Inspired by a trip to the Somme

Over the past 4 years we have enjoyed sharing stories from research undertaken at Gresham’s School into their Old Boys and a recent email about how the research, and a trip to the Somme, have inspired current pupils is wonderful.

History competition inspires pupils to create poignant World War One tributes

Year 9 pupils at Gresham’s School in Holt have created some impressive replicas of World War One trenches for a History competition following their recent trip to the Somme Battlefields in France.

Ben Hunt, from Holt, was awarded first prize for his outstanding tribute entitled “Far Field” made all the more poignant as he had individually made 115 poppies for his trench to represent the staff and pupils from Gresham’s who had lost their lives in the Great War.

Ben said, “I feel extremely proud of what I have created as I spent so much time perfecting my trench to ensure it looked as authentic as possible.” The fourteen year old used a shoebox, wood, barbed wire and even some clay he had gathered on a recent trip to France to help recreate his trench.

Head of History, Mr Simon Kinder said, “This term we are studying the Great War and I have been really impressed with how the pupils researched and developed their entries for this competition.  The standard this year has been particularly high and this is a consequence of how important commemorating the Great War centenary has been at Gresham’s. The students have clearly embraced the challenge and learned so much from constructing their trenches.”

More than 500 former pupils fought for their country, leaving a lasting impact on the school and the surrounding community. As part of the commemorations of the end of the Great War, the school held Remembrance Services where the 115 pupils and staff who lost their lives were remembered.

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Finding the Fallen: The Battle of Gaza exhibition panels tour the county

Following on from The Forum’s Battle of Gaza exhibition in April, there are more chances to view the pop-up exhibition panels as they start their tour of the county – find out more about the exhibition and where to see it below.

The Battle of Gaza touring exhibition marks the centenary of the Second Battle of Gaza on 19 April 1917, in which hundreds of men serving in the Norfolk Regiment fought. It tells the story of how the Territorial Force soldiers were recruited and of their journey from Gallipoli to Gaza. It also demonstrates how the campaign in the Middle East impacted on the Norfolk Regiment.

Officers Mess, 1/5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment (Territorial Force) Palestine, 1917. Image courtesy of the Purdy Archive.

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Gresham’s Remembers

The wonderful work that staff and pupils of Gresham’s School are undertaking to commemorate the staff and pupils from the school continues this July as they remember those who fell at the Battle of the Somme.



Gresham’s School will be remembering those who fell at the Somme on 1 July with a special service in conjunction with Holt Primary School. Pupils will carry a lantern for each of the ten Old Greshamians and one member of staff who lost their lives  between 1 July and 27 July 1916 and a short profile of each will be read out.

We are researching the fallen for our commemorative website- – and profiles of the Somme fallen will be posted in due course.

Please get in touch via the website  if you would like information on any of the following in the meantime – George Fenchelle, Walter Gissing, Henry Scott-Holmes, Geoffrey Barratt, Henry Russell, Mark Hill, John Foster, Douglas Richardson, Archibald Gilmour, Dawson Atkin, and Geoffrey Day.

George Fenchelle  - who is one of the OGs who will be remembered on 1 July - as captain of the 1913 rugby team.

George Fenchelle – who is one of the OGs who will be remembered on 1 July – as captain of the 1913 rugby team.

Gresham’s at War – school launches WW1 commemorative website

Gresham’s School is delighted to announce the launch of a newly created website to the Old Greshamians (former pupils) and staff that fought and died in World War One.
The research for the website was carried out by a group of Gresham’s School sixth form pupils and is a continuation of the excellent work of former Deputy Head, Sue Smart, who first published her poignant book on the fallen, ‘When Heroes Die’, in 2001. The book has been reprinted as part of the Centenary commemorations and a sample chapter is available to read on the website
The website, which will continue to be populated during the Centenary period, has enabled the School to publish much of its extensive World War One archive material including original school registers, copies of school magazine, ‘The Gresham’ and details of each of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  The site is interactive with a blog section where users can make comments and share their own stories and archive material.
More than 500 Old Greshamians fought for their country, leaving a lasting impact on the School and the surrounding community.  It is hoped that the website will become a lasting tribute and a valuable resource for family history researchers, historians and school children.
The School was awarded £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) ‘First World War: then and now’ programme to create the website as part of its commemorations for the Centenary of the Great War.  The HLF’s programme has been set up to support projects that make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities.  Funding was also made available for the project by the Old Greshamian Club.
For more information about Gresham’s history please contact the School Archivist Liz Larby at or visit the Old Greshamian Club website

Liz Larby

School Archivist


What can service records reveal?

Since starting my traineeship at the Norfolk Record Office I have read extracts from a number of diaries from the World War One era, and have found them a fascinating insight into the lives of soldiers. However, I had never really given huge consideration to service records, and how much they reveal.

In the autumn, the Norfolk Record Office will hold World War One workshops for schools. As part of the workshops, pupils will recreate a life sized soldier using information gathered from service records.

In preparation for these workshops I have been reading a number of service records of men who stated that they lived in Norfolk. I have found the experience of reading these service records both interesting and moving.

Even though the information provided is restricted by the fact they are based on printed forms and tables, it is possible to flesh out the story of a soldier from this bureaucratically formatted information.

propaganda poster

Propaganda Poster

For instance, there is Charles Abbs, a man who stated his trade was ‘professional footballer’. From a quick Google I found that he is listed as playing his debut game for Norwich City on 24 October 1914. He joined the 17th Middlesex (the footballers’ battalion) in 1915.

