Branching out into Suffolk (slightly)

We’ve been contacted by another blog reader looking for some help filling out the final details of some family history research which has led him from Suffolk to Norfolk.

 

My grandfather, Albert Holmes from Newmarket Suffolk, was born in  1883.  Albert was a Bricklayer before he joined up to the B Company of the 2nd Btn Suffolk Regiment. He was born in Exning (nr Newmarket) and lived in Newmarket. He married just before he joined up and his widow (my grandmother) never remarried but lived until 1971 aged 88 –  much of the time in the house they moved into after the marriage!

We know he was home on leave late 1916/1917 as I have a photo of him with his wife and my mother – who was born in April 1915.

Albert with wife Edith and daughter Beryl.

He is recorded on the War memorial in Newmarket but until I contacted the Suffolk Regiment Museum with a photograph I did not know that he was in the Norfolk Regiment.  More research has let us know that Albert died of his wounds on 6th Aug 1918 and was buried in North Gate Cemetery in Baghdad.

Albert is believed to be the man in the front row of seated privates on the immediate left of the central officer.

I knew from my grandmother that he was buried in the Middle East  but I don’t know if she even knew exactly where. I have two requests:

Does anyone have any photos of his grave or memorial in the North Gate Cemetary? At present I don’t know if he even has a grave or if this cemetary is still in existance.
Also I would also love to know is more about his service, things like when he returned from leave (which would more positively date my family photo),  when he joined the Norfolks, when he arrived in the Middle East, when and where he was injured and in hospital.

I know that other readers of this blog have helped fill in the gaps for other people and I hope the same comes true here – thank you in advance, Mike Browne.

As ever if you can help tell Albert’s story please do drop us a line (norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com), leave a comment here or reach us on Twitter (@Norfolkinww1).

Helping a family with information 100 years after the event.

Another blog reader has contacted us and once more we’d love some help in fleshing out his story for family members as the 100th Anniversary of his death approaches.

The young man in question is Private Samuel Riches, we know he was registered as No 43491 within the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, although his original documents show that he originally enlisted with the 6th Cyclist Bn in October 1914.

More family research has shown that Samuel was a cook within the service

Samuel Riches (on the right)

and that his date of death is recorded as 11th August 2017.

Samuel is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres and sadly his exact place of death is not known.

It is with this fact that the family are asking for help.  We know that at the time of Samuel’s death the Third Battle of Ypres was taking place but the two questions the family have are:

  • As a cook would Samuel have been fighting in the front line and thus killed in battle or would he have been killed accidentally behind the lines?
  • Can we work out the likely location of his death from the date?

We really hope that some of our readers may be able to help with these questions so that when Samuel Riches descendants travel to Ypres in August they can have as much information about his last days as possible.

If any of our readers can help answer any of these questions, or can give any insight into the life of a cook in the Trenches during WW1 please do leave a comment or email Norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com.

Equally if you have a similar question within your own research please do get in contact.

 

Making connections through family stories

Last summer we posted the research undertaken by Alan Riches in to his great-uncle’s war service.  We’ve now been contacted by another blog reader who’s great-grandfather probably served alongside Harry Hazel.
Simon Potter has shared what he knows about Herbert Potter but it is currently an incomplete picture:

Herbert was my great-grandfather who died in 1958, before I was born but my father remembers him. He was a rather tall and elegantly dressed man but over time developed a pigeon chest as he struggled for breath after a WW1 gas attack.

Herbert enlisted on 25th March 1915 in the same company as Sapper 84711, just 839 men before so they maybe knew each other?

There is some debate as to when Herbert came under gas attack, I think this happened on 8 August 1916. From the company war diary, it looks like he and 35 others were casualties of high explosive and (possibly chlorine gas) attack whilst making a communications trench from brigade HQ on the south-west side of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood. His service record shows shell shock from an exploding shell and that he spent a week with 104th field hospital, however it doesn’t mention the gas so it’s possible that it occurred later, my father thinks he heard mustard gas at the Ypres/Battle of Poelcappelle/Passchendaele in Oct 1917.

 

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-1

In this torn image Herbert could be in the middle row, second from left with the blue mark on his hat.

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-2

These are the photos I have, I always thought they were of (part of) the 208th, but the cap badges worry me a bit, perhaps as a territorial unit they were different? I think there are only 70 men in this picture not the 217 that you mentioned in the previous post so perhaps it’s not a Company but a Platoon?  I also notice that unlike other similar photos they have no rifles. From the tents in the background could these photos be from training camps in England in 1915?

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-3

Not sure about this one either, perhaps a field kitchen in Kirkby Malzeard or in France, although the corrugated iron walls in the background look similar to photos of some temporary buildings I have seen at Sutton Veny on Salisbury Plain.

