Nelson the Tank Bank: Norfolk’s Tank Weeks

From Records Held at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO)

The use of tanks in warfare began during the First World War.  These mammoth metal machines captured the public’s imagination.  The National War Savings Committee seized on this fascination in a publicity campaign to promote the sale of War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.  Tank Weeks were held all over the country with the incentive that the town raising the most money per capita would get to keep battle scarred Egbert, one of the tanks which had been brought over from France.

Six tanks toured the country;  Julian, Old Bill, Nelson, Drake, Egbert and Iron Ration.  Unsurprisingly and most appropriately Nelson came to Norfolk.  Tanks would visit towns staying for up to a week during which time rallying speeches by local dignitaries would encourage the crowds who thronged to see the tank to buy War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.  Often, as was the case with Nelson, the tank itself would be used as a “Tank Bank” from which Bonds and Certificates could be bought.  Norwich Tank Week, held during the first week of April 1918, offered a further inducement with a lottery of £500 of War Savings Certificates to give away.

This blog uses records held or accessible online at the NRO.  See also the blog based on records held at the Norfolk Heritage Centre, A New Secret Weapon.

Diss Express reported on 5th April 1918 that the aim of Norwich Tank Week was to raise £250,000.  However the photo below shows a Norwich City Engineer’s plan for a fundraising barometer to be displayed at the Guildhall that had a target of one million pounds.

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Fundraising barometer to be displayed at the Guildhall. NRO, N/EN 20/49

Nelson arrived in Norwich on 31st March 1918 and made its way to the Guildhall.  Tank week at Norwich was officially opened on Monday.  The ‘task’ was that of raising a quarter of a million, but this was easily accomplished within fifteen minutes of the opening.  (Diss Express 5th April 1918).  The formal opening by the Lord Mayor was followed by an address by George Roberts, MP and Minister of Labour.  He spoke of the crisis faced by the country and of the great bravery of the men fighting at the Front which no doubt did much to rally the crowds to make their contributions.

Over £380,000 was invested in the first fifteen minutes.  Norwich Corporation invested £55,000, Norwich Union Fire Insurance £100,000, Norwich Union Life Insurance £150,000, Pearl Insurance £10,000 and Jewsons £20,000.  Just over £40,000 came from private investors and the Special Constables of Norwich who were in attendance at the opening event.

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The Lord Mayor opening Tank Week. NRO, ETN 6/14/2/1-11

Prior to Tank Week Sir Eustace Gurney had written to the National Council of Women, Norfolk & Norwich Branch to ask whether the women of Norwich could be involved.  At their meeting it was agreed that it would be a great pity to refuse help on the first occasion when it was asked.  It was decided to hold a Women’s Afternoon (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).

Wednesday was the designated day for women and children.  A demonstration in support of the campaign was organized by the newly formed local branch of the National Union of Women Workers.

In the morning school children handed over their contributions which included £400 from the Blyth Jex School and £210 from the City of Norwich School.  The presence of the women in the afternoon was formidable and came from a wide range of trades including munition girls, railway workers, Carrow Works, the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Cooperative Guild.

The Lady Mayoress spoke of the opportunity to support the campaign.  Those who, like herself, had always been in favour of the enfranchisement of women, had known all along that they only needed an opportunity to serve the State (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).  Other female dignitaries also addressed the crowds including Miss Bignold who, despite her 83 years, climbed onto the Tank to speak. Two military bands played throughout the day and there was a military concert that evening at St Andrew’s Hall.  By the end of Wednesday the Guildhall Barometer showed £691,000.

The newspaper clippings from the minute book of the National Council of Women give a flavour of that day.

The third day of the Norwich tank campaign was marked in the forenoon by a great gathering of children from the schools.  They marched in procession to the Market Place.

A women’s demonstration in support of the tank campaign was celebrated in the afternoon with a weight and momentum incomparably greater than anything the week has witnessed so far. 

The tank was flying the small and smoke-and-grease stained flag that it had carried at Ypres and in the Cambrai Push.

The women marched up by thousands; and for hours in the afternoon there was a most exhilarating pressure of business in the Sessions Court, and in the tank stamping office.

