear of invasion fuelled rumours that it was returning with German spies on board.  A lifeboat member from Sheringham was stationed on the beach to meet its return and to identify every man aboard to check there were no Germans among the crew.

Photo 2 Sheringham 1914 cropped

Postcard of Sheringham in 1914.  (NRO, MC 2313/1 946×2)

Edith’s diary concludes with a major explosion in the town which caused severe damage. On 11th March she wrote:

At 5 past 8 a resounding bang and windows rattling furiously. . . . A floating mine had come ashore.  It was seen for 2 hours but no steps were taken to prevent disaster.  Reports as usual.  “They” had telephoned Lowestoft for instructions & received none.  “it was too rough for any boat to get out to it”.  None of the fishermen would have dared touch it etc etc.  Anyhow the unsuitable had happened and the mine had burst.  The spot it chose was the Town drain pipe and here it did its worst though mercifully so much less than if it had met its end a few minutes sooner and not a soul was hurt or even touched by the portions of pipe-mine & stones which were flying incredible distances into Town.

The damage caused by the mine was extensive with Cliff Road particularly affected.  Mrs Lucas’ house ‘The Mo’ on East Cliff was badly damaged as it was close to the blast.  Stories of narrow escapes abounded. Birrell’s house was apparently lifted out of the ground eight inches and dropped back again.  Edith wrote that Birrell then ran about all day long carrying a bottle of medicine from which he drank at regular intervals.  Mr Craske had heard about the mine and got his wife out of bed.  After the explosion they found a large piece of metal in her pillow.  Fortunately, because the morning was so stormy, children were not playing outdoors and so escaped injury.

After the mine explosion people went around the town collecting metal shards in an attempt to prove it had been an English mine so that the town could claim damages.

Edith’s diary illustrates how the fear and reality of war manifested itself directly on the doorsteps of British towns in the First World War.

 

Written by Daryl Long NRO Blogger

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Most World War I history recalls the terrible scenes of battle and countless British men adapting to life in the trenches. However an army, particularly one consisting of mostly volunteers, cannot function on the battlefield without proper training and one recruit, Malcolm Castle, a Norwich man, recalled the kind of routine that took place on a typical First World War training ground.

On the 4th of August Britain declared war on Germany. Seeing as the island nation was taking on a European superpower with a much more experienced land army, the British Army needed all the manpower it could get to fight. Many officers were sent out to various settlements across the United Kingdom to recruit as many men as possible. One such recruit was office worker, Malcolm Castle who approached the Artillery Drill Hall a day after the war began to apply for a commission in the East Anglian Field Artillery. After consulting Major Percy Wiltshire, the officer gave Castle a note for Lieutenant Colonel Le Mottee of Norwich. After obtaining his father’s permission he eventually found the Colonel who accepted him subject to the approval of The War Office. He was then medically examined by Dr R. J. Mills who had just returned from Germany. Britain not only required an army with much man power but it also needed a healthy one, therefore rigorous medical examinations were conducted for all new recruits. This was especially important to retain military strength, particularly after the Boer War when it was discovered that many of the volunteer recruits were in a poor physical condition, a lot of them being turned down as a result.

DSC_1305 cropped

Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

At the end of the day after posting an application for a commission, Castle joined the 1st Norfolk Battery. The following morning, he saw himself at 6am on duty at the Nelson School which was being used as temporary barracks. After a quick breakfast back home he was on duty all morning and afternoon. This routine became more constant for Castle but he adapted quickly to army life, often appearing in the Drill Hall at the crack of dawn. He soon went on to Doddinghurst where he got the chance to ride some of the chargers two ‘good’ mares before finding the battery headquarters. He described it as ‘a most awful place’, his friends Miles and Martin were forced to sleep on the floor, given the fact that there were only two beds which were both infested with fleas. Early in the morning, Castle and his groom, Gunner Rice rode to Cow’s Farm where another friend, Ruddoch helped him build a shack to sleep in. When he returned to Norwich Castle he was quartered at the Cavalry Barracks, a member of the 12th Lancers lending him a bed.

After leaving the cavalry barracks Castle’s battery was stationed by orders of Colonel J.W. Currie at Spixworth Park. Castle was an Orderly Officer as he did drills. Unfortunately a thunderstorm swept over and as a result five men were struck by lightning ‘one very badly’. Parades became a common occurrence during Castle’s new life, occupying much of his diary entries. One evening the men dug gunpits before they were occupied the following morning as part of a practice alarm. Meanwhile as a sign that the women of Britain were equally patriotic as the men, keen to see their loved ones fight for their nation and carry out their duty, Castle’s love, Gladys Bellamy, sent him a prayer book adorned with a Union Jack that she worked onto it. As in common with many young people at the time, Castle kept regular correspondence with his parents throughout his time with the military.

Castle’s battery volunteered for foreign service but since he had not taken a gunnery course, the Colonel could not take him. He was posted to the 2nd Norfolk Battery commanded by Captain C.E. Hodges and where he spent most of his time around the billets at Horsford Manor, or taking part in drills and parades. In one march he acted as Captain. The men were soon moved to Felthorpe where Castle attended services at the local Church alongside his comrades. In the early days of October the Colonel turned up and using the Battery Staff as a troop of Cavalry, charged at the guns. Castle also mentions attending a Court Martial at St. Faith’s on the same day but he does not go into detail. On the 16th of October tragedy struck when one of the commanders, Kempson, received a message that his brother had gone down in H.U.S. ‘Hawke’. Such tragedies could be seen as early warning signs of what the Great War would become, a bloodbath. As the war began to rear its ugly head, it drew Castle and his fellow officers closer. He frequently dined, walked, rode or simply talked to them and it is likely that comrades were beginning to become almost like a second family to him.

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Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

On November 3 German ships were spotted in the port of Yarmouth, and an order was received for the battalion to stand by, but soon afterwards it was cancelled. The armoured cruiser responsible was sunk but while Yarmouth survived the German sea raid with little casualties, it would be the first British settlement to face a zeppelin attack. Since the military at first knew little about what to do with the zeppelin problem, the sight of them must have terrified Norfolk citizens. Soon afterwards the battalion seemed to be inspected more regularly, perhaps due to the incident. Castle meanwhile was highly responsible for the training of the horses, on November 24 he mentions taking the recruits riding and even had some of them jumping. Towards the end of his diary Castle frequently talks about housing and exercising the steeds of the battalion. On the 27th he took part in a Brigade Night March where the men dug. At dawn a dozen rounds of blank was fired. After acting as Captain again, exhausted, Castle ended up sleeping for the rest of the day. Following a round of inspections on December 5th, the battalion had a football match against the 1st Battery, winning 2-1. While this is a relatively minor detail, football would soon become a great symbol of the war during the Christmas armistice when British and German troops briefly put aside their differences and upon No Man’s Land, played a friendly football game.

Malcom Castle provides useful first-hand information concerning training during the Great War, giving a good and accurate picture of how local military routines were conducted in Norfolk and the rest of Britain. As he and his comrades trained, men from the front were arriving back in Norwich wounded, and the amount would only increase as the war carried on. His diary is kept in the Norfolk Record Office (MC 657/1, 790X6) and provides a reminder of British atmosphere during this time of conflict.

By Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger

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