The most amazing thing for me is that his record shows that in Feb/March 1918 he was granted 10 days leave to the UK. Imagine having experienced the horrors of the trenches over 2 winters (including being shell-shocked and gassed), then going home, then after a rest returning to the war!

1919-h-potter-army-discharge-documents-page-2

Herbert he survived the war returning to his work as a boot maker in Norwich where after short retirement he died peacefully in 1958 aged 76. Herbert was born in Norwich in 1881 but spent a lot his youth in Bethnal Green.

Herbert many years later on holiday in 1937, on the RHS with his eldest son (also called Herbert) on the LHS and his grandson (Brian).

Herbert many years later on holiday in 1937, on the RHS with his eldest son (also called Herbert) on the LHS and his grandson (Brian).

 Herbert on the left in the Homburg hat in 1939. He died in 1958 at 83 Rosebery Road, Norwich, in his final years he liked to sip half pints of stout in the back room of the Lord Rosebery pub and play draughts. Like most them, he never spoke of the war.

Herbert on the left in the Homburg hat in 1939. He died in 1958 at 83 Rosebery Road, Norwich, in his final years he liked to sip half pints of stout in the back room of the Lord Rosebery pub and play draughts. Like most them, he never spoke of the war.

Herbert has two brothers, one older (Charles Frederick b. 1876) and one younger (George James b.1888).

Charles Frederick Potter was already a professional solder being #4163 in 2nd Bn Essex Regiment and who participated in the second Anglo-Boer War of 1896. He had already retired from the army by the outbreak of WW1 but rejoined as Pte 45624, 2nd Garrison Battalion Essex Reg, forming part of the Nasirabad Brigade, India in 1917. I think he lived until 1960 but not sure.

George James  joined the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps as Rifleman 7696 on 22 August 1914, but died less than a year later on 10 July 1915. He is buried in the Lillers Communal Cemetery, Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region, France Plot: II. A. 34. This is just 3 1/2 months after Herbert joined up.

As ever we are very grateful to Simon for sharing his family story with us – please do comment below or email norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com if you have a story to share or indeed if you can help with any of Simon’s questions.

The tale of two brothers from Walpole St Peter during World War One

We’ve been contacted by Chris Woods, originally from Norfolk who has kindly shared the stories of his grandfathers’ and uncle’s First World War service:

Sergeant Arthur Earnest Woods (13756) 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
Private George Woods (25075) 13th Battalion Suffolk Regiment.

Arthur Earnest Woods was born in Walpole St Peter, Norfolk in 1894. He was one of 8 children born to Robert and Elizabeth Woods. He was the second oldest of the six boys and it was only himself and his older brother George (my Grandfather) who were old enough to go to war.

The Woods family outside their inn.

The Woods family outside their inn.

Their father was an agricultural worker and Inn Keeper and whilst his older brother George initially stayed at home on the family smallholding, Arthur also a farm hand was quick to join up. His attestation papers show that he joined the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on the 3rd September 1914 aged just 20.

The 8th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment was raised at Norwich in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army and joined 53rd Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division. The Division initially concentrated in the Colchester area but moved to Salisbury Plain in May 1915. They proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne on the 25th of July 1915 with Arthur amongst them.

Arthur Woods

Arthur Woods

The division was concentrated near Flesselles and in 1916 they were in action on The Somme in The Battle of Albert.
On July 1st Arthur was involved in the successful capturing of the Battalions objectives near Montauban, this was to be one of the few British successes on that fateful day. It is interesting to note that Arthur’s war record shows that he was promoted to Acting Sergeant on that day and just five days later to full Sergeant. This probably points to the number of his comrades and officers lost during that time.

He was badly wounded during the battle for Delville Wood and it is unclear whether his leg was amputated there or on his return to England on 25th August 1916 where he was in Stamford Hospital, London. He was eventually discharged as unfit for war service on 10th Febuary 1917.

His elder brother George Woods was called up and was attested in Wisbech on 28th February 1916
and after only four months training was sent to France on 6th July. He was soon to be sent to the front line near Pozieres.

Excerpts from George's diary (he took quite a risk in doing this as diaries were not supposed to be kept by men in the trenches)

Excerpts from George’s diary (he took quite a risk in doing this as diaries were not supposed to be kept by men in the trenches)

He was very badly wounded by a bomb explosion and gunshot wounds to his arms, trunk and legs on the 9th August and evacuated to England on the 28th August. He spent 8 months recovering in Netley Hospital before being discharged back to his home in Norfolk.

A family wedding from 1916. showing Arthur & George's two sisters at their joint wedding, present are their four other brothers and their parents Robert and Elizabeth. George and Arthur are however missing from the celebration as it is taken when they were on the Somme.

A family wedding from 1916. showing Arthur & George’s two sisters at their joint wedding, present are their four other brothers and their parents Robert and Elizabeth. George and Arthur are however missing from the celebration as it is taken when they were on the Somme.

