German Prisoners of War in Norfolk

German Prisoners of War in Norfolk

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Few local records have been found on German prisoners of war (GPOWs) in the First World War.  However, at the Norfolk Record Office, a picture begins to emerge of their presence in the county during the war years through the minutes of the Norfolk Agricultural War Executive Committee (NAWEC).  The following information is taken from those records: NRO, C/C 10/15, C/C 10/16, C/C 10/17, C/C 10/18 and C/C 10/19.

Norfolk was a key county in taking GPOWs as the greatest need for them was in agriculture.  Maintaining food supplies was a major concern and there were fears that there would not enough labour for the 1918 harvest.

Supplying labour was one thing, accommodating them quite another.  The NAWEC proposed that the county’s halls, farms and workhouses would be the most suitable for large numbers of men.  Premises were inspected to see if they could be adapted and be fit for use.

Many went to Kenninghall where they lived in what had been the workhouse.  It could take up to 410 GPOWs.   Other workhouses included Gressenhall, Gayton, Rockland, Swaffham and Shipmeadow in Suffolk.

Other properties included the Manor House at Stratton St Mary, Burnham Maltings, Blickling Mill and Shouldham Hall.  A camp at Heacham was closed due to its proximity to Sandringham.  Forty GPOWs were accommodated in the stables at Houghton Hall were used.  This was no meagre stable block.  Sales particulars for Houghton Hall describe them thus:


Details of Houghton Hall Stables. NRO, PD 238/137

Finding accommodation was a constant as fresh demands for labour arose but it was not always successful.  Collings’ Farm at Bacton required men but there was nowhere in Bacton to accommodate them.

Temporary camps were considered for short projects.  However the Agricultural Board in London and Eastern Command decided that this was not possible.  Instead provision for transport beyond the 3 mile limit had to be found. This was easier said than done.

There is little evidence to show how well the requisitioning of these buildings was received.  However in 1918 the NAWEC minutes record that Langford Hall was suitable but could not be obtained by agreement.  It was resolved to ask the Military Authorities to take possession under the Defence of the Realm Act.

District Committees across the county were asked about employing the GPOWs.  Men were available in teams of 75 although this was later reduced to 40.  The work undertaken was wholly on the land and was mainly drainage or farm work.  At harvest time there was a need for GPOWs to work in threshing gangs but the use of GPOWs as travelling gangs was not allowed.

Captain Byng based at Kenninghall had a key role in organizing the GPOWs across the county and reported frequently to the NAWEC.  In January 1918 he informed the committee that he had been asked to supply GPOWs to work on a Royal Flying Corps camp.  He had informed the RFC camp that the men were primarily for agricultural work and suggested a separate camp at Lakenheath should be set up instead.  Despite this some GPOWs were sent to work on aerodromes such as the one at East Harling.

The employment of GPOWs was not without its problems.  There were tensions over pay and employment and difficulties with transportation and supervision.

In August 1917 the Board of Agriculture had requested the immediate employment of the GPOWs at Kenninghall.  The committee minutes record:

Resolved to write to the Commandant of the Camp to ask him whether, if the Executive Committee can find the transport, the War Office will repay the expense and also what distance he will allow them to proceed to work, returning each night to Kenninghall.

Horses were needed for transport but many had been requisitioned for the Front.  The Commandant of Narborough Camp reported he had 80 men available for work but no transport.   A large number of GPOWs were working in Suffolk and the NAWEC agreed that Suffolk should provide their own transport.  Byng needed more horses at Kenninghall which raised three problems; availability, stabling and someone to look after the horses.  All three problems appear to have been addressed but who would pay for the transport?  Byng was opposed to the Agricultural Board’s view that farmers should pay.

GPOWs needed to be supervised.  In 1917 GPOWs were used to clear the rivers Tass and Yare.  The work would be free of charge but the River Committee had to provide supervision.  In November 1917 it was proposed to reduce the guards at Kenninghall by 15%.  Byng reported that if this happened it would be impossible to supply less than 5 GPOWs to any one farm which would result in small farms not getting any labour.

GPOWs were paid.  In February 1917 it was recommended that their rates of pay should be the same as local rates.  The issue of pay rumbled on for some time and never appears to have been fully resolved.  In an advert in the Eastern Daily Press in September 1917 promoting the use of GPOWs; the rate of pay given was 25 shillings for a 60 hour week.  This undercut the local rate of 45 shillings a week.  One can imagine how such a pay difference was viewed by farmers and agricultural labourers.