Not everyone was happy about the event.  The National Council of Women recorded that one member was so unhappy about the Council’s involvement that she had resigned.  Her reasons, unfortunately, were not given (NRO, SO 226/1 944×7).  Equally disgruntled was Frank Palmer who lived on St Gregory’s Plain.  In a letter to his father he wrote:

A Tank comes here on Easter Monday & the usual humbug  will be (?)  in procession composed of Spec Cons, Volunteers, Boy Scouts & causing a hell of a lot of work which to my mind is unnecessary. 

(NRO, MC 2440/1/7 973×4)

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Norfolk’s Special Constables at the Formal Opening of Tank Week. NRO, ETN 6/14/2/1-11

Tank Weeks were held in other parts of the county.  Thetford had a model tank and raised £6000 (Diss Express 31st May 1918).  Yarmouth raised £217,000 and the Mayor, Arthur Harbord, was commended for his enthusiasm and effort in the fundraising campaign.  In May 1918 the Yarmouth Independent reported on a presentation made to Harbord and his wife.  Mrs Harbord was presented with a pair of scissors while he was presented with a pair of white gloves and an album with the Yarmouth arms in gold on its cover inside which was one War Savings prize draw.

While the prize of Egbert for the most money raised per capita finally went to West Hartlepool, the various communities of Norfolk raised a considerable sum for the war effort and Norwich surpassed its one million pound target.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

 

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Thick Heads, Cowards and Unmitigated Scoundrels – A Personal Perspective of War. The Naval Letters of Fairman Rackham Mann.

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Fairham Rackham Mann, known as Rack, was a fleet surgeon with the Navy during the First World War.  He was the son of Mary Elizabeth Mann whose family records are also held at the Norfolk Record Office.  Rack’s frequent letters to his mother reveal a very frank and personal perspective of the war. (NRO, MC 2716 A1/30)

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Fairham Rackham Mann. NRO, MC 2716 G8

Rack was 44 when war broke out and, with the benefit of hindsight, he confessed that he wished he had retired before war had been declared so that he could have joined the Territorials instead.  It is having to be a doctor doing a job I loathe, running all the risks getting none of the glory that sticks in my gizzard.

In 1914 Rack was on HMS Pactolus at the submarine depot in Ardrossan, Scotland.  He was not enamoured with his posting.  I am fed up with Scotland and long to be away.  I think I would rather go to sea than stay on here much longer.

Rack’s first letter was written before war had been declared. He seemed resigned to the inevitable but tried to reassure his mother.  It seems absolute madness for us to think of fighting over this Balkan business. . . . I have heard news that I think war is practically certain . . . I want you to realise that while I remain here I am perfectly safe. . . . . You must try not to worry.  If the newspapers worry you don’t read them.

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HMS Pactolus. NRO, MC 2716 G7

HMS Pactolus’ role was to protect the Nobel dynamite works at Ardrossan.  Life there seemed to consist of drunken soldiers falling in the Basin and drowning and of the frequent explosions at the very dynamite factory they had been sent to protect.

At first, Rack was quite dismissive of the Zeppelins.  I think the Zeppelins won’t do very much.  They may drop a bomb or two in London which would be no bad thing in my opinion.  It’d certainly buck up recruiting. Doubtless this would not have been a view shared by Londoners!

However his views changed over time.  He attempted to explain to his mother why the Navy was not in a position to stop the raids.  They do this (Zeppelin raids) for purely political reasons.  The Hun has got the idea into his thick head that we are a race of cowards & that a little frightfulness of this sort will help his side; and besides it bucks up the German masses at home who are in a pretty bad way.

He later described the bombardment of Scarborough and how the Navy was thwarted from preventing it due to the fog.  The whole navy has been weeping about it ever since . . . I think you and your pals in Ormesby will now modify your views about the navy habitually being too drunk or too taken up with dances to attend to their job.

In the early days, Rack was not keen on the Americans getting involved.  Following the sinking of the Lusitania he wrote:  Suppose the U.S. will have to stomach it.  They can do nothing & we don’t particularly want them in.

However by 1917 he felt that their involvement would shorten the war.  Not because the Yanks are in a position to do much fighting – but because they can lend us money, patrol a bit by the sea, & more than anything else, the Huns can now say they can’t fight the whole world.

Rack also wrote of the trials of life both for himself and for his mother.  He was not one for officialdom and directed his anger towards the little creatures who live at Tooting in £30 a year houses.  They sit in a little office at the Admiralty all day and write insulting letters to the men who are helping to keep them safe.