For a very short period during late July and early August 1916 the two brothers were on the front line less than two miles apart. They both returned to Walpole St Peter. Arthur married in 1917 and had four children. He died in 1952 aged just 58. George married in 1918 and had three children. He died at the age of 96.

Another page from George's diary

Another page from George’s diary

I am also researching my Grandfather on my Mother’s side who also fought in the First World War.
He was in the East Anglian Brigade – Royal Field Artillery, fighting in Palestine and Egypt. He came from Neatishead and is mentioned on the Neatishead and Barton Turf Community Heritage Groups Site.

His name was Sidney George Chambers and I have attached his photo too taken during his time in Egypt. I again am lucky enough to have information from his war record and am hoping to get down to Norfolk again soon to do more Family History research.

Sidney Chambers

Sidney Chambers

Chris concludes:

I was born in Norfolk but have lived on the Shropshire / Welsh border for over 40 years. I am involved in World War 1 research as a member of the Centenary Partnership and have visited the areas where my relations fought indeed even standing where my grandfather was wounded, where he was treated and the graves of his comrades killed in the same incident. Through the help of a friend and Somme Guide who lives in Martinpuich we were able to use Grandad’s diary and the Battalion and Brigade diaries to trace his footsteps extremely accurately.

I am currently writing a play regarding his time in Norfolk and during the war and hope one day to bring it to Norfolk.

I am also writing a book about and have developed a section called Lights Out Trefonen on our village website about the 31 local people who lost their lives from the village where I now live. www.trefonen.org

If like Chris you have discovered a family story please do consider sharing it with us – we would like to remember the stories of as many men as possible.

Alfred Alexander Anderson in World War One

Born: 4 February 1892, Devonshire Street, Norwich

Enlisted: 30 November 1914, First East Anglian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Served: Home, France, Egypt, Palestine

Demobilised: 31 March 1920

I have three mementos of the First World War that belonged to my maternal grandfather, Alfred Alexander Anderson. The first is a sepia photograph of my grandfather with three of his colleagues. This is not a formal studio portrait, but was obviously taken somewhere out in the field. The men are posed in front of what looks like canvas and they are wearing shorts, with desert boots and puttees; they have ammunition belts slung across their jackets. Two of the men are smoking and one is holding what could be a riding crop. The men look relaxed and are all smiling slightly for the camera. We do not know who the other men are or if, like Alfred, they survived the war.

Alfred Anderson (back, left)

My grandfather spoke very little of his First World War experiences, certainly not to me and not to my mother Beryl, his youngest daughter. The only family story my mother remembers is an account of my grandfather jumping from the side of a boat into the Suez Canal as a dare. The fact that the men are dressed in shorts in the photograph suggests that this picture could have been taken in Egypt.

medals

Alfred’s Medals

I have three medals from the First World War belonging to Alfred: the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and a Victory Medal. Both the Star and British War Medal bear the designation 1653 GNR A A Anderson RFA, but the Victory Medal is in the name of 27190 PTE A Knox E SURR R. The abbreviations GNR and RFA on the medals indicate that Alfred was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. As the Victory Medal bears a different name it seems that Alfred misplaced his own medal and decided at some point to obtain a replacement.

My final memento is a small notebook measuring only 6 x 10 cms. The notebook does not have a cover, is slightly torn, stained and brown with age, and, in places, the handwriting is difficult to read. This notebook was kept by my grandfather during his active service overseas and part of it constitutes a diary. The keeping of diaries by servicemen in front line positions was discouraged, but the practice seems to have been not uncommon. The size of Alfred’s notebook is such that it could be easily carried in a top pocket.

notebook

Alfred’s Notebook

The notebook confirms that my grandfather was in Egypt and he was engaged in the defence of the Suez Canal, although jumping into the water as a dare is not mentioned. Entries in the notebook include details of inoculations in 1915, names and addresses of family and friends, and a list of dates of “letters received” and “letters sent home” starting in October 1916. The diary entries begin in November 1916 and are brief, usually only a few words, but they do include place names and thus give an indication of my grandfather’s involvement in various actions in the Middle East. Using the notebook and a copy of my grandfather’s military record, which luckily survives in the National Archive, I have managed to piece together some of his story.

