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 1914, 3 days after his 17th birthday, he enlisted, joining the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.

This battalion had been established in August 1914 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.


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.


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

Great-Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?

Seeing family at Christmas time and being asked to research some family history appears to becoming a new family tradition. Last year I was asked to investigate my husband’s grandfather and this year it is my great-grand father.

My mum has been investigating our family tree for many years, and while we knew that my paternal great-grandfather served in the navy we hadn’t researched his career in depth.  A chance tweet on the @NorfolkinWW1 twitter led us to the website. This wonderful resource dedicated to the Senior Service is a place to lose hours but a sub-section of the site is dedicated to the (ongoing) transcription of ships’ logbooks. This means that you can now see exactly where ships were – and what the crews were up to – throughout the war this information can in turn add real ‘colour’ to family history data.

In 2015 it also became easier to find out which ships relatives did serve on during WW1 as the Registers of Seamen’s Service (1900-1928) has become available on (This website can currently be accessed free of charge at all of Norfolk’s Libraries)

With this in mind and armed with information about my great-grandfather, Horace Edward Collar, I set off to find out more about his service.

Horace Edward Collar, c.1920

Horace Edward Collar, c.1920

Horace officially joined up on 31st July 1916, the actual date of his 18th birthday, and from reading his service record it can be seen that his wartime ships were:

  • HMS Ganges
  • HMS Impregnable
  • HMS Pembroke
  • HMS Centaur
  • HMS Curacoa
  • HMS Dido
Screenshot of Horace Collar's Naval record taken from

Screenshot of Horace Collar’s Naval record taken from

(It is interesting to note from the dates on this documents that Horace actually started his service on HMS Ganges & HMS Pembroke in May 1916 a couple of months before his official enlistment date.)

The first thing I discovered on comparing this list of ships to those on the naval history website is that only one of them actually appears (HMS Centaur).  Google became my friend at this point and I found out that Ganges, Impregnable and Pembroke were all non-sea-going training ships. HMS Dido was also not on active service but was a depot ship based in Harwich.

HMS Centaur and HMS Curacoa were on active service and formed part of the Harwich Force. This was a patrol flotilla which supported both the Dover Patrol (protecting the English Channel) and the Grand Fleet, based in Scapa Flow (protecting the Atlantic).  Ships in the Harwich Force also escorted Allied and neutral ships between Holland and the UK and undertook some missions within the North Sea.  The Harwich Force didn’t actually take part in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 but had been on patrols and other ‘shouts’ shortly beforehand. After the German naval surrender in 1918 the Harwich Force became responsible for the remaining German submarines, which were surrendered at Harwich.

Although not a part of any major battle it can be surmised that at some point during 1917 Horace saw some action as in December of that year he was reimbursed £1.7.6 for “loss of effects.” There is a record on the National Archive website, Damage to HMS Centaur by Mine, which tantalisingly hints at what happened. Intriguingly a website dedicated to the history of Harwich lists this happening in June 1918 which deepens the mystery… As yet this document has not been digitised and I haven’t ordered a physical copy of it, although I feel that my interest in knowing what happened will lead me to do so very soon!

Horace signed up as a Ship’s Boy in 1916 and by the end of the war was listed as Ordinary Telegraphist, he ended his career in 1928 as a Telegraphist. Wikipedia’s entry for this role reads:

A telegraphist or telegraph operator is an operator who uses the Morse code in order to communicate by land or radio lines. Telegraphists were indispensable at sea in the early day of Wireless Telegraphy. During the Great War the Royal Navy enlisted many volunteers as telegraphists.

In the case of Horace Collar these new (well new to me and my family at least!) websites haven’t actually added a lot of details to our knowledge of his war time service as he was so land based but my mum informs me that he did have a brother who also served in the Navy during the First World War and then there are the following 10 years of Horace’s service to investigate too…

First names inspired by the First World War

Elizabeth, 2nd floor manager at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has shared this fascinating piece of research with us:

First names inspired by the First World War.

I once researched a family tree that included three sons by the unusual names of Foch, Joffre and Petain. Some of you will know at once that these were Marshals of France either during or immediately after the First World War.

