The Armistice Exhibition Preview at the Royal Norfolk Show

Thank you to all that came to see us at the Royal Norfolk Show last week. We really appreciated the opportunity to introduce you to our upcoming exhibition, Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk, as well as hear your memories of First World War veterans.

At our stall we showcased one of the most unique sources in our collection, the Royal Norfolk Regiment Casualty and Sickness book. The book, originally intended as a recruitment ledger, records casualty and sickness details for more than fifteen thousand soldiers of the 1st and 2nd regular battalions, and the 7th, 8th and 9th service battalions of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. The original large hardback volume was compiled by clerks in the Regimental Depot Orderly Room in Britannia Barracks and includes entries running from August 1914 through to the early months of 1919.

The entries are all handwritten in ink, each entry record listing the individual soldier’s number, rank, name, and battalion or battalions they served in, as well as details of casualty, sickness, including details of hospitalisation. Some of the entries contain additional details such as or prisoner of war status and the place of burial immediately after death in battle. A lot of this information would not appear in routine Army Records Office printouts, making the ledger an interesting and unique source. This type of record of World War I casualties is exclusive to the Royal Norfolk Regiment as no other regiments seem to have such a kept such a record.

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Sarah and Kate using the Casualty Book to answer a family history query on Twitter.

Currently public access to the Casualty Book is limited to a photocopied version held in the Shirehall Study Centre and can be seen by arranging a study visit with the Regimental Museum. However, recognizing the value that the ledger, our volunteer team is in the process of creating an interactive, digitized version of the ledger, which will include an online searchable database, linking the entries to other sources held at the Regimental Museum such as the War Diaries. We hope to have the online data base up and running by the end of this year.

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Nigel Amies and his 1914 drum.

We would also like to extend a big thank you to SSAFA, Armed Forces Charity for lending us a space in their tent, and to Nigel Amies, a freelance historical educator, who did a great job engaging the public with his original restored World War drum from 1914.

 

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Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk Exhibition – Call for Information

Does your  family have memories of life in Norfolk during the First World War? Share your memories with us at the Royal Norfolk Show!

Welcome to our first exhibition blog entry. In anticipation to the opening the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum’s new exhibition Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk on October 20th in Norwich Castle we want to provide you with exclusive behind the scenes sneak peeks at the exhibition preparations. We will showcase different objects, introducing you to some of the incredible stories which will feature in the exhibition.

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Billeting outside of the Carrow Works Clubhouse.

 

Although the exhibition will commemorate the First World War’s armistice centenary, its main aim will be to celebrate people’s resilience and the emergence of a more understanding society. We will highlight the success of the Suffragette movement and the construction of Homes for Heroes. The exhibition will be unique in its focus on the experience of the First World War specific to Norfolk, with objects for the exhibition having been selected based on their local connection to the county.

The Armistice exhibition will be divided into seven key sections: air, sea, town and industry, country and agriculture, at home and children, soldiers in the county – hospitals, and peace. Each section will be populated with a rich array of objects gathered from museums around the county. Some of the key objects will include an original torpedo and Paddy Hartley’s Papaver Rhoeas poppies.

The exhibition space will be populated by large number of textiles and costumes on open display. There will be something to do for all age groups including family-friendly activities, a home front nursery area with wooden toys and a sailor dress up station.

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During the First World War there were over sixty War and Auxiliary hospitals in Norfolk.

Now we need your help. As the Armistice exhibition focuses on local history, we thought it would be a good opportunity to ask you, members of the public, about your family’s stories about life in Norfolk during the First World War. We believe there is a hidden history of the hardships faced by returning soldiers and their families. We want to expose how the war changed the life of ex-servicemen and their families and how they dealt with the often trying circumstances.

If you would like to contribute your family’s memories you can reach us by e-mailing regimental.museum@norfolk.gov.uk. If you are attending the Royal Norfolk Show next week, we will have a stall set up adjacent to the SSAFA – the Armed Forces Charity vehicle, so come by and say hello. We would love to hear from you.

 

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The Norfolk Regiment in April: Lodge Diaries

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.

