A book not to be missed

The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay

Roughly once a year I seem to come across a book that is utterly perfect and that I can’t stop talking about and recommending, often these seem to be books ostensibly published for children or young adults but that are so sublime they cross all boundaries. Last year that book was Sally Nicholl’s Things a Bright Girl Can Do and this year the book is The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book from Macmillan and I found myself totally unable to put the book down – I know that this is said a lot about books but I promise that in this case it is the absolute truth, I spent about 10 hours devouring this book from cover to cover on a recent Sunday.

It is a family book that covers roughly the first quarter of the twentieth century and touches on many of the social and political issues of the time but without ever being didactic or preachy. Our main characters are a brother and sister who live in almost neglect for various reasons, this goes mostly under the radar however because they are from a family of class with money.

The two are not the archetypal children who have adventures because they are orphans but the lack of parental support does allow them a lot of freedom in their home life plus idyllic summer holidays with grandparents by the seaside give a (mostly) bright spot in their lives.

As the story unfolds more characters are introduced to the plot – a cousin, and then another set of siblings met through school as well as a few adult mentor figures. All of these characters are as alive as Clarry and Peter and are people in their own right not mere ciphers or plot devices. The story moves sedately through the years (echoing the tedium of the siblings’ lives) until everything everywhere changes when war breaks out and then how it changes again with peace.

I am trying to keep this description vague because I hope that as others read this book they will fall in love with Clarry and Peter just as I did.

Although I have been immersed in all things WW1 for the past few years I did learn some new things from this book and while I did find one tiny plot strand a little bit stretched the rest of it was sublime and managed to get across a feel of both the Front and Home Front really well.

Clarry’s fight to be educated was also a strong theme through this book and in 2018 when we are commemorating both the end of WW1 and (some) women gaining the vote and stepping towards equality this was great to read.

This is a children’s book and as such isn’t as ‘full on’ about the war as people like Pat Barker write but I found the story to stand up to being read by an adult and I think that it will be a great read for different generations to share – I know that I’ll be recommending it to everyone.

You can reserve your copy on the Norfolk Library catalogue now, and the book was published yesterday (20th September 2018).

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A well read war

As a volunteer I have been helping research aspects of World War One that are to be included in the forthcoming Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk exhibition and I have been drawn down all sorts of fascinating research paths.

As ever when I get interested in something I research far more information than is practical to share in a limited physical space but the Norfolkinww1 blog allows me to share this in longer form.

My main areas of research have been into agriculture, Conscientious Objectors and popular books and I have become fascinated by all three areas – much to my surprise with the agricultural research as I have the least green fingers around.

This piece will share some of my research into books and authors publishing during World War One. Continue reading

This Was Not To Be His Final Curtain

We’ve recently been contacted by Ray from Mattishall who has shared a fascinating story about a local man who has faded from memory since the First World War, despite is high profile at the time.

This was not to be his final curtain: Frank Henry Norman Wrighton

Frank Henry Norman Wrighton
1879 – 1917

Friday, November 2nd 1917 – My journey looking for First World War casualties had brought me to the picturesque seaside town of Torquay, Devon, many miles from the battle fields of the Western Front. A thin and wasted 38-year-old man had finally succumbed to an affliction he had acquired during his military service. Katherine Peacock, the Matron of St Barnabas Nursing Home for the Incurables, was recorded as being present. No records have been found to confirm there was any effort to return his remains to his home village of Mattishall Burgh, Norfolk although on his death certificate an address of 45 Warwick Road, Warwick Gardens, London was written, a large building where he or his wife could have been renting a room, whilst working in the capital. There was a war on and any transportation of a corpse would have involved considerable expense which from all accounts show there was little funds available. Four days later on November 6th he was taken the short trip to Torquay cemetery and after a simple service lowered into a common grave, a grave we now know he shares with four other men. His death was not the result of battle wounds but a condition brought on and worsened during his short military service. His death certificate, records him as ‘FRANK HENRY WRIGHTON’, age 38, an Actor. A simple note on his service records reads “He was well till a year ago, then had Pleurisy and Pneumonia, following wet exposure”. TB was also found in his Sputum.

