|Battle of Amiens.
British, Australian, Canadian and French forces launch a powerful strike against the German army on the Somme. General Ludendorf calls it ‘the black day of the German army’. Fighting now continues until 11 November.
|Norfolk Land Army Girls efficiency tests
The Board of Agriculture, wanting to set up a standard for women farm workers, had organised efficiency tests at Gately for those working in Norfolk. “All the girls did well and showed real grasp of their duties, especially if it be considered some of the entrants had had only a short training.”
|Execution of the Tsar
Former Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family are executed. There are no survivors.
|Norfolk Women War Workers Big Parade
Representatives from all sectors of the women’s war effort were present including Land Army, Waacs, Wrens, munitions workers, RAF, railway workers, Naval and Army canteen workers and a woman’s fire brigade. The parade, its purpose to encourage recruitment, was watched by huge crowds of county and city folk.
|Fourth Battle of Champagne
The fifth major German attack since March is launched. On a smaller scale, German troops assault the French line facing the River Marne. For the first time the German attack is unsuccessful.
|Vicar fined for food hoarding
A vicar, who appeared for summons under the Food Hoarding Order, claimed he had obtained the cheese for distribution amongst his friends and that the sugar had been bought before the order was made. He was told that he should have surrendered the sugar or not used his sugar ration as he had done neither.
|Battle of the Piave
The Austro-Hungarians launch a renewed attack on the Italian line in the north-east along the River Piave. The attack is beaten off. Fighting continues to 24 June.
An inquest was opened to investigate the deaths of three RAF pilots. The Tragedy occurred after two biplanes collided during flight, one of the pilots was from the American Army and learning to fly with the RAF.
|Record Amounts of Money Raised in Holt
The King sent his praises to the people of Holt after they raised £100, 000 during War Savings Week.
|Final German Air Raid on London
The largest, and final, German aeroplane raid on London takes place involving 33 aircraft. 49 people are killed and 177 wounded.
|Prisoners of War Recaptured
Two German prisoners who escaped from a King’s Lynn internment camp were recaptured on Saturday 4th May.
|Third Battle of the Aisne.
Third German offensive (Operation Blucher) against the French line, it centres on the Chemin des Dames area above the River Aisne. Fighting continues to 6 June.
|Land Army Recruitment Rally
A demonstration took place in Norwich to encourage recruitment for the Women’s Land Army on Saturday 25th May. The demonstration included women carrying small livestock, rakes and hoes, a procession of milk floats and hay carts, as well as a traction engine.
|Further Rationing and Conscription
Meat rationing is introduced in the UK and conscription extended to those aged up to 51 and men living in Ireland
|Fundraising Effort in Norwich
A Tank named the “Nelson” visited Norwich raising money for the war effort. £400 000 was raised on the first day.
The army’s Royal Flying Corps is combined with the naval Royal Naval Air Service to create a separate service.
A glut of butter and margarine built up in Norfolk shops as Norfolk residents obtained their butter from farms, despite having registered with a shopkeeper.
|First 1918 Battle of Somme
The Germans launch a strong offensive in France (Operation Michael) aimed at splitting the British and French lines. The British in particular suffer heavy casualties and begin a far reaching withdrawal. Fighting continues to 5 April.
|Rationing Plan for Norwich Drawn Up
The Norwich Food Control Committee have adopted a scheme of rationing with regard to meat, butter and margarine and will be put into force on April 7th. It will then become impossible to obtain these goods for consumption without an individual card or an official order form in the case of caters and institutions.
Following their advance through the former Allied lines, the Germans use a long range railway gun to shell Paris. This continues to 15 August.
|New Children’s Home for Orphans
With places especially reserved for children orphaned by the war, 40 boys are now in residence at Hook’s Hill House.
‘Shortacre’ will be the adjoining house for girls and will shortly be opened. Gifts of clothes, old or new are welcome.
From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.
Fairham Rackham Mann, known as Rack, was a fleet surgeon with the Navy during the First World War. He was the son of Mary Elizabeth Mann whose family records are also held at the Norfolk Record Office. Rack’s frequent letters to his mother reveal a very frank and personal perspective of the war. (NRO, MC 2716 A1/30)
Rack was 44 when war broke out and, with the benefit of hindsight, he confessed that he wished he had retired before war had been declared so that he could have joined the Territorials instead. It is having to be a doctor doing a job I loathe, running all the risks getting none of the glory that sticks in my gizzard.