Discipline does not appear to have been an issue.  There is one reference in the NAWEC minutes in October 1917 that GPOWs working on the Waveney had been warned their pay would be reduced if their work continued to be unsatisfactory and that they were not to smoke while working.

In October 1918 Colonel Howell from the War Office visited Norfolk to inspect the camps.  There was a proposal to decentralize the control of GPOWs to give greater local control but this does not appear to have happened.

When men returned home at the end of the war many had no jobs.  They would claim unemployment benefit and it was reported that some men were refusing to work on the farms because of the benefits they were receiving.  The Employment Office enquired of farmers whether they were still employing GPOWs.  In February 1919 it was agreed that GPOWs were only to be employed if no civilian labour was available.

The NAWEC met for the last time on 31st May 1919.  In those latter months it acknowledged and thanked Byng for his valuable work with the GPOWs.  Repatriation started in September 1919.

Daryl Long – NRO Blogger




First World War Women of Norfolk: On Active Service – an exhibition in Norwich

First World War Women of Norfolk: On Active Service Exhibition

Girl Land workers in the snow at Thetford , Norfolk
19 January 1918

The Forum, Norwich, is launching a new exhibition celebrating the remarkable effort made by women across Norfolk on active service during the First World War.

Running from Saturday 4 November to Sunday 19 November in The Forum Gallery and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, the free exhibition brings their stories to life. Continue reading

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Most World War I history recalls the terrible scenes of battle and countless British men adapting to life in the trenches. However an army, particularly one consisting of mostly volunteers, cannot function on the battlefield without proper training and one recruit, Malcolm Castle, a Norwich man, recalled the kind of routine that took place on a typical First World War training ground.

On the 4th of August Britain declared war on Germany. Seeing as the island nation was taking on a European superpower with a much more experienced land army, the British Army needed all the manpower it could get to fight. Many officers were sent out to various settlements across the United Kingdom to recruit as many men as possible. One such recruit was office worker, Malcolm Castle who approached the Artillery Drill Hall a day after the war began to apply for a commission in the East Anglian Field Artillery. After consulting Major Percy Wiltshire, the officer gave Castle a note for Lieutenant Colonel Le Mottee of Norwich. After obtaining his father’s permission he eventually found the Colonel who accepted him subject to the approval of The War Office. He was then medically examined by Dr R. J. Mills who had just returned from Germany. Britain not only required an army with much man power but it also needed a healthy one, therefore rigorous medical examinations were conducted for all new recruits. This was especially important to retain military strength, particularly after the Boer War when it was discovered that many of the volunteer recruits were in a poor physical condition, a lot of them being turned down as a result.

DSC_1305 cropped

Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

At the end of the day after posting an application for a commission, Castle joined the 1st Norfolk Battery. The following morning, he saw himself at 6am on duty at the Nelson School which was being used as temporary barracks. After a quick breakfast back home he was on duty all morning and afternoon. This routine became more constant for Castle but he adapted quickly to army life, often appearing in the Drill Hall at the crack of dawn. He soon went on to Doddinghurst where he got the chance to ride some of the chargers two ‘good’ mares before finding the battery headquarters. He described it as ‘a most awful place’, his friends Miles and Martin were forced to sleep on the floor, given the fact that there were only two beds which were both infested with fleas. Early in the morning, Castle and his groom, Gunner Rice rode to Cow’s Farm where another friend, Ruddoch helped him build a shack to sleep in. When he returned to Norwich Castle he was quartered at the Cavalry Barracks, a member of the 12th Lancers lending him a bed.

After leaving the cavalry barracks Castle’s battery was stationed by orders of Colonel J.W. Currie at Spixworth Park. Castle was an Orderly Officer as he did drills. Unfortunately a thunderstorm swept over and as a result five men were struck by lightning ‘one very badly’. Parades became a common occurrence during Castle’s new life, occupying much of his diary entries. One evening the men dug gunpits before they were occupied the following morning as part of a practice alarm. Meanwhile as a sign that the women of Britain were equally patriotic as the men, keen to see their loved ones fight for their nation and carry out their duty, Castle’s love, Gladys Bellamy, sent him a prayer book adorned with a Union Jack that she worked onto it. As in common with many young people at the time, Castle kept regular correspondence with his parents throughout his time with the military.