Alfred Alexander Anderson enlisted on 30 November 1914 in Norwich. His attestation papers state that he was 22 years 9 months old, 5 foot 5 inches tall and had a chest measurement of 36 inches. He was passed fit for service as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). The RFA was a mobile force, deployed close to the front line, with medium calibre guns and howitzers. It was organised in brigades, each containing a series of batteries. The Norfolk batteries were part of the First East Anglian Brigade and were artillery for the 54th (East Anglian) Division, which included infantry from the Norfolk and Suffolk Regiments. There are two service numbers in Alfred’s military record – 1653 and 875553 – reflecting a re-organisation of the artillery units as the war progressed. The First East Anglian Brigade was re-designated the 270 Brigade in May 1915 and became the 272 Brigade in December 1916 (upon the breakup of the original 272 Brigade, formerly the Third East Anglian Brigade). Alfred’s notebook records that he was a driver with B Battery, 272 Brigade. In his service record Alfred is listed as both gunner and driver, pointing to some flexibility in these roles. No doubt the men received an element of cross-training with regard to serving the guns or serving the horses, making replacements in the field easier to accomplish.

The period 30 November 1914 to 14 November 1915 was spent “at home”, presumably undergoing training, and during this time my grandfather married Rosanna Cossey. The wedding took place on 22 May 1915 at Norwich Register Office and it was some six months later that my grandfather was sent overseas.

rosanna_photo

Rosanna Cossey

The artillery had remained at home when the 54th Division sailed for service at Gallipoli in July 1915. However, Alfred’s military record shows that he left England for France on 15 November 1915, embarking at Southampton and landing in Le Havre on 16 November. The artillery joined the Expeditionary Force France and were reportedly located at Blaringhem in the Pas de Calais region where they were attachedto the 33rd Division, a Kitchener’s Army unit whose own divisional artillery were still undergoing training at home. The East Anglian Artillery were only in France for a few months before they were sent to Egypt as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). They began the move to Marseilles by train on 11 January 1916 and on 30 January Alfred embarked ship for Alexandria. He did not return to England until April 1919.

The MEF was under the command of General Archibald Murray from March 1916 and was redesignated the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). Turkey had become an ally of Germany in November 1914 and, after their victory at Gallipoli, it was feared that the Turks might launch a major offensive against the Suez Canal, an important supply route for Britain. Alfred arrived in Alexandria on 14 February and the artillery were initially concentrated at Mena Camp in Cairo before being deployed along the Suez Canal. Sadly there are no entries in Alfred’s notebook for these early days in Egypt when he was based within sight of the Pyramids.

Defence of the Suez Canal was divided into three sectors (northern, central and southern) and in early April 1916 Alfred’s battery moved to the southern section near Suez. Two months after this move, Alfred became a father. Rosanna gave birth to twin girls, Edna Mabel and Margery Rose, on 9 June 1916. When Alfred got to learn about the birth of the twins is not known. Although Alfred kept a list of dates of letters sent and received, his diary makes no mention of news from home. Given that home leave was not possible for the majority of personnel of the EEF, letters from home must have been of great importance to the men.

suez_southern

Map Suez defences July 1916 (Great War Forum)

The diary section of Alfred’s notebook begins in November 1916 when his brigade is down at El Kubri, some 12 miles north of Suez, and there are Rumours of moving, but was stopped after we had packed up”. A copy of a map from the Great War Forum website shows the position of the Suez Canal defences in July 1916 and the location of El Kubri. By August 1916 the Turkish offensive into Egypt had ended and the Turkish forces retreated into Palestine. The focus then changed from defence of the canal to advance into Sinai and Palestine. The 54th (East Anglian) Division was placed on Desert Column Establishment at the end of January 1917 with orders to march east.

Alfred reports a move on 20 January 1917 from El Kubri to Moascar, near Ismailia at the bottom end of the Canal. Moascar camp is where the Allied training depots were located. It was initially a collection of tents, marquees and wooden shacks, but by the end of the war had tarmac roads, electric light and miles of railway sidings. The day after arriving at Moascar, Alfred writes See Fred. Very windy. Bad wind storms”. Various encounters with Fred are reported by Alfred throughout the diary. Fred is Alfred’s brother-in-law, 204653 Private Frederick Cossey, who was serving as an infantry man in the 1/4 Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Both men survived the war and maintained their friendship into later years. The war diary for the 1/4 Norfolk Regiment shows that they were engaged in brigade and divisional training at Moascar from 11-31 January 1917, thus giving Alfred and Fred the opportunity to meet.

There is a gap in Alfred’s diary from the end of January to beginning of April 1917. He reports leaving Moascar on 4 April, moving through El Ferdan and Kantara (east side of Suez Canal) before arriving at Deir el Belah on 8 April. Deir el Blah is located in the central Gaza strip. It was the HQ of the Eastern Force and the location of the coastal supply route. Cargoes were landed on the beaches and then transported to forward supply depots and ammunition dumps. Supplies also arrived via the Sinai railway. The artillery was transported by this route, but the war diary for the 1/4 Norfolk Regiment shows that at the beginning of February they had proceeded into the Sinai by route march, arriving at El Arish camp (north Sinai) on 6 March. The move by the artillery to Deir el Belah was connected to the build-up for the Second Battle of Gaza. The town was of strategic importance to the allied forces as they attempted to push the Turkish army north. An earlier battle for Gaza took place in March 1917, but was unsuccessful and there were heavy casualties. Alfred’s brigade does not appear to have taken part in this first battle.