April 1916 was a disastrous month for Norfolk’s 2nd battalion’s in Mesopotamia. Their winter campaign (which included defeat at the battle of Ctesiphon, and their retreat to Kut – Al – Amara) ended with the eventual collapse of Kut and the surrender of the whole fighting force, numbering over 10,000 men.

The events that took place through April and the following months are extremely well documented through the diaries of Lieutenant Colonel F C Lodge, of the 2nd Norfolk’s, who was present at the surrender. These diaries are now kept at the museum.

Lodge, far left, with Strickland, Gordon and Jickling, officers of the Norfolk Regiment

Lodge, far left, with Strickland, Gordon and Jickling, fellow officers of the Norfolk Regiment

On 29th April and over the following days, Lodge wrote;

“All guns and howitzers were destroyed this morning, also a large percentage of rifles and bayonets. Ammtn. [ammunition], revolvers, field glasses, thrown into the Tigris… Turkish Infantry entered Kut about 12 noon.”

“Many men fell out owing to feebleness…. The men were so ravenous that they ate some of the Turkish biscuits dry. This caused an outbreak of acute enteritis, due possibly to their interiors being in a weak state and quite unable to assimilate the hard tack. This caused a good many deaths in some of the units.”

'Adjutants of the 2nd Battalion'. Lodge is second from right, second row.

‘Adjutants of the 2nd Battalion’. Lodge is second from right, second row. Officers were treated extremely differently to their men following the surrender at Kut

For the Norfolk’s, some of whom were were already tired, starving and extremely ill, April marked the beginning of the end. Captivity under the Turks resulted in forced marching, extreme heat, disease, malnutrition and for many, death. Lodge’s diaries, like many other Officers, show a different picture however. It is startling to compare the fate of many Officers with the the fate of their men. On 4th April, Lodge writes;

“We were ordered to embark [by steamer] for BAGHDAD. We were sent up in echelons: the 1st… consisted of 100 British officers, including 4 Generals, 50 native officers with an orderly apiece. Each General was allowed a cook and 2 orderlies; a colonel 2, Lt. Col 2, others 1 each. I as a temporary Lt. Col. Took two – Rogers, and Wigger as a cook… The men were then left with the NCOs.”

Indian Army Soldier after Siege at Kut. Taken from the UK National Archives

Indian Army soldier after Siege at Kut. A very different picture to Lodge and his fellow officers. Taken from the UK National Archives

Although still in a dire situation, Lodge’s following entries suggest a degree of comfort not shared by men, that improves over time. On 9th, 10th and 13th May he writes;

“arrived at a ramshackle empty hotel called Hotel Babylon., an evil smelling place. More delay whilst rooms were allotted…  were taken to a restaurant where we had a meal – the best I’ve had had in months…. Slept fairly well. Our room smelt so much, caused by a cesspool immediately below the window, we moved out and slept on the verandah which was a very large one… Our little party pitched out belonging near a Greek engineer’s house. They were very kind to us, giving us what they could spare – tea, cheese, milk.”

We may never know the extent to which which Lodge and of his fellow Officers were told of the fate of their men. Perhaps they never knew, or were simply naive. His diaries illuminate a great deal about the Officer class during 1916, and spark some real emotion. It is difficult to empathise with Lodge, who still celebrated “PAYDAY”, and received 3 parcels on his birthday, including 2 from Fortnum and Mason. Regardless, the diaries are an invaluable source to the museum and well worth a read.

The Norfolk Regiment in February: In the shadow of the Pyramids

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.

For the 1/4th and 1/5th battalions of the Norfolk Regiment, February 1916 was spent at the famous Mena Camp, under the gaze of the Great Pyramids. It is a view that has been well documented, and a number of rare photographs still exist in the museum collection.

Mena Camp, in front of the Pyramids. The 1/4th and 1/5th spent time here during February 1916

Mena Camp, just outside Cairo, in front of the Pyramids. The 1/4th and 1/5th spent February 1916 here.

Both battalions, ragged and worn out following their Gallipoli campaign, had arrived in Egypt in early 1916. After spending January at Alexandria, they were sent on to Mena to reorganise.

Mena, and others like it, were used as a springboard for the whole division to bolster the heavily defended Suez Canal. A number of forts and camps along the canal formed a line of defence that lay practically undisturbed for the rest of the year. Nevertheless, the threat of Turkish attack remained a constant. Over the next 12 months, the 1/4th and 1/5th moved from camp to camp, fortifying the lines and re-training fresh recruits. Mena camp remains the most well-documented.