Castle’s battery volunteered for foreign service but since he had not taken a gunnery course, the Colonel could not take him. He was posted to the 2nd Norfolk Battery commanded by Captain C.E. Hodges and where he spent most of his time around the billets at Horsford Manor, or taking part in drills and parades. In one march he acted as Captain. The men were soon moved to Felthorpe where Castle attended services at the local Church alongside his comrades. In the early days of October the Colonel turned up and using the Battery Staff as a troop of Cavalry, charged at the guns. Castle also mentions attending a Court Martial at St. Faith’s on the same day but he does not go into detail. On the 16th of October tragedy struck when one of the commanders, Kempson, received a message that his brother had gone down in H.U.S. ‘Hawke’. Such tragedies could be seen as early warning signs of what the Great War would become, a bloodbath. As the war began to rear its ugly head, it drew Castle and his fellow officers closer. He frequently dined, walked, rode or simply talked to them and it is likely that comrades were beginning to become almost like a second family to him.

DSC_1306 cropped

Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

On November 3 German ships were spotted in the port of Yarmouth, and an order was received for the battalion to stand by, but soon afterwards it was cancelled. The armoured cruiser responsible was sunk but while Yarmouth survived the German sea raid with little casualties, it would be the first British settlement to face a zeppelin attack. Since the military at first knew little about what to do with the zeppelin problem, the sight of them must have terrified Norfolk citizens. Soon afterwards the battalion seemed to be inspected more regularly, perhaps due to the incident. Castle meanwhile was highly responsible for the training of the horses, on November 24 he mentions taking the recruits riding and even had some of them jumping. Towards the end of his diary Castle frequently talks about housing and exercising the steeds of the battalion. On the 27th he took part in a Brigade Night March where the men dug. At dawn a dozen rounds of blank was fired. After acting as Captain again, exhausted, Castle ended up sleeping for the rest of the day. Following a round of inspections on December 5th, the battalion had a football match against the 1st Battery, winning 2-1. While this is a relatively minor detail, football would soon become a great symbol of the war during the Christmas armistice when British and German troops briefly put aside their differences and upon No Man’s Land, played a friendly football game.

Malcom Castle provides useful first-hand information concerning training during the Great War, giving a good and accurate picture of how local military routines were conducted in Norfolk and the rest of Britain. As he and his comrades trained, men from the front were arriving back in Norwich wounded, and the amount would only increase as the war carried on. His diary is kept in the Norfolk Record Office (MC 657/1, 790X6) and provides a reminder of British atmosphere during this time of conflict.

By Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger

The Dogs of War

The Dogs of War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Heritage Centre

Dogs have always had a role to play in wartime.  Some larger dogs were used for the transportation of ammunition and lighter stores.  Other breeds were used for pathfinding, tracking and carrying messages.  As well as carrying out specific roles for the military they have also been a source of comfort and friendship in harrowing times.

The Military Dog

Private Bob Benifer of the Norfolk Regiment kept a photograph album during the war.  It includes several photos of dogs.  (MC 2149/1 925×5)

The photo below is annotated by Benifer who wrote “Private Kirby given to me at Bangalore 30/6/17”. 

Photo 1 Pt Benifer Pt Kirby

Private Benifer and Private Kirby (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

Benifer and Kirby also appear in a regimental photo along with several other dogs.  Kirby looks the same but Benifer has since acquired a moustache!

Photo 2 Benifer with regiment edited

Benifer (first row, right-hand side) and Kirby with the rest of the regiment (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

At Pulham Royal Naval Air Station, Peter was the station mascot.  In September 1917 the first edition of The Pulham Patrol, the air station magazine, was published.  A whole page was dedicated to this important member of the base.

For 11 months he has been with us . . . Being a staunch patriot he absolutely refuses to accept pay . . . . he has fine musical tastes, for he thoroughly objects to all bugle calls!


Photo 3 Peter the Pulham mascot edited

Peter the Pulham mascot (NRO, MC 2254/183)

Dogs – our faithful friends

The Carrow Works Magazines of April 1915 and January 1917 recount two stories of the lengths to which dogs would go to be with their masters.

In April 1915 Private Brown of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment left for the Front.  His wife and Irish terrier Prince accompanied him to the station to say goodbye.  Prince became very distressed at the parting.  Shortly afterwards Prince went missing.  Mrs Brown was reluctant to tell her husband that she had lost him and searched in vain without success.  However, after several weeks, she plucked up the courage and told him.  To her surprise her husband replied that Prince was with him.  Private Brown wrote:  “I could not believe my eyes till I got off my horse and he made a great fuss of me.  I believe he came over with some other troops.  Just fancy his coming and finding me”. 


