May 25 2015 Latest news:
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
The experiences of ordinary people from Norfolk at home and abroad during the First World War have been put in the spotlight.
An exhibition at the Norfolk Record Office has a collection of letters, books and photographs to commemorate the lives of people in the county 100 years ago.
Frank Meeres, the curator, felt it should show the war through the eyes of Norfolk people at home and abroad. He said: “This is not intended as an exhibition of official military powers; this is very much a people’s exhibition.
“Just about everything in it has been given to us by local families.”
About 60 items make up the Norfolk in the First World War exhibition including rationing books, which are more commonly associated with the Second World War.
Jessie Hayward lived at Hardley Hall in Loddon and trained as a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. When the war broke out, she worked at a military hospital in Cambridge but wanted to work in hospitals behind the front lines. She was given a typhoid vaccination in 1917 and was sent of to Salonica (now Thessaloniki) to work in a Territorial Hospital.
On the way, a German torpedo sank the ship she was sailing in, but she survived to write about it in her diary.
Here, she describes the moment she feared the worst:
May 4, 1917, 10.15am: “We are to get in the boat ‘ladies first’. How often I have read but never expected to hear that cry… Our boat is filling with water, we start bailing out, but it seems so fruitless and the waves are so big. We throw all sacks, coats, rugs, etc over-board.
Another bang and HMS Transylvania is no more. The Japanese destroyer lurches up… The sea seems alive, men clinging to oars, rafts and boats. They look sadly at our boat and we are sinking… I and all the Sisters think we shall sink with the boat. I wonder what they will think at home. A lot flashes through my mind. My life has been a useless one. God help us all.”
Mr Meeres said: “There was a real shortage of food and you weren’t supposed to give the animals anything that humans could eat.
“Posters were sent to every farm to be displayed in the barns and stables. Eventually in 1918 they did start compulsory rationing.”
Another of Norfolk’s key contributions to the war effort was animals, as many horses from the region were purchased by the Army. A record book from 1917 shows J Webster from Ely was paid £515 for seven horses, while F Wright from Kettlestone sold 12 for £873. Mr Meeres said: “Animals in our region were important; Norfolk had so many horses requisitioned for the army. Special boats were made in Great Yarmouth to take the horses to the Western Front.”
For coastal areas of the region like Yarmouth, the fear of invasion by sea was never far from people’s minds.
Mr Meeres said: “There was a very real fear of invasion and instructions went out on what to do should the Germans land in Yarmouth.”
The Directions to the Public in the event of Bombardment or Invasion advised people to stay on the ground floor of their homes.
In the event of a ‘hostile landing’, vehicles were advised to travel by Caister Road, while people on foot had to go past Vauxhall Station on to the Acle New Road.
The exhibition runs until October in Norfolk Record Office’s Long Gallery.
• Are you holding a special exhibition or event to mark the centenary of the First World War? Email firstname.lastname@example.org