A book not to be missed

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

Roughly once a year I seem to come across a book that is utterly perfect and that I can’t stop talking about and recommending, often these seem to be books ostensibly published for children or young adults but that are so sublime they cross all boundaries. Last year that book was Sally Nicholl’s Things a Bright Girl Can Do and this year the book is The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book from Macmillan and I found myself totally unable to put the book down – I know that this is said a lot about books but I promise that in this case it is the absolute truth, I spent about 10 hours devouring this book from cover to cover on a recent Sunday.

It is a family book that covers roughly the first quarter of the twentieth century and touches on many of the social and political issues of the time but without ever being didactic or preachy. Our main characters are a brother and sister who live in almost neglect for various reasons, this goes mostly under the radar however because they are from a family of class with money.

The two are not the archetypal children who have adventures because they are orphans but the lack of parental support does allow them a lot of freedom in their home life plus idyllic summer holidays with grandparents by the seaside give a (mostly) bright spot in their lives.

As the story unfolds more characters are introduced to the plot – a cousin, and then another set of siblings met through school as well as a few adult mentor figures. All of these characters are as alive as Clarry and Peter and are people in their own right not mere ciphers or plot devices. The story moves sedately through the years (echoing the tedium of the siblings’ lives) until everything everywhere changes when war breaks out and then how it changes again with peace.

I am trying to keep this description vague because I hope that as others read this book they will fall in love with Clarry and Peter just as I did.

Although I have been immersed in all things WW1 for the past few years I did learn some new things from this book and while I did find one tiny plot strand a little bit stretched the rest of it was sublime and managed to get across a feel of both the Front and Home Front really well.

Clarry’s fight to be educated was also a strong theme through this book and in 2018 when we are commemorating both the end of WW1 and (some) women gaining the vote and stepping towards equality this was great to read.

This is a children’s book and as such isn’t as ‘full on’ about the war as people like Pat Barker write but I found the story to stand up to being read by an adult and I think that it will be a great read for different generations to share – I know that I’ll be recommending it to everyone.

You can reserve your copy on the Norfolk Library catalogue now, and the book was published yesterday (20th September 2018).


A well read war

As a volunteer I have been helping research aspects of World War One that are to be included in the forthcoming Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk exhibition and I have been drawn down all sorts of fascinating research paths.

As ever when I get interested in something I research far more information than is practical to share in a limited physical space but the Norfolkinww1 blog allows me to share this in longer form.

My main areas of research have been into agriculture, Conscientious Objectors and popular books and I have become fascinated by all three areas – much to my surprise with the agricultural research as I have the least green fingers around.

This piece will share some of my research into books and authors publishing during World War One. Continue reading

This Was Not To Be His Final Curtain

We’ve recently been contacted by Ray from Mattishall who has shared a fascinating story about a local man who has faded from memory since the First World War, despite is high profile at the time.

This was not to be his final curtain: Frank Henry Norman Wrighton

Frank Henry Norman Wrighton
1879 – 1917

Friday, November 2nd 1917 – My journey looking for First World War casualties had brought me to the picturesque seaside town of Torquay, Devon, many miles from the battle fields of the Western Front. A thin and wasted 38-year-old man had finally succumbed to an affliction he had acquired during his military service. Katherine Peacock, the Matron of St Barnabas Nursing Home for the Incurables, was recorded as being present. No records have been found to confirm there was any effort to return his remains to his home village of Mattishall Burgh, Norfolk although on his death certificate an address of 45 Warwick Road, Warwick Gardens, London was written, a large building where he or his wife could have been renting a room, whilst working in the capital. There was a war on and any transportation of a corpse would have involved considerable expense which from all accounts show there was little funds available. Four days later on November 6th he was taken the short trip to Torquay cemetery and after a simple service lowered into a common grave, a grave we now know he shares with four other men. His death was not the result of battle wounds but a condition brought on and worsened during his short military service. His death certificate, records him as ‘FRANK HENRY WRIGHTON’, age 38, an Actor. A simple note on his service records reads “He was well till a year ago, then had Pleurisy and Pneumonia, following wet exposure”. TB was also found in his Sputum.

