First World War Women of Norfolk: On Active Service – an exhibition in Norwich

First World War Women of Norfolk: On Active Service Exhibition

Girl Land workers in the snow at Thetford , Norfolk
19 January 1918

The Forum, Norwich, is launching a new exhibition celebrating the remarkable effort made by women across Norfolk on active service during the First World War.

Running from Saturday 4 November to Sunday 19 November in The Forum Gallery and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, the free exhibition brings their stories to life. Continue reading

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War Diary November 1917

War Norfolk
Jerusalem Taken

One month after the Balfour declaration supporting a Jewish homeland within Palestine, Jerusalem is taken by the British ending 673 years of Turkish rule.

 

Record War Saving Totals

The City of Norwich School War Savings Association, which was founded in July 1916, has now received subscriptions of over £1000 exclusive of withdrawals.

Bolsheviks Sue for Peace

The Bolshevik government in Russia signs an armistice with the Germans, suspending hostilities on the Eastern Front

A Reminder to Farmers

The Norfolk War Agricultural Committee reminds farmers that it is essential to release lads of 18 and 19 years of age, unless very exceptional circumstances exist. Skilled men previously employed on farm work are being made available and every effort will be made to readjust labour requirements without damage to food production.

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Most World War I history recalls the terrible scenes of battle and countless British men adapting to life in the trenches. However an army, particularly one consisting of mostly volunteers, cannot function on the battlefield without proper training and one recruit, Malcolm Castle, a Norwich man, recalled the kind of routine that took place on a typical First World War training ground.

On the 4th of August Britain declared war on Germany. Seeing as the island nation was taking on a European superpower with a much more experienced land army, the British Army needed all the manpower it could get to fight. Many officers were sent out to various settlements across the United Kingdom to recruit as many men as possible. One such recruit was office worker, Malcolm Castle who approached the Artillery Drill Hall a day after the war began to apply for a commission in the East Anglian Field Artillery. After consulting Major Percy Wiltshire, the officer gave Castle a note for Lieutenant Colonel Le Mottee of Norwich. After obtaining his father’s permission he eventually found the Colonel who accepted him subject to the approval of The War Office. He was then medically examined by Dr R. J. Mills who had just returned from Germany. Britain not only required an army with much man power but it also needed a healthy one, therefore rigorous medical examinations were conducted for all new recruits. This was especially important to retain military strength, particularly after the Boer War when it was discovered that many of the volunteer recruits were in a poor physical condition, a lot of them being turned down as a result.

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Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

At the end of the day after posting an application for a commission, Castle joined the 1st Norfolk Battery. The following morning, he saw himself at 6am on duty at the Nelson School which was being used as temporary barracks. After a quick breakfast back home he was on duty all morning and afternoon. This routine became more constant for Castle but he adapted quickly to army life, often appearing in the Drill Hall at the crack of dawn. He soon went on to Doddinghurst where he got the chance to ride some of the chargers two ‘good’ mares before finding the battery headquarters. He described it as ‘a most awful place’, his friends Miles and Martin were forced to sleep on the floor, given the fact that there were only two beds which were both infested with fleas. Early in the morning, Castle and his groom, Gunner Rice rode to Cow’s Farm where another friend, Ruddoch helped him build a shack to sleep in. When he returned to Norwich Castle he was quartered at the Cavalry Barracks, a member of the 12th Lancers lending him a bed.

After leaving the cavalry barracks Castle’s battery was stationed by orders of Colonel J.W. Currie at Spixworth Park. Castle was an Orderly Officer as he did drills. Unfortunately a thunderstorm swept over and as a result five men were struck by lightning ‘one very badly’. Parades became a common occurrence during Castle’s new life, occupying much of his diary entries. One evening the men dug gunpits before they were occupied the following morning as part of a practice alarm. Meanwhile as a sign that the women of Britain were equally patriotic as the men, keen to see their loved ones fight for their nation and carry out their duty, Castle’s love, Gladys Bellamy, sent him a prayer book adorned with a Union Jack that she worked onto it. As in common with many young people at the time, Castle kept regular correspondence with his parents throughout his time with the military.