Alfred’s diary is interesting with respect to the things that he does and does not mention. Some of the obvious features of desert warfare, such as heat, cold, sand or flies, are not commented upon. However, Alfred does make mention of wind, rain, thunderstorms, hail, lice, cigarettes and Christmas dinner. The diary reveals something of the logistical challenges and undoubted monotony of war. There are many references to ammunition carting, drawing rations, going after water, servicing guns and securing forage for the horses. Securing water supplies for men and animals was undoubtedly a continuing problem in such an arid landscape. Periods of routine involving care of horses, harnesses, wagons and guns, were interspersed with periods of action. This was a war of movement, with the guns being continually shifted to new positions.

The first note of any action in Alfred’s diary is a simple statement on 14 April to the effect that Enemy shelled camp” and two days later B Battery took up positions for purpose of shelling Gaza. On 19 April, Alfred reports that he went to first line of trenches with [?] Lambert of the 10 London Regiment. Saw Fred on the way. Under heavy shell fire for 2 hours”. The war diary of the 1/4 Norfolk Battalion shows that they had taken up position on Sheikh Abbas ridge prior to launching an attack.

In the next few days Alfred takes a series of camel transports up the firing line. In the desert terrain, camels were an important means of transport for supplies due to their ability to carry heavy loads and to exist for days at a time without water. An entry for 22 April reports that on taking the camel transport up the line he found that Fred was safe” and the following day Alfred writes camel transport up line and see all the boys, who were glad to see me and I was glad to see them”. Casualties are recorded on 25 April (one rigger and two smiths killed) and Alfred reports being shelled while down at the water trough with the horses. On 28 April B Battery was withdrawn from their position and they rest in a barley field fit to cut”. The landscape around the ancient city of Gaza was bisected by water courses and obviously amenable to cultivation.

gaza_april-1917

Map Gaza Battlefields, April 1917, http://www.vlib.us/ww1/resources

The second Battle of Gaza was also unsuccessful and this second defeat prompted a change in command of the EEF, with General Sir Edmund Allenby assuming control of the Allied forces in June 1917. In the immediate aftermath of the Second Battle of Gaza, stalemate ensued, with position warfare along a front stretching from the Mediterranean beaches through to the Negev desert. B Battery took up position again on 11 May. Alfred writes took up position against Dumb Bell Hill [which is to the south-east of Gaza] with wagon line 2 miles behind the guns”. On 14 May an entry in the war diary of the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment states that 20 enemy were seen filing from left to right of the Cactus Hedge position. 272 B Battery were informed and several rounds of shrapnel were fired which caused the enemy to disappear. Alfred’s diary does not make mention of this incident.

On 16 May a section of guns was moved to Mansura Ridgeat night. The 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment war diary indicates that a working party of 200 enemy soldiers were seen on 17 May around 600 yards north-west of Cactus Garden. 272 B Battery opened fire and managed to land 4 out of 7 shots into the party, which scattered. An entry for the following day, 18 May, reports that 272 B Battery and 265 C Battery were engaged in gapping the wire on Outpost Hill and registering the gaps. Alfred’s diary reports ammunition carting on that day. An entry in the diary for 22 May shows that the section was withdrawn from position, having lost ourselves at night”.

An attack by the Turks on 11 June is described by Alfred as the loveliest sight I ever saw at night. Alfred’s notebook suggests continued activity on Mansura Ridge with the guns taken forward on 7 July for wire cutting. Another attack by the Turks occurred on 19 July, followed by two days of bombardment when the ridge was reportedly taken – We bombard and take the ridge. Out all night. Got lost”. On 22 July Alfred documents seeing an aircraft brought down by the Turks. Planes were initially used as spotters for artillery rather than necessarily for attack purposes.

B Battery was withdrawn from their position to a rest camp (not stated) on 5 August. On 20 August there is the first mention by Alfred of gas drill – went through a gas tent. Gas was used in the second Battle of Gaza, as were tanks, although there is no mention of the latter by Alfred. At the endof August, Alfred reports that the battery moved back to its old position. The month of September passes without major incident and on 23 October Alfred heads to El Arish on leave.

Alfred returns from leave on 30 October and the following day he comments that the Stunt starts. Went with ammo to new gun pits”. The stunt in question is the third Battle of Gaza. Alfred is concerned again with transporting ammunition to the gun pits and an all-night bombardment takes place on 1 November. Alfred mentions that a Sergeant Chapman is killed and some of the boys wounded on 2 November. By 8 November the Turkish Eighth Army was in retreat and Alfred’s battery moved up after the retreating forces, a move that Alfred describes as the worst I ever had. On 14 November the battery moves again, towards Jaffa, and one of the few mentions of food appears in Alfred’s diary – boys get plenty of oranges, the best you could get”. Jaffa was taken by the Allied forces on 16 November.

