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



We Plough the Fields and Scatter: The Tractor Ploughing Scheme of 1917

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office and newspaper archives at Norfolk Heritage Centre.

As horses and men were sent to the Front, there was an urgent need for both to be replaced at home to maintain food supplies.  Women replaced many of the men while tractors replaced many of the horses.

Continue reading

The Battle of the Somme as reported in Norfolk newspapers of 1916

Newspapers 100 years ago looked rather different from what you see at the newsagent now, and the reports that they printed were nowhere near as up to date as today’s rolling news feeds. But it’s fascinating to see how the papers reported on major events in the Great War, so I’ve been reading ‘The Norfolk Chronicle and Cromer and North Norfolk Post’ of July 1916, which is available on microfilm at the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

The newspapers from 1916 are now incredibly fragile and viewable on microfilm.

The newspapers from 1916 are now incredibly fragile and viewable on microfilm.

This was a weekly paper, published on Fridays, which meant that there was time for news of ‘The Great Push’ to reach the editor’s office and be included in the edition of Friday 7th July.

fake news paper 1

Further updates from the Press Bureau and ‘from Headquarters’ dated throughout the week are also reproduced in these columns, but it’s only in the editorial that any opinion or judgment is put forward:-

fake newspaper 2

In contrast to the official war reports, the Chronicle of 21st July, carries two columns headlined ‘The Great Battle – Thrilling experiences of Norfolk men – told by themselves’. Here are a few extracts:-

Pte Fred L Campling of the Norfolk Regiment, a well-known Norwich man, who writes…Precisely at 7.20, countless guns broke out into the promised final ten minutes’ intense bombardment and a pandemonium of noise arose which absolutely beggars description.

The assault was immediately precipitated by the explosion of a series of mines which our sappers had laid close up to the German front line, and the shower of debris had hardly fallen when the order came for the first wave to advance. I must now leave the general scheme and confine myself to my own individual progress and observations. With a thrill of excitement I received the order, shouted down the trench, “Over 16,” and every man leaped to the parapet at the exact moment our artillery “barrage” lifted from the Bosche front line to his first support line. The opposing artillery fire, consisting wholly of shrapnel, which had sent the two men on my immediate left hobbling to the first-aid post, now practically ceased. Quickly crossing our own front line trench, we reached the Bosche firing trench, and there a scene met my gaze which will remain stamped indelibly upon my memory for the rest of my mortal existence. Cowering in the trench, clad in the pale grey uniforms we had longed for twelve months to see, unarmed and minus equipment, with fear written on their faces were a few of these valiant warriors of the Kaiser, whose prowess we were out to dispute. Here let me digress to say that the absence of arms and equipment suggests that the exact moment selected for our attack had taken the Huns by surprise. This view was subsequently confirmed by prisoners who said that they had expected us earlier in the day, and had since stood down. Many Germans rushed forward, hands high in the air, cringing for mercy. It was obvious that they were past any pretence at fighting, so ignoring them, I leapt the trench – it was occupied only by dead and wounded – and gained the second line. At this stage we began to feel the effect of a deadly machine gun fire and sniping from the fourth line, and our gallant captain was amongst the first to fall, as also was my platoon officer. Not a single German did I see attempt to offer the least resistance at close quarters. I mentally relegated the whole mob to the category of a lot of miserable cowards.

Bullets were now flying fast and furious; how I escaped them I cannot explain. Without wavering for an instant the lines advanced steadily, preceded by our artillery fire, which was the marvel of us all. Glancing round I found myself amongst the regiment on our left. Seeking to correct this I bore off to the right, crossed the German third line, which like the others was practically demolished, and was delighted to see my section commander Lance Corporal R C Goulder, accompanied by Private John Hotblack (Holveston Hall) his left bomber. I came up on their right and almost immediately Goulder made a sign for us to get down; not a moment too soon for we had now topped a rise in the ground, and were in direct line of fire of a machine gun traversing from the right. Glancing over my left shoulder, I was greeted by a wave of recognition by the company officers’ cook, who had apparently lost his platoon. Almost in the act of conforming to our line he was shot. With consummate bravery, and crouching to his task, Corpl. Goulder applied the field dressing but the poor fellow soon died. Having completed this merciful act, Goulder glanced to right and left, and gave the word to advance, having observed our left flank making headway. Rising to my feet, I saw Hotblack collapse with a bullet in the foot, and Goulder a few yards ahead shot through the head. Getting down at full length, partly concealed by the vegetation, I got slowly forward, and came upon Sergeant Lewis Colman and a few of his men similarly held up. Peeping out cautiously, we observed that our bombers had gained a footing in the German fourth line trench, and were working their way up to the position of the machine gun, which was causing the discomfiture of our little band. After taking a few shots at the machine gunner we crept in single file to the left, entered the trench, and were delighted to see the survivors of our company. We had now reached our first objective, and awaiting orders to proceed, had time for a hearty handshake and a comparison of notes.

