Making connections through family stories

Last summer we posted the research undertaken by Alan Riches in to his great-uncle’s war service.  We’ve now been contacted by another blog reader who’s great-grandfather probably served alongside Harry Hazel.
Simon Potter has shared what he knows about Herbert Potter but it is currently an incomplete picture:

Herbert was my great-grandfather who died in 1958, before I was born but my father remembers him. He was a rather tall and elegantly dressed man but over time developed a pigeon chest as he struggled for breath after a WW1 gas attack.

Herbert enlisted on 25th March 1915 in the same company as Sapper 84711, just 839 men before so they maybe knew each other?

There is some debate as to when Herbert came under gas attack, I think this happened on 8 August 1916. From the company war diary, it looks like he and 35 others were casualties of high explosive and (possibly chlorine gas) attack whilst making a communications trench from brigade HQ on the south-west side of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood. His service record shows shell shock from an exploding shell and that he spent a week with 104th field hospital, however it doesn’t mention the gas so it’s possible that it occurred later, my father thinks he heard mustard gas at the Ypres/Battle of Poelcappelle/Passchendaele in Oct 1917.

 

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-1

In this torn image Herbert could be in the middle row, second from left with the blue mark on his hat.

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These are the photos I have, I always thought they were of (part of) the 208th, but the cap badges worry me a bit, perhaps as a territorial unit they were different? I think there are only 70 men in this picture not the 217 that you mentioned in the previous post so perhaps it’s not a Company but a Platoon?  I also notice that unlike other similar photos they have no rifles. From the tents in the background could these photos be from training camps in England in 1915?

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-3

Not sure about this one either, perhaps a field kitchen in Kirkby Malzeard or in France, although the corrugated iron walls in the background look similar to photos of some temporary buildings I have seen at Sutton Veny on Salisbury Plain.

The most amazing thing for me is that his record shows that in Feb/March 1918 he was granted 10 days leave to the UK. Imagine having experienced the horrors of the trenches over 2 winters (including being shell-shocked and gassed), then going home, then after a rest returning to the war!

1919-h-potter-army-discharge-documents-page-2

Herbert he survived the war returning to his work as a boot maker in Norwich where after short retirement he died peacefully in 1958 aged 76. Herbert was born in Norwich in 1881 but spent a lot his youth in Bethnal Green.

Herbert many years later on holiday in 1937, on the RHS with his eldest son (also called Herbert) on the LHS and his grandson (Brian).

Herbert many years later on holiday in 1937, on the RHS with his eldest son (also called Herbert) on the LHS and his grandson (Brian).

 Herbert on the left in the Homburg hat in 1939. He died in 1958 at 83 Rosebery Road, Norwich, in his final years he liked to sip half pints of stout in the back room of the Lord Rosebery pub and play draughts. Like most them, he never spoke of the war.

Herbert on the left in the Homburg hat in 1939. He died in 1958 at 83 Rosebery Road, Norwich, in his final years he liked to sip half pints of stout in the back room of the Lord Rosebery pub and play draughts. Like most them, he never spoke of the war.

Herbert has two brothers, one older (Charles Frederick b. 1876) and one younger (George James b.1888).

Charles Frederick Potter was already a professional solder being #4163 in 2nd Bn Essex Regiment and who participated in the second Anglo-Boer War of 1896. He had already retired from the army by the outbreak of WW1 but rejoined as Pte 45624, 2nd Garrison Battalion Essex Reg, forming part of the Nasirabad Brigade, India in 1917. I think he lived until 1960 but not sure.

George James  joined the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps as Rifleman 7696 on 22 August 1914, but died less than a year later on 10 July 1915. He is buried in the Lillers Communal Cemetery, Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region, France Plot: II. A. 34. This is just 3 1/2 months after Herbert joined up.

As ever we are very grateful to Simon for sharing his family story with us – please do comment below or email norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com if you have a story to share or indeed if you can help with any of Simon’s questions.

The tale of two brothers from Walpole St Peter during World War One

We’ve been contacted by Chris Woods, originally from Norfolk who has kindly shared the stories of his grandfathers’ and uncle’s First World War service:

Sergeant Arthur Earnest Woods (13756) 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
Private George Woods (25075) 13th Battalion Suffolk Regiment.

Arthur Earnest Woods was born in Walpole St Peter, Norfolk in 1894. He was one of 8 children born to Robert and Elizabeth Woods. He was the second oldest of the six boys and it was only himself and his older brother George (my Grandfather) who were old enough to go to war.

The Woods family outside their inn.

The Woods family outside their inn.

Their father was an agricultural worker and Inn Keeper and whilst his older brother George initially stayed at home on the family smallholding, Arthur also a farm hand was quick to join up. His attestation papers show that he joined the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on the 3rd September 1914 aged just 20.

