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

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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.

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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

 

Old Boys! The school salutes you!

Old Boys! The school salutes you!

 

City of Norwich (CNS) School Magazine – Midsummer 1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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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.

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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