Castle’s battery volunteered for foreign service but since he had not taken a gunnery course, the Colonel could not take him. He was posted to the 2nd Norfolk Battery commanded by Captain C.E. Hodges and where he spent most of his time around the billets at Horsford Manor, or taking part in drills and parades. In one march he acted as Captain. The men were soon moved to Felthorpe where Castle attended services at the local Church alongside his comrades. In the early days of October the Colonel turned up and using the Battery Staff as a troop of Cavalry, charged at the guns. Castle also mentions attending a Court Martial at St. Faith’s on the same day but he does not go into detail. On the 16th of October tragedy struck when one of the commanders, Kempson, received a message that his brother had gone down in H.U.S. ‘Hawke’. Such tragedies could be seen as early warning signs of what the Great War would become, a bloodbath. As the war began to rear its ugly head, it drew Castle and his fellow officers closer. He frequently dined, walked, rode or simply talked to them and it is likely that comrades were beginning to become almost like a second family to him.

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Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

On November 3 German ships were spotted in the port of Yarmouth, and an order was received for the battalion to stand by, but soon afterwards it was cancelled. The armoured cruiser responsible was sunk but while Yarmouth survived the German sea raid with little casualties, it would be the first British settlement to face a zeppelin attack. Since the military at first knew little about what to do with the zeppelin problem, the sight of them must have terrified Norfolk citizens. Soon afterwards the battalion seemed to be inspected more regularly, perhaps due to the incident. Castle meanwhile was highly responsible for the training of the horses, on November 24 he mentions taking the recruits riding and even had some of them jumping. Towards the end of his diary Castle frequently talks about housing and exercising the steeds of the battalion. On the 27th he took part in a Brigade Night March where the men dug. At dawn a dozen rounds of blank was fired. After acting as Captain again, exhausted, Castle ended up sleeping for the rest of the day. Following a round of inspections on December 5th, the battalion had a football match against the 1st Battery, winning 2-1. While this is a relatively minor detail, football would soon become a great symbol of the war during the Christmas armistice when British and German troops briefly put aside their differences and upon No Man’s Land, played a friendly football game.

Malcom Castle provides useful first-hand information concerning training during the Great War, giving a good and accurate picture of how local military routines were conducted in Norfolk and the rest of Britain. As he and his comrades trained, men from the front were arriving back in Norwich wounded, and the amount would only increase as the war carried on. His diary is kept in the Norfolk Record Office (MC 657/1, 790X6) and provides a reminder of British atmosphere during this time of conflict.

By Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger

Animals at War

With thanks to our Mesopotamian researcher for this aside!

‘Spot’

General Sir Charles Townshend’s Terrier

During the siege of Kut al Amara Spot accompanied General Townshend on his regular patrols of the besieged town. Spot had been with his master through all the battles from Kurna through to Ctesiphon, and when the Kut garrison surrendered on 29 April 1916 Townshend asked if Spot could be send back down the Tigris to Basra in a hospital ship. Khalil Pasha, the Turkish commander, agreed.

Source: Sherson, Townshend of Chitral and Kut, 1928

General Mellis’ dog went with Spot and they both found a home with Sir Wilfred Peek. Whether Spot survived to rejoin his master in Norfolk after the war is not known…

Poppy Project Update

W. Norfolk poppies (1)

We’ve just received this mega donation of knitted and crocheted poppies from West Norfolk Libraries – there are 1,194 poppies in this bag! Staff and customers at King’s Lynn and Dersingham Libraries created each of these unique flowers, and donated them our Poppy Project for display during the Armistice centenary commemorations next year.

You don’t have to be a knitter to take part – people have created poppies out of cardboard, crepe paper tissue, and felt, and even coloured some in. You can use your favourite crafting techniques or try something new. Be creative!