The 8th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment was raised at Norwich in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army and joined 53rd Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division. The Division initially concentrated in the Colchester area but moved to Salisbury Plain in May 1915. They proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne on the 25th of July 1915 with Arthur amongst them.

Arthur Woods

Arthur Woods

The division was concentrated near Flesselles and in 1916 they were in action on The Somme in The Battle of Albert.
On July 1st Arthur was involved in the successful capturing of the Battalions objectives near Montauban, this was to be one of the few British successes on that fateful day. It is interesting to note that Arthur’s war record shows that he was promoted to Acting Sergeant on that day and just five days later to full Sergeant. This probably points to the number of his comrades and officers lost during that time.

He was badly wounded during the battle for Delville Wood and it is unclear whether his leg was amputated there or on his return to England on 25th August 1916 where he was in Stamford Hospital, London. He was eventually discharged as unfit for war service on 10th Febuary 1917.

His elder brother George Woods was called up and was attested in Wisbech on 28th February 1916
and after only four months training was sent to France on 6th July. He was soon to be sent to the front line near Pozieres.

Excerpts from George's diary (he took quite a risk in doing this as diaries were not supposed to be kept by men in the trenches)

Excerpts from George’s diary (he took quite a risk in doing this as diaries were not supposed to be kept by men in the trenches)

He was very badly wounded by a bomb explosion and gunshot wounds to his arms, trunk and legs on the 9th August and evacuated to England on the 28th August. He spent 8 months recovering in Netley Hospital before being discharged back to his home in Norfolk.

A family wedding from 1916. showing Arthur & George's two sisters at their joint wedding, present are their four other brothers and their parents Robert and Elizabeth. George and Arthur are however missing from the celebration as it is taken when they were on the Somme.

A family wedding from 1916. showing Arthur & George’s two sisters at their joint wedding, present are their four other brothers and their parents Robert and Elizabeth. George and Arthur are however missing from the celebration as it is taken when they were on the Somme.

For a very short period during late July and early August 1916 the two brothers were on the front line less than two miles apart. They both returned to Walpole St Peter. Arthur married in 1917 and had four children. He died in 1952 aged just 58. George married in 1918 and had three children. He died at the age of 96.

Another page from George's diary

Another page from George’s diary

I am also researching my Grandfather on my Mother’s side who also fought in the First World War.
He was in the East Anglian Brigade – Royal Field Artillery, fighting in Palestine and Egypt. He came from Neatishead and is mentioned on the Neatishead and Barton Turf Community Heritage Groups Site.

His name was Sidney George Chambers and I have attached his photo too taken during his time in Egypt. I again am lucky enough to have information from his war record and am hoping to get down to Norfolk again soon to do more Family History research.

Sidney Chambers

Sidney Chambers

Chris concludes:

I was born in Norfolk but have lived on the Shropshire / Welsh border for over 40 years. I am involved in World War 1 research as a member of the Centenary Partnership and have visited the areas where my relations fought indeed even standing where my grandfather was wounded, where he was treated and the graves of his comrades killed in the same incident. Through the help of a friend and Somme Guide who lives in Martinpuich we were able to use Grandad’s diary and the Battalion and Brigade diaries to trace his footsteps extremely accurately.

I am currently writing a play regarding his time in Norfolk and during the war and hope one day to bring it to Norfolk.

I am also writing a book about and have developed a section called Lights Out Trefonen on our village website about the 31 local people who lost their lives from the village where I now live. www.trefonen.org

If like Chris you have discovered a family story please do consider sharing it with us – we would like to remember the stories of as many men as possible.

The power of the internet to help

Back in November we asked for your help on behalf of one of our blog readers who was hoping to find a photo of her relative Pte Dagless.

Whenever we publish a post here a link is also Tweeted and within hours of the plea being made the Internet has shown just how awesome it could be.

First of all historian Steve Smith got in touch and filled in some of the details surrounding Pte Dagless’s service and how/where he died.  This was actually at the 3rd Battle of Gaza where the Norfolk Regiment lost 37 men and officers. Thanks to Steve’s research we also now know that Nelson had a brother, Robert, who also served in 1st Norfolk Regiment (and the Royal Fusiliers and the Labour Corps) – Robert survived the war.

In addition to this extra information Steve let us know where Nelson Dagless was laid to rest, in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Gaza. He also put us in touch with the man who tends the graves in this cemetery…

The Internet miracle then continued as Ibrahim Jeradeh then went out and took a photo of Nelson Dagless’s headstone and sent that through to us.

dagless

We may not (yet*) have an image of Pte Nelson Dagless himself but the speed and generosity of our followers has certainly helped one family learn more about their relative and connected more people as they research family history.

