Images from the Archives

Norwich, St Andrew’s Hall, First World War Exhibition 1919, City Volunteers uniforms on display – the notice behind the display includes an appeal for more men to join the Home Guard. The original glass negative image forms part of the Bridewell Museum’s holdings. This is just one of several hundred newly published original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk, which can be viewed at http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk.

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Images from the Archives

30129075944232Nurses and patients outside Eye Ward C12, Wandsworth Hospital. This is from a collection of photographs in two albums relating to a Royal Norfolk Regiment officer, Henry Merceron Burton (1899-1972) who is pictured here second from right. The albums record aspects of his family life at Orchard Dene House, Henley on Thames and his military life and travels with the Norfolk Regiment between 1919 and 1924. Locations include: Thetford, Oxford, Wandsworth Eye Hospital, France, Mosul, Bagdad, Iraq, Lucknow, Waziristan, Bareilly, Hinaidi and Ramgarh. It is part of Norfolk Heritage Centre holdings and other images from the album can be viewed alongside several hundred other newly published original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk, at http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk.

Thick Heads, Cowards and Unmitigated Scoundrels – A Personal Perspective of War. The Naval Letters of Fairman Rackham Mann.

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Fairham Rackham Mann, known as Rack, was a fleet surgeon with the Navy during the First World War.  He was the son of Mary Elizabeth Mann whose family records are also held at the Norfolk Record Office.  Rack’s frequent letters to his mother reveal a very frank and personal perspective of the war. (NRO, MC 2716 A1/30)

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Fairham Rackham Mann. NRO, MC 2716 G8

Rack was 44 when war broke out and, with the benefit of hindsight, he confessed that he wished he had retired before war had been declared so that he could have joined the Territorials instead.  It is having to be a doctor doing a job I loathe, running all the risks getting none of the glory that sticks in my gizzard.

In 1914 Rack was on HMS Pactolus at the submarine depot in Ardrossan, Scotland.  He was not enamoured with his posting.  I am fed up with Scotland and long to be away.  I think I would rather go to sea than stay on here much longer.

Rack’s first letter was written before war had been declared. He seemed resigned to the inevitable but tried to reassure his mother.  It seems absolute madness for us to think of fighting over this Balkan business. . . . I have heard news that I think war is practically certain . . . I want you to realise that while I remain here I am perfectly safe. . . . . You must try not to worry.  If the newspapers worry you don’t read them.

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HMS Pactolus. NRO, MC 2716 G7

HMS Pactolus’ role was to protect the Nobel dynamite works at Ardrossan.  Life there seemed to consist of drunken soldiers falling in the Basin and drowning and of the frequent explosions at the very dynamite factory they had been sent to protect.

At first, Rack was quite dismissive of the Zeppelins.  I think the Zeppelins won’t do very much.  They may drop a bomb or two in London which would be no bad thing in my opinion.  It’d certainly buck up recruiting. Doubtless this would not have been a view shared by Londoners!

However his views changed over time.  He attempted to explain to his mother why the Navy was not in a position to stop the raids.  They do this (Zeppelin raids) for purely political reasons.  The Hun has got the idea into his thick head that we are a race of cowards & that a little frightfulness of this sort will help his side; and besides it bucks up the German masses at home who are in a pretty bad way.

He later described the bombardment of Scarborough and how the Navy was thwarted from preventing it due to the fog.  The whole navy has been weeping about it ever since . . . I think you and your pals in Ormesby will now modify your views about the navy habitually being too drunk or too taken up with dances to attend to their job.

In the early days, Rack was not keen on the Americans getting involved.  Following the sinking of the Lusitania he wrote:  Suppose the U.S. will have to stomach it.  They can do nothing & we don’t particularly want them in.

However by 1917 he felt that their involvement would shorten the war.  Not because the Yanks are in a position to do much fighting – but because they can lend us money, patrol a bit by the sea, & more than anything else, the Huns can now say they can’t fight the whole world.

Rack also wrote of the trials of life both for himself and for his mother.  He was not one for officialdom and directed his anger towards the little creatures who live at Tooting in £30 a year houses.  They sit in a little office at the Admiralty all day and write insulting letters to the men who are helping to keep them safe.

He was also concerned for his mother’s welfare.  The prices of things at home seem to be terrible.  I hope you are feeding yourselves properly.  Remember I have tons of money which is quite useless to me under present conditions and you can have as much as you like whenever you want it.

In 1916 Rack became the staff surgeon on HMS Agamemnon in the Aegean, based mainly at Mudros and Salonika.  He was there for two years.

His frequent letters did not equate to his news.  On one occasion he told her I simply have nothing to write to you about.  I was ashore about 8 days ago was bored stiff in ten minutes but had to wait 3 hours there for a boat to take me back to the ship.

Various entertainments were provided for the crew.  He described a fancy dress ball on the ship.  All men of course but many were dressed as females & a few looked quite fetching. . . . . The men take their dancing very seriously & do it very well . . . . They lead a deadly existence & the making of the dresses kept them interested for weeks.

In April 1918 Rack moved to Bedenham Camp at Fareham.  This prompted a visit to Brighton to see a similar camp.  His comments were unusual in that he had rarely written about his work before.  The medical arrangements in utter chaos owing to lack of staff & accommodation – so yesterday I went to London to see the Director General & told him about it – He was very enraged . . .Anyway I think I so shook them up at the admiralty that I think I may get some stores . . . We are to have 2000 men here with another 2000 to follow . . They are under canvas in a rain sodden field – no bottom boards available for tents & no mattresses. 

In October 1918 Rack was promoted to Surgeon Commander.  Why they made this change nobody knows as very few people wanted it.  I suppose I shall have to get a new coat & buy a new hat.

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Surgeon Commander Fairham Rackham Mann. NRO, MC 2716 G12/13

Rack’s final letters commented on the political situation and his prospects of returning home.  He was pessimistic about the outcome of a forthcoming election.  The ignorant masses have these votes. It will be mob rule. . . . In my opinion Winston Churchill, the most unmitigated scoundrel that this country has ever produced, will be first president of the republic.

Rack finally returned home.  For his mother his letters were undoubtedly precious and reassuring.  They are also an important record, giving a frank account of daily life during the war years as it affected one particular individual.  Fairham Rackham Mann died in 1943.

Daryl Long – NRO Blogger

 

 

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:

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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.

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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.

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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”. 

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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!

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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!

 

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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”. 

 

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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”.

 

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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.

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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