The Norfolk Regiment on the Somme – an illustrated talk

Somme talk final


Please join us on the evening of 22nd September for our illustrated talk with Steve Smith  all about the Norfolk Regiment during the 4 1/2 month long Battle of the Somme in 1916.

To book a place please email or call 01603 774703, tickets are £2.


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.


85550 Corporal Harry Hazel, 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers

85550 Corporal Harry Hazel, 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers

With many thanks to Alan Riches, Harry Hazel’s great-nephew who has shared his research with us.

Harry Hazel was born in East Ham, London, on 2 March 1893, the fifth of eight surviving children of Jacob Hazel and his second wife Mary Ann.  Jacob Hazel was originally from Wimbotsham in Norfolk, but in 1871 he joined the Metropolitan Police in London.  He was initially posted to D Division in Marylebone, and in 1875 he married Mary Matilda Blake, the daughter of a fellow policeman.  Sadly, Mary died in 1881 at the age of just 24.  In 1882 Jacob was posted to M Division in Bermondsey, and later that year he married Mary Ann Harris, a domestic servant from Buckland in Devon who was working for a family in Marylebone.  Their first child, a daughter called Elizabeth, was born the following year.  In about 1885 Jacob was posted to K Division in West Ham where Mary Ann gave birth to Lily in 1886 and Frederick in 1888.  Shortly afterwards Jacob moved to East Ham (still in K Division) and the family took up residence at 42 Stafford Street.  Whilst living in East Ham, Mary Ann had two more children – Victor in 1890 and Harry in 1893.

In 1896 Sergeant Jacob Hazel retired from the Metropolitan Police after 25 years’ service and took his family back to Wimbotsham.  Mary Ann had two more children – Sidney in 1897 and Harold in 1900 – and the 1901 Census shows Jacob, Mary Ann and all seven children living in a house on The Street in Wimbotsham.  Jacob was a police pensioner and Elizabeth a draper’s assistant; Lily, Frederick, Victor and Harry were at school; and Sidney and Harold were at home with their mother.  The following year Mary Ann gave birth to her eighth and final child, a daughter called Ivy.

In 1907 Elizabeth Hazel married Walter Jarvis, a local bricklayer, and moved out of the family home.  Shortly afterwards Harry moved in with his sister and brother-in-law, and the 1911 Census shows Elizabeth, Walter, their two young children and Harry living at a house on Stow Bridge Road in Wimbotsham.  Harry, now eighteen years old, was working as an ironmonger.  In his spare time he was a member of the Territorial Force, possibly the 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment whose “B” Company was based at nearby Downham Market.

In February 1912 Harry Hazel was discharged from the Territorial Force, probably because he moved to Norwich at about this time.  He found employment with Mr John Self, an ironmonger, and lived in digs at 92 Leicester Street.  Later that same year Harry decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a policeman.  On 6 December 1912 he was appointed a constable with the Norwich City Police, his attestation form showing that he was six feet tall with a 37-inch chest.  A few weeks later, on 27 January 1913, he commenced duty as PC 51[1].

Norwich City Police, Mounted Branch, during the visit of King Edward VII in 1909 (Norfolk Constabulary).

Norwich City Police, Mounted Branch, during the visit of King Edward VII in 1909 (Norfolk Constabulary).

Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Harry Hazel decided to volunteer for Kitchener’s New Army, and on 7 June 1915 he enlisted at Norwich as 85550 Sapper Hazel in the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company of the Royal Engineers.

Pals Battalions

On the outbreak of war Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War.  Kitchener believed that overwhelming manpower was the key to winning the war and he set about looking for ways to encourage men of all classes to join the army.  General Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested that men would be more inclined to enlist in the army if they knew that they were going to serve alongside their friends and work colleagues.  Rawlinson asked his friend, Robert White, to raise a battalion composed of men who worked in the City.  White opened a recruiting office in Throgmorton Street and in the first two hours, 210 City workers joined the army.  Within a week the Stockbrokers’ Battalion, as it became known, had 1,600 men.2Kitchener

A few days later, Lord Derby decided to organise the formation of a battalion of men from Liverpool.  Within two days 1,500 Liverpudlians had joined the new battalion.  Speaking to these men Lord Derby said: “This should be a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool.”  Within the next few days three more battalions were raised in Liverpool.

When Kitchener heard about Derby’s success in Liverpool he decided to encourage towns and villages all over Britain to organise recruitment campaigns based on the promise that the men could serve with friends, neighbours and workmates.  These units were raised by local authorities, industrialists or committees of private citizens.  Pals battalions became synonymous with the industrial towns of northern Britain.  Men from cities including Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Barnsley, Newcastle, Hull, Glasgow and Edinburgh all enlisted in their thousands in 1914 and 1915.  But the Pals phenomenon was not confined to the large urban areas of the north; some of the smaller rural towns of southern and eastern England, although unable to raise whole battalions of men, were able to raise units of at least company strength.  One such town was Norwich.

