Norfolk Boys and ‘The Nutty’ Capture Tank Redoubt: Second Battle of Gaza April 1917

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

During 1916 the British had steadily advanced from the Sinai desert in Egypt as part of their plans to invade Palestine in 1917. By January 1917 they had defeated the Turks at Rafa and the borders of Palestine were in sight.

However Turkish strongholds in Gaza prevented the British advance. The first battle of Gaza on 26th and 27th March had been unsuccessful following a British retreat. This failure only strengthened the Turks resolve to make a stand at Gaza.

The second battle of Gaza took place between 17th and 19th April.  It involved the 163rd (Norfolk and Suffolk) Brigade which was made up of the 4th and 5th Territorial Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment drawn mainly from North Norfolk as well as the 54th (East Anglian) Division.


Private Joseph Emms, service number 3247, was in B Company of the 5th Norfolk Regiment. He recounted in detail his part in the attack.  FX 296/1.

“On the 19th of April we made the attack on a very ancient town in part of Palestine.  The 5th Norfolk Regiment was in the first line to advance & suffered rather heavy losses”.

At 5am that day they were told they would be advancing about 2000 yards and that they would be under heavy fire throughout. The gunfire was so intense that the regiment, initially in artillery formation, extended themselves out and went at intervals.  Emms approached a Turkish redoubt with his friend Dent on one side and a comrade, Eastie (sic), on the other. Both Dent and Eastie were hit.

“I began to think my time was coming, but luck was good for me that day and I managed to get as far as any man in the line”.

The Turkish redoubt was strongly fortified and comprised lines of trenches one behind the other forming a half circle. As they approached they encountered barbed wire in front of the trenches.  Emms wrote that as they considered how to get past the wire “we suddenly heard a tremendous rattling noise coming from behind & keeping my head as low as possible I chanced a look behind & saw a tank coming at full speed not a hundred yards behind & firing all her guns which was a fine sight to see”.

The tank was known as ‘The Nutty’. As it made short work of the wire, Emms and his company followed behind and made it to the second trench.  The Turks shot at the tank hitting one of its wheels and putting it out of action.  Rather than let the Turks get hold of the tank, the tank crew set fire to it and joined Emms and the others in the trench.  Emms found himself with a group of men all of whom appeared to be wounded.  This included his company officer Captain Blyth.

“By the amount of blood on his shorts I saw that he was hit rather badly in the lower part of his body, but he said nothing about it & only smiled”.

Things then took a turn for the worse. The line retired leaving Emms with eighteen others in the trench. They were heavily outnumbered.

“Almost at once there were scores of Turks swarming round us and I began to think it was all U.P”.

There were two Lewis guns in the trench but no ammunition. The men emptied their pockets and used what they had to fire the guns.

“When it was all done we sat down on the dead Turks who were in the trench as there were so many that we couldn’t help it”.

Having no more ammunition they waited for the next onslaught. After a few hours around a dozen Turks arrived.

“We only had our bayonets to fight them with. Someone managed to find a “bomber’s” coat full of bombs and we kept them off for a short time with these”. 

Captain Blyth then shouted that it was either surrender or make a dash for it. They chose the latter but only one officer and seven men, including Emms, managed to get away.  Blyth was treated in hospital in Alexandria and survived his injuries.

“All of us who came back recommended him for his coolness & bravery which he showed in many ways, one by way of using & cleaning a Turkish rifle & by sticking (at) it though severely wounded”.

Photo 1

5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. Norfolk Record Office ACC 2015/244


The capture of Tank Redoubt by Blyth and his men was a significant gain for the British until all their ammunition was spent. The 4th and 5th battalions suffered heavy losses and the second battle of Gaza was another defeat for the British.

It is not known what happened to Emms after his escape from Tank Redoubt. While his account is particularly graphic, others also wrote not only of battle but of the daily monotony and also beauty of this foreign landscape. We will explore these records next month.

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger

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

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.







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

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

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

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

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



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

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

A typical entry reads:

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

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


A page from the ledger showing the accounting of 108 horses

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

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

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


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


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

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



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


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


Carrow Works magazine April 1915


Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Overstrand in the Great War

Overstrand in the Great War

‘Overstrand In The Great War’ written by Tim Bennett, was published by Poppyland Publishing Cromer, in December 2016.

‘Overstrand In The Great War’ written by Tim Bennett, was published by Poppyland
Publishing Cromer, in December 2016.