I had been researching this man for a few years and on discovering this I was left quite emotional. There was no record of him on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, even though the army had been paying and caring for him since his discharge. How had this man just been forgotten? I had got to know him well, my research had found he had been such a character, or being an actor, multiple characters! He was very patriotic, had a great spirit of determination and given a lot so ending up forgotten, in a common grave did not do him justice. Continue reading

A Canadian in the Norfolk Regiment

Here at the Norfolkinworldwar1 blog we were recently contacted by Mr King-Seguin who let us know about the research he and other family members were undertaking about their Grandfather, who came from Canada yet still served with the Norfolk Regiment. 

Below is a short introduction from William John Grummett’s grandson (Mr. Snell) and a link to the website showcasing all of their fascinating research.

The First World War through the Lens of William J. Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment: A Soldier’s Story.

William John Grummett (1891-1967) was a young law student living in Canada when the First World War began in 1914.  Honouring a promise made to his parents, he held off enlisting until 1915 and the formation of the second Canadian contingent of soldiers preparing for war in Europe.  Like most young men who signed up to go to war, he was off on the “adventure of a lifetime”.   As it turns out, his journey went much farther than most: to the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains and the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River, to the sun blasted deserts of Mesopotamia and the twin rivers, Tigris and Euphrates that had held between them the very cradle of civilization.  He travelled more than 24,000 nautical miles, 4500 miles by train and countless miles on horseback and on foot.  And, he took photographs documenting the events, places and most remarkably, the people: children, parents, fellow soldiers, street performers, holy men, the devout, herdsmen and refugees, as the journey unfolded.

William John Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment

Read the story: a new chapter will be added every month completing the tale by November of 2018.   See the pictures: themed photo galleries representing stages of the journey are added to with each new chapter of the story.  The First World War through the Lens of William J. Grummett, 2nd Lieutenant, Norfolk Regiment, at https://wjgrummettphotosandhistoryww1.blog/

As ever if you have a family story to share please get in touch – we are very keen to make sure that these stories are not forgotten.

Inspired by our poppy plea

We’ve just received this lovely letter from Alex in Sheringham

I work as a Library & Information Assistant at Sheringham Library. In June 2017, a poster arrived for display in the Library asking people to make poppies for the Norfolk in WW1 Project.

My grandad had lost his father and his brother in this war, so I decided to make a few poppies. 300 crochet’d poppies later, I turned my attention to Sheringham, where I have lived for 17 years.

Sheringham & Beeston Regis lost 75 men in WW1 and Upper Sheringham lost 8.

I crochet’d 83 poppies and with the help of the Imperial War Museum, the Royal British Legion and Roll of Honour.com. I was able to individually dedicate each poppy with the “fallen” man’s name, typed onto a label and threaded through the poppy.

The poppies have been framed and are on permanent display in Sheringham Library.

Alex’s 300+ poppies have already been strung together ready for display in the autumn, but do pop into Sheringham Library to see these wonderful, named poppies.

Rationing in the First World War

From the records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

With attacks on merchant shipping, agricultural labourers leaving the land to fight on the Front and horses being requisitioned for the war, there had been growing concerns about food shortages as the war progressed.  Articles abounded on wartime economies and in May 1917 the Bread Pledge was introduced encouraging people to eat less grain. However, as food shortages continued to be an ever growing concern, compulsory rationing was introduced in January 1918.  At first only sugar was rationed but, in April, it was followed by the rationing of meat, flour, butter, margarine and milk.

Before rationing, in time-honoured fashion, women in the home had been called upon to make economies.  The Carrow Works magazines, held at the Norfolk Record Office, give a typical picture of the situation.  In July 1916 the magazine announced:

Three rules for housewives.  Buy Economically.  Prepare Carefully.  Avoid all Waste.

The earlier edition in January 1916 quoted the Right Honourable Arthur Henderson of the Board of Education:

Economy in food at the present time is absolutely necessary.  It is part of the patriotic duty of every British citizen, rich and poor alike”. 

The following year an economy exhibition was held at the Castle Museum.  The Carrow Works magazine for April 1917 reported:

“. . . . cakes without eggs” were on view, and various preparations of nuts, cheese and lentils.  It has to be remembered that dishes of this kind will probably become necessities during the present year.

‘Dig for Victory’ may have been a slogan from the Second World War but the message was the same for the First World War.  The Carrow Works magazine for July 1917 stated:

Let us all who have any available ground cultivate it . . even window-boxes may be set with cress .  . and many an otherwise waste spot may be made to produce some form of vegetable life.

Photo 1 Zigomala cropped

Potatoes were even grown outside Buckingham Palace. NRO, MC 2738/14 

 

By December 1917, the situation was grave.

