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

 

 

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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

 

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

Canaries, Camels and Other Acts of Kindness

Correspondence of the Amherst Sisters

The five Amherst sisters; Mary, Sybil, Florence, Margaret and Alicia were the daughters of Lord and Lady Amherst of Foulden Hall in Norfolk. Sybil, Florence and Margaret never married and, at the outbreak of the First World War, all three sisters, in their fifties, were still living at the family home.

The Amherst letters (MC84/204 528×1) is a collection of correspondence largely related to Margaret’s role at the hospital.  There is also some correspondence to the sisters from soldiers from the village who were known to them.

Margaret was the Commandant of the British Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital at Buckenham Tofts Hall at Mundford for the short time it was open between January and May 1916.  During that time it admitted 52 patients.  It closed when the area was required for military training. (Reference: ‘The Auxiliary Hospitals of The British Red Cross Society and St John Ambulance in Norfolk 1914-1919’. Compiled by Colonel C E Knight M.B.E. K.St.J).

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One of the Amherst sisters, thought to be Florence, sitting at her desk. Norfolk Record Office: MC 84/206 

Letters from the soldiers give some insight into how time was spent at the hospital.

Corporal H Kirke wrote:

“Do look sharp and get another house so I can come back to you . . .I was glad with the flowers Miss Florence sent over, we never see any flowers here from one day to another and the patients never get any cigarettes or tobacco . . . . I am ready for going out of this place, it doesn’t suit me a little bit”.

A later letter he thanks Miss Florence for sending a golf club and three balls.

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Hospital staff playing golf. NRO: MC 84/206

Private Bateson wrote:

You say you missed me in the kitchen.  I only wish I was there now or Playing Golf . . . I expect the Billiard Table will get well Patronised”.

Lyle Craig wrote:

“Have you got any one to paint postcards, if not I shall come back and do this”

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Painting postcards was a regular pastime. NRO: MC 84/204, 528X1

Thank-you letters reveal the range of gifts the sisters sent. These included books, photos, knitted garments and even guinea pigs sent to soldiers’ children. Tobacco was a commonly well-received gift and clearly the perils of smoking were unknown at the time.

In June 1916 Private Twigg, having been transferred to the Norfolk War Hospital in Norwich, wrote:

“As I do not smoke much it gave me great satisfaction to distribute the cigarettes among my chums many of whom miss a smoke more than anything.  I had just used my last piece of soap so yours saved me the trouble of getting more from these French shops”. 

Parents of those in the Amherst’s care also wrote expressing their gratitude.

H Claxton’s mother wrote:

“My son asked me to send you one of my cannary (sic) birds . . . I will send it by the 9.20. . . . . thanking you for your kindness to my son”.

Grace Croxford, living in South Africa, wrote about her daughter Joy who was working at the hospital.

“My daughter Joy’s letters are so full of her bright and happy life with you . . . . It is such a comfort to us to know she is in such kind hands and such a lovely home . . .We hope she will do her duty to our poor wounded boys . . it is a great pleasure to us that she should have the opportunity of seeing so much of dear old England”.

Soldiers who were transferred to other Red Cross Hospitals when Buckenham Tofts Hall closed were quick to compare.

H Lingwood of the Norfolk Regiment was transferred to Bilney.  He wrote:

“I am sorry to tell you that we are not so happy as we were at Buckenham and I am sure that we shall never find another hospital like (yours) where ever we go”.

Private Twigg also transferred to Bilney and was equally unhappy.  He accused the Matron of withholding a letter from him and wrote:

“I have been out once since I have been here.  I am sure now that she is doing this for making money, she thinks more of her chickens and dogs than us”.

The care shown extended beyond the soldiers’ stay at the hospital. Margaret Amherst was anxious to know that the soldiers, on discharge, had reached their next destination safely.  The soldiers would be given a stamped addressed postcard to send back to her confirming their safe arrival at their next destination.