Our respite was short-lived, however, for the worse was yet to come in the shape of a cruel bombardment of our position by a battery of heavy calibre guns firing high explosive shells. Never shall I forget that night. Bursting on all sides with an ear-splitting roar, these missiles caused us several casualties. This state of affairs continued throughout the following day until evening, when we were relieved to return, exhausted, weary, but triumphant to our new support line, there to discuss our adventures and compare the helmets and other souvenirs we had captured.


Another Norwich lad, Pte C G Cleveland, also tells a fine story of the great charge of the Norfolk Battalion. Following are extracts from a letter dated July 4th he has written home to his parents:-

The great day has come, the charge has been made. I have been through the battle, and the gallant old 8th has covered itself with glory. No doubt you have read the glorious news by now, and you will be cheered by knowing that the Huns are beaten at last in trench warfare, and that it practically means open work now. It was all a horrible nightmare. War seemed the worst thing made by man, the Huns the most treacherous, but God the most wonderful. I’ve read of, I’ve seen pictures of, and I’ve imagined similar battles, but never did I realise how awful it was, and yet it was a most glorious victory. We won what we were supposed to win, and, what is more, we held on to it.

It was Saturday morning, the 1st of July, at half-past seven. I was in reserve. The shells from our guns were hissing over in a constant stream, when bullets began to crack and we knew the boys of the first line were over. No shouting, no cheering, all bullets and shells as the boys rushed over, scrambling round shell holes, one line catching up the other, until they leapt into what remained of their front lines. It was a mixture of mountains and valleys in miniature, no straight cut trench anywhere. We were supposed to go over at a quarter to eight, but we had equipment on, magazines on, bayonets on, and “one up the spout, and nine in the tin box.” Down in the trench we certainly felt a little windy, but once up, we felt as if we were on a field day. Shells and bullets in the air, great holes, scraps of wire, shells, etc., laying everywhere but we kept on – a little bunch of men, artillery formation. Then we crossed our front line, from one hole to another in case a machine gun opened, until we slipped into the front trench. Two Huns were running about frantically like mad men. We went into the second trench, and we had a rest, while we found out where we were, and we had to keep our eyes “skinned” to the corners and our rifles ready.

German names on boards naming the trenches, where a trench mortar gun used to be. The entrances of deep dug-outs blown in or otherwise filled up. I wonder how many men were buried in them. They had stood to from midnight till about four, expecting us to attack at dawn, and had then entered their dug-outs for a very little necessary sleep. After a rest we went along a communication trench to the third trench. Half-way along we had to stop, so we commenced to make a fire step facing the opposite way, and began to consolidate. We were near two deep dug-outs. Down the first one went a bomb, and then came up one Hun, shaking and trembling, Hands above his head, shouting as best he could, “Mercy, comrade,” with eyes staring. He seemed so utterly scared that the majority could only pity him. His hand was bleeding a good bit, the result of the bomb. Just behind him came another, as mad and shaking as the first. Then another dark one with a handsome beard, staring eyes, a wounded forehead, a red cross on his arm, to which he pointed. There were five of them. An officer told off an escort, and they were off, and the dug-out was set on fire.

Then we went on to the third trench. One of our sergeants was shot through the ankle, another fellow through his side; these were the first cases of bloodshed we had seen, but I will not speak more of it than I can help. In the third trench we had to wait. Huns lay about in the most awful conditions, and we had to steel our nerves and look away, but we tried to see the best side. We were winning, we were in German trenches; so we lit up our cigarettes and were happy.


The press was also full of detailed accounts of the injuries suffered by Norfolk men in the Battle.

