It was a
cold November evening as we gathered to remember the
end of WWI. Neil Storey gave a very poignant and
interesting talk which resonated with all of us,
regardless as to whether you had a direct relative
involved in the war or not. Of the young men who
returned, many had physical scars which in time would
heal, but also mental scars which would remain forever
etched in their minds. Neil reminded us that,
“the love of a good family” was then, as now a hundred
years later, so important.
was introduced in January 1916. By this time 2.6
million had already volunteered, a further 2.8 million
were conscripted and by 1918 the British Army had
reached a strength of 4 million. Private H
Jeary, described the battlefield he had seen:
“As far as the eye could see was a
mass of black mud with shell holes filled with
water. Here and there broken duckboards,
partly submerged in the quagmire; here and there a
horse’s carcass sticking out of the water; here
and there a corpse. The only sign of life
was a rat or two swimming about to find food and a
dry patch of ground. At night a yellow mist
hung over the mud; the stench was almost
unbearable. When gas shells came over the
mist turned to brown.”
declared in the summer of 1914, and fortification of
the coastline began. Great Yarmouth became a
Naval Submarine base. The fishing industry was
suspended and many of the fishermen joined the Trawler
Section of the Royal Naval Reserve. The Norfolk
coast has always been vulnerable to attack and this
was evident when the German Navy shelled Gt. Yarmouth
in 1914, fortunately the shells fell short.
Subsequent attacks culminated in 1918 when there were
four fatalities and eight injured.
Voluntary Aid Detachment was created in 1909.
The War office concluded that should there be further
conflicts there were insufficient medical facilities
for Armed forces. The British Red Cross together
with the Order of St. Johns set up Auxiliary hospitals
mainly for those who needed bed rest and
convalescence. In 1914 there were 26 fully
staffed Hospitals in Norfolk, this rose to 64 by 1918.
Over 317 convoys transported over 40,000
wounded from ambulance trains arriving in Norwich to
the Auxiliary hospitals in Norfolk. This work
was mainly done by women. Seafield was a large
house on the corner of King’s Road and Nelson Road in
Yarmouth which could accommodate 37 patients. By
the end of the war it had treated 815.
Work done by women
during WWI was inestimable. We have little
concept of what this must have felt like. Before
WWI few women were in charge of their own destinies;
this all changed with their new found
independence. From every walk of life the war
changed every person and everything.
were placed in churches, and at the end of streets in
villages across Norfolk, listing the missing and
dead. These have long been forgotten but they
were the forerunners of war memorials which are so
familiar to us today.
buildings in Norfolk were used for military use.
The Volunteer Training Corps used the Winter Gardens,
Pier Gardens, and Wellesley Recreation grounds for
drill practice. The Gorleston Pavilion was used
as a canteen and recreation room for troops based in
the town. Pill boxes were erected along coastal
areas, a few of which survive. The coastline
from Mundesley to Yarmouth Beach Station was patrolled
by an armoured train carrying two 12-pound naval guns
and a machine gun, with an armour-plated locomotive.
1915 a Zeppelin airship from the German Navy dropped
10 bombs. The one dropped on St. Peter’s Plain
killed Martha Taylor aged 72 and Samuel Smith aged
53. These were the first deaths in England: the
first people killed from the air.
November 11th 1918 Germany signed an armistice which
came into effect four days later. A war-weary
country started to believe the events of the last four
years were now over. The celebrations now
began. In Great Yarmouth work was abandoned as
soon as notices had been posted. Peals of Joy
rang out from the churches. Naval sirens and
gunfire could be heard. Aircraft made numerous
flights over Yarmouth. There was shouting,
cheering and singing and a grand march was arranged
through the town.