In 1914 Rack was on HMS Pactolus at the submarine depot in Ardrossan, Scotland. He was not enamoured with his posting. I am fed up with Scotland and long to be away. I think I would rather go to sea than stay on here much longer.
Rack’s first letter was written before war had been declared. He seemed resigned to the inevitable but tried to reassure his mother. It seems absolute madness for us to think of fighting over this Balkan business. . . . I have heard news that I think war is practically certain . . . I want you to realise that while I remain here I am perfectly safe. . . . . You must try not to worry. If the newspapers worry you don’t read them.
HMS Pactolus’ role was to protect the Nobel dynamite works at Ardrossan. Life there seemed to consist of drunken soldiers falling in the Basin and drowning and of the frequent explosions at the very dynamite factory they had been sent to protect.
At first, Rack was quite dismissive of the Zeppelins. I think the Zeppelins won’t do very much. They may drop a bomb or two in London which would be no bad thing in my opinion. It’d certainly buck up recruiting. Doubtless this would not have been a view shared by Londoners!
However his views changed over time. He attempted to explain to his mother why the Navy was not in a position to stop the raids. They do this (Zeppelin raids) for purely political reasons. The Hun has got the idea into his thick head that we are a race of cowards & that a little frightfulness of this sort will help his side; and besides it bucks up the German masses at home who are in a pretty bad way.
He later described the bombardment of Scarborough and how the Navy was thwarted from preventing it due to the fog. The whole navy has been weeping about it ever since . . . I think you and your pals in Ormesby will now modify your views about the navy habitually being too drunk or too taken up with dances to attend to their job.
In the early days, Rack was not keen on the Americans getting involved. Following the sinking of the Lusitania he wrote: Suppose the U.S. will have to stomach it. They can do nothing & we don’t particularly want them in.
However by 1917 he felt that their involvement would shorten the war. Not because the Yanks are in a position to do much fighting – but because they can lend us money, patrol a bit by the sea, & more than anything else, the Huns can now say they can’t fight the whole world.
Rack also wrote of the trials of life both for himself and for his mother. He was not one for officialdom and directed his anger towards the little creatures who live at Tooting in £30 a year houses. They sit in a little office at the Admiralty all day and write insulting letters to the men who are helping to keep them safe.
He was also concerned for his mother’s welfare. The prices of things at home seem to be terrible. I hope you are feeding yourselves properly. Remember I have tons of money which is quite useless to me under present conditions and you can have as much as you like whenever you want it.
In 1916 Rack became the staff surgeon on HMS Agamemnon in the Aegean, based mainly at Mudros and Salonika. He was there for two years.
His frequent letters did not equate to his news. On one occasion he told her I simply have nothing to write to you about. I was ashore about 8 days ago was bored stiff in ten minutes but had to wait 3 hours there for a boat to take me back to the ship.
Various entertainments were provided for the crew. He described a fancy dress ball on the ship. All men of course but many were dressed as females & a few looked quite fetching. . . . . The men take their dancing very seriously & do it very well . . . . They lead a deadly existence & the making of the dresses kept them interested for weeks.
In April 1918 Rack moved to Bedenham Camp at Fareham. This prompted a visit to Brighton to see a similar camp. His comments were unusual in that he had rarely written about his work before. The medical arrangements in utter chaos owing to lack of staff & accommodation – so yesterday I went to London to see the Director General & told him about it – He was very enraged . . .Anyway I think I so shook them up at the admiralty that I think I may get some stores . . . We are to have 2000 men here with another 2000 to follow . . They are under canvas in a rain sodden field – no bottom boards available for tents & no mattresses.
In October 1918 Rack was promoted to Surgeon Commander. Why they made this change nobody knows as very few people wanted it. I suppose I shall have to get a new coat & buy a new hat.
Rack’s final letters commented on the political situation and his prospects of returning home. He was pessimistic about the outcome of a forthcoming election. The ignorant masses have these votes. It will be mob rule. . . . In my opinion Winston Churchill, the most unmitigated scoundrel that this country has ever produced, will be first president of the republic.
Rack finally returned home. For his mother his letters were undoubtedly precious and reassuring. They are also an important record, giving a frank account of daily life during the war years as it affected one particular individual. Fairham Rackham Mann died in 1943.
Daryl Long – NRO Blogger