The 208th (Norfolk) Field Company of the Royal Engineers

In February 1915 the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Dr John Gordon-Munn, raised three Royal Engineer field companies for Kitchener’s New Army.  These were titled the 207th, 208th and 209th (Norfolk) Field Companies and were, in effect, Pals units.  On 7/8 June 1915 five constables from the Norwich City Police joined the 208th Field Company: 85503 William Jinks[2], 85542 William Thomas Green, 85544 Herbert James Whitehand, 85549 William Sawford Andrew and 85550 Harry Hazel.  These were followed a few weeks later by two more: 85595 Henry Crisp and 85666 Arthur Bell.

The war of 1914-1918 relied on engineering.  Without engineers there would have been no supply to the armies, because the REs maintained the railways, roads, water supply, bridges and transport.  REs also operated the railways and inland waterways.  There would have been no communications, because the REs maintained the telephones, wireless and other signalling equipment.  There would have been little cover for the infantry and no positions for the artillery, because the REs designed and built the front-line fortifications.  It fell to the technically skilled REs to develop responses to chemical and underground warfare.  And finally, without the REs the infantry and artillery would have soon been powerless, as they maintained the guns and other weapons.  Little wonder that the Royal Engineers grew into a large and complex organisation.

The various specialisations of the Royal Engineers were organised into different types of units, none of which was bigger than a company in size.  The most numerous of the RE units were the field companies and the signals companies.  By 1915 there were three RE field companies in each division.  Their role was to provide direct engineering support to the infantry.  When the division was holding the line, the field companies supervised the construction and maintenance of the defences – trenches, dug-outs, saps, strongpoints, mortar and machine gun emplacements and so on.  Most of the actual work was done by the divisional pioneers and the infantrymen themselves, which led the men of one battalion to make up the following rhyme[3]:

God made the world,

Bees make honey,

The Essex do the work,

The REs get the money.


In an attack, the field companies would follow the infantry across No Man’s Land equipped with all the tools and material necessary to consolidate the positions that had been captured.  On many occasions the engineers were forced to abandon their tools and fight alongside the infantry in repelling enemy attacks.

A typical RE field company had an establishment of 217 men, as follows:

  • Major in command of the company
  • Captain second-in-command
  • Three Lieutenants (or 2nd Lieutenants), each commanding a section
  • 23 NCOs (Company Sergeant-Major, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, Farrier Sergeant, six sergeants, seven corporals and seven 2nd corporals)
  • 186 other ranks (one shoeing smith, one trumpeter, one bugler, 138 sappers, 37 drivers and eight batmen)
  • Two attached privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps for water duties
  • One attached driver of the Army Service Corps (not counted into strength as officially he was part of the Divisional Train)

The men were organised into two branches: Mounted (which included the CQMS, farrier, shoeing smith, trumpeter, three NCOs and the drivers and batmen) and Dismounted.  The latter represented many kinds of trades required by the army in the field, including 15 blacksmiths, 20 bricklayers, 40 carpenters, 5 clerks, 12 masons, 6 painters and 8 plumbers, plus surveyors, draughtsmen, wheelwrights, engine drivers and others.  With the exception of the trumpeter and bugler, all other ranks were armed as infantrymen, carrying the SMLE rifle.

The field companies relied on horses for transport and had an establishment of 17 riding horses for the officers and NCOs of the Mounted Branch, 50 heavy draught horses and 4 pack horses.  There were also 5 spare draught horses as replacements.

Following their formation in February 1915, the 207th, 208th and 209th (Norfolk) Field Companies were placed under the command of Colonel A C MacDonnell RE and attached to the 34th Division.  The 34th was a typical New Army Division, largely made up of Pals units.  Its three infantry brigades were the 101st Brigade, consisting of the two Edinburgh City Battalions, the Cambridge Battalion and the Grimsby Chums; the 102nd Brigade, consisting of the four Tyneside Scottish Battalions; and the 103rd Brigade, consisting of the four Tyneside Irish Battalions.  After initially training close to home, in mid-June 1915 the units of the 34th Division began to concentrate at Ripon in North Yorkshire.  The Divisional troops (including the Royal Artillery Batteries, RE Field Companies and RAMC Field Ambulances) were encamped at Kirkby Malzeard, six miles west of Ripon, while the 101st Brigade collected at Fountains Abbey.  However, the 102nd and 103rd Brigades remained at their training camps in Northumberland for the time being.

It was not until the end of August 1915 that the whole of the 34th Division finally came together at Sutton Veny on Salisbury Plain.  The Division was placed under the command of Major General E C Ingouville-Williams CB DSO, known to the men as “Inky Bill”.  For the next four months the men continued their training, which now included brigade and divisional manoeuvres.  Christmas 1915 came and went, and it began to seem as though the 34th Division would never be sent to war.  Then in the New Year of 1916 embarkation orders arrived and the Division was mobilised for service in France.