He was also concerned for his mother’s welfare.  The prices of things at home seem to be terrible.  I hope you are feeding yourselves properly.  Remember I have tons of money which is quite useless to me under present conditions and you can have as much as you like whenever you want it.

In 1916 Rack became the staff surgeon on HMS Agamemnon in the Aegean, based mainly at Mudros and Salonika.  He was there for two years.

His frequent letters did not equate to his news.  On one occasion he told her I simply have nothing to write to you about.  I was ashore about 8 days ago was bored stiff in ten minutes but had to wait 3 hours there for a boat to take me back to the ship.

Various entertainments were provided for the crew.  He described a fancy dress ball on the ship.  All men of course but many were dressed as females & a few looked quite fetching. . . . . The men take their dancing very seriously & do it very well . . . . They lead a deadly existence & the making of the dresses kept them interested for weeks.

In April 1918 Rack moved to Bedenham Camp at Fareham.  This prompted a visit to Brighton to see a similar camp.  His comments were unusual in that he had rarely written about his work before.  The medical arrangements in utter chaos owing to lack of staff & accommodation – so yesterday I went to London to see the Director General & told him about it – He was very enraged . . .Anyway I think I so shook them up at the admiralty that I think I may get some stores . . . We are to have 2000 men here with another 2000 to follow . . They are under canvas in a rain sodden field – no bottom boards available for tents & no mattresses. 

In October 1918 Rack was promoted to Surgeon Commander.  Why they made this change nobody knows as very few people wanted it.  I suppose I shall have to get a new coat & buy a new hat.

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Surgeon Commander Fairham Rackham Mann. NRO, MC 2716 G12/13

Rack’s final letters commented on the political situation and his prospects of returning home.  He was pessimistic about the outcome of a forthcoming election.  The ignorant masses have these votes. It will be mob rule. . . . In my opinion Winston Churchill, the most unmitigated scoundrel that this country has ever produced, will be first president of the republic.

Rack finally returned home.  For his mother his letters were undoubtedly precious and reassuring.  They are also an important record, giving a frank account of daily life during the war years as it affected one particular individual.  Fairham Rackham Mann died in 1943.

Daryl Long – NRO Blogger

 

 

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Training in the First World War as recalled by Malcolm Castle

Most World War I history recalls the terrible scenes of battle and countless British men adapting to life in the trenches. However an army, particularly one consisting of mostly volunteers, cannot function on the battlefield without proper training and one recruit, Malcolm Castle, a Norwich man, recalled the kind of routine that took place on a typical First World War training ground.

On the 4th of August Britain declared war on Germany. Seeing as the island nation was taking on a European superpower with a much more experienced land army, the British Army needed all the manpower it could get to fight. Many officers were sent out to various settlements across the United Kingdom to recruit as many men as possible. One such recruit was office worker, Malcolm Castle who approached the Artillery Drill Hall a day after the war began to apply for a commission in the East Anglian Field Artillery. After consulting Major Percy Wiltshire, the officer gave Castle a note for Lieutenant Colonel Le Mottee of Norwich. After obtaining his father’s permission he eventually found the Colonel who accepted him subject to the approval of The War Office. He was then medically examined by Dr R. J. Mills who had just returned from Germany. Britain not only required an army with much man power but it also needed a healthy one, therefore rigorous medical examinations were conducted for all new recruits. This was especially important to retain military strength, particularly after the Boer War when it was discovered that many of the volunteer recruits were in a poor physical condition, a lot of them being turned down as a result.

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Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

At the end of the day after posting an application for a commission, Castle joined the 1st Norfolk Battery. The following morning, he saw himself at 6am on duty at the Nelson School which was being used as temporary barracks. After a quick breakfast back home he was on duty all morning and afternoon. This routine became more constant for Castle but he adapted quickly to army life, often appearing in the Drill Hall at the crack of dawn. He soon went on to Doddinghurst where he got the chance to ride some of the chargers two ‘good’ mares before finding the battery headquarters. He described it as ‘a most awful place’, his friends Miles and Martin were forced to sleep on the floor, given the fact that there were only two beds which were both infested with fleas. Early in the morning, Castle and his groom, Gunner Rice rode to Cow’s Farm where another friend, Ruddoch helped him build a shack to sleep in. When he returned to Norwich Castle he was quartered at the Cavalry Barracks, a member of the 12th Lancers lending him a bed.