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Stamped addressed postcard issued to soldiers on discharge. NRO: MC 84/204 528X1

Lance Corporal William Robert English (Service number 20103) and Isaac Eagle (Service number 18750) were known to the Amherst family and corresponded with the sisters throughout the war. English was the village schoolteacher and Eagle was an agricultural labourer in Foulden.

English had promised to write to Florence Amherst once he had received a promotion and duly did so:

“The promotion came on Saturday night I donned my stripe with all due importance on Sunday morning.  I am an “unpaid  L.Cpl. but that does not matter as there is the satisfaction of knowing that one has risen one step. . . . . The uncertainty, and the fact that all one’s actions are planned for him, -have rendered me – and others too – almost careless of the future. . . . . . The average Britisher loves to grumble & yet performs.  I think it is amusing. . . . . . I have been kept well informed of Foulden news for I have received from time to time letters from the school children.  Strange to say the girls write but the boys do not”.

Eagle found himself in Cairo in 1915 and wrote:

“I have done my best to observe all the rules of health as laid down by the authorities for our personal benefit.  But unfortunately a good many have been laid low with that awful dysentery caused sometimes by indulging in eating too much native fruit and as you know the natives are none too clean personally!  I believe they have a dislike for soap…..I have lately paid a visit to the Pyramids. . . I had my long desired ride on a camel”. 

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Eagle on a camel. NRO: MC 84/204 528X1

English served in Mesoptomaia, India and Egypt and returned home in 1917. Eagle died at sea on the ship Victory in November 1916.

This collection of correspondence reflects one of the many ways that support was given during the war by those at home and it is testimony to the level of care and kindness shown by the Amherst sisters that such a wealth of letters exist.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Entente Cordiale Comes to Norwich

On 29th July 1916 Norwich welcomed two French delegates to the city; Lieutenant Georges Weill and Private Cabannes.  Their visit was part of a tour of Britain to see munition factories and other industries related to the war effort and to promote Anglo-French relations.  It followed on from a visit to France the previous year by four British MPs from the Labour Party.

Weill was a lieutenant with the 81st French Infantry Division.  A native of Alsace-Lorraine, he had been elected a member of the German Reichstag. When war broke out he joined the French army which resulted in a court martial in his absence at Strasbourg where he was sentenced to death.  Living with this death sentence Weill served the French army as an interpreter and had a key role in interrogating German prisoners after the Battle of the Somme.

Cabannes was a private in the French artillery. Before the war he had been the organizing secretary of the French United Socialists.

The first report on their arrival in Britain appeared in the Daily Mirror on 26th July 1916.  There was a civic reception to welcome them at the Westminster Palace Hotel where many prominent trade unionists were present.

Weill and Cabannes arrived at City Station Norwich on Saturday 29th July 1916 following their visit to Sheffield.  The Eastern Evening News reported that during their tour they had been received “with an almost affectionate interest”.  The train from Sheffield arrived late by which time “the platforms were thronged and everybody who possessed a little French seemed to be giving it an airing”.  The reception committee included members of the Norwich French Circle.  After introductions the delegates were taken by a circuitous route to the Maid’s Head Hotel, this route being chosen because “of the most unfavourable impression which a stranger arriving by the City Station receives”.  After dinner in the hotel, Weill and Cabannes met the Lord Mayor, Mr E B Southwell.

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The Delegates Arrive at Norwich City Station

The plan for the next day was to continue the delegates’ tours of various factories contributing to the war effort.  However, after all of their visits of such places in other cities, they welcomed the suggestion of spending a quiet day in the country.  They were driven to Wroxham, had lunch on a boat with various civil dignitaries and cruised along the river to St Benet’s Abbey.

On Monday 31st August they reverted to their planned visits and had lunch with the Lord Mayor.  In the evening they attended a public gathering at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich.  The gathering was presided over by the Lord Mayor and attended by the City Council.

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Souvenir of the Event at St Andrew’s Hall. Weill is on the left and Cabannes on the right. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 3205, 1062X6

The Mercury (5th August 1916) reported that:

 “Dr Bunnett played on the organ until the company assembled. The orchestra was occupied by a choir of girls chosen from about a dozen of the elementary schools, who were gaily decorated with the red, white and blue, the French colours.”