Tim Bennett, author of Overstrand In the Great War has been in touch to tell us more about the project that the book grew from and to share one man’s story.

The book offers an insight into life in Overstrand at the time of the Great War and a glimpse of the bravery and courage of the men from the parish who gave their lives for King and Country, serving with great bravery and honour in places far away from their home village.

August 2014 saw the start of the national commemoration for the World War 1, 1914 – 1918. It was decided that Overstrand as a village should recognise this, so I formed a small team to plan a village exhibition which was held in St Martin’s Church and the Parish Hall during the month of August, to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of war. The aim was to show some of the impact of the War on the community of Overstrand and on the lives of the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund – First World War Centenary project and the Overstrand Parish Council it has been possible to continue the research begun in 2014. With the support of Poppyland Publishing the ‘stories’ of all forty men whose names are on the village war memorial are told. It has also been possible to include a section about some of the men from the Parish of Overstrand who served in the Great War and returned ‘home’.

It has been a very rewarding time meeting some of the relatives of those who died in, or as a result of, the war. Researching in local archives for information about the men; where they served and how they endured such atrocious conditions on the field of battle. It has been a privilege to work with village resident Martin Dennis, who has provided the military data and verified the identity of each individual. My wife Jill, spent many hours using the Ancestry database to provide family details and information.

One of the men from the village killed in 1916 was Sgt Claude Church. He died on the second day of the Battle of the Somme. Last year I met his niece and great-niece who shared some very special photographs and documents about his military service. Claudia, now aged 95, was the first member born into the family after Claude’s death and was named after him. She came to Overstrand to share in our act of remembrance exactly 100 years to the day after his death.

When I began my research in 2014 I discovered the photograph of Petty Officer Edward Naylor held in the Norfolk Library Services’ Picture Norfolk Online. It was a very moving experience to see this young man who, I would later learn, had a quite extraordinary experience of war and would die in such tragic circumstance aged only 19.

Edward Naylor. Image from Picture Norfolk

Edward Naylor. Image from Picture Norfolk

Edward was the only child of Henry and Jane Naylor, born on the 25th June 1898 at Letchmore Heath, Aldenham, Hertfordshire. Henry Naylor was a gardener at Aldenham School, a private boarding school founded in the 16th century, set in the Hertfordshire countryside. He moved with his family to Overstrand to be Lady Battersea’s agent and head gardener at The Pleasaunce.

The Naylor family lived at ’Pleasaunce Gardens’,10 Harbord Road, Overstrand. William was a pupil at the Belfry School, Overstrand. When he left school he was also employed as a gardener at The Pleasaunce.

On the Pleasaunce Estate Lord Battersea had built a garage where his chauffeur, Mr. Harry Curtis worked. It was here where the Rolls Royce cars owned by Lord Battersea were garaged and repaired. It is very possible that the young Edward Naylor may have spent time working as a mechanic in the garage when he was not required for gardening duties.

When the opportunity to volunteer for the War came it was perhaps this experience which influenced his choice and made him an ideal candidate for his role in the RNAS.

Edward joined Commander Locker Lampson’s Armoured Car Brigade of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) on 10th January 1917, as a Petty Officer Mechanic. After a period of training on Whale Island near Portsmouth, he embarked for Russia on 1st February and landed at Odessa on the Black Sea in Ukraine.

Locker Lampson received a commission in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on the understanding from the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, that he would personally fund an armoured car division. Locker Lampson’s family home was at Newhaven Court in Cromer. Records show that several men from the Cromer area joined the RNAS including another Overstrand man, Thomas Church. It is known that Locker Lampson had very strong pro-Jewish views and was an active supporter of Jewish charities. He was also known to be a good friend of Lady Constance Battersea, well-known for her Jewish faith. It may have been this local connection which persuaded Edward to join the RNAS.

After serving on the Western Front, the Division was renamed the Russian Armoured Car Division and operated with the Russian Army in areas including Galicia, Romania and the Caucuses.