Photo 4 Prince edited

Prince – not such a dumb dog  (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

In January 1917 an article entitled “A Dog Story” told of the tale (no pun intended) of a collie dog at Cambridge railway station.  Mr George Lambton had often noticed the dog on the platform.  When he asked about the dog he was told that some eighteen months ago the dog had come to the station with its owner who left on a train for the Front.  Since then the dog returned every morning and stayed until late at night awaiting his master’s return.  The dog was very friendly and responded to those at the station who befriended him.

The other day his fervent desire was gratified.  A soldier in khaki descended from the carriage.  At first the good dog could not believe his eyes, but another look and a sniff sufficed, and with one bound he sprang up, got his paws on his master’s shoulders, and clung hard.  His eighteen long months of waiting were at last rewarded.

Edith Cavell and her dogs

Edith Cavell had two dogs, Don and Jack, both born in 1909.  Little is known of Don and he had died by 1912.  After Cavell’s death Mlle de Meyer took on the matronship of the Edith Cavell School in Brussels and she also took on Jack.  Jack did not settle and he was sent to the Duchess of Croy’s estate.  Meyer wrote “the poor animal felt lost without its owner and in new surroundings. . . . . .. .Some nurses and I took him there and he became the great comfort of the Duchess who is well known for her great love of animals”.


Photo 5 Jack edited

Jack (From ‘Nurse Cavell Dog Lover’ by Rowland Johns held at NRO)


The Duchess of Croy later wrote:

“I was first told that after her death he had been locked up in a damp stable all alone. . . . No one in Brussels dared take the dog for fear of the Germans.  I did not know of his existence, or else I would have taken him as soon as poor Nurse Cavell was put in prison, and let her know that the dog was safe.  She was very anxious about him, and begged in several letters that he might be well looked after.  Jack was brought to me in March 1916.  He was extremely naughty and bit”.  Eventually, “he became as good and gentle as any other dog. . . . Jack seemed very happy here . . . I had him for about seven and a half years, when he died of indigestion caused by old age.”

The Brave Dogs

The Carrow Works Magazine for April 1915 reported on several acts of canine bravery.  In February 1915 a dog show in London had a special section for fifteen dog heroes.  There was Lassie, the dog who lay at the side of W S Cowan rescued from the British ship Formidable.  Cowan was thought to be dead.  Lassie stayed by his side licking his face for quite some time and Cowan started to move.  Cowan’s movements and Lassie’s barks attracted attention and Cowan was saved.  Then there was Wubbles who had rescued a drowning Frenchman and Tony the Belgian sheep dog who had helped the wounded on the field by taking out refreshments in a tin bottle with a tin mug attached.

Photo 6 Old man and brave dog edited

Unknown man and his dog who rescued fifty fugitives in his fishing boat from the Scheldt (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

They may have been our “dumb friends at the Front” but they were clearly not dumb.

Daryl Long NRO Blogger


Recording the Weather in WW1 – a Norfolk connection

Past articles here on the blog have talked about the weather during World War One, most recently in February 2017. While these posts have been indulging in a personal interest  and myth busting one of our regular readers and contributers has actually found a WW1 link to both the weather and Norfolk!

John Henry Willis

Norwich Meteorologist, Naturalist, Writer, and Inventor

We are indebted to Carey Pallister of Victoria, British Columbia, a descendant of Edgar C. Willis, the younger brother of John Henry Willis and his wife, Jenny Russell Currie. Her interest in this posting has been very supportive; she has provided much useful information including a family tree, as well as invaluable family photographs expertly scanned.

Continue reading

Heigham Woodbine Willie and the “Kindly Dole”

Tobacco Funds in the First World War

From the Records of St Barnabas Church, Heigham and the Meade Family Records held at the Norfolk Record Office (ACC 2007/9 Box 20 and MEA 11/112, 663×6)

When you are privileged enough to read the personal letters shared between soldiers at the Front and family and friends back home, common threads reveal themselves. There is the need for news from home. There is the often unsaid appeal that, having been away for so long, the soldiers have not been forgotten. Then there is the gratitude for gifts sent which did much to not only alleviate physical discomforts but also bring some morale-boosting pleasure to the tedium and dangers of the battlefield. It is in this final context that cigarettes played such a huge role in boosting the morale of the troops during the First World War.