The 208th (Norfolk) Field Company left Sutton Veny on 9 January and travelled by train to Southampton where they embarked on the SS Archimedes for passage to France[4].  They arrived at Le Havre the following day and entrained for St Omer from where they marched to billets at Wardrecques.  After two weeks’ training at Wardreques, on 23 January the 208th Field Company moved with the rest of the 34th Division to the III Corps area west of Armentières, the 208th being billeted between Steenbecque and Morbecque.3Map


In early February the 34th Division was considered ready for duty in the front line.  The infantry brigades were attached to units of the 8th and 23rd Divisions for instruction in trench warfare, following which they took over their own stretch of the front line.  The three Norfolk Field Companies were each attached to one of the Brigades: the 207th to the 101st Brigade, the 208th to the 102nd Brigade and the 209th to the 103rd Brigade.  For the next two months the Brigades rotated into and out of the trenches, the men resting in billets behind the lines when not in the trenches.  The Field Companies, however, did not move with their Brigades when the latter were relieved in the front line; the continuity of the engineering policy in the trench system required them to be shifted as little as possible.  Thus for the whole of this period the 208th Field Company worked in the trenches, their billets being just behind the front line at Rue Marle, near Chapelle d’Armentières.  The Divisional front extended from the Lille Road on the left some 3,000 yards to just beyond the Bridoux Salient on the right (the latter being a prominent feature of the British front line about a mile east of Bois Grenier).  There was also another salient, the Rue du Bois, near the centre.  Both were dangerous positions, being very near to the enemy line.  The front line was a continuous breastwork with a ditch in front and a trench behind, the latter very shallow on account of the proximity of surface water.  Some 1000 yards behind the front line was the reserve line, and between the two were the support and subsidiary support lines (S & SS lines).  The lines were linked by a network of communication trenches.

On its arrival, the 34th Division found the trenches in a very poor state.  The winter had been a wet one, and the land was low and almost level, so that drainage was a very difficult problem.  The 208th Field Company worked tirelessly to improve the state of the trenches.  The War Diary entry for 30/31 March 1916 gives a good indication of the type of work undertaken[5]:

SALIENT.  Repairing parapet in front of Estaminet.  Machine gun emplacement.  Drainage.

FRONT LINE.  Altering traverses and parapet: revetting, building new traverses, new fire step, building new bridge; boarding and draining.  New machine gun emplacement.

S & SS LINES.  Boarding and draining PARK ROW.  Draining near FERME DE BIEZ.  Extending and reclaiming; revetting and building fire bays, repairing dug-outs. 

British troops carrying timber up to the front line trenches (IWM).

British troops carrying timber up to the front line trenches (IWM).

 In early April 1916 the 34th Division was relieved by the 2nd Australian Division which was arriving in France from Gallipoli.  On 6 April the 208th Field Company spent the morning handing over to the 7th Australian Field Company and the afternoon packing up their stores and equipment.  The 34th Division moved to the Second Army training area near St Omer to prepare for the summer offensive, the 208th Company marching by stages to the village of Munq Nieurlet.  From 14-21 April the mounted and dismounted men undertook separate training programmes, then on 22 April the 208th marched to Boisdinghem where they spent the rest of the month on company training.  From 1-3 May the emphasis was on divisional training, and the Company practised trench attacks under the instructions of the 102nd Brigade.

In the first week of May the 34th Division moved to the Somme and rejoined III Corps.  The Divisional front extended from Mash Valley on the left some 2000 yards to Sausage Valley on the right.  In the centre, on the other side of No Man’s Land, was the village of La Boisselle.  The 208th Field Company left Boisdinghem on 6 May and entrained at St Omer for Longueau.  The following day they marched to Dernancourt, a couple of miles south-west of Albert.  While the 207th and 209th Field Companies were detailed to work in the forward area, the 208th Company remained at Dernancourt and spent the next seven weeks working behind the lines.  The scope of the Company’s work was wide-ranging and included the following:

  • Setting up and running the RE Yard at Dernancourt
  • Constructing a tramway east of Albert
  • Making a crossroads between the Albert-Dernancourt Road and the Albert-Méaulte Road
  • Building dugouts for the Divisional Headquarters at Moulin Vivier
  • Constructing wire entanglements and defences at Albert
  • Repairing the baths and laundry at Albert
  • Work on the quarries near Dernancourt
  • Work on the trenches near Usna Redoubt

On 25 June the 208th Field Company moved to a new camp near Dernancourt and began making preparations for the offensive.  Equipment was overhauled, stores were replenished and ammunition was stockpiled.  The men were kept busy with work in the RE Yard and camp fatigues.  On the night of 27/28 June the Company marched to Fir Wood in readiness for the assault which was due to begin on the 29th.  However, on the afternoon of the 28th word was received that the attack had been postponed by 48 hours owing to unfavourable weather, and the men marched back to camp at Dernancourt.  Finally, on the morning of 30 June, the 208th Field Company returned to Fir Wood and waited for the “Big Push” – the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme

In January 1916 the commanders-in-chief of the French and British armies, Joffre and Haig, had reached agreement to mount a joint offensive on the Western Front in the coming summer.  Although Haig had argued for an offensive in Flanders, the decision was taken to attack along a wide front at the point where the two armies met close to the Somme river.  The choice could hardly have been worse; the chalk-based nature of the ground here had allowed the Germans to construct deep underground shelters, largely untouchable by artillery.  North of the Somme river, the German lines ran along the higher ground, protected by dense concentrations of barbed wire and linked by heavily fortified villages and redoubts.  The offensive would be led by the French and was scheduled for mid-August 1916.