Norfolk soldiers on camels in front of the pyramids. Almost certainly 1/5th men in 1916

Norfolk soldiers on camels in front of the pyramids. Almost certainly 1/5th men in 1916

Captain Buxton of the 1/5th wrote,

“From 1916 onwards the Suez canal was defended by a series of fortified posts in the desert on the eastern side. These posts were about two to four miles apart…. Rations and water were brought up to these posts daily on camels from railhead…. the troops were employed daily in completing the defences of the posts by surrounding them with broad wire entanglements, digging fire trenches or communication trenches or dugouts. The trench digging was especially tedious… owing to the soft sand continually falling in.”

Photograph of Egyptian Shpinx taken by  Regimental Quartermaster-Sergeant H. Naylor, 1/5th battalion. Christmas Day 1916

Photograph of Egyptian Shpinx taken by Regimental Quartermaster-Sergeant H. Naylor, 1/5th battalion. Christmas Day 1916

The Norfolk Regiment in October: Cecil Upcher’s recovery

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.

For the Norfolk’s 9th battalion, October 1915 was a month of rest. The end of September had been marred by serious fighting around the quarries of Hulluch, a small mining commune, and so October was spent largely recovering from this. At Hulluch, the battalion had suffered a total of 209 casualties, including 5 Officers killed and 9 wounded.

Cecil Upcher, architect turned soldier.

Cecil Upcher, architect turned soldier.

One of these wounded Officers was 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Upcher. After the battle, he wrote in a letter to his fiancee,

“I got a bullet through the fleshy part of my left thigh…. Feeling a bit of a humbug to be leaving it all, but walking is rather a job at present.   We had to take a Bosch position at 7 am yesterday… and I got bowled over with a lot of others I fear…. It’s rotten luck being knocked out first go in.”

For Upcher, an architect before the War, October 1915 was spent in a hospital in Britain. His wound was tended, and he spent time with his fiancee, Hilda Ward, whom he had written to on a daily basis.

Transcriptions of Upcher’s letters are kept in the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum today and prove remarkable reading. Upcher’s architectural background and keen eye for detail are ever-present; he includes vivid sketches of his current dugouts and gives exact measurements.

One of many dugout sketches that Upcher drew for his fiancee.

One of many dugout sketches that Upcher drew for his fiancee.

These beautiful sketches continue after Upcher’s return to action in 1916, and reveal a great deal about day-to-day life of a 9th battalion officer during the War. On the whole he wrote about long marches and troop movements, but his sketches and occasional anecdotes are particularly insightful. One such story to his fiancee goes;

“This afternoon…. we played soccer against the officers of a neighbouring Regt.   About the first time I’ve ever played the game or any of us for that matter.   We had quite a good match but just lost.”

Upcher marrying Hilda Ward.

Upcher marrying Hilda Ward.

Unfortunately for Upcher, October 1915 and the days of playing soccer were to be short lived. In mid 1916 he succumbed to shell-shock and was gripped by deep depression. He was invalided home.

After the war he married Hilda and returned to architecture. He designed the First World War Memorial Cottages at Mousehold, and later the Second World War Bungalows close by.  He helped restore Pull’s Ferry and worked on many church projects across Norfolk. As his remarkable letters home show, it was a labour of love.

Another of Upcher's wonderfully detailed drawings.

Another of Upcher’s wonderfully detailed drawings.

From 23rd November the Regimental Museum and The Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell will be launching exhibitions based on Upcher and the Memorial Cottages. For more information email joseph.hoyle@norfolk.gov.uk

 

The Norfolk Regiment in September 1915: Loos and the Mills Bomb

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.

 

Mills Bomb; Hand grenade, Number 5 Mark I. Weight: 1.5 lb/0.675 Kg. Introduced in spring 1915. Removal of the safety pin and release of the lever allows a spring to drive the striker into the cap and ignite the 4.5 second fuse. A defensive grenade which could be thrown at least 28 metres/30 yards but still required the thrower to take cover from lethal fragments. To increase this range, soldiers devised “adaptations of the Roman catapult, the use of which had to be learnt”. 2nd Lieutenant J.K. Digby, 7th Battalion the Norfolk Regiment, was killed on August 4th 1915 in throwing a bomb with a trench catapult. The Mills bomb could be converted into a rifle grenade by screwing an 8 inch rod into a pre-threaded hole in the base plug and firing it from a rifle using a blank .303” cartridge.

