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

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.

Words of loss

“Everything in this life ended for me when our boy was killed . . . . . . .those black hours of acute agony . . . the utter blackness and hopelessness of despair”.  These words were written by Hilda Zigomala following the death of her son in Russia in 1919. (MC 2738/14).

Over 17 million lost their lives in the First World War.  This included about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.

What words could and had to be found following the loss of a loved one as the result of war?

This blog post records the words of loss relating to four young men from Norfolk in the First World War.  The links to their records, held at the Norfolk Record Office, are given here:

  1. Herbert Arter served with the 67th Canadian Western Scots Pioneer Battalion.  He was killed in action on 25th August 1916 at the age of 22. (MC 3182/1)
  2. Augustus Capps served with the 6th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.  He died in Flanders in 1917. (ACC 2010/34)
  3. Captain Philip Hewetson served with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.  He was wounded at Aisne on 27th May 1918 and died a prisoner of war on  3rd July 1918. He was 24 years old. (MC 643)
  4. Herbert William Wellard served with the 5th Battalion Special Brigade Royal Engineers.  He died of wounds in France on 3rd July 1916. (MC 2715/6)

Words from King George V

The King would send a brief letter accompanied by an engraved memorial plaque to the family.  The letter and plaque below was sent to Mr Wellard following the death of his son Herbert William Wellard.

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Letter and brass plaque from King George V. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 2715/6, 1024X5.

Words from Commanding Officers

  • Herbert Arter’s commanding officer, Lieutenant  J Falkner, wrote to his mother from Flanders on 28th August 1916:

“My dear Mrs Arter, It is indeed a painful duty for me to inform you that your son H Arter, was killed in action on the morning of August 25th.  I was his Platoon Commander, and I assure you that your son was one of the best, and his loss is felt by all his chums and myself.  Any duty he was called upon to do, he did quickly with a smile, and you can feel that your hero boy made the supreme sacrifice with his face to the foe.  He is buried in Flanders in a pretty spot where many more brave heroes are sleeping their last sleep.  As names of places cannot be mentioned, if you write to the Graves Registration Commission, B E F Army P O London you would be informed of the exact place of burial.  Major Gordon, the Divisional Chaplain, I presume has written or will write you also.  Your son’s personal effects will in due time reach you.  Sympathising with you, I am, Yours truly, Lieut. J Falkner”.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Ross also wrote to the family on the loss of Herbert Arter.
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Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Ross on the death of Herbert Arter. NRO: MC 3182/1.

Words from Comrades and Friends

  • Captain Philip Hewetson’s father was the vicar at Salhouse.  In the Parish Magazine, December 1918, his father writes of a letter received from a Salhouse soldier: “This is just to try and express my real sympathy for you in your great bereavement.  At such a time one cannot say much, one feels that is something far too deep to talk about”.

Words from Family

  • William and Augustus Capps left Gorleston to join the war.  When Augustus was killed in Flanders in 1917 William was probably informed by his mother who had sent a newspaper cutting from The Mercury.  William, (41531 Private William Capps, 1 Essex Regiment) was in Tipperary, Ireland at the time. Many young men would have found it hard to express their loss in words and William was probably no exception.  On 14th September he wrote:

“My dear mother.  . . . . .in the best of health, but a bit down at times about Gus, but I suppose it will not bear the thinking about, as that will not bring him back again, well lets hope that we shall have the pleasure of meeting him in heaven.  I thought it was a very good piece in the Mercury about him, and he seems very respected by everybody who knew him and that is very satisfactory.”

  • Reverend Hewetson wrote of the loss of his son in the parish magazine and other correspondence.
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Reverend Hewetson’s letter on the loss of his son Philip Hewetson. NRO: MC 643.

The Printed Word

  • Captain Philip Hewetson. Press cutting:

“For England’s Integrity

For that his dear life was not given in vain

Despite the anguish of our loss and pain”.

  • Herbert Arter.  Memoriam card from his siblings:
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    Memoriam card for Herbert Arter. NRO: MC 3182/1.

    Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

Images from the Archive


Fundraising appeal for the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted on (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

Images from the Archive

Thorpe St Andrew, a wartime wedding in uniform


Cicely Spencer marries J.B. Fathers in 1818. Mrs Fathers was an Officer in the Forage Corps, Royal Army Service Corps in Norfolk during the First World War. The Women’s Forage Corps was established by the Government in 1915, at that time the British Army was reliant chiefly on horse power and the demand for forage was huge.

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted on (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)