In October 2014 Lord Kitchener asked that a ‘Smokes for Soldiers and Sailors Fund’ be set up for those on active service as well as those in hospitals and convalescent homes. At the time there was no real awareness of the dangers of smoking and cigarettes were greatly enjoyed by many, as described in the correspondence of the Amherst sisters. The Post Office helped facilitate this by allowing cigarettes to be sent by the cheaper letter post instead of parcel post. Customs duty in France was also waived.

This blog looks at two sets of records held at the Norfolk Record Office. Each illustrates a different approach to Lord Kitchener’s request. The illustrations are all taken from the Meade collection.

The newspaper ‘The Weekly Dispatch’ set up ‘The Weekly Dispatch Tobacco Fund’. Their slogan was ‘Every 6d will gladden the heart of a HERO’.  Subscribers would pay into the Fund.  Cigarettes would then be sent out to the troops along with an addressed postcard for the recipients to reply to the donor. Some of the postcards asked that the returned card be subsequently sent on to the Tobacco Fund to stimulate more subscriptions. The postcards featured different cartoons on the front.


Caption reads ‘More BACCY. Better fighting. Quicker Peace. Vere SAP.’ Norfolk Record Office: MEA 11/112, 663X6.

The soldiers’ replies were a mixture of gratitude and insight into life at the Front:

Just a line to thank you for your parcel of tobacco and cigarettes of which I was the lucky recipient.  It is indeed a great source of comfort to have tobacco to smoke while in the trenches, for which we have to rely on the generosity of our kind friends at home.  I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to you for your kindness, the packet arrived just at the time when I was wondering where the next smoke was coming from.

 It comes a pleasure when you are in the trenches for that is all you can do except watch one another for the ground (is) very wet.

Just received cigarettes from the firm mentioned on the other side of card from you.   I was very pleased and also some of my comrades who I have been sharing them with.  These little comforts help to cheer us up a bit and it’s nice to know that we are not forgot in the old land.

Having just come out of the trenches we find it very refreshing to sit down and take a nice quiet smoke.


A message of thanks for cigarettes and tobacco received. NRO: MEA 11/112, 663X6

While the Meade family responded to a national appeal, Samuel Frederick Leighton Green set up his own tobacco fund within his parish of St Barnabas Church in Heigham, Norwich.

Green was an army chaplain from February 1916 to February 1919. He served with distinction throughout that time working alongside his London Regiment on the Front.  Each month he would write a letter to his parishioners which would be published in the parish magazine and it was through this that the ‘Mag-Fag Fund’ was established. The collection of Green’s letter was put together in the booklet ‘The Happy Padre’ (NRO: ACC 2007/9 Box 20).

Almost every letter Green wrote made some reference to the ‘Mag-Fag Fund’ and how important cigarettes were to the troops. He was ably abetted by Mr Frazer from St Barnabas who ran the fund from the church. In his very first letter Green wrote:

March 1916.  The Vicar has kindly consented to a fund at St Barnabas . . . There is one chronic complaint  which you can all help to control. It is lack of cigarettes. True the Army rations include forty cigarettes on every Sunday morning. This kindly dole alleviates the complaint for some thirty-six hours, and then it breaks out vehemently again.


Caption reads ‘A smoke is meat and drink to us out here’. NRO: MEA 11/112, 663X6

Green made sure his parishioners knew how important the cigarettes were to the soldiers and also how it aided his work as an army chaplain.

April 1916.  Let me thank you for the first parcel of goods for this station from the “Mag-Fag” Fund. . . If you could only see the faces of the recipients, as I go round the ward with your cigarettes and magazines.. . . . He (the army chaplain) must needs be a good listener . . . . there is little need for him to talk when once the ice is broken.  At this point your cigarettes and papers come in useful to cement the friendly relationship established.

When Green had leave he returned to St Barnabas and kept up his efforts to raise money for the ‘Mag-Fag Fund’. In March 1917 he visited families and collected for the fund and in August 1917, again on leave, a concert was held.

Maintaining the momentum of the Fund was a constant theme in Green’s letters. He did this by continually expressing his thanks to the parishioners and giving examples of how their funds made an impact on troop morale.