On 21 February 1916, however, everything changed.  The Germans launched a massive offensive further south against Verdun, and the French were forced to divert huge numbers of troops in the town’s defence.  The fighting at Verdun ran from February to December and radically changed the priorities of the Somme offensive.  From being in a supporting role, the British would now have to take the lead, although French forces would still be heavily involved.  Furthermore, to relieve the pressure on Verdun, the British would have to attack six weeks earlier than originally planned.  The new date for the start of the Somme offensive was 29 June 1916.

In essence, the plan involved a massive artillery bombardment of the German lines, followed by attacks from the British Fourth Army and the French Sixth Army across a broad front.  The British Third Army would contribute a limited diversionary attack at the northern end of the main attack front.  The major objective for the British was the town of Bapaume, while the French aimed for Peronne.  If a breakthrough could be achieved, the Allied forces could then attack north into the German flank, and cavalry could surge through to exploit the gap.

On 24 June the British artillery opened a bombardment that was to continue until the morning of the attack.  The bombardment was intended to destroy the German defences completely, but the shells failed to penetrate through to the underground shelters and left much of the barbed wire intact.  Indications that things were not going quite to plan came around 28 June.  Patrols sent out at night to examine the German defences found that the results of the bombardment were not as effective as expected.  Because of this, and because of recent heavy rain, the barrage was extended for another two days, pushing back the attack date to 1 July. 5Map

Dawn broke over the Somme on 1 July 1916 with a final intensification of the week-old artillery bombardment, the British guns firing for an hour at a combined rate of 3,500 rounds per minute.  In addition, between 07.20 and 07.30, ten explosive-filled mine works, dug beneath the German trenches, were detonated.  The largest of the mines contained more than 60,000 lbs of ammonal explosive, and they literally lifted large sections of the German trenches into the air.  Two minutes after the last mine detonated, the whistles blew and thousands of British and French infantry surged from their trenches into the attack.

The Somme attack plan broke down as follows.  General Edmund Allenby’s Third Army was to make a diversionary attack in the far north of the battlefield around Gommecourt.  Its purpose was to draw fire away from the main attack further south, made by General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s Fourth Army from just east of Serre to Maricourt.  Waiting to exploit any British breakthrough was Lieutenant General Sir Hubert Gough’s Reserve Army.  The French Sixth and Tenth Armies, meanwhile, were to attack in the south below Maricourt.

Tens of thousands of Allied soldiers now climbed out of their trenches into No Man’s Land, in good visibility with no element of surprise – the blowing of the mines and the cessation of the bombardment told the Germans they were coming.  German machine-gunners, who had emerged from their dugouts and quickly set up their weapons, and the largely untouched German artillery now delivered slaughter on an industrial scale.  Entire battalions were almost wiped out within minutes.  Those who managed to cross No Man’s Land often found themselves stuck against uncut barbed-wire, where they were picked off by accurate rifle fire.

In a devastating day of killing, the British sustained 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 were fatalities.  Nor was the loss for any great gain.  British attacks in the north made no progress at all, while the furthest British penetrations made by Fourth Army were about a mile in depth at their greatest extent further south, taking the villages of Montauban and Mametz.  In the far south, by contrast, the French armies actually exceeded most of their Day One objectives, being better supported by artillery and their infantry using more sensible and effective tactics of surprise and manoeuvre.

By the time night fell on 1 July 1916, the Somme battlefield was choked with British dead and wounded, the worst one-day loss in British history.

The 34th Division Attack on La Boisselle[6] 

La Boisselle, the fortified village on the main Albert-Bapaume Road, was the key to the advance to Pozières and any eventual breakthrough to Bapaume.  The task of capturing La Boisselle was given to Major General Ingouville-Williams’s 34th Division.


Ingouville-Williams placed two brigades in the front line (the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) on the left and the 101st on the right) whose duty it was to capture the German trenches on either side of the village and then the village itself.  In support along the Tara-Usna line was his third brigade, the 103rd (Tyneside Irish).  Their task was to pass through the leading brigades after these had captured the German trenches and the village and push into the rear, helping to widen the gap.  If a real collapse of the German defences in this sector occurred, the 19th (Western) Division and the cavalry were to follow the Tyneside Irish – Gough’s Reserve Army would get its chance.

The divisional attack would be in four columns, with each column consisting of two battalions of the leading brigade and one battalion of the 103rd Brigade.  Within the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade, the left column comprised the 20th Battalion, followed by the 23rd Battalion, with the 25th (2nd Tyneside Irish) Battalion in support and would pass to the north of La Boisselle.  The right column comprised the 21st Battalion, followed by the 22nd Battalion, with the 26th (3rd Tyneside Irish) Battalion in support and would pass south of the village.  Ingouville-Williams’s plan was straightforward.  At zero hour every battalion in his division would leave their trenches and advance; he left nothing in reserve.  He was determined to force the defences guarding the main road to Pozières.