After leaving the cavalry barracks Castle’s battery was stationed by orders of Colonel J.W. Currie at Spixworth Park. Castle was an Orderly Officer as he did drills. Unfortunately a thunderstorm swept over and as a result five men were struck by lightning ‘one very badly’. Parades became a common occurrence during Castle’s new life, occupying much of his diary entries. One evening the men dug gunpits before they were occupied the following morning as part of a practice alarm. Meanwhile as a sign that the women of Britain were equally patriotic as the men, keen to see their loved ones fight for their nation and carry out their duty, Castle’s love, Gladys Bellamy, sent him a prayer book adorned with a Union Jack that she worked onto it. As in common with many young people at the time, Castle kept regular correspondence with his parents throughout his time with the military.

Castle’s battery volunteered for foreign service but since he had not taken a gunnery course, the Colonel could not take him. He was posted to the 2nd Norfolk Battery commanded by Captain C.E. Hodges and where he spent most of his time around the billets at Horsford Manor, or taking part in drills and parades. In one march he acted as Captain. The men were soon moved to Felthorpe where Castle attended services at the local Church alongside his comrades. In the early days of October the Colonel turned up and using the Battery Staff as a troop of Cavalry, charged at the guns. Castle also mentions attending a Court Martial at St. Faith’s on the same day but he does not go into detail. On the 16th of October tragedy struck when one of the commanders, Kempson, received a message that his brother had gone down in H.U.S. ‘Hawke’. Such tragedies could be seen as early warning signs of what the Great War would become, a bloodbath. As the war began to rear its ugly head, it drew Castle and his fellow officers closer. He frequently dined, walked, rode or simply talked to them and it is likely that comrades were beginning to become almost like a second family to him.

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Diary of Malcolm Castle, March – Dec 1914, (MC 657/1, 790X6)

On November 3 German ships were spotted in the port of Yarmouth, and an order was received for the battalion to stand by, but soon afterwards it was cancelled. The armoured cruiser responsible was sunk but while Yarmouth survived the German sea raid with little casualties, it would be the first British settlement to face a zeppelin attack. Since the military at first knew little about what to do with the zeppelin problem, the sight of them must have terrified Norfolk citizens. Soon afterwards the battalion seemed to be inspected more regularly, perhaps due to the incident. Castle meanwhile was highly responsible for the training of the horses, on November 24 he mentions taking the recruits riding and even had some of them jumping. Towards the end of his diary Castle frequently talks about housing and exercising the steeds of the battalion. On the 27th he took part in a Brigade Night March where the men dug. At dawn a dozen rounds of blank was fired. After acting as Captain again, exhausted, Castle ended up sleeping for the rest of the day. Following a round of inspections on December 5th, the battalion had a football match against the 1st Battery, winning 2-1. While this is a relatively minor detail, football would soon become a great symbol of the war during the Christmas armistice when British and German troops briefly put aside their differences and upon No Man’s Land, played a friendly football game.

Malcom Castle provides useful first-hand information concerning training during the Great War, giving a good and accurate picture of how local military routines were conducted in Norfolk and the rest of Britain. As he and his comrades trained, men from the front were arriving back in Norwich wounded, and the amount would only increase as the war carried on. His diary is kept in the Norfolk Record Office (MC 657/1, 790X6) and provides a reminder of British atmosphere during this time of conflict.

By Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger

The Dogs of War

The Dogs of War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Heritage Centre

Dogs have always had a role to play in wartime.  Some larger dogs were used for the transportation of ammunition and lighter stores.  Other breeds were used for pathfinding, tracking and carrying messages.  As well as carrying out specific roles for the military they have also been a source of comfort and friendship in harrowing times.

The Military Dog

Private Bob Benifer of the Norfolk Regiment kept a photograph album during the war.  It includes several photos of dogs.  (MC 2149/1 925×5)

The photo below is annotated by Benifer who wrote “Private Kirby given to me at Bangalore 30/6/17”. 

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Private Benifer and Private Kirby (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

Benifer and Kirby also appear in a regimental photo along with several other dogs.  Kirby looks the same but Benifer has since acquired a moustache!

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Benifer (first row, right-hand side) and Kirby with the rest of the regiment (NRO, MC 2149/1 925×5)

At Pulham Royal Naval Air Station, Peter was the station mascot.  In September 1917 the first edition of The Pulham Patrol, the air station magazine, was published.  A whole page was dedicated to this important member of the base.

