World War One Author event at the Millennium Library

Earlier this year we featured the author Edward Glover here on the Norfolkinworldwar1 site as he told us a little about the dedication he placed at the start of his newest book – A Motif of Seasons.

We are really pleased to say that Edward has agreed to give a talk about his writing and also more about this dedication at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

The event will take place on 27th April at 7pm and tickets are just £2.  This event coincides with the Forum’s Finding the Fallen exhibition about the Battle of Gaza so why not plan some time to look around that as well before the talk?

To book tickets please call 01603 774703 or email millennium.lib@norfolk.gov.uk.

Helping a family with information 100 years after the event.

Another blog reader has contacted us and once more we’d love some help in fleshing out his story for family members as the 100th Anniversary of his death approaches.

The young man in question is Private Samuel Riches, we know he was registered as No 43491 within the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, although his original documents show that he originally enlisted with the 6th Cyclist Bn in October 1914.

More family research has shown that Samuel was a cook within the service

Samuel Riches (on the right)

and that his date of death is recorded as 11th August 2017.

Samuel is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres and sadly his exact place of death is not known.

It is with this fact that the family are asking for help.  We know that at the time of Samuel’s death the Third Battle of Ypres was taking place but the two questions the family have are:

  • As a cook would Samuel have been fighting in the front line and thus killed in battle or would he have been killed accidentally behind the lines?
  • Can we work out the likely location of his death from the date?

We really hope that some of our readers may be able to help with these questions so that when Samuel Riches descendants travel to Ypres in August they can have as much information about his last days as possible.

If any of our readers can help answer any of these questions, or can give any insight into the life of a cook in the Trenches during WW1 please do leave a comment or email Norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com.

Equally if you have a similar question within your own research please do get in contact.

 

Images from the Archive

Feltwell, Sopwith Camel aeroplane crash in 1916

Feltwell, Sopwith Camel aeroplane crash in 1916

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 held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Museums Service. Over the course of the next few years the images will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk/ (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service).

War Work at Boulton and Paul, Norwich.

One of a number of major long-lasting Norwich companies, Boulton and Paul came into being in 1869, although the company had existed in various forms since it originally opened as an ironmonger’s shop in the centre of Norwich in 1797. By the early 19th century the proprietors had started making stove grates – the beginning of a manufacturing business that was to exist in the city for almost 200 years. In the mid-1860s William Staples Boulton was the sole proprietor of the business, but this didn’t prevent him from opening a small factory that included a foundry in Rose Lane in 1865 and a few years later he sold the original ironmongery in order to concentrate his attention on the manufacturing business.

In the 1860s a wide range of products was being made, including domestic, agricultural and horticultural implements, iron hurdles, fencing, park gates, garden chairs, iron bedsteads, kitchen ranges, hot-water systems, railings, palisades and wire-netting, which was to become a staple product for decades to come. 

Image from 1888 catalogue

In 1869 J. J. Dawson Paul, who had started working for the company in 1853 as a 12 year old apprentice and risen to the role of factory manager, was taken into partnership by the proprietor William Staples Boulton, with the company being renamed Boulton and Paul.

By the early twentieth century, the company had added to their range of metal products and boasted a carpentry, smithy and fencing workshops and a galvanizing plant within their site. They were now famous internationally for their pre-fabricated wooden buildings including dog kennels, aviaries, garden-houses and even bungalows and metal products and buildings ranging from wheelbarrows to conservatories, glasshouses, orangeries, vineries and palm-houses.

Rose Lane Works

Dawson Paul, running the business alone after the death of William Boulton and the dissolution of an unsuccessful partnership during the 1880s, eventually appointed Henry Fiske as manager. Like Paul, Fiske had worked his way up through the company and proved to have an excellent business brain which was ready to face the challenges and opportunities of the new century, which he proceeded to do after Paul made him his partner in 1893.

With the variety of pre-fabricated buildings in the catalogue, and customers around the world, business was booming and orders for bungalows were received from South Africa, South America and elsewhere, with teams of staff often being sent out along with the shipments to erect the buildings on site. Even though these wood and iron buildings were selling so well, Fiske and his son William, who was also rising through the company, realised that a rival material – steel – was becoming established as a mainstay in construction. The decision was made to open a ‘constructional engineering department’ in 1905 on the Rose Lane site, however its potential was not fully realised and after some time it was transferred across the river to a site leased from the railway company at Thorpe Yard, where light steel structures for agricultural use such as barns were the main output. By this time there was also an Engine department, making motor boat engines for the developing market that had been identified.