At 22.00 on the evening of 30 June the 208th Field Company left Fir Wood and took up their positions in St Andrew’s Avenue, a communication trench which ran across Usna Hill a few yards to the north of the Albert-Bapaume Road.  Their task on 1 July was to follow the attacking infantry and assist in consolidating the ground gained.  To this end, one half-company, consisting of Nos 1 and 2 Sections, was assigned to the 23rd Battalion on the left, and the other half-company, consisting of Nos 3 and 4 Sections, was assigned to the 22nd Battalion on the right.  The half-companies were to wait until the 103rd Brigade had passed, whereupon they would collect material from the RE Dump, move forward to their respective Battalion’s objectives and assist in consolidation, in particular the construction of strongpoints.

The morning sun was breaking through the mist as the British barrage, pounding the German defences, reached its crescendo.  At 07.28, two minutes before zero, the mines at “Y Sap” and “Lochnagar” were detonated, the ground shook and tons of debris rained down on the forward enemy positions.  At precisely 07.30 the whistles blew and, led by their pipers, the 3,000 men of the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade went over the top.

Aerial photograph showing Y Sap crater and Lochnagar crater to north and southeast of La Boisselle respectively.  The lines of attack of the Tyneside Scottish battalions have been overlaid in white (Tyneside Scottish).

Aerial photograph showing Y Sap crater and Lochnagar crater to north and southeast of La Boisselle respectively.  The lines of attack of the Tyneside Scottish battalions have been overlaid in white (Tyneside Scottish).

Behind the German front line the defenders of La Boisselle had not been destroyed by the bombardment.  The two-minute gap between the explosion of the mines and the beginning of the advance had given the German machine gunners a head start; they quickly manned their positions and waited, allowing the waves of British infantry to reach a point of no return.  “You know Fritzie had let us come on just enough so that we were exposed coming down that slope.  That way we would cop it if we came forward and cop it just as bad if we tried to go back.  We were just scythed down.  We found out later that they must have aimed their machine guns at our thighs so that when we went down, we got hit again as we fell.” (Private J Elliot, 20th Battalion)

On the left the advance of the 20th and 23rd Battalions was heroically pressed forward.  The German front line followed the contours of Mash Valley and there were nearly 800 yards of No Man’s Land to be crossed.  Immediately the two battalions crossed the parapet they came under accurate cross-fire from machine guns in Ovillers and La Boisselle.  The effect of the German fire was dramatic.  Wave after wave of the Geordies was cut down but still they kept coming on, individual men or small parties stepping out when all around them had gone down.  “It was hell on earth; that is the only name I can give it.  We were the first over the trenches after the signal to advance and never a man faltered.  It was like going to a picnic, the way the men marched on, but it was only for a few yards, until the Hun got sight of us.  Then every kind of shell they possess was dropped amongst us and their machine guns also got in on the act”. (23-696 Private W Bloomfield, 23rd Battalion).  Within a few minutes these two battalions had practically ceased to exist; the survivors had no choice but to take cover and were pinned down in No Man’s Land.

Meanwhile on the right the 21st and 22nd Battalions were also suffering tremendous casualties.  However, some men managed to fight their way through to the enemy second line, and a bombing party set off for the third line: “…our bombers were at work and reached their third line which they held for a short time, but out of which we were bombed step by step – all our bombs being used up.  While this was happening we were consolidating the other two lines, which we held against repeated bombing attacks.  The men were splendid but very tired; I had to pull myself together with a mouthful of brandy once or twice.  We were now busy digging the Bosches out of their dugouts.  They all threw their hands in the air and yelled “Mercy Kamerad”. (Captain W Herries, 22nd Battalion).  The COs of both the 21st and 22nd Battalions had been killed, and Major Acklom now took command of the remnants of these two battalions.  With seven officers and approximately 200 men, Acklom grimly held on to their gains in the German lines.

The 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade had nearly a mile to advance from their positions along the Tara-Usna line before they even reached the original British starting line.  Artillery and machine gun fire cut these men down as soon as they came within range: “I could see, away to my left and right, long lines of men.  Then I heard the “patter, patter” of machine guns in the distance.  By the time I’d gone another ten yards there seemed to be only a few men left around me; by the time I had gone twenty yards, I seemed to be on my own.  Then I was hit myself.” (26-936 Sergeant J Galloway, 26th Battalion).  Most of the casualties in the Tyneside Irish were taken before they reached their own front line.  Eventually, after twenty minutes, the survivors reached the British trenches and their chance to shelter from the terrible fire.  But they did not stop; their orders had been to follow the leading brigades, and they continued their advance across No Man’s Land.  A few men managed to reach the German front line where they found the remnants of the Tyneside Scottish holding on.  However, instead of taking shelter with them, the Tyneside Irish, still mindful of their orders, set off again to fight their way through the German trench system.  A small group even penetrated as far as Contalmaison, but these determined men were cut off and destroyed.

The Tyneside Irish Brigade advancing from the Tara-Usna Line to La Boisselle, 1 July 1916 (IWM).

The Tyneside Irish Brigade advancing from the Tara-Usna Line to La Boisselle, 1 July 1916 (IWM).

