Norfolk Regiment in Ypres – a talk from a historian

Join us at the Millennium Library on 6th November to hear about the Norfolk Regiment in the Ypres salients during World War One.

Author and battle field guide Steve Smith will be taking us through the lows, and deeper lows, experienced by the Norfolk Regiment in this area during the whole war – including the 3rd Battle of Ypres/Passchendaele.

Tickets to this talk are free and can be booked by visiting our Eventbrite page here , or by calling 01603 774703.

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The Assembly Memorial Chairs exhibition in Norwich

The team at St Peter Mancroft Church in the centre of Norwich have been in touch to let us know about the wonderful World War One exhibition they will be holding from October 25th onward:

We will be hosting an art installation entitled ‘Assembly – Memorial Chairs’  by Derbyshire artist Val Carman, which will be on display in the church from 10am-3.30pm Monday to Saturday from 25 October – 23 November 2017.  This period is particularly poignant given that the centenary of the end of the Battle of Passchendaele is on 10 November 2017.

The installation consists of five chairs from Passchendaele’s St Audomarus Church – each representing the casualties of one year of the war 1914-1918 which will be shown by small lead numbers on each chair.

Next to the chairs there will be a book with the names of the fallen printed on the left hand side. The blank pages left on the right hand side are for visitors to write their own testimony or personal story.  Any story or local references to WW1 can be added to the book – photocopies of images and letters are also welcome.

The Revd Canon Ian Bentley, interim vicar of St Peter Mancroft said:   “The simplicity of this exhibition is very moving and we are honoured to have the installation in Norfolk during the centenary of Passchendaele to act as a focus for remembrance season.  To mark the centenary of WW1 many parishes in Norfolk will have carried out research on the names on their war memorials.  I encourage you all to visit, look for names in the book that you recognise and make sure that Norfolk stories from WW1 are recorded in this lasting memorial.”

‘Assembly’ will visit 15 significant sites during its journey and in 2018 the book and the chairs will be returned to Ypres and so we are very proud and excited that St Peter Mancroft forms part of this tour.

The team planning this wonderful exhibition are launching the exhibition with the following event:

  • A preview viewing, with talk from the artist, in the evening of 24th October

 

As we get more details we will share them but if you are in the city during this time the exhibition sounds unmissable – if you’d like any more information then please contact Geoff Woolsey-Brown 07752 025296 / 01603 617301 or visit https://assemblymemorialchairs.wordpress.com/

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.

 

Making connections through family stories

Last summer we posted the research undertaken by Alan Riches in to his great-uncle’s war service.  We’ve now been contacted by another blog reader who’s great-grandfather probably served alongside Harry Hazel.
Simon Potter has shared what he knows about Herbert Potter but it is currently an incomplete picture:

Herbert was my great-grandfather who died in 1958, before I was born but my father remembers him. He was a rather tall and elegantly dressed man but over time developed a pigeon chest as he struggled for breath after a WW1 gas attack.

Herbert enlisted on 25th March 1915 in the same company as Sapper 84711, just 839 men before so they maybe knew each other?

There is some debate as to when Herbert came under gas attack, I think this happened on 8 August 1916. From the company war diary, it looks like he and 35 others were casualties of high explosive and (possibly chlorine gas) attack whilst making a communications trench from brigade HQ on the south-west side of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood. His service record shows shell shock from an exploding shell and that he spent a week with 104th field hospital, however it doesn’t mention the gas so it’s possible that it occurred later, my father thinks he heard mustard gas at the Ypres/Battle of Poelcappelle/Passchendaele in Oct 1917.

 

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-1

In this torn image Herbert could be in the middle row, second from left with the blue mark on his hat.

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-2

These are the photos I have, I always thought they were of (part of) the 208th, but the cap badges worry me a bit, perhaps as a territorial unit they were different? I think there are only 70 men in this picture not the 217 that you mentioned in the previous post so perhaps it’s not a Company but a Platoon?  I also notice that unlike other similar photos they have no rifles. From the tents in the background could these photos be from training camps in England in 1915?

ww1-herbert-frederick-potter-3

Not sure about this one either, perhaps a field kitchen in Kirkby Malzeard or in France, although the corrugated iron walls in the background look similar to photos of some temporary buildings I have seen at Sutton Veny on Salisbury Plain.