Initially it appeared that the First World War might be bad news for Boulton and Paul, with telegrams and letters cancelling orders flooding in during the first weeks of August 1914, resulting in teams of workers from around the country and further afield having to abandon construction work in progress and return home. Very quickly, however, the War Office started issuing drawings of barrack huts and stables required for camps in the south and west of England, with invitations to tender for their supply. The designs were judged by Boulton and Paul to be defective in various ways, but suggestions for improvement were rejected, so the company chose to supply large numbers of doors and windows to the agents who had taken on the contracts – at better rates than would have been quoted for direct supply to the War Office.

The Admiralty was soon placing orders with the company, initially for a Naval Hospital at Dover and then for the creation of extra office space in London, which was achieved by raising the building’s original flat roof in order to insert another floor below it.

In September 1914 Boulton and Paul submitted quotes to the War Office for the supply and erection of huts and stables in 11 camps spread throughout Norfolk and Suffolk. Much to the managers’ surprise, all eleven tenders were accepted, prompting a whirlwind period when accommodation for 6000 men and 6000 horses had to be manufactured, transported and put up within less than three months. Astonishingly, all the work was completed in time, and a number of extra buildings, ordered as work progressed, were also completed within the contracted period. Almost all of the 1500 men employed on this enormous project were taken on specifically to work on it and did an amazing job, overcoming the difficulties of lack of transport to bring in the building materials; the pilfering of timber from sites by soldiers wanting to build fires to get warm and dry; and the dreadful working conditions of flood and mud caused by the atrocious weather during the building period.

Other war work carried out included the supply of buildings for a prisoner of-war camp in Jersey; hangars for the Royal Flying Corps and buildings at the Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough; steel framed buildings in arsenals and dockyards, and warehouses in various locations throughout the country. Several hangars were sent to France, accompanied by teams of staff to erect them. Many more buildings for naval and military purposes were supplied and erected throughout England, including 16 in a gunpowder factory in Kent. The Fencing Department diversified and produced a range of items including field kitchens, drum barrows for telegraph wire, water carts and sack barrows and the Engine Department made electric lighting plant for mobile workshops and portable pumps for trenches as well as marine engines for naval launches.

Probably the company’s most exciting contract was awarded in 1915, when they took on the role of aeroplane manufacturers. Boulton and Paul’s directors were concerned that their workforce should be contributing to the war effort as much as possible, so they offered their services to the government for whatever war work might be required. Having undergone official inspection, the War Office asked if they could make aeroplanes. An agreement was made with Stanley Howes, whose engineering business was based in Chapel Field, and representatives from both companies went on a fact-finding visit to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, which led them to conclude that they were capable of taking on the task, and so contracts were signed.

Boulton and Paul undertook the woodwork on these planes, using the Rose Lane Works and a mix of their own skilled workmen together with as many capable recruits as could be found – many of these had already enlisted, and were found in army camps throughout East Anglia: they were given the choice of staying with their units or returning to the factory floor, where they remained in uniform and were known as R.C. (returned colour) men. In the event of military emergency, the employers of these men would receive a cipher telegram which would prompt them to give the R.C. men rail travel vouchers and instructions on where they were to go.

Stanley Howes’ men were to install the engines in the completed fuselages, but the location of his workshops meant that another venue was needed for the planes’ final assembly, together with an airfield from which the finished aircraft could take off. Initially the plan was to use the new Aircraft Acceptance Park that the War Office was building at Thetford, but William ffiske succeeded in convincing representatives from the War Department that with a small amount of work, the Cavalry Drill Ground at Mousehold Heath would make an excellent airfield. The result was that Boulton and Paul were soon invited to tender for all the buildings required at the site, and duly erected them in record time: they were occupied by the Royal Flying Corps, which set up a School of Flying Instruction in them.

By October, 1915, the first aeroplane had been completed and when, after some initial problems with firing up the engine, it made its maiden flight, it reached the dizzying speed of 60 miles per hour! Once production of the first 50 planes was progressing smoothly, another order for 100 was placed, with a request for a speedier supply time. Since there was no space to expand the Rose Lane Works, the decision was made to build a new factory on land on the opposite bank of the River Wensum that the company had bought from J. J. Colman & Co. This site was marshy and had to be drained before buildings could be erected, but work proceeded quickly, with the buildings ready for occupation in three months and a smooth transfer of all machines and materials taking place in just one week, so that the workforce could start work in the new premises, christened Riverside Works, at Easter 1916.

In total, Boulton and Paul built 550 FEs, then moved on to produce 1,550 Sopwith Camels, followed by 425 Snipes – a modified and improved version of the Camel.  A handful of other modified Camels were also made for American pilots.