In the following days the battery remains in the vicinity of Jaffa, with Alfred reporting a series of moves to Midze, Ramleh (ancient Arimathea), Surafend, Ludd and Wilhelma. The weather is inclement as the rainy season begins and Alfred remarks on heavy downpours at night. The wet and cold undoubtedly added to the logistical difficulties of supplying the men and animals. During this time the 54th Division was involved in establishing a bridgehead to the north of Jaffa across the Nahr el Auja river. The division’s main camp was established at Wilhelma.

The Turkish forces counter-attacked at the end of November. Alfred’s diary entry for 27 November reads Turks shell us out of village, horse killed and two wounded, and eight men wounded. Out all night”. The same occurs the following day, when Alfred says one man was killed, as well as several horses, and my team had a nasty fall, but thank god we came through safely with a bruise or two. The guns were moved forward to a new position and Alfred brings ammunition forward by camel. He states Caught spies up a tree. Have not had a wash for four days. Properly chatty [infested with lice]. Took camels to gun line. Heavy firing at night”. It is interesting to speculate as to whether the “spies” were indeed individuals trying to gather intelligence on troop movements or local people who had got caught up in the action.

Alfred carries out a service of the guns on 30 November and the battery is then involved in another series of moves, with Alfred engaged in ammunition carting. Places mentioned by Alfred at this point include Dirty Reach and Railway Junction. It was at this time that, sadly, one of Alfred’s baby daughters, Edna, died of convulsions (9 December 1917). The diary gives no indication of the arrival of bad news, but it must have been hard for Alfred to lose a baby daughter he had never seen and to be away from Rosanna when she needed support.

While Alfred’s battery was involved in maintaining a defensive position around Jaffa, other forces under Allenby’s command had moved to secure Jerusalem and on 11 December Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot via the Jaffa Gate. Alfred reports a cheerless Christmas day during a period of heavy rain – the worst I have ever spent, not a smoke or any signs of them”. Given the level of advance of the Allied forces, it seems probable that it took some time for new supply lines to be established. The new year starts in Mulebbis, a settlement south of the Nahr el Auja river. The entries for January 1918 reveal that Alfred is again involved in ammunition carting, drawing rations, bringing up the water cart, and collecting forage for the animals. On 14 January he sees his brother-in-law Fred, having broken down when going after the forage wagon. Christmas dinner is provided on 25January, but is apparentlynot very good for the time”. There are few diary entries in February, with the bad weather continuing.

On 2 and 3 March Alfred reports that the Turks shell Mulebbis and on 11 March B Battery guns take up a forward position in front of the first line trenches, before moving again the next day to Tin Town. There are no further entries by Alfred until 24 March, when he reports hail stones, largest stones I have ever seen”. This is corroborated by an account by the officer historians of the 1/5th Suffolks of seeing hail stones as large as potatoes on that day.

In early April, the diary documents that three Turkish aircraft are brought down and there is another round of gas training. On 18 and 20 April, Alfred is carting ammunition for the Suffolk Regiment (most likely in support of the Battle of Berukin) and on 26 April his battery takes up a new position in a vineyard. There are no reports of further ammunition carting, only a trip to Ludd (purpose unknown) when Alfred gets caught up in a thunderstorm. On 15 May Alfred reports a move to a rest camp and the battery then heads to El Arish for a period of leave. Back home Alfred’s paternal grandfather died on 11 May 1918, age 73, of bronchopneumonia and heart failure. As a child, Alfred and his father had lived with his paternal grandparents. Again there is no mention in the diary about the arrival of bad news.

Alfred’s period of leave ends on 8 June, but the diary gives no indication of activities until a march past on 17 June, which apparently went off grand. On 21 June there is a move to Orange Post with reports of the enemy shelling the ration dump and bringing down a balloon. The battery then appears to be withdrawn again, moving to Surafend (near Ramleh) on 25 June, then to Ludd, and arriving in Kantara on 27 June (these movements were done by rail). Gas drill takes place on 2 July and then Alfred states that he goes to Port Said for the day. On 9 July, Alfred leaves Kantara for the front line, going through Surafend before arriving at Selmeh (near Jaffa) on 16 July.

There are no further entries until, at the end of July, Alfred reports that they move for 3 days’ action on MG Ridge and have no sleep for 2 days. The battery then moves to Mejdal Yaba (4 kms east of Jaffa). Activity continues into August, with the Turk forces shelling the water wagon, another series of moves and reports of a Turkish plane brought down. At the end of August, Alfred states Saw Freddy again and we had a good time.

