The War Letters of a Light Infantryman

When thinking of First World War writers of poetry and prose we often think of people such as Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Charles Blunden. However, Norfolk has a man who wrote letters home full of warmth, courage and humour to rival the finest of his generation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Edmund Henderson Neville (1897-1982), of the Neville family of Sloley, served in France and Russia during the Great War with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He wrote and received regular letters to and from his family at their home at Sloley Hall, not far from Worstead in north Norfolk.

In a book entitled The War Letters of a Light Infantryman, published in 1931, Neville recalls:

We are under fire. The only time I felt funny was at 6.30am on 17th…. The strafe lasted three quarters of an hour, we got no sleep all night, and I had a terrible shivery feeling and could not control the shaking.

This was in January 1916 in Bouzincourt, France. He and his friend Harry agreed they were shaking because of the cold.  Neither wanted to admit to feeling scared.

There were funnier moments:

The Hun always relieves the front line by day and saunters along with his hands in his pockets from post to post.  On the 18th (January, 1916) a party of them waved to us and invited us over for a beer.  They are never armed.  I simply longed to have a shot at some of them to pay off a few scores.

It was of course very cold.  Their accommodation was just a piece of canvas nailed to upright posts, not waterproof, with nails for hooks.  Mud was his constant companion.  Nevertheless, he says he enjoyed some of the marches through the woods at Fontaine-sur-Mer.  But at night:

The sky and inky trees were lit up every other second by yellow flashes coming from far away, yet not a single sound to disturb the stillness of the night.  And I realised that probably each one of those flashes might mean that some poor man, friend or foe, was being blown to bits.

The book is available at Norwich Heritage Centre at the Millennium Library in Norwich.  The Norfolk Record Office also has a short story written by Neville entitled ‘Boots and Shoes’ (Catalogue Reference: NEV 7/74, 589×9), accompanied by a rejection letter from a publisher in Edinburgh.

NEV_7-74_2

First page of the short story: ‘Boots and Shoes’. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: NEV 7/74, 589×9

Told in the first person, the story tells of a murder, where the guilty party is identified by the gumboots he was wearing, rather than the brown canvas shoes of the author.

Rejection letter from Edinburgh publishers. Includes: '' Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry:

Rejection letter from Edinburgh publishers. The letter writer says the story is ‘well written’ but ‘too artificial’. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: NEV 7/74, 589×9

Neville finally made it home on 4 October 1919 by ship to Liverpool in the middle of a strike.  He says:

A good many hoots and jeers from the strikers though some people seemed pleased to see us. And we have eaten abnormally, making up for the bully beef and sardines we ate with a rusty penknife. The next thing is leave, aye, LEAVE!

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The Diary of David Frederick Strauss Reid

Diaries are a great way of getting to know a place or a time through the story of one individual.

The Norfolk Record Office holds a huge collection of unpublished material and amongst this are many diaries, personal papers and notes. We continue to actively add to our collections and were delighted to recently receive a WW1 Diary recently, discovered and donated by Revd David Hagan-Palmer. The diary was received via  Elizabeth Budd, Genealogist and Manager of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, who had completed some research into its author.

diary

The diary is that of David Frederick Strauss Reid, who was born and died in Norfolk but who travelled far in the years between.

The research completed by Elizabeth concluded that David was born in Norwich but moved to Scotland with his family at a young age. The family later immigrated to Canada.

David Frederick Strauss Reid attested on 16 February 1916 and was given the number 626295 in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. At the time he lived in Irvine, Alberta, but he was born in Norwich, England. (Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-18, available at www.ancestry.co.uk).  Ancestry Library edition is available for free at all Norfolk libraries and the Norfolk Record Office.

He is recorded as being 23 years and two months at enlistment, and he was  5’ 8”. He had a ‘medium’ complexion with blue eyes and brown hair and was Church of England. He had three vaccination marks on his left arm – most likely from smallpox vaccination. The medical officer considered him fit for service, and so his military career began.

His diary then takes up part of the story, and tells us that he went to France with the 49th Canadians. diary friends

David survived the war and in the 1921 Census of Canada he is recorded as living in Sub-district 33, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

David Frederick Strauss Reid’s last resting place however, does not appear to be Canada. A death record for him appears in Norwich, England, at the end of 1969. (Death Index; December 1969; Norwich Registration District. ; Vol 4b, Page 2102).Death certificates along with birth certificates from 1837 to 31/03/1969 can be purchased from Norfolk Record Office. After this date copies such as this can be obtained from the Norfolk Registration Service.  

An obituary notice appeared for David in the Eastern Evening News on 5 December 1969. It reads:

“REID – Dec 3rd at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where he was pronounced dead. DAVID FREDERICK beloved husband of Hettie and father of Teddy. At Peace.” (sic)

(Newspaper archives dating back to the early 1700s are available at the Norfolk Heritage Centre.)

A marriage for David F Reid and Hetty E Lake (sic) appears in September Quarter 1958 in Norwich. (Marriage Index; September Quarter 1958; Norwich RD; Vol 4b, Page 1494).).

The obituary for David FS Reid notes that David had at least one son, called Teddy. There are few entries for ‘Teddy’ but we might assume that this is short for ‘Edward’. A David Edward Reid, born on 6 December 1925, is registered as having died in March 1985, in the registration district of ‘Norwich Outer’. (Death Index; March 1985; Norwich Outer RD; Vol 10, Page 2456).

Like his father, David Edward Reid’s obituary appeared in the newspaper:

“Reid, David Edward (Teddy) Neighbour and dear friend of Basil, Effie, Gina and Michael.”

 “Reid, David. Nephew of Aunt Lily, Aunt Janet, Uncle Leslie and Cousin of Penny, Brian and Family.”

(Eastern Evening News; 13 March 1985; Repository: Norfolk Heritage Centre)

Elizabeth’s investigations revealed that David FS Reid travelled to England with 6 year-old David Reid and 39 year-old Laura Reid in 1932. This is presumably his son David Edward (Teddy).  He later married a Hettie Lake.  It doesn’t appear that David FS Reid had any other children or that his son had any children of his own, but please correct us if we’re wrong. There are almost certainly cousins living in Norfolk still.

The war-time diary/album of David Frederick Strauss Reid is now deposited in the Norfolk Record Office.

This includes his own writings as well as notes from friends, sketches, an invitation from the Medicine Hat Returned Soldiers League and a photograph of ”St Pauls, London by night”st pauls diary

To search for this and any other diaries from the world wars and otherwise go to archives.norfolk.gov.uk, click on “NROCAT” the online catalogue, hit “Advanced Search” and under the “category” tab select diaries.  Click search to bring up details of all diaries in the collection.

The diary of David Frederick Strauss Reid is held at the NRO Archive Centre on Martineau Lane under the accession number : ACC 2015/44

Orla – Archive Specialist