Sopwith Camel

Before the war ended, the company was asked by the Seaplane department of the Ministry of War if they could build the hulls of flying boats. Even though this was a totally new product for Boulton and Paul, it was agreed that the work was manageable, especially if a significant order could enable economies of scale to be made. The order was forthcoming, with an agreement that if any of the 50 hulls contracted for proved to be unsatisfactory, payment would not be made. A mass production unit was set up, with 10 hulls being worked on simultaneously, resulting in their completion and delivery before any other contractor had delivered two.

The scale of war work undertaken by Boulton and Paul, and the uncertainty of obtaining adequate supplies of components led the company to adopt the policy of making everything except the engines and armaments, in-house. Although this was more expensive than relying on sub-contractors, it meant that there were never any delays due to the lack of parts, and the company eventually developed a good business supplying parts to other manufacturers. The company had also taken on propeller manufacture before the move to the Riverside Works, after General MacInnis, the first Controller of Supply, had mentioned the need for more expert manufacturers to take on this specialised process. By the end of the war, Boulton and Paul had produced 7,835 propellers of various types.

Propeller varnishers

If you’re wondering what became of the wire netting business, it went from strength to strength during the war, as it was used in revetments to help support trench walls from falling in; laid down in the desert to provide a firm surface for soldiers to march over, and erected and covered with camouflage to screen troop movements from the enemy. By 1918 the company had produced more than 5,300 miles of wire netting!

Wire netting as advertised in a 1902 trade catalogue

Post compiled by Clare, Local Studies Librarian.

Sources

Books available in the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library:

Boulton & Paul, Ltd. Catalogue No.43 1888

Boulton & Paul, Ltd. Catalogue No.120 1902

The House of Boulton and Paul Limited Norwich

The Leaf and the Tree: the story of Boulton and Paul Ltd 1797-1947

The Boulton Paul Association: Boulton Paul Aircraft

Alec Brew: Boulton Paul Aircraft

William H ffiske: Boulton & Paul Ltd and the Great War

The tale of two brothers from Walpole St Peter during World War One

We’ve been contacted by Chris Woods, originally from Norfolk who has kindly shared the stories of his grandfathers’ and uncle’s First World War service:

Sergeant Arthur Earnest Woods (13756) 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
Private George Woods (25075) 13th Battalion Suffolk Regiment.

Arthur Earnest Woods was born in Walpole St Peter, Norfolk in 1894. He was one of 8 children born to Robert and Elizabeth Woods. He was the second oldest of the six boys and it was only himself and his older brother George (my Grandfather) who were old enough to go to war.

The Woods family outside their inn.

The Woods family outside their inn.

Their father was an agricultural worker and Inn Keeper and whilst his older brother George initially stayed at home on the family smallholding, Arthur also a farm hand was quick to join up. His attestation papers show that he joined the 8th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on the 3rd September 1914 aged just 20.

The 8th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment was raised at Norwich in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army and joined 53rd Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division. The Division initially concentrated in the Colchester area but moved to Salisbury Plain in May 1915. They proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne on the 25th of July 1915 with Arthur amongst them.

Arthur Woods

Arthur Woods

The division was concentrated near Flesselles and in 1916 they were in action on The Somme in The Battle of Albert.
On July 1st Arthur was involved in the successful capturing of the Battalions objectives near Montauban, this was to be one of the few British successes on that fateful day. It is interesting to note that Arthur’s war record shows that he was promoted to Acting Sergeant on that day and just five days later to full Sergeant. This probably points to the number of his comrades and officers lost during that time.

He was badly wounded during the battle for Delville Wood and it is unclear whether his leg was amputated there or on his return to England on 25th August 1916 where he was in Stamford Hospital, London. He was eventually discharged as unfit for war service on 10th Febuary 1917.

His elder brother George Woods was called up and was attested in Wisbech on 28th February 1916
and after only four months training was sent to France on 6th July. He was soon to be sent to the front line near Pozieres.

Excerpts from George's diary (he took quite a risk in doing this as diaries were not supposed to be kept by men in the trenches)

Excerpts from George’s diary (he took quite a risk in doing this as diaries were not supposed to be kept by men in the trenches)

He was very badly wounded by a bomb explosion and gunshot wounds to his arms, trunk and legs on the 9th August and evacuated to England on the 28th August. He spent 8 months recovering in Netley Hospital before being discharged back to his home in Norfolk.

A family wedding from 1916. showing Arthur & George's two sisters at their joint wedding, present are their four other brothers and their parents Robert and Elizabeth. George and Arthur are however missing from the celebration as it is taken when they were on the Somme.

A family wedding from 1916. showing Arthur & George’s two sisters at their joint wedding, present are their four other brothers and their parents Robert and Elizabeth. George and Arthur are however missing from the celebration as it is taken when they were on the Somme.