The most amazing thing for me is that his record shows that in Feb/March 1918 he was granted 10 days leave to the UK. Imagine having experienced the horrors of the trenches over 2 winters (including being shell-shocked and gassed), then going home, then after a rest returning to the war!

1919-h-potter-army-discharge-documents-page-2

Herbert he survived the war returning to his work as a boot maker in Norwich where after short retirement he died peacefully in 1958 aged 76. Herbert was born in Norwich in 1881 but spent a lot his youth in Bethnal Green.

Herbert many years later on holiday in 1937, on the RHS with his eldest son (also called Herbert) on the LHS and his grandson (Brian).

Herbert many years later on holiday in 1937, on the RHS with his eldest son (also called Herbert) on the LHS and his grandson (Brian).

 Herbert on the left in the Homburg hat in 1939. He died in 1958 at 83 Rosebery Road, Norwich, in his final years he liked to sip half pints of stout in the back room of the Lord Rosebery pub and play draughts. Like most them, he never spoke of the war.

Herbert on the left in the Homburg hat in 1939. He died in 1958 at 83 Rosebery Road, Norwich, in his final years he liked to sip half pints of stout in the back room of the Lord Rosebery pub and play draughts. Like most them, he never spoke of the war.

Herbert has two brothers, one older (Charles Frederick b. 1876) and one younger (George James b.1888).

Charles Frederick Potter was already a professional solder being #4163 in 2nd Bn Essex Regiment and who participated in the second Anglo-Boer War of 1896. He had already retired from the army by the outbreak of WW1 but rejoined as Pte 45624, 2nd Garrison Battalion Essex Reg, forming part of the Nasirabad Brigade, India in 1917. I think he lived until 1960 but not sure.

George James  joined the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps as Rifleman 7696 on 22 August 1914, but died less than a year later on 10 July 1915. He is buried in the Lillers Communal Cemetery, Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region, France Plot: II. A. 34. This is just 3 1/2 months after Herbert joined up.

As ever we are very grateful to Simon for sharing his family story with us – please do comment below or email norfolkinworldwar1@gmail.com if you have a story to share or indeed if you can help with any of Simon’s questions.

Exploring the Salient part 2

With many thanks to blog reader and artist Rebecca Hearle for this, the first of two posts, about her trip to the Salient and the art it inspired her to create. 

Salient

Before my visit to Flanders I had hoped to read the signs of the war on the landscape; to still see fields marked with trench lines, redoubts and bomb craters.  I also expected Flanders to be a similarly flat and open landscape like my home landscape of the Fens.  However, Ieper’s landscape is more picture-book like; rolling hills and small farmsteads reminiscent of childhood toy farms.  Apparently, before modern farming techniques it was quite possible to see the trace of the trenches on the landscape but now, with deeper ploughing, the landscape itself is forgetting.

Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1918-19 oil on canvas Imperial War Museum(c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1918-19 oil on canvas Imperial War Museum(c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

My original idea had been to superimpose period photographs of the Great War landscape, using the process of photo-lithography onto my own linocut images of the present day landscapes.  However, this didn’t fit with what I had found, the landscape just didn’t marry up to the old images anymore and nor would that approach communicate what I experienced.

I returned home with no idea of what to make.  I felt that I could not just make linocuts of the landscape as it now hid the War so well; it would just be fields or woods, conventional landscapes that could be anywhere.  I definitely could not make images of the landscape how it had been during and after the fighting.  That had been done by War artists such as C R W Nevinson, Paul Nash, John Nash and Otto Dix, artists who had experienced first-hand those great and terrible battlefields.  I felt I do not have the right to make those kinds of images and that nobody alive today does.