Mills Bomb; Hand grenade, Number 5 Mark I. Weight: 1.5 lb/0.675 Kg. Introduced in spring 1915. Removal of the safety pin and release of the lever allows a spring to drive the striker into the cap and ignite the 4.5 second fuse. A defensive grenade which could be thrown at least 28 metres/30 yards but still required the thrower to take cover from lethal fragments. To increase this range, soldiers devised “adaptations of the Roman catapult, the use of which had to be learnt”. 2nd Lieutenant J.K. Digby, 7th Battalion the Norfolk Regiment, was killed on August 4th 1915 in throwing a bomb with a trench catapult. The Mills bomb could be converted into a rifle grenade by screwing an 8 inch rod into a pre-threaded hole in the base plug and firing it from a rifle using a blank .303” cartridge.

The British offensive at Loos began on the 25th September 1915. On the 26th the 7tht (Service) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment handed over their trenches at Ploegsteert (“Plugstreet”) to the Canadians and marched to Philosophe, near the mining town of Loos. There they occupied shallow disconnected trenches and for two weeks endured heavy German shelling which caused over 80 casualties.

The 7th Battalion were due to attack at 2pm on the 13th October. Under cover of a smoke screen the Norfolk soldiers would advance in two wings and clear the enemy front line by bombing from left and right, meeting at the centre.

This method of attack involved specially trained men carrying canvas bucketfuls of grenades and throwing them from one traverse of the zig-zag trench into the next. The explosions would be followed immediately by bayonet men rushing into the devastated bay. This process to be repeated until the whole line was in British hands.

Unfortunately the smoke screen was stopped too soon, giving the German machine gunners a clear view before the British even went over the top. Although the bombing party on the left succeeded in taking 200 yards of the enemy front line, the right party and all reinforcements were mown down by an enfilading machine gun.

So the first serious fight of this unit of Kitchener’s New Army cost the 7th Battalion 434 casualties, of whom 72 were known to be dead and another 160 were missing. The Battalion withdrew the next day to await drafts of replacements.

 

 

The Norfolk Regiment in August 1915: The Territorials in Gallipoli

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.

The First Fourth and First Fifth Norfolk Battalions, known as the Territorial battalions, fought in the disastrous Campaign in Gallipoli in 1915. The 1/5th Battalion was recruited in north Norfolk, and included one company from the Royal Estate at Sandringham.

Sandringham Company in tropical uniform, 1915

Sandringham Company in tropical uniform, 1915

Almost a hundred years ago, on the 12th August 1915, this Battalion was part of an attack on Turkish positions inland from Suvla Bay. They received conflicting orders and advanced beyond the point where they could be supported by other troops. It was a calamity for British high command. The 1/5th were surrounded and suffered heavy losses. Their unmarked graves were found in 1919.

Shortly after the action, the King expressed a plea for information on the Norfolk Battalion in a letter to Sir Ian Hamilton (commanding the expeditionary force at Gallipoli). The King was anxious for news of the Sandringham company and their Captain in particular.

Letter from King George

Letter from King George

If it were not for the King’s interest, the 5th Norfolks (particularly the Sandringham Company) would never have received mass publicity.  Despite the facts being published immediately after the war, the fate of the 1/5th Battalion has given rise to all kinds of wild speculation and myths. They are still known by many as the “Vanished Battalion”.

The remaining soldiers from these battalions were brought up to strength by reinforcements, and went on to fight in Egypt and Gaza, advancing north towards Jerusalem where they remained until the end of the War. The 1/5th Battalion, including many Sandringham men, suffered more slaughter along the way but received nothing like the amount of attention as at Gallipoli; The disastrous action in August of 1915.

Companies of the 1/5th marching into Cairo, 1918

Companies of the 1/5th marching into Cairo, 1918. Some of these men had fought at Gallipoli three years earlier.