For a very short period during late July and early August 1916 the two brothers were on the front line less than two miles apart. They both returned to Walpole St Peter. Arthur married in 1917 and had four children. He died in 1952 aged just 58. George married in 1918 and had three children. He died at the age of 96.

Another page from George's diary

Another page from George’s diary

I am also researching my Grandfather on my Mother’s side who also fought in the First World War.
He was in the East Anglian Brigade – Royal Field Artillery, fighting in Palestine and Egypt. He came from Neatishead and is mentioned on the Neatishead and Barton Turf Community Heritage Groups Site.

His name was Sidney George Chambers and I have attached his photo too taken during his time in Egypt. I again am lucky enough to have information from his war record and am hoping to get down to Norfolk again soon to do more Family History research.

Sidney Chambers

Sidney Chambers

Chris concludes:

I was born in Norfolk but have lived on the Shropshire / Welsh border for over 40 years. I am involved in World War 1 research as a member of the Centenary Partnership and have visited the areas where my relations fought indeed even standing where my grandfather was wounded, where he was treated and the graves of his comrades killed in the same incident. Through the help of a friend and Somme Guide who lives in Martinpuich we were able to use Grandad’s diary and the Battalion and Brigade diaries to trace his footsteps extremely accurately.

I am currently writing a play regarding his time in Norfolk and during the war and hope one day to bring it to Norfolk.

I am also writing a book about and have developed a section called Lights Out Trefonen on our village website about the 31 local people who lost their lives from the village where I now live. www.trefonen.org

If like Chris you have discovered a family story please do consider sharing it with us – we would like to remember the stories of as many men as possible.

Alfred Alexander Anderson in World War One

Born: 4 February 1892, Devonshire Street, Norwich

Enlisted: 30 November 1914, First East Anglian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Served: Home, France, Egypt, Palestine

Demobilised: 31 March 1920

I have three mementos of the First World War that belonged to my maternal grandfather, Alfred Alexander Anderson. The first is a sepia photograph of my grandfather with three of his colleagues. This is not a formal studio portrait, but was obviously taken somewhere out in the field. The men are posed in front of what looks like canvas and they are wearing shorts, with desert boots and puttees; they have ammunition belts slung across their jackets. Two of the men are smoking and one is holding what could be a riding crop. The men look relaxed and are all smiling slightly for the camera. We do not know who the other men are or if, like Alfred, they survived the war.

Alfred Anderson (back, left)

My grandfather spoke very little of his First World War experiences, certainly not to me and not to my mother Beryl, his youngest daughter. The only family story my mother remembers is an account of my grandfather jumping from the side of a boat into the Suez Canal as a dare. The fact that the men are dressed in shorts in the photograph suggests that this picture could have been taken in Egypt.

medals

Alfred’s Medals

I have three medals from the First World War belonging to Alfred: the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and a Victory Medal. Both the Star and British War Medal bear the designation 1653 GNR A A Anderson RFA, but the Victory Medal is in the name of 27190 PTE A Knox E SURR R. The abbreviations GNR and RFA on the medals indicate that Alfred was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. As the Victory Medal bears a different name it seems that Alfred misplaced his own medal and decided at some point to obtain a replacement.

My final memento is a small notebook measuring only 6 x 10 cms. The notebook does not have a cover, is slightly torn, stained and brown with age, and, in places, the handwriting is difficult to read. This notebook was kept by my grandfather during his active service overseas and part of it constitutes a diary. The keeping of diaries by servicemen in front line positions was discouraged, but the practice seems to have been not uncommon. The size of Alfred’s notebook is such that it could be easily carried in a top pocket.

notebook

Alfred’s Notebook

The notebook confirms that my grandfather was in Egypt and he was engaged in the defence of the Suez Canal, although jumping into the water as a dare is not mentioned. Entries in the notebook include details of inoculations in 1915, names and addresses of family and friends, and a list of dates of “letters received” and “letters sent home” starting in October 1916. The diary entries begin in November 1916 and are brief, usually only a few words, but they do include place names and thus give an indication of my grandfather’s involvement in various actions in the Middle East. Using the notebook and a copy of my grandfather’s military record, which luckily survives in the National Archive, I have managed to piece together some of his story.