Photo 2 Aylsham DC Letter cropped

Letter issued by Aylsham District Council. NRO, MS 21630/114

But, despite the best efforts of the majority, sugar rationing was introduced the following January.  The Ministry of Food issued a Meat Rationing Order in March 1918 in preparation for meat rationing the following month (NRO, BR 254/65).  The Order issued guidance to butchers and others such as caterers on how to obtain meat supplies under the Meat Rationing Scheme.  The scheme applied to those living in England and Wales and outside London.  From April 7th 1918 meat could only be sold to those who had registered with butchers as customers.  Registration was carried out in March and butchers had to send a list of those who had registered with them to the Food Control Committee.  If the Committee considered the butcher had too many registered then they had the power to transfer some of the customers to another butcher.

The guidance recommended that butchers in a local area should group together to form Butchers’ Committees which would act as trade associations.  One person on the committee should be responsible for buying livestock and another for dead stock.  A levy should be paid for each butcher joining the committee and this money would provide a working fund and pay for any expenses incurred by the butchers.  It was recommended that the committees drew up rules limiting the financial responsibilities of each member to avoid any irregularities.

Photo 3 Meat Rationing Order cropped

Part of the guidance issued to butchers in 1918. NRO, BR 254/65

The meat rationing scheme started on April 7th from which time butchers needed a permit to buy meat.  If there was insufficient meat to provide for those registered with the butcher then this would be reported to the Deputy Meat Agent who would try to procure supplies. Equally the agent was to be informed if there were surpluses so that the stock could be redistributed where there was a need.

Photo 4 Children's Meat Coupons cropped

Children had their own coupons.  These shown here were handed in to butchers D W Bellamy & Sons of 136 King St, Gt Yarmouth. NRO, Y/D 74/58

 

Margarine was also rationed from April 1918.  The Carrow Works magazine for that month wrote:

Any Margarine?  Well four ounces a week – when you can get it.  But please don’t call it Mar-jer-ine.  Ask for Mar-gar-ine, and if you detect a smile on the face of the shopkeeper, tell him that the word “Margarine” comes from the Latin word ‘Margarita’, signifying a pearl; and that the ‘g’ is hard.

A letter written by Frank Palmer to his father about his father’s imminent visit to Norwich expresses concern about the availability of food supplies that his father had requested.  (NRO, MC 2440/1/16, 973×4).  From his address at 9 Market Place, Norwich Frank wrote:

Unfortunately it does not lay in my power to obtain only such quantities of Butter, Tea & Sgr to which we are entitled to.  Here we are only allowed 1oz of Butter and 5 ounces of Margarine each per week.   2 ounces of Tea & 1/2lb Sugar per week also.

 

Photo 5 Ration allowances cropped

Ration allowances for adults. NRO, MS 21630/114

 

 

Hardships continued throughout the war but these were ameliorated by several initiatives.  The work of the Woman’s War Agricultural Committee recruited women to work on the land.  This was later formalised into the Women’s Land Army in January 1917.  The introduction of mechanization with tractors made up for the loss of horses and men,  The employment of German prisoners of war, while not without its problems, also helped fill the gap in labour shortages.  Such initiatives, along with the determined efforts of men, women and children to do their bit, ensured that Britain may have been hungry but it did not starve.

NRO Blogger – Daryl Long

 

 

 

 

Sheringham – A Frontline Town

Sheringham – A Frontline Town

From records held at the Norfolk Record Office.

Edith Upcher’s diary started and ended with a very loud bang (UPC 188 642×2).  In the short time that she kept her diary, spanning the first three months of 1916, she captured the fears both real and imaginary of the people of Sheringham.

Crash.  Bang.  Shake.  A loud explosion.  Every door & window in the house struggling to break free. 

Thus wrote Edith in her first entry recounting a zeppelin raid on 31st January 1916.  The servants had seen the zeppelin flying low over the wood near Edith’s home, Sheringham Hall.  It appeared to be following the coastline.  Such was the noise that Edith’s mother thought it must be a naval battle.  Edith describes bombs being hurled from the sky, some in the direction of Holt.  Following the raid there was much talk both in the town and at Sheringham Auxiliary Hospital where Edith worked voluntarily.

Everyone claimed that it went “right over my house”.  Hospital calm tho’ the locals had been a little excited.

