War Letters: August 16th, 1917

These are extracts from letters sent by local men, printed in the Carrow Works Magazine during the First World War. The magazine was published quarterly for Colman’s staff. More than 900 workers at Colman’s Carrow Road works signed up during the conflict. 

From Bombardier Sydney W. Smith, Palestine, to Mr Beales.
August 16th, 1917.

“… Although for the past few months I have had to adopt the roving habits of the Bedouin, and have wandered about the Sinai Peninsula and Southern Palestine, yet I am glad to say the Magazine has eventually reached me; but upon perusing it, although glad to learn of those who have won honours, I am sorry for those who have fallen in battle, especially my old workmate, Walter Copland.

Having spent a considerable time in the desert we are well climatised, but the heat at times is very trying , both to men and horses… Lucky is the man who has the fortune to bivouac for the night near one of the few oases there are in this district, for they then have the opportunity of getting figs, grapes, pomegranates, prickly pears and dates, as these fruits are now in season…”



War Letters: August 13th, 1917

These are extracts from letters sent by local men, printed in the Carrow Works Magazine during the First World War. The magazine was published quarterly for Colman’s staff. More than 900 workers at Colman’s Carrow Road works signed up during the conflict. 

From Private William Cracknell, Birmingham, to Mr Rix.
August 13th, 1917

“… I am in hospital. I got wounded on the 31st July. I had a bullet go through my leg, but it did not touch the bone, but it leaves my leg a bit numb after I have been on it a little time. Getting back to the dressing-station I got a piece of shrapnel in the jaw. I had it x-rayed on Sunday… it will be a week or two before I shall be able to eat solid food. I don’t mind that as I think I am lucky to get off as lightly as I have…”

War Letters: August 1917


These are extracts from letters sent by local men, printed in the Carrow Works Magazine during the First World War. The magazine was published quarterly for Colman’s staff. More than 900 workers at Colman’s Carrow Road works signed up during the conflict. 

From Private A.H. Cornwell, R.A.M.C., Egypt, to Mr Beales.
August, 1917.

“… there is plenty of work to do here looking after the patients. We have two fine homes just outside our place for soldiers, where we can go and read, and write our letters, and play all sorts of games when we are off duty. There are some fine sights to see out here, but I would rather see the sights of good old Norwich again. I went and saw the pyramids and the Sphinx last Sunday week, and I thought it a grand sight…”

Santa Warned to Obscure his Headlights A Carrow Christmas

Information taken from Carrow Works Magazines held at the Norfolk Record Office

The Carrow Works magazines reflected the strong community of all those employed by the Colman family in Norwich. It would routinely document the births, marriages and deaths of its employees, chronicle its social events, inform readers with interesting articles and give details about the comings and goings of the Colman family itself.

Thus, when war broke out, there was much to write about which directly concerned the Colman family and their employees with news of those on active service and those left behind at home. In the first months of the war, 250 Carrow employees had enlisted of whom 88 were married with a total of about 180 children. Christmas was a particularly difficult time and much was done to bring some cheer to all those affected by war.


A Christmas greeting in the Carrow Works magazine at the start of the war. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1915

A Christmas Gift Service had been an annual Carrow event since 1901 with gifts usually going to local causes. On December 20th 1914 the 13th Annual Christmas Gift Service was held in the Carrow Club House.

 This time it was felt that the needs of the ‘stranger within thy gates’ should be thought of, so it was decided that all gifts be sent to Belgian Refugees in England.

The gifts were largely clothes which had been made at home. 283 garments were sent and a small number of toys. The following year the annual service helped those suffering in war zones in France or Flanders. Gifts included clothing and lavender bags, the lavender having been grown in the Carrow Gardens.

On Boxing Day 1914 the wives and children of those who had gone to war were invited by Mrs Colman to a ‘Tea and Christmas Tree Entertainment’ at the Carrow Schoolroom. Some children were lucky enough to have their fathers home on leave and they went along too.


The huge tree, reaching to the ceiling, bedecked with the many toys dear to the childish heart. Carrow Works Magazine, April 1915

The April 1915 article recorded that a splendid tea of jellies, cream cakes and other tasty morsels had been provided. This was followed by crackers and, while the children on the whole were too young to understand the mottoes and jokes, they enjoyed the novelties inside and wearing the paper hats.

Afterwards there was an entertainment by Professor Greenie performing magic tricks. Some of his magic failed to convince the older children but his final trick impressed everyone as it resulted in a small gift for every child there.

The event ended with a Christmas parcel given to every child to open at home and the mothers were given a War Calendar as a souvenir of the occasion.

All felt that through the kindness of the Fairy Godmother many a young heart had been made happier at this otherwise sad Christmastide.

While the wives and children enjoyed their Boxing Day treat, Christmas on the front was no less magical despite the circumstances. In a letter from Colman employee Private J H Dawson of the Queen’s Westminsters, he wrote:

My Christmas was the most eventful I have ever or am ever likely to spend.