On entering the hall the audience stood and clapped and cheered.  The choir, resplendent in their French colours, sang part of the Marseillaise.

The Eastern Evening News (1st August 1916) reported on the evening and the speeches made.  The Lord Mayor spoke first and talked of the united battle to defeat the enemy.  He spoke of the resourcefulness of French and British women when they had “picked up the tools dropped by their husbands and brothers when the call to arms sounded through the land”. 

Weill’s speech followed.  He began by thanking the city for its “enthusiastic, graceful and touching welcome. . . . . . nowhere did greater joy and personal pleasure seem to be manifested at the presence of the delegates than in Norwich”.  Weill spoke of Alsace and Lorraine and their desire to be free from German rule “as they had a right to claim emancipation from a tyrant who had conquered them by brute force and their restoration to their mother country, France”.  He stressed the need for victory; “The murder of Miss Cavell and of the Captain of the Brussels had shown how little the Germans understood the rights of humanity and the rights of citizenship”.  From his work as an interpreter working with German prisoners he went on to say “there is every reason to believe that there is a glimmering of light dawning on the mind of the German soldier”.

The following day letters were exchanged between the delegates and Norwich Education Committee, each expressing their mutual thanks with the Frenchmens’ letter directed to the children who sang at the concert.

In their letter they talk of the children singing their national anthem with ardour and strength and how delicate and artistic it was for them to be dressed in the colours of the French flag.

The Education Committee’s letter thanks the delegates, on behalf of the children, for the opportunity given to them to hear of the heroic exploits of the French soldiers.  It went on to say that Norwich school children had also contributed to the war effort through various schemes and events and that, in future years, it was hoped they would remember with affection the efforts of the French soldiers in the terrible war.

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Letter from Lieutenant Georges Weill and Private Cabannes expressing their thanks to the children who sang at the concert. NRO: MC 3205, 1062X6

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Letters of thanks exchanged. NRO: MC 3205, 1062X6

Weill and Cabanne completed a comprehensive tour of Britain.  Their tour included visits to Cardiff, Newcastle, Bristol, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and newspapers around the country reported on the success of the visits.

The Daily Mail (Thursday 27th July 1916) reported on their visit to Birmingham.  It had included tours of munitions factories and other public buildings.  At an evening meeting held under the auspices of the Parliamentary Munitions Committee the committee spoke of the magnitude of France’s contribution to defeating the Germans.  With reference to Georges Weill the article went on to say:

Georges Weill (is) one of the many Lorrainers who are still faithful to their old motherland, France.  Lieutenant Weill is a journalist by profession and has represented Metz in the Reichstag since 1912:  he is a fine figure, red-haired and moustached, in his new uniform of horizon blue, which matches the clear colour of his eyes.  On his head there is a high price, for he has been sentenced to death by a German court-martial, held at Strasburg, because he enlisted in the French army on the outbreak of war”

During his speech Weill described the prisoners as thoroughly dejected who recognized that Germany had no hope of victory.

While Weill was the main speaker at the various civic events one newspaper did comment on a speech made by Cabannes. The Lanarkshire Daily Record and Mail (29th July 1916) informed readers that Weill and Cabannes were to visit the following week.  The articles reported that Weill had characterized the German Socialists as sheep and stated that Alsace was part of France not Germany.  It went on to say that:

Private Cabannes, a typical ‘pioupiou’, short but sturdy, of the 101st Regiment of French artillery, was not less communicative.  Day by day”, he said, “as your army advances, the bonds of understanding are drawn closer; and where there was once distrust there is now complete confidence”.

Weill and Cabannes returned to France after a successful visit.  Weill remained in politics for the rest of his life and died in Paris in 1970.  Cabanne’s fate is unknown.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Boy Scouts Undeterred by an ‘Ass and a Militant Suffragette’

The Role of the Stalham Boy Scouts Association in the First World War

Stalham Boy Scouts Association was founded in 1912 and its secretary was Robert Gurney of Ingham Old Hall, Stalham. Initially the Troop Charter was issued to troops from Stalham and Catfield.  Ingham, Ludham and Sea Palling joined in 1913 followed by Horning in 1914. Gurney’s record book, held at the Norfolk Record Office, details the Scouts’ activities during the First World War.

