Exploring the legacies of Norfolk Women in the First World War- a call for volunteers from The Forum Trust
Following the First World War Women of Norfolk on Active Service project in November 2017, The Forum Trust have contacted us about another project our readers might be interested in:
The Forum, Norwich is inviting volunteers to participate in the next phase of an exciting research project revealing the legacies of Norfolk women involved in the First World War. Volunteers will help research content for an exhibition to commemorate the Armistice which will be held at The Forum and Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library in November 2018. Their contribution may be through written work, a spoken presentation or participation in a project film.
Volunteers will be supported by the Project Historian Neil Storey and they will receive training and support with how to research the legacies of Norfolk women involved in the First World War. This may include stories of Norfolk women in uniformed services who died during the First World War, women who worked on the land, women at work, women’s right to vote or the role of women on Armistice Day. Heritage skills training offered to volunteers will include an introduction to the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and the Norfolk Record Office and how to use online sources for family history and military ancestry research. They will also receive training in public speaking and media engagement.
If you have an interest in heritage, previous experience of using primary sources for historical research and are willing to promote your project work in the public arena, then this could be the opportunity for you.
This volunteering opportunity is from April-November 2018 but the main research period will be from 12 April-20 August 2018.
Volunteer Information Evening
Thursday 8 March 2018, 7pm-8.30pm
The Forum Auditorium
If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering with the Norfolk in the First World War project The Forum warmly invites you to come along to the ‘First World War Women of Norfolk: Legacies’ Talk and Information Evening. This event is FREE but tickets must be booked in advance by visiting Eventbrite.
Volunteers have until Monday 26 March 2018 to register their interest in taking part and can find out further information about the project by visiting theforumnorwich.co.uk/learning/volunteer
Image credit: Neil Storey Archive
|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
|British Voting Reforms
The Representation of the People Act receives Royal Assent, thus extending the right to vote to almost all British men as well as women aged over 30.
|Local Celebrity Killed
It was reported that professional dancer, Mr Vernon Castle died in a flying accident on the 15 Feb 1918.
Food rationing begins in London and the south of Britain.
|Donation to Norwich Library
The Norwich Library Committee receives a map and a wax model of part of the Somme battlefields from Lieut.-Col. W. A. J. O’Mearea, C.M.G., whom during his stay in Norwich spent his leisure time making the model.
Edward Barber Leeder was born in 1897, the son of Mary Leeder. He was baptised on the 4th April 1897 in Swanton Novers parish church (see Figure 1).
Edward enlisted on 1st September 1914 at Newcastle upon Tyne with the Border Regiment, and gave his age as 18 years 6 months. He gave his occupation as ‘miner’, and place of residence as Blyth on his enlistment papers. However, as he was born in 1897, he was only 17 years (and 6 months) old on enlistment. He did not remain with the Border Regiment for very long, as he was discharged on the 13th November 1914 under the King’s Regulations K.R. 392 (iii) (c) ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’. Edward then joined the Royal Navy on the 5th February 1915, giving his date of birth as 28th February 1896 (making him 18, when he was still only actually 17), so it appears that Edward was in fact born on the 28th February 1897 (he presumably just added a year to his age in order enlist in the army and then the navy). His Seaman’s Service Record notes that he was 5’ 3” tall, with a chest measurement of 35½”, and that he had brown hair, blue eyes and a ‘fresh’ complexion, and his occupation is given as ‘miner’.
Edward served on five vessels between February 1915 and August 1917, and was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman towards the end of 1915. On the 24th August 1917, he joined the submarine K-4, (see Figures 2 and 3) a British K class Submarine, which were around 339ft/103m long, driven by oil-fired steam engines, and notoriously difficult to manoeuvre. K-4 was built by Vickers (Barrow-in-Furness), and commissioned on the 1st January 1917.
On the 31st January 1918 (in what was later known as the Battle of the Isle of May), British warships steamed north from Rosyth to join their fleet at Scapa Flow, accompanied by a flotilla of nine submarines, as part of Exercise EC1. The vessels were organised in four flotillas, with a distance of 5 nautical miles between each group, led by the flagship HMS Courageous:
- HMS Ithuriel, followed by the submarines K-11, K-17, K-14, K-12 and K-22
- HMS Australia, HMS New Zealand, HMS Indomitable, HMS Inflexible (plus destroyers)
- HMS Fearless, followed by submarines K-4, K-3, K-6 and K-7
- HMS Barham, HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant (plus destroyers).
Initial visibility had been good, but nearer to the Isle of May visibility was hampered by a sea mist and the vessels had been ordered to maintain radio silence and extinguish navigation lights as they made their way to join the fleet. There then followed a series of unfortunate collisions.
Two submarines in the first flotilla (K-11 and K-17) found themselves bearing down on two small vessels (possibly minesweepers) and changed course; a third submarine, K-14, veered to avoid colliding with the two small vessels but started to circle out of control as her helm jammed; at approximately 1914 hours she was then rammed by K-22, bringing up the rear of the first flotilla. At around 1943 hours, the cruiser from the second flotilla, HMS Inflexible, collided with K-22. At around 1940 hours, the remaining vessels in the first flotilla – HMS Ithuriel, K-11, K-17 and K-12 – had turned back towards the site of the collision between K-14 and K-22. Unfortunately they only added to the unfolding debacle, as they were sailing into the path of the third flotilla led by HMS Fearless. At around 2032 hours, HMS Fearless, unable to avoid a vessel crossing in front of her, collided with K-17. K-17’s crew abandoned ship; the submarine was lost and she sank in around eight minutes. Meanwhile K-4 had been brought to a stop in response to Fearless’ warning sirens. K-6, part of the third flotilla, mistaking the lights of K-4 for K-3 (which she had been assiduously following), found themselves bearing down on the stationary K-4 instead. At 2036 hours, K-6 struck K-4, slicing her almost in half, and as K-6 detached herself from the stricken submarine K-4 sank almost immediately, with the loss of all the crew (59 men – 6 officers and 53 ratings). Of the crew of K-17, only nine men survived – the escaping crew were inadvertently mown down in the ensuing chaos by the destroyers escorting the fourth flotilla.
