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 March: Communion Set

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 many serving soldiers, religion was an integral part of daily life.  This small wooden communion set, used on the Western Front by Reverend L E Baumer while serving with Norfolk’s 8th battalion (and currently in the Regimental Displays at Norwich Castle), highlights the importance of religion to many soldiers during the First World War.

Communion set owned by Reverend L E Baumer, chaplain to the 8th Norfolks

Communion set owned by Reverend L E Baumer, chaplain to the 8th Norfolks

The delicacy of the polished set and its mere existence today suggest it has been well cared for. Baumer and his fellow chaplains delivered Divine Service every Sunday and offered spiritual and practical support to thousands of men. This set would have been at his side across the Western Front;, from dugout to trench to field station. Over 150 Army Chaplains were killed during the First World War.

In May 1915, an officer in Norfolk’s 1st battalion wrote;

“A padre came up onto the wood this morning and gave us a service.  It was the weirdest I have ever been to; the bullets were ‘zipping’ and humming just over us, to say nothing of the German guns which just about then had a sudden fit of extra energy”

Chaplain attached to 2nd Volunteer battalion, 1905

Chaplain attached to 2nd Volunteer battalion, Clacton-on-Sea, 1905

In a time of unprecedented horror, many impressionable young soldiers turned toward religion to find comfort, while others turned away. Either way, Chaplains were always there to listen. Cecil Upcher, of the 9th Norfolks speaks of ‘the Padre’ with affection, and gives us an insight into the role of these men, many of whom never returned;

“Reported at HQ and were sent off to a billet a mile away. No one there so we trudged back again to HQ and there poured out our woes to the Padre.”

“The officers race was quite amusing, I needless to say came in with the dregs and there were a lot of them.   Quartermaster, Padre & the Colonel had a big start, the Quartermaster won.”

“The Padre never turned up yesterday but I’m not surprised as I know they had heaps to do further back.”

“The Padre has just been up to visit us and have a chat.   Also the [Colonel].   One appreciates people coming round I can tell you.”

Padre Hinchcliffe, attached to 2nd Norfolks

Padre Hinchcliffe, attached to 2nd Norfolks, 1920s

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 January: Albert

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.

On paper, January was a month of “rest” for Norfolk’s 8th battalion. The men had been stationed at the French town of Albert for over a month, aiding in its defence, away from front line trenches. A look at many diaries and letters however says little of rest.

The shattered Basilica at Albert, taken from a popular print.

The shattered Basilica at Albert, taken from a popular print. The “Golden Virgin” hangs over the edge.

Albert, which lies between Amiens and Bapaume, became a symbol of Allied resistance when the golden statue of Mary and her infant Jesus, atop the Basilica of Notre-Dame de brebieres, slumped to an almost horizontal position after a shell burst. “Protecting the Golden Virgin” therefore, was a task which gained symbolic significance and captured the imagination of people at home. This textile, made by F. W Taverham, goes some way in highlighting the romanticism of Albert and similar churches.

 

Silk chair cover painted with views of churches at Albert, Arras, Persomme and Ypres

Silk chair cover painted with churches on the Western Front, by F. W Taverham . Clockwise from top left – Albert, Arras, Ypres and Persomme..

For the 8th battalion however, daily life was still hard going. Fatigue duty, or manual labouring – usually digging or carrying equipment, was a constant. Private A E England wrote sombrely,

“sometimes it would be carrying boxes of explosive ammonal up muddy communication trenches or even the top of sapheads, or perhaps we would be wanted by the sappers to work in the tunnel filling sandbags with the chalky soil excavated by the engineers and passing them back on hands and knees along a chain of one’s unfortunate comrades all similarly crouched and listening from time-to-time for the sound of Jerry’s pickaxe engaged in the same fearful activity”. 

Private W H Dunnell noted,

“We badly need out of here, socks more than anything, warm home-knitted socks… Our feet are always wet now, so the more we can change our socks the better”. 

Men of the 8th Norfolks with an Indian soldier. The "Golden Virgin" lies almost toppled in the background

Men of the 8th Norfolks with an Indian soldier. The “Golden Virgin” lies almost toppled in the background.

The evident angst among the 8th battalion men is perhaps best summed up by Private G F Mason. In a fit of rage, he wrote bitterly about men back home who were yet to sign up. In a letter to his sister, he exclaimed,

“Some of them will have to leave their nice little jobs they got, after us first chaps come away… I’ve got the nark and would tell someone off if I could. Well sod the thing am [sic]  going to close now. Love from your loving brother”.

Mason’s remarks, typical of a soldier in poor conditions and bad weather, were soon to ring true. Conscription became the order of the day in the early months of 1916. In the meantime, the 8th would have to make the best of Albert; mud, monotony, weet feet and occasional “rest”.

The Norfolk Regiment in December: Kut Al Amara & Turkish P.O.W Beaded Snake

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.

Prisoners of war made many items; it kept them occupied, provided mementoes to send home and articles to sell or barter for cigarettes or better food. Turkish prisoner beadwork included lizards, bags, bookmarks, watch fobs and jewellery, but snakes are the most common. They were made in camps in Egypt, Great Britain, Salonika, France, Mesopotamia and Cyprus.  Some snakes have a lizard in their mouth.

Beaded Snake made by Turkish prisoner of War

Beaded Snake made by Turkish prisoner of War.

Items of this nature became increasingly more common toward the end of 1915 and into 1916, particularly among Norfolk’s 2nd battalion fighting in Mesopotamia. They were bartered, swapped and exchanged loosely between men of all ranks who revelled in the exoticism of colour and material. Yet it was here, 100 years ago, that the battalion suffered its most intense four months of the campaign.

Following the allied reverse at Ctesiphon, December 1915 saw the beginning of the great 147-day siege of Kut Al Amara. ‘Kut’ lies approximately 100 miles south of Baghdad, and sat between the Ottoman forces, four days march behind the allies, and the British base at Basra. It was here that the Allied forces, licking their wounds, rallied to face the Ottomans. The siege would be a disaster for the allies who were completely surrounded, hampered by confusing lines of communication and slowly beginning to starve.

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

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

After a number of failed relief expeditions from Basra, and in the face of a determined foe, Major-General Charles Townshend finally surrendered the garrison on 29th April 1916. Tens of thousands of his men were made prisoner, with huge amounts dying of disease during captivity. Some mortality-rate figures are as high as 70%.

These prisoner-made mementoes, from both sides, are remarkable pieces of art. Yet behind most of them is a story of death, disease and malnourishment. Particularly those from Mesopotamia in 1915-16.

An Arab market in Mesopotamia, 1915. Trinkets were bought and sold here frequently

An Arab market in Mesopotamia, 1915. Trinkets were                                         bought and sold here frequently.

 

Turkish Prisoners of War

Turkish Prisoners of War.

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

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