December 1916. I hope too that the Vicar will agree to the carrying on of our “Mag-Fag” Fund in the interest of my Battalions. In the trenches both run short from time to time and I shall always be glad to fill my pack with cigarettes and magazines as I go on my wandering in the trenches. 

February 1917. A cigarette makes all the difference when you are cold, and have to stand about, and somehow or other we view a bombardment in a different light if we have a cigarette between our lips.

May 1917. During the battle a Company Commander sent me a message: “Not a single man in my Company has had a cigarette for two days.  Can you help me?”  Fortunately I had one of my parcels in the rear. I sent for it and took it up, and earned undying gratitude. Well carry on and buck up the Mag-Fag Fund and earn some more gratitude.

July 1917.  Green wrote about receiving a note which read as follows:  “Dear Padre.  Can you help us?  We have been in this first line five days, there is not a fag amongst my men.  The Boche is shelling like blazes.  Yours etc. A-B Capt. O.C.C.Co.”


Caption reads ‘Are we downhearted?’. NRO: MEA 11/112, 663X6

Green became known as ‘Heigham Woodbine Willie’ because of his own, local tobacco fund. The original ‘Woodbine Willie’ was the Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy who was well-known for handing out cigarettes in the trenches.

During the war Green was badly gassed and wounded. He was awarded the Military Cross and bar. After the war he returned to St Barnabas then moved to Mundesley in 1921. He died suddenly in 1929 and was accorded by the War Office a funeral with full military honours.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.



“Dousing the Glim” and Other Essential Activities

The Role of Special Constables in the First World War

From the records of Frederick Eaton, held at the Norfolk Record Office (ETN 6/14/1/1-52)

There is a long history of the voluntary role of Special Constables which predates the First World War. By the early 1860s a regular paid police reduced the need for a volunteer constabulary. It was in the First World War that their role was redefined with the passing of the Special Constables Act 1914. A large force was recruited to both compensate for the loss of regular members who joined the war effort and to add an extra layer of protection during wartime.

Frederick Ray Eaton, a Norwich solicitor and notary, played a key role in the Special Constabulary in the First World War. His records give some insight into the valuable and yet often under-valued role of the Specials in keeping the city safe.


Certificate of Service issued to Frederick Eaton after the war. Norfolk Record Office: ETN 6/14/1/12

The following account is taken from the records of Frederick Eaton. Where there are quotes, these are from a handwritten record in Eaton’s collection written by C.E.T in January 1919 (ETN 6/14/1/40). C.E.T began as a Special in another part of the country before moving to Norwich in 1915. His identity remains a mystery.

On enlisting C.E.T wrote:

“I am sure my dear Enemies and friends thought I was a fool. . . . and I began to think so too . . . and surely the War could not possibly last more than six months at most. . . . . . many people looked upon the SC as one who was trying to ease his conscience by serving his country in the least disagreeable manner to himself . . . . but few Englishmen I am sure joined with any less motive than that of patriotism”.

The first group of Specials was sworn in at St Andrew’s Hall, in Norwich following an initial meeting at Caley’s Factory on 2nd September 1914. Four companies were formed with each company taking charge of the whole city a week in turn, initially alongside the regular constables. Eaton was commander of the fourth company. When C.E.T moved to Norwich, he joined the third company. He did 3-4 duties every 28 days.

After enlisting the Specials would be issued with a warrant card, an armlet and a truncheon. C.E.T was also given a pair of handcuffs when he served in another part of the country but in Norwich he was given a silver whistle and chain instead. At first the handcuffs proved to be somewhat of a challenge! C.E.T tested them on his aunt who escaped unscathed. Then he put them on himself.

It required the united efforts of the whole family to say nothing of the Cat and Dog and took nearly half an hour before the key could be made to work”.

After Christmas 1915 Specials were issued with uniform. “At least the Specials provided their own overcoats and the City provided a hat”. C.E.T bought an ex- Navy coat for 12s 6d “and a splendid coat it has proved”.  They were later given a summer uniform too. They were also given an enamel badge to wear with ordinary clothes and, after 3 years of service they were given a silver star to wear on their right arm sleeve of their uniform.

Eaton kept a record book of all the Specials in his company along with their address and availability as the role was in addition to their day to day job. For example; “ill, don’t summon”, “evening duty only”, “joined up”. He noted there was great enthusiasm for drills particularly those held in the open air at Earlham Road Recreation Ground. Training also took place in the Drill Hall at Chapelfield. Route marches were also part of the training. Starting at Norwich market place they would take a circular route venturing as far afield as Wymondham, Wroxham and Attlebridge.