Alfred Alexander Anderson enlisted on 30 November 1914 in Norwich. His attestation papers state that he was 22 years 9 months old, 5 foot 5 inches tall and had a chest measurement of 36 inches. He was passed fit for service as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). The RFA was a mobile force, deployed close to the front line, with medium calibre guns and howitzers. It was organised in brigades, each containing a series of batteries. The Norfolk batteries were part of the First East Anglian Brigade and were artillery for the 54th (East Anglian) Division, which included infantry from the Norfolk and Suffolk Regiments. There are two service numbers in Alfred’s military record – 1653 and 875553 – reflecting a re-organisation of the artillery units as the war progressed. The First East Anglian Brigade was re-designated the 270 Brigade in May 1915 and became the 272 Brigade in December 1916 (upon the breakup of the original 272 Brigade, formerly the Third East Anglian Brigade). Alfred’s notebook records that he was a driver with B Battery, 272 Brigade. In his service record Alfred is listed as both gunner and driver, pointing to some flexibility in these roles. No doubt the men received an element of cross-training with regard to serving the guns or serving the horses, making replacements in the field easier to accomplish.

The period 30 November 1914 to 14 November 1915 was spent “at home”, presumably undergoing training, and during this time my grandfather married Rosanna Cossey. The wedding took place on 22 May 1915 at Norwich Register Office and it was some six months later that my grandfather was sent overseas.

rosanna_photo

Rosanna Cossey

The artillery had remained at home when the 54th Division sailed for service at Gallipoli in July 1915. However, Alfred’s military record shows that he left England for France on 15 November 1915, embarking at Southampton and landing in Le Havre on 16 November. The artillery joined the Expeditionary Force France and were reportedly located at Blaringhem in the Pas de Calais region where they were attachedto the 33rd Division, a Kitchener’s Army unit whose own divisional artillery were still undergoing training at home. The East Anglian Artillery were only in France for a few months before they were sent to Egypt as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). They began the move to Marseilles by train on 11 January 1916 and on 30 January Alfred embarked ship for Alexandria. He did not return to England until April 1919.

The MEF was under the command of General Archibald Murray from March 1916 and was redesignated the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). Turkey had become an ally of Germany in November 1914 and, after their victory at Gallipoli, it was feared that the Turks might launch a major offensive against the Suez Canal, an important supply route for Britain. Alfred arrived in Alexandria on 14 February and the artillery were initially concentrated at Mena Camp in Cairo before being deployed along the Suez Canal. Sadly there are no entries in Alfred’s notebook for these early days in Egypt when he was based within sight of the Pyramids.

Defence of the Suez Canal was divided into three sectors (northern, central and southern) and in early April 1916 Alfred’s battery moved to the southern section near Suez. Two months after this move, Alfred became a father. Rosanna gave birth to twin girls, Edna Mabel and Margery Rose, on 9 June 1916. When Alfred got to learn about the birth of the twins is not known. Although Alfred kept a list of dates of letters sent and received, his diary makes no mention of news from home. Given that home leave was not possible for the majority of personnel of the EEF, letters from home must have been of great importance to the men.

suez_southern

Map Suez defences July 1916 (Great War Forum)

The diary section of Alfred’s notebook begins in November 1916 when his brigade is down at El Kubri, some 12 miles north of Suez, and there are Rumours of moving, but was stopped after we had packed up”. A copy of a map from the Great War Forum website shows the position of the Suez Canal defences in July 1916 and the location of El Kubri. By August 1916 the Turkish offensive into Egypt had ended and the Turkish forces retreated into Palestine. The focus then changed from defence of the canal to advance into Sinai and Palestine. The 54th (East Anglian) Division was placed on Desert Column Establishment at the end of January 1917 with orders to march east.

Alfred reports a move on 20 January 1917 from El Kubri to Moascar, near Ismailia at the bottom end of the Canal. Moascar camp is where the Allied training depots were located. It was initially a collection of tents, marquees and wooden shacks, but by the end of the war had tarmac roads, electric light and miles of railway sidings. The day after arriving at Moascar, Alfred writes See Fred. Very windy. Bad wind storms”. Various encounters with Fred are reported by Alfred throughout the diary. Fred is Alfred’s brother-in-law, 204653 Private Frederick Cossey, who was serving as an infantry man in the 1/4 Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Both men survived the war and maintained their friendship into later years. The war diary for the 1/4 Norfolk Regiment shows that they were engaged in brigade and divisional training at Moascar from 11-31 January 1917, thus giving Alfred and Fred the opportunity to meet.

There is a gap in Alfred’s diary from the end of January to beginning of April 1917. He reports leaving Moascar on 4 April, moving through El Ferdan and Kantara (east side of Suez Canal) before arriving at Deir el Belah on 8 April. Deir el Blah is located in the central Gaza strip. It was the HQ of the Eastern Force and the location of the coastal supply route. Cargoes were landed on the beaches and then transported to forward supply depots and ammunition dumps. Supplies also arrived via the Sinai railway. The artillery was transported by this route, but the war diary for the 1/4 Norfolk Regiment shows that at the beginning of February they had proceeded into the Sinai by route march, arriving at El Arish camp (north Sinai) on 6 March. The move by the artillery to Deir el Belah was connected to the build-up for the Second Battle of Gaza. The town was of strategic importance to the allied forces as they attempted to push the Turkish army north. An earlier battle for Gaza took place in March 1917, but was unsuccessful and there were heavy casualties. Alfred’s brigade does not appear to have taken part in this first battle.