I had been researching this man for a few years and on discovering this I was left quite emotional. There was no record of him on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, even though the army had been paying and caring for him since his discharge. How had this man just been forgotten? I had got to know him well, my research had found he had been such a character, or being an actor, multiple characters! He was very patriotic, had a great spirit of determination and given a lot so ending up forgotten, in a common grave did not do him justice. Continue reading

A Canadian in the Norfolk Regiment

Here at the Norfolkinworldwar1 blog we were recently contacted by Mr King-Seguin who let us know about the research he and other family members were undertaking about their Grandfather, who came from Canada yet still served with the Norfolk Regiment. 

Below is a short introduction from William John Grummett’s grandson (Mr. Snell) and a link to the website showcasing all of their fascinating research.

The First World War through the Lens of William J. Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment: A Soldier’s Story.

William John Grummett (1891-1967) was a young law student living in Canada when the First World War began in 1914.  Honouring a promise made to his parents, he held off enlisting until 1915 and the formation of the second Canadian contingent of soldiers preparing for war in Europe.  Like most young men who signed up to go to war, he was off on the “adventure of a lifetime”.   As it turns out, his journey went much farther than most: to the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains and the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River, to the sun blasted deserts of Mesopotamia and the twin rivers, Tigris and Euphrates that had held between them the very cradle of civilization.  He travelled more than 24,000 nautical miles, 4500 miles by train and countless miles on horseback and on foot.  And, he took photographs documenting the events, places and most remarkably, the people: children, parents, fellow soldiers, street performers, holy men, the devout, herdsmen and refugees, as the journey unfolded.

William John Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment

Read the story: a new chapter will be added every month completing the tale by November of 2018.   See the pictures: themed photo galleries representing stages of the journey are added to with each new chapter of the story.  The First World War through the Lens of William J. Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment, at https://wjgrummettphotosandhistoryww1.blog/

As ever if you have a family story to share please get in touch – we are very keen to make sure that these stories are not forgotten.

America, Norfolk and Two World Wars in the Air

While we’ve covered lots of different campaigns & aspects of WW1 here on the blog there are a few we’ve not yet looked at in much detail, two of these being the War in the Air and our transatlantic allies.


2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the USA joining the First World War and while they are better known for their World War Two airborne missions there are still some surprising airborne connections.

As 2017 is also the 75th anniversary of the USAAF arriving in Norfolk during WW2 we will also be commemorating this throughout the year, and our first event will take place in this season of events as a taster of what is to come!

Tuesday 14th March, 7pm

USAAF75: 2nd Air Division Stories.

Nathaniel Sikand-Youngs and the Memorial Library’s American Scholars present stories of the American men and women of the 2nd Air Division, Eighth US Army Air Force, who were stationed in East Anglia during the Second World War.

The stories bring together information discovered in the 2nd Air Division Digital Archive, a unique collection of over 30,000 images of original photographs, letters, memoirs and other documents.2adstories

Thursday 16th March, 7pm

WW1 Aviation ~ the US Air Arm and German Amerika programmes

Local author and aviation historian Ian MacLachlan will be at the Millennium Library talking about the US Air Arm and the German Amerika programme 1917-18 (an effort by Germany to double aircraft output to support the push in March 1918 to beat the Allies before the American entry into the war made a difference).ww1avia

Monday 20th March, 7pm

Too Proud To Fight ~ how we remember the American entry into World War 1

Dr Graham Cross (Cambridge and Manchester Metropolitan Universities) will be at the Millennium Library talking about America’s entry into World War One in April 1917.

In his talk, Dr Graham Cross, explores the factors driving American intervention in the war, but also explores how we remember that pivotal decision. British narratives recognise the American contribution, but often also focus on the lateness of entry and the ‘Associate’ status of American belligerence in stark contrast to the later ‘Special Relationship’ between the two nations. The story of how British hopes and expectations, both at the time and since, colour our understanding of the American entry into World War I is both fascinating and timely in this centenary year for American participation in the war.tooproud

Thursday 23rd March, 7pm

Zeppelins Over Norfolk

Local author and historian Steve Smith returns to the library, this time giving an illustrated talk about the World War One Zeppelin air raids on the county.zeppelinsover

All of these talks will be free but please do book – either through Eventbrite  or by contacting the Memorial Library directly on 01603 774747 / 2admemorial.lib@norfolk.gov.uk

Inspired by Who Do You Think You Are?