 

*the power of the original post has me wondering if we will have a seasonal miracle and that a photo of Pte Dagless might just arrive as we share the rest of this story!

Donation to the collection

Following on from our recent plea for help in finding a photograph from WW1 we did some more research within our collections and while we didn’t find an image of Pte. Dagless we did find some newly digitised images of the Norfolk Regiment in Gaza.

These were donated to Picture Norfolk by the Freestone family and here the photographer’s family tell us more about him:

Frederick Freestone, 1894-1963

Freestone, Frederick Ernest, portrait in uniform

Freestone, Frederick Ernest, portrait in uniform

I was recently given some photographs that belonged to my grandfather, Frederick Freestone, which he had taken whilst serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  These photographs have been brought to life with comments he’d written on each one explaining where and when they were taken and, in some cases, his thoughts on how successful some of the battles were.

Frederick Freestone was born in 1894 to James and Anna-Maria Freestone.  His sister, Elsie, was born in 1900 and they grew up in a terraced house on Marlborough Road, Norwich.  Frederick worked for Boulton & Paul’s, constructing industrial greenhouses and as a plumber on the railways.  He was also a keen billiards player.

He joined the RAMC in 1915; the photographs suggest that some of his friends enlisted with him.

Freestone, Frederick Ernest, with ambulance group

Freestone, Frederick Ernest, with ambulance group

I can see from the comments on the photographs that he served in Gallipoli, Palestine, Gaza and finally in Cairo.  After the war he signed up for the Territorials and served in Ireland in 1923, again in the RAMC, but as a corporal.

Freestone, Frederick, inside an Eqyptian Bazaar during the First World War

Freestone, Frederick, inside an Egyptian Bazaar during the First World War

He was married on 29th March 1924 at St. James Church, Norwich to Grace Mabel Elizabeth Woods.  They initially lived at 7 Palace Plain, Norwich. They had 4 sons, Dennis, Russell, Bertram and, my father, Leonard.  Unfortunately Bertram only survived a few weeks.  After the birth of my father in 1931 the family moved to 10 Arnold Miller Close, Lakenham, where they lived until Frederick died in 1963, aged 69.

The only recollection I have of my grandfather is him visiting us in Thorpe on a scooter.  After my grandfather passed away my father replanted one of his roses in our garden in Thorpe, several years ago this same rose was replanted in my garden and is flourishing still.

Whilst I have few first hand memories of my grandfather, it has been lovely to be able to piece together something of his life and see the contribution he made during the WW1.  I am sure it must have been quite horrifying at Gallipoli and Gaza as I have read of the casualties suffered during these battles by the Norfolk Regiment.

In this centenary year I am thankful for the bravery of my grandfather and all others who fought for King and Country, we will remember them.

Michael Freestone

More of Frederick’s photos can be found on the Picture Norfolk website using the search term “Freestone.” There are also many other WW1 images in this collection including over 1000 soldier portraits.

Please do contact us if you have a WW1 story to share.

Remembering the Battle of Guillemont

Granddad and the Somme

This blog post has been sent to us by Annie Grant and Maggie Johnson as they share their grandfather’s experiences on the Somme just over 100 years ago.

100 years ago, on 4th September 1916, our grandfather, Arthur John Thurston, was shot in the thigh while he and his regiment were attempting to capture the German-held Falfemont Farm, as part of the Battle of Guillemont fought between 3 and 6 September 1916.

The first attack was repelled by the Germans, and, as he told us when we used to visit our grandparents or they came on one of their regular visits to see us in London, he was shot in the thigh during the failed attack and spent 24 hours lying wounded in a shell crater before being rescued when a second attack on the farm on 5 September was more successful.

 

Arthur was born and bred in Norwich and was a member of the congregation of St Giles Church. He began his working life as a boot maker, and on 22nd December 2014, 3 days after his 17th birthday, he enlisted, joining the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.

This battalion had been established in August 2014 as part of the Territorial Force whose principle role was not overseas service but home defence.  We have a fine photo of him in uniform standing beside his bicycle, with his rifle attached to its frame.

Arthur John Thurston. Family photo

Arthur John Thurston. Family photo

Arthur, like the many of the fellow soldiers in his Battalion, signed up for overseas service and was transferred to the Western Front to take part in the fighting there.

Fortunately for him, and of course for us, after his injury he was not deemed fit enough to be sent back to the front.  Following periods of recuperation and rehabilitation in 1917 at Ampthill Camp in Bedfordshire and in North Walsham, he worked as a Regimental shoemaker first in England, and then in Ireland when his battalion was posted there in early 1918; he was demobbed in February 1919.

His experiences in France and in Ireland made a big impression on him, and on us as children. He spoke very little about the fighting in France other than to give us the very bare details of the circumstances of his injury, but he reminisced a great deal about Ireland, where he had developed a real fondness for the country and its people. Although he had made a good recovery from his injury, he still experienced some adverse effects from his wound, and in 1924 was awarded a 25% war pension.