Alfred’s diary is interesting with respect to the things that he does and does not mention. Some of the obvious features of desert warfare, such as heat, cold, sand or flies, are not commented upon. However, Alfred does make mention of wind, rain, thunderstorms, hail, lice, cigarettes and Christmas dinner. The diary reveals something of the logistical challenges and undoubted monotony of war. There are many references to ammunition carting, drawing rations, going after water, servicing guns and securing forage for the horses. Securing water supplies for men and animals was undoubtedly a continuing problem in such an arid landscape. Periods of routine involving care of horses, harnesses, wagons and guns, were interspersed with periods of action. This was a war of movement, with the guns being continually shifted to new positions.

The first note of any action in Alfred’s diary is a simple statement on 14 April to the effect that Enemy shelled camp” and two days later B Battery took up positions for purpose of shelling Gaza. On 19 April, Alfred reports that he went to first line of trenches with [?] Lambert of the 10 London Regiment. Saw Fred on the way. Under heavy shell fire for 2 hours”. The war diary of the 1/4 Norfolk Battalion shows that they had taken up position on Sheikh Abbas ridge prior to launching an attack.

In the next few days Alfred takes a series of camel transports up the firing line. In the desert terrain, camels were an important means of transport for supplies due to their ability to carry heavy loads and to exist for days at a time without water. An entry for 22 April reports that on taking the camel transport up the line he found that Fred was safe” and the following day Alfred writes camel transport up line and see all the boys, who were glad to see me and I was glad to see them”. Casualties are recorded on 25 April (one rigger and two smiths killed) and Alfred reports being shelled while down at the water trough with the horses. On 28 April B Battery was withdrawn from their position and they rest in a barley field fit to cut”. The landscape around the ancient city of Gaza was bisected by water courses and obviously amenable to cultivation.

gaza_april-1917

Map Gaza Battlefields, April 1917, http://www.vlib.us/ww1/resources

The second Battle of Gaza was also unsuccessful and this second defeat prompted a change in command of the EEF, with General Sir Edmund Allenby assuming control of the Allied forces in June 1917. In the immediate aftermath of the Second Battle of Gaza, stalemate ensued, with position warfare along a front stretching from the Mediterranean beaches through to the Negev desert. B Battery took up position again on 11 May. Alfred writes took up position against Dumb Bell Hill [which is to the south-east of Gaza] with wagon line 2 miles behind the guns”. On 14 May an entry in the war diary of the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment states that 20 enemy were seen filing from left to right of the Cactus Hedge position. 272 B Battery were informed and several rounds of shrapnel were fired which caused the enemy to disappear. Alfred’s diary does not make mention of this incident.

On 16 May a section of guns was moved to Mansura Ridgeat night. The 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment war diary indicates that a working party of 200 enemy soldiers were seen on 17 May around 600 yards north-west of Cactus Garden. 272 B Battery opened fire and managed to land 4 out of 7 shots into the party, which scattered. An entry for the following day, 18 May, reports that 272 B Battery and 265 C Battery were engaged in gapping the wire on Outpost Hill and registering the gaps. Alfred’s diary reports ammunition carting on that day. An entry in the diary for 22 May shows that the section was withdrawn from position, having lost ourselves at night”.

An attack by the Turks on 11 June is described by Alfred as the loveliest sight I ever saw at night. Alfred’s notebook suggests continued activity on Mansura Ridge with the guns taken forward on 7 July for wire cutting. Another attack by the Turks occurred on 19 July, followed by two days of bombardment when the ridge was reportedly taken – We bombard and take the ridge. Out all night. Got lost”. On 22 July Alfred documents seeing an aircraft brought down by the Turks. Planes were initially used as spotters for artillery rather than necessarily for attack purposes.

B Battery was withdrawn from their position to a rest camp (not stated) on 5 August. On 20 August there is the first mention by Alfred of gas drill – went through a gas tent. Gas was used in the second Battle of Gaza, as were tanks, although there is no mention of the latter by Alfred. At the endof August, Alfred reports that the battery moved back to its old position. The month of September passes without major incident and on 23 October Alfred heads to El Arish on leave.