Otto Dix Bei Langemarck (Februar 1918), 1924 etching and drypoint MoMA

Otto Dix Bei Langemarck (Februar 1918), 1924 etching and drypoint MoMA

There are few physical remains now, but what is there is a landscape of words.  To cycle The Salient is to encounter name upon name; Flemish names; Ieper, French names; Ypres, German names; Ypern and English names; Wipers.  Names of CWGC War graves; Woods Cemetery, The Bluff Cemetery, Hedge Row Trench Cemetery, finger-post after finger-post and of course in those cemeteries and on those memorials the names of the dead, so many names.

What I decided to do was to map the journey, every road and pathway cycled or walked in and around Ieper during our stay.  I carefully traced our journeys using the modern-day map of Ieper that had guided our visit.  This tracing was then divided up and enlarged to make eleven separate sheets.  The images were reversed and transferred on to blocks of lino and cut away; I printed each different block in varying tones of grey.

Work in progress

Work in progress

These lino prints were then overprinted, using photo-lithographic plates which had been etched with hand-drawn texts of place names, place markers, cemeteries and quotes, with which I’m trying to communicate the written and over written nature of the place.

I scoured many different sources for the texts.  An assortment of maps were used; the tourist’s maps we had used whilst cycling, a modern facsimile of the Ypres Area trench maps as used by the British, and even a German map that the author Edmund Blunden took as a souvenir from a pillbox near St. Julien that now is archived with his papers at the University of Texas.

Edmund Blunden’s souvenir World War I map: St. Julien, Belgium, July 31, 1917 n.d. [image online] Available at: http://blog.hrc.utexas.edu/2010/08/17/edmund-blundens-souvenir-world-war-i-map-st-julien-belgium-july-31-1917/ [Accessed 13 November 2013].

Edmund Blunden’s souvenir World War I map: St. Julien, Belgium, July 31, 1917 n.d. [image online] Available at: http://blog.hrc.utexas.edu/2010/08/17/edmund-blundens-souvenir-world-war-i-map-st-julien-belgium-july-31-1917/ [Accessed 13 November 2013].

The typographic style for the text, though it was hand drawn, was inspired by a the Michelin book Ypres and the Battles of Ypres which is a tour guide produced in 1919 as part of their Illustrated Michelin Guides to the Battle-Fields (1914-1918) series.

I read WWI poetry, prose and memoirs including the invaluable Undertones of War (Edmund Blunden was stationed near Ypres), the moving  All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernst Jünger’s brutal memoir Storm of Steel.

On one map I indicate the place of the Yorkshire Trench, a preserved trench that we visited on our second day with a quote from Eric Maria Remarque’s All Quite on the Western Front; “The dugout shakes, and the night is all roars and flashes.  We look at each other in the moments of light, and shake our heads, our faces pale and our lips pressed tight.”  In this way, by using a quote from German source to illustrate the experience in a British trench, I wanted to show the equality of experience; that, regardless of nationality, to sit in a dugout during a bombardment was terrifying.

The maps were displayed in a group show with other MA Printmaking and MA Fine Art students from Anglia Ruskin in the temporary space at number 10 Green Street run by Changing Spaces Cambridge.  The use of the old shop window – it was formerly a music book retailer – allowed the maps to be strewn across the space as if shifted about by users.  To this display I added the pencils and compass I had with me on the journey around Flanders and my Michelin Guide to Ypres and The Battles of Ypres.

Salient maps installation view 1 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

Salient maps installation view 1 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

 

Salient maps installation view 2 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

Salient maps installation view 2 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

 

Salient maps installation view 3 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

Salient maps installation view 3 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

 

Salient maps installation view 4 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

Salient maps installation view 4 Changing Spaces, 10 Green Street Cambridge

Exploring the Salient part 1

With many thanks to blog reader and artist Rebecca Hearle for this, the first of two posts, about her trip to the Salient and the art it inspired her to create. 