Among the recent arrivals of wounded at the Norfolk War Hospital are some men of the Norfolk Regiment who took part in the memorable charge. One is Private Strange, a London-born youth, who joined the Norfolks for the reason that he is of Norfolk extraction, both his father and mother having come from the neighbourhood of Diss. “I had been in France,” he says, “ eleven months. On Saturday, July the 1st, at twenty-seven minutes past seven we jumped quickly over the top. It was fortunate for me that I was on the extreme left, and therefore not able to go ahead quite so quick as some of the others, for the foremost party, after going about 200 yards ran right into a mine explosion, there was an awful and almost continuous roar of shells as we ran. I could see my pals being bowled over, but I have not much knowledge of what happened to other people individually. Then at the first line of the enemy trenches came the roar of the explosion. The earth seemed to rise up and rock; and I have a memory of great clods rising high in the air, and of dodging about to escape them as they fell. The first-line trench when we reached it was almost unrecognisable as a trench. To my surprise I found myself almost on top of a dug-out, and lucky I was to have turned and seen it, for there were four Germans coming up the staircase, and they could have shot me if they had been smart. I threw five bombs among them just to cheer them up. Some of their wounded came running out at the other end. It won’t do to show these Germans too much mercy; there have been so many cases in which they have turned on us after we had spared their lives. In the second line trenches we met no opposition whatever. I had got into the third line where we dealt with some Germans, and was just getting out again when I saw a rifle pointed at me from the fourth line. I lay down to get cover, knowing that some of our men were taking the Germans in the rear, when a bit of shrapnel caught me in the thigh. Making my way back to our own lines as well as I could, I saw a wounded German. I asked him to come with me and he came, but only as far as our first line trenches, where I last saw him taking off his coat as if to look at his wound. My impression of the Germans is that they are at heart cowards. They are all right while in their trenches. But once get alongside of them and they put up their hands and scream. In my company most of the men were Norfolk bred. We lost heavily; but I saw no sign of funk among them.”


The convoy of wounded men who arrived at the Lakenham Military Hospital on Thursday last week included one man of the Norfolk Regiment, Private J W Knowles by name, who comes from Walsoken and who had been at the front four months. He is badly fractured in the right leg and has a lurid story to tell of how his company fared on Saturday, the 1st of July. He says: “We were in the third wave of the advance. As we approached the third line of the German trenches the machine gun fire was very hot, and our fellows were cut down severely, but we took the trench all right, and in front of me six or seven big fellows came out and gave themselves up. When we were over the trench the machine-gun fire got hotter still, so much so that to advance further was impossible, and we had to lie down a minute. It was then that I got hit, about eight o’clock in the morning. I had to lie where I fell till six o’clock at night. For about a quarter of an hour I must have been insensible; but all the rest of the time I was awake and conscious of a terrific shell fire, so severe that it was impossible for any bearer party to reach me. The Germans before us were, I was told, Bavarians. I certainly had not expected to see such big, fine men. For all their size they did not strike me as particularly brave. They worked their machine guns to the utmost while we were advancing, but as soon as we were on them they were ready enough to surrender.”

Reading these accounts with the benefit of hindsight makes them all the more poignant to me. Having the briefest details of the soldiers whose reports are reproduced here I was able to research them on our Library subscription to FindMyPast (details here) and discovered that:

  • Frederick Campling was promoted to Corporal, but died on 27th September 1916.
  • Private Strange was probably Thomas Frederick Strange, who died on 1st May 1917 and is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
  • Private Knowles was John William Knowles, discharged from service in June 1917 due to the gunshot wound in his right knee; he didn’t survive the war, however, dying at the age of 29 on 6th November 1918.
  • Private Cleveland, we think, suffered a misprint in the newspaper record – Granville George Cleveland was born in Norwich in 1896, and enlisted in September 1914. He survived the war and was discharged on 3rd April 1919 at the age of 23, having reached the rank of Lance Corporal. He married in 1931, and I wish I could report that he lived a long and happy life, but he died at the age of 41 in 1937, at least being spared the dreadful experiences of World War 2.


Colman’s 200th birthday events and exhibitions

This year, one of NorColman'swich and Norfolk’s most famous companies celebrates its 200th birthday.

At Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library we are joining in with the festivities with exhibitions on the ground floor and on the second floor at Norfolk Heritage Centre. There will also be events inside the library and in Fusion (also inside the Forum – turn left inside the Atrium).

On the ground floor, we’ve placed items from our Heritage Centre store including postcards, souvenirs and cookbooks, alongside records shedding light on the lives of just a few of the men and women who have worked for the company over the years – in mustard, starch and laundry blue. (Seen the blue specs in your washing tablets? ‘Blue’ was an early form). The records include 1911 censuses, a baptism and a marriage. We’d love to hear from anyone related to someone featuring in the cases.

Meanwhile, on the second floor, see deeper into our archive collections with photographs, newspaper cuttings, bound volumes and items from Carrow Works magazine.

Dates for your diary –

11 November, 12pm Victoria Draper from Norfolk Record Office takes the stage to talk about ‘Researching your family history’. Free, all welcome, in the Fusion Gallery.

18 November, 12pm Join Elizabeth Budd for her talk ‘Your First World War Family’ – giving you a step by step guide to starting research into your Great War ancestors. Free, all welcome, in the Fusion gallery.

19 November, 12.30pm Author Nick Williams is the speaker for our regular Heritage Hour, a free bi-weekly talk on an aspect of Norfolk’s Heritage. This week, the theme will be ‘Norwich Industries’. No booking is necessary – join us in the Vernon Castle Room in the Norfolk Heritage Centre (second floor of the Millennium Library).