For 11 months he has been with us . . . Being a staunch patriot he absolutely refuses to accept pay . . . . he has fine musical tastes, for he thoroughly objects to all bugle calls!

 

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Peter the Pulham mascot (NRO, MC 2254/183)

Dogs – our faithful friends

The Carrow Works Magazines of April 1915 and January 1917 recount two stories of the lengths to which dogs would go to be with their masters.

In April 1915 Private Brown of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment left for the Front.  His wife and Irish terrier Prince accompanied him to the station to say goodbye.  Prince became very distressed at the parting.  Shortly afterwards Prince went missing.  Mrs Brown was reluctant to tell her husband that she had lost him and searched in vain without success.  However, after several weeks, she plucked up the courage and told him.  To her surprise her husband replied that Prince was with him.  Private Brown wrote:  “I could not believe my eyes till I got off my horse and he made a great fuss of me.  I believe he came over with some other troops.  Just fancy his coming and finding me”. 

 

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Prince – not such a dumb dog  (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

In January 1917 an article entitled “A Dog Story” told of the tale (no pun intended) of a collie dog at Cambridge railway station.  Mr George Lambton had often noticed the dog on the platform.  When he asked about the dog he was told that some eighteen months ago the dog had come to the station with its owner who left on a train for the Front.  Since then the dog returned every morning and stayed until late at night awaiting his master’s return.  The dog was very friendly and responded to those at the station who befriended him.

The other day his fervent desire was gratified.  A soldier in khaki descended from the carriage.  At first the good dog could not believe his eyes, but another look and a sniff sufficed, and with one bound he sprang up, got his paws on his master’s shoulders, and clung hard.  His eighteen long months of waiting were at last rewarded.

Edith Cavell and her dogs

Edith Cavell had two dogs, Don and Jack, both born in 1909.  Little is known of Don and he had died by 1912.  After Cavell’s death Mlle de Meyer took on the matronship of the Edith Cavell School in Brussels and she also took on Jack.  Jack did not settle and he was sent to the Duchess of Croy’s estate.  Meyer wrote “the poor animal felt lost without its owner and in new surroundings. . . . . .. .Some nurses and I took him there and he became the great comfort of the Duchess who is well known for her great love of animals”.

 

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Jack (From ‘Nurse Cavell Dog Lover’ by Rowland Johns held at NRO)

 

The Duchess of Croy later wrote:

“I was first told that after her death he had been locked up in a damp stable all alone. . . . No one in Brussels dared take the dog for fear of the Germans.  I did not know of his existence, or else I would have taken him as soon as poor Nurse Cavell was put in prison, and let her know that the dog was safe.  She was very anxious about him, and begged in several letters that he might be well looked after.  Jack was brought to me in March 1916.  He was extremely naughty and bit”.  Eventually, “he became as good and gentle as any other dog. . . . Jack seemed very happy here . . . I had him for about seven and a half years, when he died of indigestion caused by old age.”

The Brave Dogs

The Carrow Works Magazine for April 1915 reported on several acts of canine bravery.  In February 1915 a dog show in London had a special section for fifteen dog heroes.  There was Lassie, the dog who lay at the side of W S Cowan rescued from the British ship Formidable.  Cowan was thought to be dead.  Lassie stayed by his side licking his face for quite some time and Cowan started to move.  Cowan’s movements and Lassie’s barks attracted attention and Cowan was saved.  Then there was Wubbles who had rescued a drowning Frenchman and Tony the Belgian sheep dog who had helped the wounded on the field by taking out refreshments in a tin bottle with a tin mug attached.

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Unknown man and his dog who rescued fifty fugitives in his fishing boat from the Scheldt (Carrow Works magazine April 1915)

They may have been our “dumb friends at the Front” but they were clearly not dumb.

Daryl Long NRO Blogger

 

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

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

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

Continue reading

Canaries, Camels and Other Acts of Kindness

Correspondence of the Amherst Sisters

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

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

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

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

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

Corporal H Kirke wrote:

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

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

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Hospital staff playing golf. NRO: MC 84/206

Private Bateson wrote:

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

Lyle Craig wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

H Claxton’s mother wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle found himself in Cairo in 1915 and wrote:

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

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

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

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

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Scout …..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were not overworked, only silly”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coastguard Watching. Image courtesy of iremember.org.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.