Edith’s home – Sheringham Hall (NRO, UPC 245 643×3)

 

30 bombs were dropped at Bayfield Lodge probably thinking it was the aerodrome:

Windows of house broken, barn damaged and forge blown to bits.  Many dropped in fields.  8 large holes in which 22 men could stand.  Report told of aircraft party having left on their large light and finding “things too hot for them” fled to Holt leaving the searchlight turned on Holt Lodge. 

The fear of further raids was ever present.  Unconfirmed stories circulated about zeppelins approaching.  Mrs Steward, a local resident, is said to have desired a gun so that she could shoot them down adding that neither guns on the cliff at Bodham would fire and they needed someone to come up from London to look at them because the man from London “knew more about guns than what those soldiers do”.

Residents were understandably fearful of any unexplained noises or anything flying overhead.  On one occasion Edith was chatting to a local neighbour when an aeroplane flew by.

Old Mrs Dawson Sidney fled indoors in tears crying “Oh I do hate them things.  I don’t care if they’re ours or not they do frighten me”.

On 5th March there was another zeppelin scare, heavy snow providing ample light for the zeppelins to see.  Edith wrote:

Music for a bit then to bed wondering how used one got to the idea of Zepps about but hoping that a hurricane would meet them on the way back.

Residents were also worried that the presence of troops in the area would invite attack.  On 8th March Edith remonstrated with a soldier about the danger of leaving ammunition wagons close to local houses.  The residents were anxious that if the wagons were attacked by zeppelins then their houses would be blown up too.  The unsympathetic soldier replied, “We could have put em in your back yard if we had had a mind to”. 

While strangers were welcome in the seaside town before the war, now they were viewed with suspicion. Two women checked into one of the town’s hotels, one demanding a room overlooking the sea and the other a room at the back of the hotel.  Edith wrote that they were:

Suspiciously like spies – but after a time proved to be officers’ wives coming to stay to the finish.

When the lifeboat went missing during a rescue mission, there were again fears of invasion.  Rumours circulated that the Germans had landed and were dressed in khaki so that no-one would know who they were.

Good deal of agitation about many soldiers on Links and round Hospital.  Found out from outpatient that a landing was expected, all the soldiers had been out all night & not come in for morning rations. . . . . One after another the men came in with the same tale & always ending in awestruck voices. . . . . .As it happened there were a most unusual amount of ships hanging about all the morning.  As we were looking at them we saw one of the soldiers from the Hospital hoist up the Union Jack & the Red Cross Flag.  He had got leave to do this to calm his feelings but it had the contrary effect on most of them as they again came to pour out their fears.

The missing lifeboat eventually returned having taken its rescued vessel safely to Grimsby.  Fear of invasion fuelled rumours that it was returning with German spies on board.  A lifeboat member from Sheringham was stationed on the beach to meet its return and to identify every man aboard to check there were no Germans among the crew.

Photo 2 Sheringham 1914 cropped

Postcard of Sheringham in 1914.  (NRO, MC 2313/1 946×2)

Edith’s diary concludes with a major explosion in the town which caused severe damage. On 11th March she wrote:

At 5 past 8 a resounding bang and windows rattling furiously. . . . A floating mine had come ashore.  It was seen for 2 hours but no steps were taken to prevent disaster.  Reports as usual.  “They” had telephoned Lowestoft for instructions & received none.  “it was too rough for any boat to get out to it”.  None of the fishermen would have dared touch it etc etc.  Anyhow the unsuitable had happened and the mine had burst.  The spot it chose was the Town drain pipe and here it did its worst though mercifully so much less than if it had met its end a few minutes sooner and not a soul was hurt or even touched by the portions of pipe-mine & stones which were flying incredible distances into Town.

The damage caused by the mine was extensive with Cliff Road particularly affected.  Mrs Lucas’ house ‘The Mo’ on East Cliff was badly damaged as it was close to the blast.  Stories of narrow escapes abounded. Birrell’s house was apparently lifted out of the ground eight inches and dropped back again.  Edith wrote that Birrell then ran about all day long carrying a bottle of medicine from which he drank at regular intervals.  Mr Craske had heard about the mine and got his wife out of bed.  After the explosion they found a large piece of metal in her pillow.  Fortunately, because the morning was so stormy, children were not playing outdoors and so escaped injury.

After the mine explosion people went around the town collecting metal shards in an attempt to prove it had been an English mine so that the town could claim damages.

Edith’s diary illustrates how the fear and reality of war manifested itself directly on the doorsteps of British towns in the First World War.

 

Written by Daryl Long NRO Blogger