W. Norfolk poppies (8)

There is still a long way to go until we reach our poppy target – find out more about the project here and get in touch if you’d like to get involved!

Brock Family Letters – September – October 1917

George Edward Brock to Charles Edward Brock

Sept 9th 1917

Dear Charles,

Just a line to let you know I am across the channel and my address is 140238 Pte G E Brock, Norfolk Regiment, I.B.D., A.P.O., France.  We are having a good time and all the third line Yeomanry are out this time.  So it is much better than coming out with strangers.

I have been wondering how you are getting on and how do you like your job.  No doubt you have plenty of work to do and I should like to see you but of course I don’t know where you are at all.  The people seem very strange about here and I can’t make them out at all.  And I find you have to keep your eyes open when you are buying anything down here and this morning I bought some pears and apples and afterwards I found they were about two for sixpence.

I hope you are quite well and remember me to Milly when you write.

From

George


George Edward Brock to Charles Edward Brock

Sept 11th 1917

Dear Charles,

Just to let you know that I am in a new regiment.  My new number is 33695, 8th Yorks and Lancs so don’t write till you hear from me.

I am feeling fit and well and don’t mind being on foot after cavalry although everything seems strange and new.

Hoping you are quite well.

From your brother

George


George Edward Brock to Kate Maud Brock

Oct 3rd 1917

Dear Kate,

Thanks very much for your letter and it is jolly good of you to write because it cheers one so to hear from home and I feel rather lonely but now I am getting used to it.

I am glad to hear you are getting on alright and what do you think this morning I received a letter from Jimmy Muirhead so it shows I am not forgotten.

We are having some fine weather at present so it is one consolation and I hope it will keep on because it makes such a difference to us.

I don’t know what to write about only I am quite well and one thing I hope and that is to be back again soon so goodbye sis.  I hope you are quite well and glad to hear you are getting on alright at Dereham.

From

George

Please excuse dirty envelope.


George Edward Brock to Charles Edward Brock

Oct 4th 1917

Dear Charles,

Just to let you know I am quite well and we are just having a rest and sorry I could not answer your letter because I lost the address.

We are having some fine weather at present and glad to say we are in comfortable quarters now and of course you don’t know I am in a different regiment.  Well my new address is 33695 Pte G E B, No 5 Platoon, B Company, 8 York and Lancs, B E F, France.

The boys seemed very strange at first but I soon got used them and they are all jolly good fellows and I like them very much.

I had a letter from home to day and dad has got the steam plough for the land and J H G has let two of his men help so it is a good job for him.

You would laugh if you saw me now marching about in shorts like some boy scout and my knees felt very cold for the first week or two but I have got used to them by now and they are much better for marching.

I suppose you have plenty of work to do now and I wondered if you came across Mr. Wrench since you have been out because I wish you would remember me to him.

I don’t know what else to write about so remember me to Milly and the boy and I hope you are quite well.

From yours

sincerely George


Gertrude Rebecca Page (née Brock) to Charles Edward Brock

Keswick Mills

Norwich

Oct 21st 17

My dear Charles,

Have some sad news to tell you, poor old George was killed on the 13th Oct.  It’s a terrible blow to us all and am sure you will feel it too. I felt I must write and tell you, but I hardly know what to say nor how to write it as my heart so full.

We were very glad to have such a nice letter from you and wish it would soon be over so you could come home.

Alfred has been in bed for a week, he’s been queer.  I wish they would discharge him but no such luck, he’s gone down to C2.

We are having a nice spell of weather again now.

Mother and Dad are very much distressed and Dad didn’t want this just now, however we have to bear it and thousands have to do the same and will have to yet I am afraid.

Love from all at home.

Your affectionate sister Gert


A.P.O. =  Army Post Office

B.E.F.  =  British Expeditionary Force

I.B.D.  =  Infantry Base Depot