Railway Wood and Tyne Cot

“And where do they find themselves, that autumn, separately but as part of the same beleaguered army?  In a flat, rain-swept, water-logged land.  A land not unlike their own native Fenland… A land where in 1917, there is still much digging, ditching and entrenching and a pressing problem of drainage, not to say problems of other kinds…. The wide world is drowning in mud.  Who will not know of the mud of Flanders?”   Waterland – Graham Swift

As an artist my subject is landscape, particularly that of the Fens where I live, which was brilliantly captured by Graham Swift in his novel Waterland.  I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Swift’s mention of Flanders as a landscape so similar to my own and yet the stage for the terrible events of WWI.  Whilst I was studying at Anglia Ruskin University I was lucky enough to win the Anglia Foundation Trust Scholarship which allowed me to travel to Ypres and then to produce a piece of work about the landscape.

On the 5th of June 2013 I travelled to Ieper with my husband Nick.  We stayed in a B&B on the outskirts of the town and hired bikes to explore the countryside on.  Cycling in Flanders is a joy; it’s the national pastime and all the roads have cycle paths and routes are clearly signposted; car drivers even give way to cyclists!

The first place I wanted to visit was Tyne Cot Cemetery.  After hiring our bikes we cycled off through the green park where the bicycle hire shop was and back up to the Menin Road.  We didn’t realise that we’d already missed our turning as the cycle route out of Ieper runs through a quiet residential area; instead we cycled along the main road almost to Hellfire Corner – now a round-a-bout – before we consulted the map and regained the right path.  I had been confidently cycling in front and over the next few days whenever I was leading we’d inevitably miss our turning. Without Nick’s map reading skills and innate sense of direction I would have been horribly lost many times.

After leaving the town up, what for us Fenland natives was, a steep hill we crossed the main road.  The cycle route then took to quiet, narrow country lanes.  We passed a couple of houses ensconced in a copse on the right.  At one a woman sat on her porch watching us pass and possibly wondering why I was cycling so slowly, unused to it as I was.  Then, ahead of us on the left, we saw a white cross topping a rise backed by another wood.  The soon to be familiar Commonwealth War Grave Commission sign finger pointed the way to the R. E. Grave Railway Wood. This sight, the white Cross of Sacrifice against the verdant green of Railway Wood was to become the hub of our cycle trips; we were to pass this point near to or from a distance each day.

Railway Wood from the track to Bellewaarde Farm

Railway Wood from the track to Bellewaarde Farm

Unplanned, we detoured up the grassy path to take visit the Cemetery.  The base of the Cross is engraved “Beneath this spot lies the bodies of an Officer three NCO’s and eight  men of or attached to the 177th Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers who were killed in action underground during the defence of Ypres between November 1915 and August 1917” followed by the names of those twelve men.  Unusually they have no grave markers as their bodies were never retrieved and still lay where they died underground.

Railway Wood Cross of Sacrifice

Railway Wood Cross of Sacrifice

Adjacent to the Cemetery is a large pond, a crater from the War.  There are many more nearby, remnants of the terrible fighting that took place in what is now a peaceful and quite beautiful spot.  These craters and bomb pools are considered war memorials and it’s now illegal to fill them in.  Standing looking at these ponds, verdant with wildlife, you wonder who lies beneath in the benthic layer; they are strange oasis.

Crater near Bellewaarde Farm

Crater near Bellewaarde Farm

Further up the path from the R. E. Grave is a memorial to the Liverpool Scottish a regiment.  It states that they lost over 180 men as they advanced up the slope on 16th June 1915.  That slope is today a potato field, nondescript and commonplace.  I was overwhelmed by the seeming pointlessness of their deaths; they had died for this small field?