All this time the German artillery was keeping up a stiff barrage, and the survivors spent the remainder of the day under very trying conditions.  In No Man’s Land Private Elliot was trying to help Sergeant Billy Grant: “During a lull we tried to dress Billy’s wound but Fritzie was on his toes and every movement attracted fire.  Anyway the wound was a big mush, the flies were on him as soon as he got hit and he was helpless on his back, poor Billy was soon beyond human help.  The Germans started shelling the battlefield with artillery and I think that did for a lot of our fellows who were stuck out there without cover.  Certainly those shells were lashing us late afternoon.  We could do absolutely nothing.  There was about ten of us just stuck there on our bellies, heads down as far as they would go.  We were thirsty but none dared reach for his water bottle.  For me it was the longest day of my life and I never thought it would end”.

As the day wore on the stretcher bearers were busy and conspicuous by their gallant attempts to bring in the wounded.  Medical officers worked continuously to try and clear the wounded from the congested trenches, and as dusk arrived the survivors in No Man’s Land were brought, tired and thirsty, back to the British lines.

In the German front line, Major Acklom and his men spent a weary night, waiting for the German counter-attack that never came.  On 2 July the Germans shelled their positions, causing some casualties, but the men held on.  In the afternoon the 9th Cheshires (58th Brigade, 19th Division) began to arrive in preparation for a further advance.  The Tynesiders started to move back, but on the way Acklom received a message that they must return to the front line and hold it at all costs, so back they went.  Food, water and ammunition were brought up, as well as several machine guns, and by midnight they were able to report that the position was secure and that the strength of the party was now five officers and 155 men.

It was not until midnight on 3 July that the 58th Brigade began the relief of the remnants of the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish Brigade), and the weary survivors started making their way back to the British lines.

What of the fate of the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company?  As the attack developed, the engineers could only watch as the infantrymen advanced into a hail of artillery and machine gun fire.  Their orders were to wait until the 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade had passed them, whereupon they would follow with their stores and equipment.  The War Diary takes up the story:

“When the 103rd Brigade had gone by, Nos 1 and 2 Sections collected their materials and attempted to cross No Man’s Land, but owing to heavy shell and machine gun fire were unable to do so and retired.  Several casualties were sustained, and the Sections became somewhat scattered.  About 40 men were collected and remained in our lines under 2nd Lieutenant C A Ablett until 2 pm, when they were utilised to carry bombs and water to the South Mine Crater, via the tunnels, until 9.30 pm.

Nos 3 and 4 Sections also collected RE material and moved forward with it, but owing to both their section officers and several other ranks being wounded by shell fire, they did not get into No Man’s Land and were ordered by their officers to get into dug-outs.  They became scattered and were not collected until 8 pm.  Orders were received from the GOC for the Company to proceed to dug-outs in Becourt Wood and the Company was reassembled there – Nos 3 and 4 Sections marching, to be joined later by Nos 1 and 2 Sections.”

The Cost

The 34th Division’s attack on La Boisselle on 1 July was a failure.  The battle was resumed the next day when the 19th (Western) Division, which had been held in reserve, was put into the attack.  By 15.30 some of the men had bombed their way into the village, leading to some severe house-to-house fighting with the German defenders, and the village was eventually taken the following day.  German counter-attacks had to be fought off and only by 5 July could the village be said to be safely in Allied hands.

The 34th Division suffered 6,380 casualties on 1 July 1916, making it the worst-hit of the sixteen divisions used on the day.  The 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade lost 87 officers and 2,201 other ranks killed, wounded and missing[7].

The 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers’ War Diary does not record casualties, but according to Soldiers Died in the Great War, one officer and five other ranks were killed on 1 July 1916.  One of these was Corporal Harry Hazel.  Harry’s body was not recovered, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial along with 72,194 other British and Commonwealth soldiers who died on the Somme and who have no known grave.

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial


Harry Hazel is also commemorated on the Wimbotsham and Stow Bardolph War Memorial (below) and on the 34th Norfolk Division Royal Engineers War Memorial in Norwich Cathedral.


12Close up



Of the seven Norwich City Police constables who joined the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers in the summer of 1915, only three survived the war.  Harry Hazel was the first to be killed.  The second was 85542 Sapper William Green who contracted trench fever and died at home on 18 November 1916.  85544 Pioneer Herbert Whitehand was killed on 6 May 1917 during the Battle of Arras while serving with “Z” Special Company RE[8], and 85595 Sapper Henry Crisp was killed on 1 September 1917 during the 34th Division’s attack on the Hindenburg Line.  These four men, together with the three survivors – 85503 William Jinks, 85549 William Andrew and 85666 Arthur Bell – are commemorated on the Norwich City Police War Memorial which is located in Bethel Street Police Station in Norwich.

15Police memorial


The Norwich City Police was one of four police forces that comprised the Norfolk Constabulary in 1914.  The others were the Great Yarmouth County Borough Police, the King’s Lynn Borough Police and the Norfolk County Constabulary.  Altogether, twenty officers and police staff from the Norfolk Constabulary fell in the Great War.  On 11 November 2015 a new Roll of Honour to commemorate these men was dedicated at the Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters at Wymondham by the Chief Constable.