Last night I got to thinking which other names might have been relatively common during and after the Great War specifically because of the War, so I’ve just spent a little time on FreeBMD to get some figures.

I’ve generally used the time period 1914-1920 in all districts in England and Wales, and first names only as birth indexes during the Great War do not list middle names. Figures are correct at the time of writing but as sites are constantly being updated they may be wrong tomorrow! I should also say that I have only searched for correctly transcribed names (the Foch above is wrongly listed as ‘Fock’ for instance so is not part of the count below) and have not checked every single entry to make sure it has not been double keyed – this is an interest post, not a scientific experiment.

Meet the Fochs – and other well-known people

Going back to the original trio, searching all transcribed records, there are three Fochs, all registered in June Quarter, 1919. Five Petains were registered between June Quarter 1916 and December Quarter 1938, three of them in 1916. Finally, Joffre proved particularly popular with 295 registrations, especially in 1915 and 1916 which saw 234 of those registrations. Numbers tailed off quickly from 1917. All three of these names were unknown in the registers prior to the Great War. [Since Game of Thrones, the similarly spelt name ‘Joffrey’ may represent too much of a baddie to have a similar impact!]

Other well-known individuals and their impact on later birth registers is sometimes more difficult to monitor as they may well have had names that were already popular. The number of Ediths registered in Norfolk actually fell from 144 registrations in 1914 to 114 in 1916 and was still lower – at 126 – in 1920. However, across the Country, 27 ‘Cavells’ were registered, the highest number in a quarter being six in December 1915 – the same quarter in which she died. I was surprised to find none of these were registered in Norfolk though.

So how about battles and famous places associated with the First World War?

As expected, ‘Somme’ appears in 1916 with 14 registered births between 1914-20.

An early ‘Arras’ was registered in 1842, but the name appears relatively frequently from 1915, with 43 registrations during the war years. Interestingly there are also a couple of registrations which may be female variations – an Arrasina and an Arrasy both registered in 1918.

Only four ‘Flanders’ were registered during the war years, and other entries appear now and again both before and after the war – perhaps family surnames recycled as first names.

No one was registered with the first name Gallipoli but four ‘Dardanelles’ were registered in 1915 only.

There are no Marnes or Passchendaeles at all, but a staggering 923 Verduns between 1914 and 1920 alone. Two in 1914, three in 1915, 668 in 1916, 145 in 1917, 51 in 1918, 31 in 1919 and 22 in 1920. Unlike the other names there were then a few Verduns registered most years until the 1960s.

As for Jutland, there are four in currently transcribed indexes on the site, three of them during the war years.

Ending with Ypres, there were 75 indexed in total, 65 of them during the war years. The name first appears in December Quarter 1914, and was most popular in March Quarter 1915.

I suspect most of these children were boys, but the registers do not distinguish – do you have any female Arras’ or Sommes in your family tree?

I’m sure these figures are dwarfed by the number of children with middle names related to battles and places. Perhaps these children were ‘battleborn’ or perhaps their fathers were involved or died there. Did the name itself have an impact? Perhaps ‘Verdun’ was similar enough to ‘Vernon’ that it was easier to use day-to-day than ‘Passchendaele’? I’m sure there are family stories out there, but I’m sure the outcome of the battle and where it appeared on a scale of Allied success/failure also had an impact.


And what of the symbol of the poppy? Is the graph below coincidence, with the name rising in popularity from the end of 1921, the same year that Anna Guerin’s idea was adopted by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, one of the founders of the Royal British Legion? Consistently, December Quarter seems to have a higher number of registrations, perhaps children born on, or close to, Armistice Day, the phenomenon appearing from 1921 onwards.


Your turn!

I’m sure this is just a start – there must be lots of other First World War names out there, whether connected to people, places or battles. I’ll leave that searching up to you…


This post first appeared on Elizabeth’s own website where you will also find many more fascinating genealogy posts, although not all are WW1 related.

Geoffrey Colman in uniform 1915

Geoffrey Colman during WW1 from a family archive of images related to the Norwich mustard firm of Colmans.

Geoffrey Colman during WW1 from a family archive of images relating to the Norwich mustard firm of Colmans.

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next four years will be posted on (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)