Bellewaarde Ridge

Bellewaarde Ridge

We cycled on to Zonnebeke; now a busy town with a cheerful looking school, it was wiped off the map in WWI.  Cycling along a former railway line we passed farmhouses that had been completely destroyed yet rebuilt almost exactly as before.  At the British named Thames Farm are the remains of a bunker Flandern I; just a corner still stands and a doorway.  A small wooden cross with poppy had been placed on the muddy floor.  This bunker had been built by Germans as a dressing station and used, as is the case with many structures, later by the British and Canadians.  For me the poppy was for all who died regardless of nationality.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

We approached Tyne Cot Cemetery late in the afternoon, hot and tired from the unaccustomed cycling.  Leaving our bikes we walked half way around the outside of the cemeteries’ grey flint walls to the entrance.  Tyne Cot lies on a slope looking towards Ieper and the cemetery, as you enter it, stretches out before you, colossal in size and gleaming white against the perfect summer blue sky; the remains of 11,960 lie within.  Ahead stands the Cross of Sacrifice which has been built up over a German pill-box; the original British named Tyne Cottage.  Behind the Cross arcs the Tyne Cot Memorial containing the names of almost 35,000 who died after 16th August 1917.

Within the cemetery, amongst the ranks of graves are two more pill-boxes, their rough concrete a contrast to the smooth Portland stone.  Strange to stand in a place so peaceful, with the sky so blue and cloudless, with the sound of Belgian children playing in gardens the other side of the cemetery wall, and be able to reach out and touch the past, a place I would never want to stand in 1917.

Tyne Cot Cross of Sacrifice

Tyne Cot Cross of Sacrifice

Between the Cross and the Stone of Remembrance, engraved Their Name Liveth Forever More, stand a few haphazard graves, the original burials from when the pill-box was used as an ADS.  Among those graves are two German burials.  Their gravestones differ slightly in shape and text but the men buried there, respected and honoured just the same, have more in common with their one time enemies than differences: they all surely “died in Hell”.

When visiting the cemeteries guide-book in hand it will tell you the notable graves to find, those who were exceptionally young (we never found one older than 34) or those who’d been decorated or are famous in some way.  To keep my rucksack light I left the guidebooks at the B&B so we found ourselves wandering among the markers reading here and there the names, rank and regiment of the deceased.  As I wasn’t looking for one single grave I started to feel compelled to read them all.  With so many lying unknown in their graves to read a row becomes a repetitive prose poem, a litany of the dead:

A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God

A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God

A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God

 

WW1 on Stage – The Wipers Times

A review of the New Wolsey Theatre matinee performance, 9th November 2016

Official poster for the play

Official poster for the play

The Wipers Times is a new play (based the TV drama of the same name) created by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman and apart from calling it a wonderful watch putting into words what I saw on the stage is proving very difficult.

The original Wipers Time newspaper was the brainchild of two officers serving on the front-line who realised that perhaps the best way to survive the horrors of the war was to do so by making them comical.  Their newspaper was written and printed by men actually serving in the trenches rather than those sitting behind desks behind the lines or back in Blighty. It was a firm favourite with the men and and a thorn in the side of those officers bravely fighting the war from their desks a long way from any bombs…

The comic scenes of the men writing the articles (these would start by simply being read and turn into action scenes upstage or shown as full vaudeville acts) were interspersed with scenes from behind the lines in staff HQ, the men on leave in France and the bittersweet moments of home leave or letters.  Then there were also the scenes of the men in the trenches waiting for the big pushes – the Somme and 3rd Battle of Ypres for example.

I found the play managed to show the absurdities and horrors of war very effectively without ever feeling as if it was playing with my emotions, it was sad at times but overall very uplifting.

I’ve seen the play described as a cross between Blackadder Goes Forth and Oh! What a Lovely War but I did also see a hint of Journey’s End in there – it wasn’t all comedy.

Some of the lines, puns and jokes were terrible and were signposted a mile off but these weren’t necessarily the lines from Hislop and Newman and neither were the lines about press accuracy interestingly enough.

What I found the most interesting about this play however was how much the later World War One satires such as Blackadder owed to the Wipers Times even if this was unintentional and they knew nothing about the paper.

All of the original editions of the Wipers Times newspaper were reprinted in a facsimile edition and you can borrow this from Norfolk’s Libraries but I really do hope that this play will return to the stage soon – it has an important story to tell.