Most of the rest of his working life was spent as a shoe maker, first in Norwich, then, during the depression, in Lancashire, and back in Norwich from the late 1940s when he worked on the shop floor of the Norwich shoemakers Edwards and Holmes until he retired. He was a very kind and gentle man and a wonderful grandfather.

There is no doubt that his Somme experiences were for him, as for all those who fought there, very traumatic, but there was a very positive and unexpected outcome: in the mid-1950s he was contacted to say that his name had come to the top of the list of those eligible to live in one of the houses that make up the Royal Norfolk Regiment Memorial Bungalows on Mousehold Lane, which were built between 1948 and 1950 originally for 2nd World War veterans wounded in service. Our grandparents happily accepted the house offered and we spent much time with them there in our summer and Easter holidays from school. He was able to spend the rest of his life, right up to his death in 1972, living more or less rent free in ‘Europe’, which, being at one end of the crescent of 6 houses, had the advantage of good-sized side and back gardens in which he could grow his vegetables, and a front garden where our grandmother could grow flowers.

 

We thank Annie and Maggie for sharing their memories, and their grandfather’s story with us – if you have a story to share please consider contacting us and letting us share it with our readers.

 

 

Book review

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of David Snell’s new book Sing To Silent Stones: Violet’s War recently after responding to a request for readers on Twitter. It sounded just up my street being sold as “a stunning historical debut from David Snell, based on his own family’s journey through the wars.

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It arrived with quite a thump as the book is over 500 pages long but once I’d started it I found it almost impossible to put down – even the recent successes of TeamGB competitors couldn’t drag my nose from the pages.

The story starts just after the First World War with a little boy playing in the snow, his world is about to be turned upside down as he discovers that the people he’s called mum and dad are just foster parents and that the newly appeared Violet is in fact his mother.

The main book then takes up back in time to just before the war and a sheltered young lady, and only daughter of a wealthy, snobbish business man falls in love with an unsuitable, lower class man.  Their actions on the day before Frank leaves for war reverberate through the rest of the book as Violet falls pregnant…

Whilst a fiction novel the story draws heavily on the family stories from both David and his wife; and I’m glad to know both of these things. The story is so details and well written that it felt real, I was almost convinced I was reading a biography at times but yet, just sometimes the plot becomes just a little too coincidental and I was worried that family stories had been embellished, and taken for real whereas  it was just narrative licence.

If I’m honest I did prefer the part of the book set during the First World War and just after, it felt more real than the bits from the 1930s but once I got to the end I realised that this build up was necessary to create atmosphere for the sequel – Frank’s Story which is published in 2017 and that I can’t wait to read!

 

Many thanks to the publisher for offering the chance to discover a great novel, the book is now published and copies can be reserved from Norfolk’s Libraries.

Following up to “Great Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?”

Back in January we posted about the research undertaken into the naval service record of Horace Collar. More research has now been undertaken into the 1917 incident aboard HMS Centaur that lead to Horace losing all of his personal effects.

A very large envelope from the National Archives were delivered to the family and a story worthy of the BBC Radio Comedy The Navy Lark unravelled.

According to the book North Sea War 1914-1919 by Robert Malster:

On 23rd October 1917 Tyrwhitt (Commander of the Harwich Fleet) was told that a number of destroyers were expected to sale from Zebrugge for a north German port. Four light cruisers, Canterbury, Carysfort, Centaur, and Concord, with a flotilla leader and four destroyers, left Harwich to intercept them, but the enemy ships slipped past that night.

(34)

On their way back to port the flotilla ran into a severe gale and it is at this point Centuar was damaged. An explosion towards the aft of the ship  caused considerable damage to the engine room necessitating Centaur to be out of action undergoing repairs for quite some time.

The documents from the National Archive are incredibly interesting as they are so contradictory.  One document, listing the findings from an investigation dated 27th October 1917, states that it is the considered opinion that the damage was caused by a surface mine exploding near the ship:

centaur 1 centaur 2

 

This theory is, however, refuted in all of the other documents in the pack and in Malster’s book, where the conclusion is that the high seas and gale caused the depth charges stored at the back of Centaur to be washed overboard where at least one detonated and damaged the ship!

centaur 3

 

The documents make fascinating reading and include the transcript from the Court of Enquiry and instructions on how to run the Enquiry. The good news to this from the family perspective is that Horace Collar is not mentioned at all in the paperwork, and on a broader level no one was killed, indeed the report reads “I am glad to report that beyond one Officer who (was) slightly shaken no casualties were incurred.”

 

HMS Centaur during WW1

HMS Centaur during WW1