Before coming to Norwich C.E.T had had to guard a river mouth. He took his collie dog Rollo with him. In November 1914 orders were received to keep the telegraph office open all night. As the postmaster was over 80, C.E.T offered to keep vigil and slept on the sofa.  Occasionally a nighttime call was received to see if all was well. “I suppose the enquiry was really to find out if I was awake”.

When C.E.T. arrived in Norwich he commented on how dark the city was.

I did not at that time realise the efforts being made by the Police and Special Constabulary to save the ancient and noble City from the attentions of the Flying Hun”. 

One of the key roles of the specials was to “douse the glim”, ie. to ensure no lights were showing to protect the city from zeppelin raids. The instruction was not always well received.

People could not seem to understand that even if the Zeppelins came their little light could be seen.  Then there was the expense of buying dark curtains.  No they were certainly not going to bother”.

When doing beat duty Specials nearly always worked in pairs. “Occasionally another Special and I were placed on top of the Castle Keep. This was a very cold duty even in the summer. . . . . We found it practically impossible without a compass to say exactly what building or even from which street the light proceeded”. In pursuing a light in a residential district the householder explained he could not close the blind in the bathroom as his wife was having a bath. “The lady in question was sitting in a hot bath in the dark and could not see to get out”.

C.E.T concluded:

I have stood on duty in the streets on more than one occasion when the Zeppelins buzzed over the city . . . . . . I believe the Specials saved the City from damage by hostile bombs”.


Detailed instructions were issued should there be an air raid. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/20

At the end of 1917 the Norwich Emergency Committee met to plan the measures that would be taken if the city was under threat. The confidential minutes of 28th December 1917 detailed what had been agreed:

  • The city’s 900 specials would be divided into 8 companies and would be called upon only when a total emergency had been declared.
  • Each company had a specific role. 1 Company would collect tools and dispose of petrol. 2 and 3 Companies would form working parties to execute any work required.  4 Company would remove horses and mules. 5 and 6 Companies would remove or destroy vehicles. 7 Company would remove or destroy barges and lighters at quays and harbours. 8 Company would remove or render useless motor cars and cycles.  Electrical lighting equipment and tramway equipment would also be dismantled.
  • Specials would be required to control traffic at busy crossings.
  • With regard to an exodus from the city, 600 specials would patrol to prevent disorder. Three exit routes were identified; Earlham Road to Watton, Hall Road to New Buckenham or Stoke Holy Cross and City Road to the county via Stoke Holy Cross.

Being a Special certainly took its toll. C.E.T caught a very bad chill from regular nighttime exposure.

I only mention this to bring into prominence the fact that many Specials have actually died through the effects of unaccustomed exposure on cold winter nights”. He reminds the reader that Specials were working all day then on duty at night. “This for no pay, little hope of glory or honour or even thanks and a little ridicule”.

Their wives too were affected.

How many times have those dear Wives of ours waited our return in the early hours of the morning. How we have appreciated the hot bacon or bread and milk they have had ready for us. They have been alone in the Great Cities and in the lonely country while the bombs have been falling”.

Not all duties involved keeping the city in the dark. Rationing was introduced in 1918. C.E. T describes regulating queues for butter, meat and margarine. One day he noticed a large queue outside a greengrocers. “I heard that the people were waiting for Dates!”  The dates were 6d a pound and very popular.


Other duties of the Specials taken from the booklet ‘Work & Duties of Special Constables’ by John Henry Dain, Chief Constable of Norwich (1917). It was issued to all Specials. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/7

C.E.T describes the occasion of Queen Alexandra’s visit to Norwich on 12th November 1918 to unveil the Edith Cavell Memorial.

A very gracious Lady visited Norwich just before the Armistice was signed in order to unveil a War Memorial. 



Those Specials guarding the Queen’s route were issued with an enamel star as a memento of the occasion. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/26

After the end of the war Eaton organized a social evening at Buntings Restaurant in Norwich. This was no doubt to thank his company for their service throughout the war.


Social evening for Eaton’s 4th Company in January 1919. NRO: ETN 6/14/1/41-52

C.E.T and his company had their final inspection after 11th November 1918 and did his last duty before Christmas. At the end of his account, he reflected on his role as a special.

What we, whom the Army or Navy did not claim, have tried to do to keep the home fires burning and paradoxically the lights from shining”.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.