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The Stalham Boy Scouts Association takes part in the Norwich Rally 20th June 1914. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

In January 1914 the programme for the Ingham Scout Concert gave some indication of times to come with patriotic songs such as “I want to be a soldier”, “Hearts of Oak”, “Boys be Prepared” and “All Patrols Look Out”.

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Ingham Scouts’ Concert Programme, January 1914. NRO: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

The Scouts were one of the first youth organisations to get involved in the war effort.  There was great concern about the possibly of communication lines being sabotaged, air raids and invasion. Being so near to the coast, the Stalham Boy Scout Association was ideally placed to help and they responded immediately when the call came.

Britain declared war on Germany on Tuesday 4th August 1914.  At 10.30pm that same evening a message was issued by Colonel Barclay which reached Stalham the following day.  It read:

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Telegraph received from Colonel Barclay. NRO: MC 3126/1, 103X7

Following this message the troop Scoutmasters issued notes to each of their boys:

To Scout …..

Your services are required by the Government for duty beginning today.  Report yourself to me at ……… in uniform with great coat and complete camp kit.  1/- a day.

While the boys were ordered to report at 11am on the following Monday, one Scoutmaster set off to North Walsham to get more information about the telegraph cable line they were being asked to guard.  Gurney records in the minute book:

“After much difficulty found that it ran, not via Tunstead as advised by Col Charles, but via Worstead and Scottow. I went at same time to Horning & Worstead & whipped up Scouts there.  At about 11.15 we got off with 6 Palling Scouts & camp outfit, and by noon we had placed all our boys along a line from North Walsham main road to Cook’s farm at Worstead.”

In defending the line most boys camped but the Worstead boys were able to continue living at home.  A series of numbered poles was erected along the line and the boys were divided up and allocated to different sections.  Each section had a book carried by the boys to make notes in.

The night watches were carried out by boys in pairs except for the two Scouts who were over the age of 17.  The road was patrolled each day and night by a GPO man on a bicycle.

“The day man reported on Aug 10 that wire had been cut at Cromer and tapped at Bacton during the night.  Said that the wires here form a ‘cable pack’ going via Bacton to London, but that the Cable was now cut at sea deliberately & the wires used for inland military purposes & not for telegraph but for telephone.”

Overall the boys rose well to the occasion.  Sixty seven Scouts, ten Scoutmasters and other volunteers were soon in place.  Two small ones got homesick and cried and were sent back home.  Gurney comments:

They were not overworked, only silly”.

The troops appear to have responded quickly and with great diligence.  Disappointment was expressed by Gurney at the lack of a speedy response from other groups.

“The Wroxham troop . . . failed to get into touch till Thursday 13th.  Part of the time they watched a road without wires at all”.

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Extract from Parish Magazine kept in Gurney’s record book. NRO: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

On 10th August a telegraph was received instructing Gurney not to use boys under the age of fourteen.  The 1/- a day was an allowance in lieu of rations.  And so, on 13th August, the boys under 14 were sent home.  The manning of the poles was reassigned to three separate camps.  On 13th August Gurney received notice that night duty was no longer required “so thinking the whole thing was a farce”.  Gurney went to see Colonel Charles the next day to be told that all Scouts should be withdrawn, “pay ceasing as on the 4th day!”

Gurney then received another telegraph requesting the Scouts’ assistance with coastguard duties.

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Telegraph recieved requesting help for the coastguards. NRO: MC 3126/1, 1036X7

Gurney once again acted promptly and set up a small group of Scouts by Sandhill.  This was not seen kindly by a local resident whose wife was expecting a baby:

Received strong protest from an ass called Watson . . . . . as his wife expected a baby by end of month, couldn’t have them there.  Expostulated with him & left them there.  Wife is militant suffragette”. 