Although currently away from the library our colleague and genealogist Elizabeth is still providing lots of support for our WW1 queries and has even found the time to write this post – all about the resources shown on a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? -- Pictured: "Who Do You Think You Are?" Logo -- NBC Photo

Were you inspired to find out about an ancestor after seeing Cheryl in Who Do You Think You Are? She spent part of the episode following the story of her Great Grandfather, Joseph Wilson Ridley, who was in the thick of the fighting for nearly four years.

This post looks at the documents she viewed on the programme and how you might locate equivalents for your own ancestor. It finishes with a few documents and resources that would have been used but were not shown on screen.

Cheryl’s journey started with the 1911 census. We need to remember that soldiers in the Great War were very likely non-soldiers before it, and the census contains a ‘lost generation’ as well as men that came home. In Cheryl’s case the census showed Joseph as 29, a grocery warehouseman, married to Mary Ann for seven years with three children born and surviving. The census also includes his birthplace – Beamish, West Stanley – and his address, 44 Towneley Street (sic). All of this is useful information to take forward into military collections.

Next, she was able to view his army service record from the National Archives’ WO 364 collection, the First World War pension claims (referred to in the programme as his service record, the record set title rather than the series). Several pages are available covering his admission, discharge, postings, leave, address, next of kin, and more. Around 40% of service records survive for soldiers below officer rank, so Cheryl’s ancestor was one of the four in ten.

Both of these types of records can be found and viewed from Norfolk libraries through the service’s subscription to FindMyPast. They are also available on several other websites, including Ancestry, which is available at Norfolk Record Office along with FindMyPast.

The next record Cheryl viewed was a letter written by another descendant of ‘Old Man Ridley’ which gave a very personal insight into his character and circumstances. Similar information for your own subject might be found by tracing forwards from the 1911 census and identifying cousins that could help you. Perhaps they might be researching too, or they might have access to medals (with that all important regimental number) or other ephemera that could help you. To find relatives, you might like to try online family trees, the Lives of the First World War website, genealogy fora or even the local newspaper.

Cheryl was also given a photograph at the same time. If you find other descendants, they may be able to show you an image of your ancestor if you don’t have one already. In Norfolk, don’t forget to search Picture Norfolk’s incredible collection of brave boys, collected by the library in the 1920s.

While not a document, Cheryl was shown a Pioneer’s collar badge. Cap and collar badges and other insignia visible in photographs can be extremely helpful, especially where a service/pension record no longer survives. The library has several useful titles that could help you identify the rank and regiment of your ancestor. Try typing ‘cap badge’ into the library catalogue to find available titles, and then place a reservation to order one to your local library.

Finally, a diary entry was also found. This was a prime example of how the writings of another person can shed light on the experience of your own ancestor. As with letters, where diaries survive, they could be in several places. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have one in your possession, or know a family member with access. If not, you might find personal letters and diaries in Record Offices, Regimental Museums or town archives.

Behind the scenes, Cheryl’s story must have involved other reference material, very likely including battalion war diaries (many of which can be browsed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives) and regimental histories. If you know which battalion your ancestor served with you are all set to find relevant diaries online and search catalogues for books written since the end of the war. If you only know the regiment, reading about its history may help you pinpoint the battalion by cross referencing with a certain place that you know your ancestor served in, or a particular battle you know they fought in.

As a final note, it’s important to say that there was more to the story than documents. While we may not all get the celebrity Who Do You Think You Are treatment, many of us now have opportunities to visit relevant places. Cheryl’s story was brought to life by visiting the battlefields and seeing not just where Joseph spent part of the war, but the sorts of trenches he was digging. She was also able to visit the memorial at Pozieres to pay her respects to those that never returned. I speak from experience when I say that nothing has such an impact as visiting the areas where your ancestors fought and died. The scale is astonishing, heartbreaking, and sombering.

For more on researching a First World War soldier, see the research guide (created by myself and colleagues) available in Norfolk’s museum shops, libraries and Norfolk Record Office or visit your local library and ask for help.

Good luck with your research!

This epsidode of WDYTYA will be available on the BBC Iplayer  until about the 15th January 2017.