Alfred returns from leave on 30 October and the following day he comments that the Stunt starts. Went with ammo to new gun pits”. The stunt in question is the third Battle of Gaza. Alfred is concerned again with transporting ammunition to the gun pits and an all-night bombardment takes place on 1 November. Alfred mentions that a Sergeant Chapman is killed and some of the boys wounded on 2 November. By 8 November the Turkish Eighth Army was in retreat and Alfred’s battery moved up after the retreating forces, a move that Alfred describes as the worst I ever had. On 14 November the battery moves again, towards Jaffa, and one of the few mentions of food appears in Alfred’s diary – boys get plenty of oranges, the best you could get”. Jaffa was taken by the Allied forces on 16 November.

In the following days the battery remains in the vicinity of Jaffa, with Alfred reporting a series of moves to Midze, Ramleh (ancient Arimathea), Surafend, Ludd and Wilhelma. The weather is inclement as the rainy season begins and Alfred remarks on heavy downpours at night. The wet and cold undoubtedly added to the logistical difficulties of supplying the men and animals. During this time the 54th Division was involved in establishing a bridgehead to the north of Jaffa across the Nahr el Auja river. The division’s main camp was established at Wilhelma.

The Turkish forces counter-attacked at the end of November. Alfred’s diary entry for 27 November reads Turks shell us out of village, horse killed and two wounded, and eight men wounded. Out all night”. The same occurs the following day, when Alfred says one man was killed, as well as several horses, and my team had a nasty fall, but thank god we came through safely with a bruise or two. The guns were moved forward to a new position and Alfred brings ammunition forward by camel. He states Caught spies up a tree. Have not had a wash for four days. Properly chatty [infested with lice]. Took camels to gun line. Heavy firing at night”. It is interesting to speculate as to whether the “spies” were indeed individuals trying to gather intelligence on troop movements or local people who had got caught up in the action.

Alfred carries out a service of the guns on 30 November and the battery is then involved in another series of moves, with Alfred engaged in ammunition carting. Places mentioned by Alfred at this point include Dirty Reach and Railway Junction. It was at this time that, sadly, one of Alfred’s baby daughters, Edna, died of convulsions (9 December 1917). The diary gives no indication of the arrival of bad news, but it must have been hard for Alfred to lose a baby daughter he had never seen and to be away from Rosanna when she needed support.

While Alfred’s battery was involved in maintaining a defensive position around Jaffa, other forces under Allenby’s command had moved to secure Jerusalem and on 11 December Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot via the Jaffa Gate. Alfred reports a cheerless Christmas day during a period of heavy rain – the worst I have ever spent, not a smoke or any signs of them”. Given the level of advance of the Allied forces, it seems probable that it took some time for new supply lines to be established. The new year starts in Mulebbis, a settlement south of the Nahr el Auja river. The entries for January 1918 reveal that Alfred is again involved in ammunition carting, drawing rations, bringing up the water cart, and collecting forage for the animals. On 14 January he sees his brother-in-law Fred, having broken down when going after the forage wagon. Christmas dinner is provided on 25January, but is apparentlynot very good for the time”. There are few diary entries in February, with the bad weather continuing.

On 2 and 3 March Alfred reports that the Turks shell Mulebbis and on 11 March B Battery guns take up a forward position in front of the first line trenches, before moving again the next day to Tin Town. There are no further entries by Alfred until 24 March, when he reports hail stones, largest stones I have ever seen”. This is corroborated by an account by the officer historians of the 1/5th Suffolks of seeing hail stones as large as potatoes on that day.

In early April, the diary documents that three Turkish aircraft are brought down and there is another round of gas training. On 18 and 20 April, Alfred is carting ammunition for the Suffolk Regiment (most likely in support of the Battle of Berukin) and on 26 April his battery takes up a new position in a vineyard. There are no reports of further ammunition carting, only a trip to Ludd (purpose unknown) when Alfred gets caught up in a thunderstorm. On 15 May Alfred reports a move to a rest camp and the battery then heads to El Arish for a period of leave. Back home Alfred’s paternal grandfather died on 11 May 1918, age 73, of bronchopneumonia and heart failure. As a child, Alfred and his father had lived with his paternal grandparents. Again there is no mention in the diary about the arrival of bad news.

Alfred’s period of leave ends on 8 June, but the diary gives no indication of activities until a march past on 17 June, which apparently went off grand. On 21 June there is a move to Orange Post with reports of the enemy shelling the ration dump and bringing down a balloon. The battery then appears to be withdrawn again, moving to Surafend (near Ramleh) on 25 June, then to Ludd, and arriving in Kantara on 27 June (these movements were done by rail). Gas drill takes place on 2 July and then Alfred states that he goes to Port Said for the day. On 9 July, Alfred leaves Kantara for the front line, going through Surafend before arriving at Selmeh (near Jaffa) on 16 July.