Dawson described how, on Christmas Eve, he witnessed a battalion exchanging Christmas greetings with the enemy who were in trenches 200 yards away. Several men went out and met them halfway and the soldiers exchanged cakes for wines. Two from his own battalion and two from another made their way into the German trenches unarmed “but as they had evidently seen too much they were kept as ‘souvenirs”.

No shots were fired that Christmas Eve night. Christmas Day was spent conversing and exchanging souvenirs with the Germans. Some of the officers took photos of the occasion.  “These were three Saxon regiments and were decent fellows”.

Dawson himself received a 1 pfennig coin, a signed card and some chocolate.

Others spent their Christmas in different circumstances. An article from the April 1916 magazine was entitled ‘How We Spent Christmas’ and was written by “Jock”, one of only four soldiers spending their Christmas in the Norwich District Nursing Home.

Waking up on Christmas morning we were surprised and delighted to find a large stocking on each of our cots. 

In the afternoon “Jock” and his comrades enjoyed a musical entertainment and on Boxing Day they were welcomed to the home of Mrs Beck in The Close. The following day they helped at a children’s party and the day after they were the guests of the Lady Mayoress Mrs Southwell.

Children at Carrow School also helped to give a little bit of Christmas cheer by sending parcels to all ex-pupils serving in the Army or Navy. The contents of the first parcels were a mixture of small treats and much needed essentials:

  • A diary and a pencil
  • 6 packets of cigarettes
  • 1 tin Boric acid powder
  • I tin Boric ointment
  • 1 tin lozenges
  • 1 tin candies
  • 1 booklet (One & All magazines, December and January)
  • 2 handkerchiefs.
  • 2 woollen articles
  • Motto card for 1915
  • Norfolk News (current week)
  • Note paper and envelopes
  • 1 bundle bootlaces

For the second Christmas of the war, parcels were once again sent to those on active service. Most parcels went to France and some to the Dardanelles. Some went to HMS Ark Royal which was “somewhere on the sea . . . no matches might be sent on account of the great amount of petrol used on board”.


Contents of a home parcel. Carrow Works Magazine, April 1916.

The April 1917 magazine reported that Christmas parcels in 1916 were sent to Egypt, Salonika and France. These had been packed in waterproof paper and then carefully sewn in calico. The gifts were understandably well-received and the children received many letters of thanks. Sergeant R. J. S. wrote from France:

It was a great and pleasant surprise – every article will be most useful, and great care must have been exercised in the choice.  It is nearly twelve months since I left, but I can plainly see I am not forgotten.

What is clear in his letter is not only his gratitude for the items sent but how reassuring it was that he had not been forgotten. Many soldiers had been away from home for a long time and needing to be remembered and to be reminded of home was a common theme in wartime letters.

By Christmas 1915 the country was continuing to endure the nighttime blackness because of the fear of zeppelin raids. This caused many difficulties throughout the year but at Christmastime the children’s concern was ensuring Santa still knew how to find his way. An article in the January 1916 magazine gave Santa some sound advice while also taking the opportunity to make a pointed comment about those who had not yet enlisted:

One wonders how darkness will affect Christmas. Children who are on good terms with “Santa Claus” will have to warn him to obscure his head-lights and to exhibit a red rear-light. . . . . . Let us hope he finds the right chimneys, for a pop-gun intended for a younger brother would be hardly welcome by the bedside of a slacker, who had so far dodged the khaki.

If Santa was to find his way then it was equally important that he had some toys to deliver. A small toy-making enterprise was set up in Norwich which addressed both the problem of women with no work and the need for toys in wartime as many had previously come from Germany. The factory was at 5 St Margaret’s Street, off St Benedict’s Street. From humble beginnings it grew to be very successful.

The present season finds us busy with orders for Christmas from London firms such as Messrs. Gamage, Liberty, Harrod, Gorringe and others.


The Norwich toy-making factory. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1916.

Although the war ended in November 1918, many continued to be on active service. Christmas parcels continued to be sent to those overseas.

Owing to the uncertainty of their movements, several did not receive their parcels until the New Year, but the delay in delivery did not render the gifts less welcome.

Following the armistice, the annual Christmas message expressed the thoughts of the nation; joy for the safe return of loved ones and remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.


The 1918 Christmas message. Carrow Works Magazine, January 1919. 

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger

Norwich, Colman’s Ltd. medical report on a discharged soldier returning to employment

30129063087069Carrow Works medical report recording that that this ex-Norfolk Regiment soldier was fit for employment in the mustard shop, that he served in India 1917-18, had no illness but that he suffered from a stammer. This item is one of several hundred original posters, notices, documents and photographs (relating to the First World War locally) and held in the Norfolk Heritage Centre’s collections of ephemera.