Not long after seeing his brother-in-law, Alfred is admitted to hospital in Ludd and transferred to Kantara and Cairo (2 September). He starts back for his unit on 14 September and reaches his battery on 1 October. While Alfred was in hospital, the British undertook a major offensive along the coastal Plain of Sharon and into the Judaen Hills, known as the Battle of Megiddo. The dates of the attack were 19-25 September. A combination of cavalry, artillery, infantry, armoured vehicles and aircraft produced a decisive victory for the Allied forces. A deception campaign in the Jordan Valley convinced the Ottoman forces that the attack was going to be launched further east, while the main offensive was actually further west and up the coast.

When Alfred rejoins his battery they are moving north in pursuit of the retreating Turkish and German forces – Reached battery. Still keep marching up. On 3 October 1918, Alfred states Stopped for a rest at Haifa. Saw Fred again’”. The battery passes through Acre, Tyre and Sidon, before arriving just outside Beirut on 31 October. The Turks signed an armistice on 31 October and the following day there is a ceremonial march into Beirut, during which Alfred says Had a man commit suicide while mounted”. The 1/4 Norfolks had also made their way up the coast, with their war diary documenting that the 21st Corps Commander (Lieutenant General Edward Bulfin) took the salute at the ceremonial march. Alfred then has a day’s pass into Beirut where he reports that Things were very down, some of the people were starving”.

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Map Battle of Megiddo, September 1918 (Wikipedia)

As the military action ended, the Allied forces had to contend with another enemy – disease. The Spanish flu epidemic and a concurrent       malaria epidemic impacted servicemen and local people alike. In early November Alfred has another problem with his health and reports to number 15 Casualty Clearing Station. He was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia and transferred to the American hospital in Beirut on 13 November. An entry in his service record for 16 November reports he was very ill with  tuberculosis and on 13 December he was taken by hospital shipfrom BeiruttoAlexandria, where he is kept in bed. On Christmas Day Alfred says he got up for the event but suffered for it next day or so”.  He was in the 87th General Hospital in Alexandria until 26 February 1919 when he was moved to the British Red Cross Hospital at Montazah.

On 23 March 1919 Alfred embarked for home on hospital ship Dongala. On 25 March, Alfred records that a man jumps overboard and was lost, while the following day they pass Italy and Sicily and go through the Straits of Messina. Very lovely sights. Mount Etna and Stromboli”. Alfred’s diary ends with an entry on 28 March Sea very rough. Arrive at Marseilles but could not go in to harbour”.

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Commemorative plaque at Endell Street Hospital

Alfred’s military record marks him as “home” from 2 April 1919 and he initially spent some time in the military hospital at Endell Street in Covent Garden. The Endell Street hospital was established in May 1915 by two women doctors and was the only hospital to be staffed entirely by suffragettes. We do not know how long Alfred was in the Endell Street hospital or what duties he returned to after his convalescence.                               Alfred had much to contend with upon his return home – recovering his health, coming to terms with his experiences of war and the loss of his baby daughter and grandfather, as well as the prospect of readjusting to civilian life and looking for gainful employment. To add to this, not long after Alfred’s return to England, on 24 May, his father died at age 51 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Alfred was finally demobilized on 31 March 1920.

Alfred and Rosanna went on to have five more children: Sidney, Joyce, Kenneth, Ronald and Beryl. Life was not always easy, with Alfred enduring periods of unemployment. My mother Beryl, who was born in 1930, remembers that money was tight and that Rosanna sought to boost the family income by making and selling items such as toffee apples and ice lollies. Alfred worked as a labourer for Norwich City Corporation and served as an air raid warden during the Second World War. Alfred and Rosanna celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in May 1975, but sadly Rosanna died only a few months later. Alfred adjusted to life on his own and looked after himself, with support from his family. He died on 13 April 1983, age 91.

Compiled by:

Julie Houghton, January 2017

 

The Battle of Gaza – a call for family stories

The Forum, in the heart of Norwich recently contacted us to see if we could help them with their next World War One project…

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The Forum, Norwich, appeals for stories about Norfolk soldiers who fell in the Second Battle of Gaza, 17-19 April 1917.

We are appealing for the people of Norfolk to share their stories and memories of relatives who fought in the Second Battle of Gaza to mark its centenary in April 2017. There are hundreds of Norfolk men who served in The Norfolk Regiment & fought in this battle and here at The Forum we’re keen to hear from local people who may also have photographs, letters and objects relating to the Second Battle of Gaza.

Information and stories of local soldiers will help add to the research for The Forum’s community project ‘Norfolk in the First World War: Somme to Armistice’. The project honours Norfolk’s First World War heroes and runs until November 2018 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

If you have any information on connections to the Second Battle of Gaza please get in touch with The Forum’s Learning Manager, Sarah Power via email: sarah.power@theforumnorwich.co.uk or telephone: 01603 727977.