The Eastern Front in 1917 (image from Wikipedia)

The Eastern Front in 1917 (image from Wikipedia)

Edward was badly wounded on 1st July 1917, in action at Brzezany in Galicia (now the Ukraine) in a battle in which his Unit suffered five killed and six wounded. He was evacuated back to England with severe injuries to his head and left arm. He arrived back in England on 22nd August 1917 and died from jaundice at the Royal Naval Hospital at Gillingham near Chatham on August 29th. His funeral service was held at St Martin’s Church, Overstrand on Monday 4th September 1917 and he is buried  in Overstrand Churchyard. A report of  Edward’s funeral appeared in the Eastern Daily Press:

“There were widespread signs of sorrow and sympathy at Overstrand on Monday on the occasion of the funeral of a young and favourite inhabitant of the parish. Petty Officer Edward H. A. Naylor, whose death took place in the Naval Hospital at Gillingham, near Chatham, from jaundice following upon wounds received in action in Russia. He was the only son of Mr. Naylor (Lady Battersea’s agent and head gardener) and of Mrs Naylor, a bright and keenly intelligent youth of 19, who joined Commander Locker-Lampson’s Armoured Car Squadron last January. Brave beyond his years, his acts of courage had been publicly recognised by the Russian Order of the Cross of St. George. He was the only surviving member of his section in a desperate battle. Wounded and unconscious, he had been left for dead from 10am until 6pm among the fallen Russians; thus he was eventually found and restored to life and consciousness by one of his comrades. To have survived such experiences, and to have landed safely and practically well, renders the circumstances of his unexpected death all the more tragic. His frequent letters from abroad were always written in a most unselfish and uncomplaining spirit, wishing to spare his parents all possible anxiety. Fortunately they were enabled to see their beloved son once more, when he cheered their hearts by his bright and hopeful words, for he quite looked forward to a speedy convalescence. This was, however, not to be, for only one week later he followed those of his comrades from this village, including Sidney Woodhouse and Wallace Grace, who but a short time ago had, like himself, laid down, their lives for their country.”

Edward was given a military funeral with his coffin covered in the Union Jack. Mules provided by the Liverpool Regiment took the coffin from the house to the church on a timber wagon. The band of the Liverpool Regiment was also part of the cortège playing the ‘Dead March’. Buglers sounded the ‘Last Post’ at the graveside and a firing party from the Regiment gave a salute. There were many parishioners attending including, Lieutenant William Pegg, who would be buried next to Edward in March 1919.

Edward was decorated with the Order of St. George IV Class (Russia) for his ‘valour’ at Brzezany.

E H A Naylor was awarded the Cross of St George ‘For gallantry under fire and services rendered on the Galician front, 10th August 1917’.

E H A Naylor was awarded the Cross of St George ‘For gallantry under fire and services rendered on the Galician front, 10th August 1917’.

Copies of Overstrand in the Great War will be available to borrow from Norfolk’s Libraries very soon.

If your village or community group has investigated people listed on a war memorial – or completed any other research in to WW1 connections –  please do get in touch as we’d love to feature them here on the blog.

Labour Shortages & A Shortage of Government Funding

To relieve food shortages , in some part caused by German U-Boat action, the government wanted more land to be cultivated in each county.One of the problems for farmers was to overcome the shortage of suitable labour. So, early in 1917 , the government scheme of National Service for civilians was unveilled at Westminster. The aim of the National Service was to recruit 500,000 men aged between 18 – 61 years for agricultural work, forestry work, ship building and construction. Neville Chamberlain made it clear that recruiting women to fill labour shortages would be dealt with as a separate issue.

Volunteers, who were to be allotted to occupations for which they were most suited, were supplied with forms, which could then be sent (without a postage stamp) to the Director -General in London.Those volunteers whose services were needed would then be sent a coupon for railway travel and a warrant for subsistence allowance. The rate of pay would be the going rate for the job in each particular district.

Locally, a Thetford and District War Agricultural Committee was formed and had its first meeting in the spring of 1917.

The government used a range of borrowing structures during WW1 to fund the war effort.One of the most important was the war loans initiative, issued in November 1914, June 1915 and January 1917. Each investor in war loans was effectively lending money to the government to fund the war effort. The loans were for fixed periods, during which interest was paid.War loans were seen as a relatively attractive investment.

For the loans to succeed, they had to secure a broad subscriber base, both geographically and across different sectors of the economy.

In February 1917 a War Loan Association was started in Thetford, with a management committee consisting of local dignitaries and the Barclay and Co., Ltd bank.The association was formed to enable those subscribers who were unable to make an immediate payment, the opportunity of subscribing to the 5 percent war loan by instalments spread over two years. Any person or society in the borough of Thetford ,or elsewhere, could apply for stock, from £25 upwards.


Images from the Archive

England Expects

England Expects

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Museums Service. Over the course of the next few years the images will be posted on (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service).