This website gives an outline of the Footballers’ Battalion. It says that ‘Following the outbreak of World War One, a heated debate took place in the letter pages of many national newspapers about the continuance of professional football during a time of national crisis…such was the strength of feeling that it was even suggested to King George V that he should withdraw his patronage of the Football Association.’

The 17th Middlesex was raised at a meeting in Fulham Town Hall on 15 December 1914.

Charles Abbs was captured and became a prisoner of war from 28 April 1917, for a total of 261 days. He survived the War but was ‘30% disabled’ and injured in his breast and thigh.

Another compelling story is that of 21 year old Richard Plane. His service record shows that for ‘not complying with an order’ and ‘making an improper remark to a N.C.O’ he was given fourteen days field punishment Number 1. This form of punishment consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day. Later that year Plane died in hospital of pneumonia.

Richard Plane's service record

Richard Plane’s service record

But what’s also interesting about service records is what they don’t reveal.

In the service records of George William Baldry, there is a memorandum and part of it is a note from his wife saying that Mr Baldry has stopped sending his allowance to her, and she asks why she hasn’t received anything. Why would he have stopped?

Also, 17 year old Robert Edward Forsythe was promoted to Corporal on 26 September 1914. But after this point he starts to commit a number of offences such as overstaying leave, irregular conduct, and neglect of duty while in charge of brigade guard. Then on 10 May 1915 on request he changes rank back to Private. Was he misbehaving because he didn’t enjoy being a Corporal?

I wonder what other stories are held within the 2.8 million service records that survived the World War Two bombing…do readers of this blog have any interesting stories or things they’d like to share relating to Service Records?


Creative Writing Competition


The Norfolk Record Office is holding a WW1 themed creative writing competition for young people between the ages of 7-14. The challenge is to make a piece of creative fiction based on provided extracts and transcripts of three different diaries written by a nurse, soldier and church army worker. The prize is an archive experience! Follow the link for more details and please share with anyone you think may be interested: WW1 Creative Writing Competition.

Gresham’s at War: Zeppelin raids 19th January 1915

Some of the first letters from ex-pupils serving on the Western Front in 1914 had spoken of ‘exciting times up in the trenches’, but by early 1915 news was filtering through of harsh weather causing dreadful conditions.

Wet weather at home was also causing problems by holding up building work on the chapel; rainfall for the Holt area in the winter months is normally about 2-3 ins per month, but in December 1914 and January 1915 the total was 11 ins.  House matches had been abandoned in favour of drill with the Corps, and pupils had to get up even earlier for lessons with the introduction during January of Daylight Saving Time due to concerns over the School being a well-lit target for Zeppelins.

In fact, by the 27th January when this was introduced, there had already been a raid.  Two Zeppelins, the L3 and L4, trying to find the Humber, had lost their course in the wintry conditions of the night of 19th January and found North Norfolk instead.  The first one dropped bombs on Great Yarmouth, killing two people and injuring three others.  The second crossed the coastline over Bacton and passed by Cromer.

At nearby Sheringham the pilot tried to find out where he was, hovering above the cloud at only 800 feet, his face clearly visible to startled locals in the High Street as housemaster Wynne Willson recalls in his journal:

“We were among the first people to see or hear them when they came over England.  We were told at Holt that a Zeppelin was hovering over Sheringham; they had a 4.7 gun on the links there, but I believe its elevation was not great enough and its use would have meant considerable retaliation on the town.  As it was, they dropped two or three small bombs, which were the first actually dropped on English soil.  At about eight o’clock they came over us at Holt and we put out all lights.  The little boys in my boarding house were on the whole more excited than alarmed. Luckily for the inhabitants of the boarding house, the bombs all fell round a farmhouse, killing one or two sheep and a turkey, and dislodging some tiles.  Next day the school repaired thither en masse to inspect the damage and the boys searched the small craters for bits of bombs; they collected from round the farm quite a large store of old scrap iron which had probably lain there for decades.  I remember taking a parcel of sweets down for the small children at the farmhouse, who of course had been much frightened.”


Zeppelin photo which was in an album of photos taken by Gilbert Wilson (geologist) who attended from 1913-17.

Wynne Willson’s own son Bill, then a child of three, remembered 85 years later being brought downstairs for safety when the Zeppelins came over.  His six year old sister recorded that “Two boys were going home when they heard a bomb 100 yards away, “ adding, “ they turned round and threw there bykes into the hedge and bolted to the Old School House”, saying “ they where very fritened (and) several boys were crying.”

Some of the residents of the junior house were also frightened and had to be gathered round the fire and read stories to calm their tears.  Young pupil Geoffrey Diggle, however, was disappointed the Zeppelins had not caused more damage than the six small craters that appeared in a turnip field.  He also recalled the housemaster praying for a quiet night at evening prayers following the raid. The attack of 19th January caused a great sensation in Norfolk, bringing the reality of war close to home and invoking mixed feelings in the School of excitement and fear.

Mr Wynne Willson’s detailed journal of life on the home front at Holt is one of the sources we use from the School Archives to help bring this period of history to life for our Year 9 pupils.  It is featured heavily in our centenary exhibition Gresham’s at War: 1914-18 which will be available online on the re-launched Old Greshamian Club website  in January (

Anyone who has Gresham’s ancestors who fought in the War is invited to contact the School Archivist Liz Larby (author of this post) on Tel: 01263 714613 or