The K class of submarines earned the nickname ‘Kalamity’; the men who served on them came to be known as the ‘suicide club’. Of the eighteen that were built, none were lost in action, but six were sunk in accidental collisions. The crew of submarines K-4 and K-17 are commemorated by a plaque in Anstruther Harbour, erected in their memory during the submarine centenary year 2001 and unveiled on the 31st January 2002. It reads:
‘To commemorate those members of the ships’ companies of His Majesty’s submarines K4 and K17 who gave their lives in the service of their country off the Isle of May on 31st January 1918”
The wrecks of K-4 and K-17 were surveyed in 2011, to ensure that they could be left undamaged should a proposed wind farm be constructed in the area. They lie about 100 metres apart and 50 metres down on the sea bed.
Edward records his mother on both his Army and Navy service records as Mary Graveling, of Duckers Beck, East Dereham. Mary Wilhelmina Leeder was born in 1878 and baptised on the 28th December 1879 (along with her sisters Lucy Ann and Eliza Lydia) in Swanton Novers parish church, the daughter of William and Eliza Leeder. Mary married Alfred Graveling in 1899, and by the time of the 1911 census for Wood Norton they had eight children (4 boys and 4 girls). Alfred died in 1930 aged 53; Mary died in 1946, with her age recorded as 66.
It is not clear whether Edward lived with his mother after her marriage to Alfred Graveling. In the 1901 census for Swanton Novers, Mary and Alfred Graveling are living in The Street, Swanton Novers, with their two small children, Lucy (aged 2), and William (9 months), together with a lodger (a young man of 20, George Porter from Ely, a blacksmith’s striker so perhaps a worker on the nearby railway works at Melton Constable) – but not Edward. Edward (aged 4) is recorded in the 1901 census with his grandparents, William and Eliza Leeder, in Giles Road, Swanton Novers.
In the 1911 census for Swanton Novers, Edward (aged 14) is recorded in the household of his aunt, Elizabeth Louisa Bullen, rather than with his mother in Wood Norton. Elizabeth Louisa Leeder was Mary’s older sister, who married William James Bullen in 1889. The census records Edward’s name as Edward Bullen Leeder, and he is a ‘mother’s helper (at present)’. Sometime between 1911 and 1914 Edward moved from Norfolk to Blyth, Northumberland to take up the occupation of miner. It is worth noting that Edward was not the only serviceman with Wood Norton connections to have enlisted in the northeast – Thomas Charles Colman (Nicholas Robert Colman’s brother) was living in Blyth (Rotherham) when he enlisted in Newcastle upon Tyne in May 1916. Exactly why men from rural Norfolk moved so far away, presumably for work, is unclear and would bear further investigation.
Edward Barber Leeder is commemorated on a memorial in St Margaret Pattens, Eastcheap, London, which contains the names of all the 104 men who died in the Battle of the Isle of May incident. It is dedicated by the widow of the captain of the K-4:
“To the Proud and Undying Remembrance of my Husband Commdr David De Beauvoir Stocks, R.N. D.S.O. Legion of Honour, who was drowned January 31st 1918, serving his King & Country, and in Memory of all those who died with him.”
The official papers and the subsequent Court of Inquiry into the incident, held in early February 1918, were not released until 1994, by which time all the survivors had died. Despite the secrecy surrounding the incident, the King (George V) had been fully briefed, and in a letter he wrote to Admiral David Beatty on 12th February 1918 he expressed his distress at the ‘deplorable accident which has just occurred to the K boats in which two were sunk and four others damaged beside the loss of valuable trained officers & men’. His is the only expression of regret at the loss of life that is recorded.
 British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 (www.ancestry.co.uk)
 For a full account see N.S. Nash, K Boat Catastrophe: Eight Ships and Five Collisions – The full story of the ‘Battle of the Isle of May’ (Pen & Sword Maritime; 2009), especially Chapter Three (pp.52-71).
 The Scottish War Memorials Project (http://warmemscot.s4.bizhat.com/warmemscot-ftopic4847.html); The Guardian, 29 August 2011, Simon Bates Divers survey Scottish graveyard of first world war submarine disaster (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/aug/29/divers-war-submarine-disaster); the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Submarine losses 1904 to the present day (http://www.submarine-museum.co.uk/what-we-have/memorial-chapel/submarine-losses?start=8); Wikipedia, Battle of May Island (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_May_Island); Wikipedia, British K class submarine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_K-class_submarine)
 British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 (www.ancestry.co.uk); UK, Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919 (www.ancestry.co.uk)
 FreeBMD Quarter to September 1899, Walsingham Vol. 4b, p. 582 (www.freebmd.org.uk)
 1901 Census, Swanton Novers (Page 7) (www.ancestry.co.uk)
 1911 Census, Swanton Novers (Schedule 33) (www.ancestry.co.uk)
 N.S. Nash, K Boat Catastrophe: Eight Ships and Five Collisions – The full story of the ‘Battle of the Isle of May’; pp.87-88; p107 (Pen & Sword Maritime; 2009).