Gurney did eventually move the boys’ camp.  “During first day or two saw much in way of activity at Sea – and Aeroplanes, but have not been of any serious assistance to Coastguard”.  The boys remained on duty for twenty eight days “they gave complete satisfaction to the Coastguard officer”. 

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Coastguard Watching. Image courtesy of iremember.org.uk

The troops were active in other war efforts too.  Stalham and Ingham Troops took part in the sale of War Relief Stamps and proceeds went to the National Relief Fund.  Eight carts of newspapers were also collected for the same fund.

The Ingham Troop helped at the Red Cross Hospital for wounded soldiers.  Gurney writes:

Most of them have undertaken some regular voluntary duty which they carry out cheerfully and very efficiently”.

The hospital was located in Ingham Old Hall, home of the Gurneys.  It opened on 29th October 1914 with 40 beds and did not close until 28th January 1919.  Gurney’s wife, Sarah Gamzu Gurney, was the Commandant and was awarded the MBE in 1918 for her services to the hospital.

Six Scouts were awarded War Service Badges; G Whittleton, A Harris, Ray Spanton, G Allard, C Allison and H Sutton.  Five of these boys were from Ingham.

Following the Association’s annual committee meeting in October 1915, there is a significant gap in the record book until October 1919 due to the war.  Scoutmasters would have been called up as would some of the Scouts once they reached the required age. Gurney was somewhat surprised, when activities resumed in 1919, to be informed that the Stalham Boy Scout Association had been dissolved without the Association being informed.  As Gurney records, the Association had been “in abeyance during the war”.  G Spanton, a committed Scoutmaster for several years, was killed in action as was S Wilkins, also from the Stalham troop.

Gurney soon set about reinstating the Scout troops which resumed their many activities, hopefully undisturbed by world events until 1939.


This blog post has been researched using two sets of records held at the Norfolk Record Office:

  • Stalham Boy Scouts Association record book, 1912-1927 (MC 3126/1, 1036X7)
  • ‘The Auxiliary Hospitals of the British Red Cross Society & St John Ambulance in Norfolk 1914-1919’ by Col. C.E. Knight (SO 161/1, 762X8)

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

The Norfolk Regiment in November: Northcote & the Battle of Ctesiphon

Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.

A well with wooden lifting gear, taken by G B Northcote in Mesopotamia, 1915

A well with wooden lifting gear, taken by G B Northcote in Mesopotamia, 1915

Before November 1915, Norfolk’s 2nd battalion had fared reasonably well in Mesopotamia. The Allied 6th “Poona” Division (of which the 2nd Norfolks were a part) had won a string of small victories against the Ottoman Empire, advancing across open country to successfully defend the areas rich oil fields. Captain G B Northcote had been present throughout, and documented his travels with a wonderful collection of photographs.

Arabs on a riverbank - probably the Euphrates. taken by G B Northcote

Arabs on a riverbank – probably the Euphrates, taken by G B Northcote

November 1915 saw Norfolk’s 2nd battalion suffer a severe loss however, at the battle of Ctesiphon. The action took place as the Allies advanced on Baghdad.

At Ctesiphon, the Ottomans were waiting under the command of the inspirational Colonel Nurredin. They were dug in along an inpenetrable line of trenches, had amassed their artillery and had obstructed the Tigris River with barricades and mines, making the Allied gunboats redundant.  Both sides fought bitterly for three days, attacking and counter-attacking. The Ottoman forces repulsed the Allied advance and eventually forced their retreat.

Camoflauged Turk trenches, in and around Ctesiphon

Camouflaged Turk trenches, in and around Ctesiphon. G B Northcote

Ctesiphon sparked the first real switch in momentum during the Mesopotamian campaign, swinging the pendulum toward the Ottomans.  It proved to be a severe reverse for the Allies, who fell back toward Kut Al Amara. Northcote himself was killed during the days fighting. Today, these photographs immortalise his journey across Mesopotamia in 1915. A journey that ended at Ctesiphon.

Unfortunately for the Norfolk’s, December would provide no respite…

Coracle boat on the Tigris, G B Northcote

Coracle boat on the Tigris, G B Northcote