There are no further entries until, at the end of July, Alfred reports that they move for 3 days’ action on MG Ridge and have no sleep for 2 days. The battery then moves to Mejdal Yaba (4 kms east of Jaffa). Activity continues into August, with the Turk forces shelling the water wagon, another series of moves and reports of a Turkish plane brought down. At the end of August, Alfred states Saw Freddy again and we had a good time.

Not long after seeing his brother-in-law, Alfred is admitted to hospital in Ludd and transferred to Kantara and Cairo (2 September). He starts back for his unit on 14 September and reaches his battery on 1 October. While Alfred was in hospital, the British undertook a major offensive along the coastal Plain of Sharon and into the Judaen Hills, known as the Battle of Megiddo. The dates of the attack were 19-25 September. A combination of cavalry, artillery, infantry, armoured vehicles and aircraft produced a decisive victory for the Allied forces. A deception campaign in the Jordan Valley convinced the Ottoman forces that the attack was going to be launched further east, while the main offensive was actually further west and up the coast.

When Alfred rejoins his battery they are moving north in pursuit of the retreating Turkish and German forces – Reached battery. Still keep marching up. On 3 October 1918, Alfred states Stopped for a rest at Haifa. Saw Fred again’”. The battery passes through Acre, Tyre and Sidon, before arriving just outside Beirut on 31 October. The Turks signed an armistice on 31 October and the following day there is a ceremonial march into Beirut, during which Alfred says Had a man commit suicide while mounted”. The 1/4 Norfolks had also made their way up the coast, with their war diary documenting that the 21st Corps Commander (Lieutenant General Edward Bulfin) took the salute at the ceremonial march. Alfred then has a day’s pass into Beirut where he reports that Things were very down, some of the people were starving”.

megiddo_1918

Map Battle of Megiddo, September 1918 (Wikipedia)

As the military action ended, the Allied forces had to contend with another enemy – disease. The Spanish flu epidemic and a concurrent       malaria epidemic impacted servicemen and local people alike. In early November Alfred has another problem with his health and reports to number 15 Casualty Clearing Station. He was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia and transferred to the American hospital in Beirut on 13 November. An entry in his service record for 16 November reports he was very ill with  tuberculosis and on 13 December he was taken by hospital shipfrom BeiruttoAlexandria, where he is kept in bed. On Christmas Day Alfred says he got up for the event but suffered for it next day or so”.  He was in the 87th General Hospital in Alexandria until 26 February 1919 when he was moved to the British Red Cross Hospital at Montazah.

On 23 March 1919 Alfred embarked for home on hospital ship Dongala. On 25 March, Alfred records that a man jumps overboard and was lost, while the following day they pass Italy and Sicily and go through the Straits of Messina. Very lovely sights. Mount Etna and Stromboli”. Alfred’s diary ends with an entry on 28 March Sea very rough. Arrive at Marseilles but could not go in to harbour”.

endellstreet

Commemorative plaque at Endell Street Hospital

Alfred’s military record marks him as “home” from 2 April 1919 and he initially spent some time in the military hospital at Endell Street in Covent Garden. The Endell Street hospital was established in May 1915 by two women doctors and was the only hospital to be staffed entirely by suffragettes. We do not know how long Alfred was in the Endell Street hospital or what duties he returned to after his convalescence.                               Alfred had much to contend with upon his return home – recovering his health, coming to terms with his experiences of war and the loss of his baby daughter and grandfather, as well as the prospect of readjusting to civilian life and looking for gainful employment. To add to this, not long after Alfred’s return to England, on 24 May, his father died at age 51 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Alfred was finally demobilized on 31 March 1920.

Alfred and Rosanna went on to have five more children: Sidney, Joyce, Kenneth, Ronald and Beryl. Life was not always easy, with Alfred enduring periods of unemployment. My mother Beryl, who was born in 1930, remembers that money was tight and that Rosanna sought to boost the family income by making and selling items such as toffee apples and ice lollies. Alfred worked as a labourer for Norwich City Corporation and served as an air raid warden during the Second World War. Alfred and Rosanna celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in May 1975, but sadly Rosanna died only a few months later. Alfred adjusted to life on his own and looked after himself, with support from his family. He died on 13 April 1983, age 91.

Compiled by:

Julie Houghton, January 2017

 

Images from the Archives

Norwich, Notice of Lighting Restictions, 1917.

Norwich, Notice of Lighting Restictions, 1917.

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 held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk Museums Service. Over the course of the next few years the images will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk/ (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service).