The Forum is currently working with primary and secondary schools from King’s Lynn and North Norfolk on the young person’s strand of the project called ‘Finding the Fallen’. Students are spending three days with local military historian, Neil Storey, to include research sessions, object handling and a visit to their closest war memorial to uncover information about soldiers’ local roots and their fates in the Battle of Gaza.

While The Forum is particularly keen to receive stories about men from these areas, we also welcome any information about the involvement of any Norfolk men in the Battle of Gaza that people may hold.

All of the research and learning from the project will culminate in a Battle of Gaza exhibition starting at The Forum and the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library on 18 April 2017. Following this, the exhibition and an accompanying film will go on tour to other schools and community venues around Norfolk.

 

Inspired by Who Do You Think You Are?

Although currently away from the library our colleague and genealogist Elizabeth is still providing lots of support for our WW1 queries and has even found the time to write this post – all about the resources shown on a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? -- Pictured: "Who Do You Think You Are?" Logo -- NBC Photo

Were you inspired to find out about an ancestor after seeing Cheryl in Who Do You Think You Are? She spent part of the episode following the story of her Great Grandfather, Joseph Wilson Ridley, who was in the thick of the fighting for nearly four years.

This post looks at the documents she viewed on the programme and how you might locate equivalents for your own ancestor. It finishes with a few documents and resources that would have been used but were not shown on screen.

Cheryl’s journey started with the 1911 census. We need to remember that soldiers in the Great War were very likely non-soldiers before it, and the census contains a ‘lost generation’ as well as men that came home. In Cheryl’s case the census showed Joseph as 29, a grocery warehouseman, married to Mary Ann for seven years with three children born and surviving. The census also includes his birthplace – Beamish, West Stanley – and his address, 44 Towneley Street (sic). All of this is useful information to take forward into military collections.

Next, she was able to view his army service record from the National Archives’ WO 364 collection, the First World War pension claims (referred to in the programme as his service record, the record set title rather than the series). Several pages are available covering his admission, discharge, postings, leave, address, next of kin, and more. Around 40% of service records survive for soldiers below officer rank, so Cheryl’s ancestor was one of the four in ten.

Both of these types of records can be found and viewed from Norfolk libraries through the service’s subscription to FindMyPast. They are also available on several other websites, including Ancestry, which is available at Norfolk Record Office along with FindMyPast.

The next record Cheryl viewed was a letter written by another descendant of ‘Old Man Ridley’ which gave a very personal insight into his character and circumstances. Similar information for your own subject might be found by tracing forwards from the 1911 census and identifying cousins that could help you. Perhaps they might be researching too, or they might have access to medals (with that all important regimental number) or other ephemera that could help you. To find relatives, you might like to try online family trees, the Lives of the First World War website, genealogy fora or even the local newspaper.

Cheryl was also given a photograph at the same time. If you find other descendants, they may be able to show you an image of your ancestor if you don’t have one already. In Norfolk, don’t forget to search Picture Norfolk’s incredible collection of brave boys, collected by the library in the 1920s.

While not a document, Cheryl was shown a Pioneer’s collar badge. Cap and collar badges and other insignia visible in photographs can be extremely helpful, especially where a service/pension record no longer survives. The library has several useful titles that could help you identify the rank and regiment of your ancestor. Try typing ‘cap badge’ into the library catalogue to find available titles, and then place a reservation to order one to your local library.

Finally, a diary entry was also found. This was a prime example of how the writings of another person can shed light on the experience of your own ancestor. As with letters, where diaries survive, they could be in several places. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have one in your possession, or know a family member with access. If not, you might find personal letters and diaries in Record Offices, Regimental Museums or town archives.

Behind the scenes, Cheryl’s story must have involved other reference material, very likely including battalion war diaries (many of which can be browsed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives) and regimental histories. If you know which battalion your ancestor served with you are all set to find relevant diaries online and search catalogues for books written since the end of the war. If you only know the regiment, reading about its history may help you pinpoint the battalion by cross referencing with a certain place that you know your ancestor served in, or a particular battle you know they fought in.

As a final note, it’s important to say that there was more to the story than documents. While we may not all get the celebrity Who Do You Think You Are treatment, many of us now have opportunities to visit relevant places. Cheryl’s story was brought to life by visiting the battlefields and seeing not just where Joseph spent part of the war, but the sorts of trenches he was digging. She was also able to visit the memorial at Pozieres to pay her respects to those that never returned. I speak from experience when I say that nothing has such an impact as visiting the areas where your ancestors fought and died. The scale is astonishing, heartbreaking, and sombering.

For more on researching a First World War soldier, see the research guide (created by myself and colleagues) available in Norfolk’s museum shops, libraries and Norfolk Record Office or visit your local library and ask for help.

Good luck with your research!

This epsidode of WDYTYA will be available on the BBC Iplayer  until about the 15th January 2017.