17Police names

Acknowledgments and Sources

Clare Agate: Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library

Peter Billingham, Peter Pilgram and Tom Walton: Norfolk Constabulary Historians

Rosie Foottit: Friends of Norwich Cathedral

Steve Smith: Historian, Author and Battlefield Tour Guide

Norfolk Constabulary Roll of Honour by Steve Smith (Great War Britain Norfolk Monthly Archives November 2015 –

Slaughter on the Somme by John Grehan & Martin Mace (Pen & Sword 2013)

The First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook (Penguin 1984)

The Somme, France 1916 by Chris McNab (Pitkin Publishing 2010)

Tracing British Battalions on the Somme by Ray Westlake (Pen & Sword 2009)

Tyneside Scottish by Graham Stewart & John Sheen (Pen & Sword 1998)

The Thirty-Fourth Division 1915-1919 by Lt Col J Shakespeare (H, F & G Witherby 1921)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Imperial War Museum

National Archives:-

War Diary of the 208th (Norfolk) Field Company Royal Engineers (Reference:                   WO 95/2449/2)

Metropolitan Police Register of Leavers (Reference: MEPO 4/340)

England & Wales Birth, Marriage and Death Indices 1837-1915

England Census Records 1851-1911

Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards

British WW1 Service Medal & Award Rolls 1914-1920

British Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929


[1] The biographical information in this paragraph was provided by the Norfolk Constabulary Historians.

[2] Shortly afterwards Jinks was transferred to the Military Foot Police.

[3] L/Cpl W G Sanders, 10th Essex Regiment, quoted in The First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook.

[4] It follows that no man who was with the original contingent was awarded the 1914-15 Star.

[5] National Archives, Reference: WO 95/2449/2.

[6] The quotations from soldiers are taken from Tyneside Scottish by Graham Stewart and John Sheen (Pen & Sword Books Limited).

[7] The dead included the COs of all four Tyneside Scottish battalions.  The 34th Division’s commander, Major General Ingouville-Williams, was killed near Mametz Wood on 22 July.

[8] “Z” Special Company RE was formed in 1916 to develop a British version of the German flamethrower, but it proved to be unwieldy and was soon abandoned.  However, the Company’s CO, Captain Livens, went on to develop the Livens Projector, a type of mortar which was used to fire gas-filled projectiles.

The Home Front in Norwich

I’ve been looking very close to home for my next contribution to the blog, and found some fascinating clues about the effects that war had on Norwich Library between 1914 and 1920. The Norfolk Heritage Centre has a set of the Public Library Committee’s annual reports to the Town Council, and these contain all sorts of information…


                 Norwich Public Library, Duke Street early 20th century

 The 1914-15 annual report includes very little reference to the war, and it appears that life and work carried on with few changes. I was interested to see that ‘Some progress has been made with the Norfolk and Norwich Photographic Survey, which was inaugurated in January 1913,’ and amused that ‘it was deemed inadvisable to hold Survey Committee meetings and exhibitions during war time.’ The following year’s report notes that ‘it is hoped that a section can be devoted to the pictorial representation of Norfolk’s share in the Great War, and … donations of photographs of Norfolk regiments, portraits of officers, and portraits of men who have obtained distinction in the war’ were requested.

The chairman of the Library Committee also noted in March 1915 that since the outbreak of war, attendances in the News and Reading Rooms (where a wide range of newspapers and magazines were available) had ‘decreased by about 150 daily’ – a drop of about 12% in comparison with the previous year. The only other impact of war is recorded in the paragraphs about staff, where the Senior Assistant in the Lending Department Mr F T Bussey’s request in March 1915 for permission to enlist in His Majesty’s Forces for the period of the war is noted.

The 1915-16 report clearly indicates that war is now having an impact – it starts with a section headed The Library in War-Time, which begins ‘The Committee realised that there are special national functions which the Library can fulfil during the present period of stress and strain’. Activities undertaken included distributing leaflets issued by the Central Committee for National Patriotic Organizations which examined the causes of the war, and the purchase of a number of books and pamphlets about the origins, causes and history of the war and the countries involved. Many soldiers were billeted in Norwich, and they were given access to all the Library facilities, including being allowed to borrow books. The City Librarian contributed notes to the local papers on ‘What soldiers read’ – the Annual Report notes that ‘their reading was very varied in character, and embraced all branches of knowledge – an interesting illustration of the high mental quality of the great British Army.’!

Another innovation prompted by the war was the creation of the Camps Library, which provided a service for British Army camps at home and abroad. Public Libraries were asked for assistance and Norwich Library supplied the best of the discarded books from the Lending Library and also acted as a collection point for public donations of books and magazines to be sent on to the Camps Library.

Elsewhere in this report a small drop in book issues is noted, with the information that this is common in most other public libraries, due to ‘the enlistment of borrowers and the many national demands on the spare time of others’ although ‘the surprisingly small decrease in this Library’s issues is partly due to its use by soldiers billeted in Norwich.’

The main impact of the war on the Library by this time was its effect on the staffing. The report points out that it had been ‘anticipated that the reorganization of the Reference Library, including the compilation of a catalogue, could be commenced, but the enlistment of the trained members of the staff has caused the postponement of this very necessary work.’ Elsewhere we find that ‘The enlistment of the Sub-Librarian… necessitated the constant attendance of the City Librarian during Library hours, and it was therefore decided to close the Library at 9pm instead of 10pm on week-days and not to open the Reading Room on Sundays.’ And the picture becomes clearer when we read ‘The war has seriously depleted the staff, three members having been granted permission to enlist in H M Forces, with the promise of their positions being retained. In April Mr F T Bussey, the Senior Assistant in the Lending Department, enlisted in the Norfolk Division of the Royal Engineers, and is now in France; in October Mr Charles Nowell, the Sub-Librarian, enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles OTC; and in January Mr R A Nobbs enlisted in the Royal Navy. … Temporary lady assistants have been engaged to carry on the routine work of the Library.’


 Arthur R Nobbs, Royal Navy

 Subsequent reports during the war years and just after continue to include paragraphs on The Library in War-Time and mention, amongst other things, the purchase of books on ’subjects of national importance’ such as Child Welfare; the making of munitions; thrift and economy; and vegetable gardening. The use of the Library by soldiers is recorded in each report, together with the information that the Library held ‘all the important books recommended in the official syllabus issued by the Army in connexion with the scheme of educational training for young soldiers.’ The City Librarian was asked by the military authorities to arrange educational lectures for the soldiers, and many were delivered in the later years of the war, on a range of subjects and mostly illustrated with lantern slides. Official thanks from commanding officers for these and the access to the Library for soldiers are noted in the reports, as well as individual letters of thanks from officers and men. One of these is reproduced in the 1917-18 report, as it accompanied the presentation to the Library by Lieut. Colonel W A J O’Meara of a wax model of part of the Somme Battlefields. He wrote that it represented ‘a small thankoffering’ for the assistance and facilities of the Library that he’d enjoyed during the time he’d been in Norwich.

The 1918-19 report sees the first mention of a ‘Norfolk and Norwich Roll of Honour of the natives and residents who have fallen in the War’, which the Committee agreed should be compiled under the supervision of the City Librarian. By the time the 1919-20 report was compiled, it was estimated that 11,500 names had been recorded, of which 2,600 were Norwich men.

In the 1916-17 report we learn that ‘With the view of preserving a local record of Norfolk’s share in the great war, the Committee has begun to collect suitable items, and would welcome donations of printed or written material which would in any way help to further this object.’ Items requested included portraits of the fallen, press notices of regiments and of individuals, letters describing the experiences of men at the Front, maps, posters and items relating to local branches of the British Red Cross, Volunteers, Special Constables and other war organisations. Later reports record considerable numbers of additions of this type of material, and the 1919-20 report states that ‘nearly all the additions of prints, as in the two previous years, were photographs of men who fell in the War.’ In the summer of 1919 the Library Committee co-operated with the Castle Museum Committee in putting on a Local War Exhibition in the Halls; many local war photos from the Library’s collection were displayed, and ‘an important feature was a collection of photographs of fallen heroes, exhibited in an ante-room.’ These war portraits are now held at the Norfolk Heritage Centre; they have been digitised and are accessible on Picture Norfolk .


picture norfolk screen grab

It’s very revealing to trace the Library’s staffing situation through all the reports from 1914-15 to 1919-20. In 1915-16 three members of staff were given permission to enlist and temporary lady assistants were employed in order to carry on the day to day routines. A year later the report notes that ‘the work of the Library has been carried on with considerable difficulty, owing to further changes in the staff, which had already been seriously depleted. The Committee has had to dispense with the services of two junior assistants with three years’ experience: Mr C C Dye resigned in December and entered a munition factory, and Mr F W Oakes was called to the colours in February. During the year there have been five changes in the temporary staff of lady assistants. Four members of staff are now serving in H M Forces. The Sub-Librarian, Sec.-Lieut. Chas. Nowell (22nd London Regiment), was wounded in France in September, but he was able to return to his military duties in December.’

The news improves in 1919, when the Committee reports that they ‘were glad to welcome the Sub-Librarian, Lieut. Charles Nowell, on his return to the Library in March, after three and a half years’ service in the Army in France and at home.’ And also that they were ‘pleased to record that Sapper Frank T Bussey, the Chief Assistant in the Lending Library, was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty in the offensive in July 1918.’ The story continues in the report for 1919-20, where it is noted that ‘the reorganisation of the Reference Library was begun soon after the return of the Sub-Librarian from military service’ and that as soon as the work was completed, ‘a card catalogue of the Library will be prepared.’ The end of the saga is recorded here too, when the Committee ‘were pleased to welcome the Chief Assistant, Sapper Frank T Bussey, MM, on his return to the Library in June, after four years’ service in France.’

And what of Mr Oakes and Mr Nobbs? A quick check of various databases on Ancestry (available on all Norfolk Library Service computers) leads me to suggest that Arthur Nobbs served as a Sick Berth Attendant at Pembroke I (Royal Navy barracks at Chatham) and Pembroke II, the Royal Oak and at Chatham Hospital. He was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal and was paid a War gratuity of £64 in 1922, the year that he was discharged from the service. It appears that he married Ellen Patience Lamb towards the end of 1921 and they both lived to a good age – she died 1971 in Hampshire and he lived until 1973, dying in Surrey. But F W Oakes is more elusive, and I’m still trying to find basic information such as his full name, so that I can search for his war record.


Community Librarian

Millennium Library