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Find out how your part of Norfolk was affected by the First World War

PUBLISHED: 12:18 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:40 18 October 2018

Convalescing soldiers   Picture: Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Convalescing soldiers Picture: Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum

A major exhibition on the impact of the First World War on the lives and landscape of Norfolk runs from October 20 to January 6 at Norwich Castle

Members of the Women’s Land Army at Mr J Thistleton Smith's farm at West Barsham  Picture: Norfolk  Museums ServiceMembers of the Women’s Land Army at Mr J Thistleton Smith's farm at West Barsham Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

A wartime diary written for a Norwich child, the tragic story of three soldier brothers killed within weeks of each other, a map of the airstrips and stately home hospitals which sprang up across Norfolk, and poppies decaying before our eyes are part of a major new exhibition at Norwich Castle.

Armistice; Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk opens on October 20 and explores the huge impact of the First World War on Norfolk. It includes:

n The Royal Norfolk Regiment Casualty Book - a unique record of the injuries and illnesses of 15,000 men. The Royal Norfolks are the only regiment to have such a book, detailing everything from dental decay to dysentery, gas poisoning to trench foot and frostbite to shell shock.

Boulton & Paul advert 1917  Picture: Norfolk Museums Service, Museum of NorwichBoulton & Paul advert 1917 Picture: Norfolk Museums Service, Museum of Norwich

n A scrapbook, created for Elfrida Long by her parents, Sydney and Grace, giving a first-hand account of how the war affected one Norwich family.

n Embroidery by convalescing Norfolk soldiers and a brooch in the shape of a swallow made from Zeppelin wreckage.

n The back-to-work forms from Norfolk-based Colman’s - one of the first employers to guarantee returning soldiers their jobs back.

n A photograph of two British submarines alongside a German U-boat at South Quays, Yarmouth. The U-boat surrendered under the Armistice terms.

n An art installation by Paddy Hartley of poppies, suspended inside glass artillery shell casings, slowly decaying during the 11-week exhibition.

n An interactive map showing the 40 First World War airstrips, the temporary hospitals which sprang up in grand homes across the county, and wartime coastal defences and shipwrecks.

Alongside the stories of some of the 14,000 men who set out from Norfolk to serve King and Country and never returned the exhibition also highlights the families they left behind, and the way war changed homes, farms, factories, families and communities for ever.

Long-dead soldiers, some barely out of boyhood, speak to us from evocative photographs and letters. We can see their uniforms, their equipment, the posters which encouraged them to join up and the newspaper reports which revealed what was happening at home and abroad.

At the heart of the exhibition personal stories bring home just a few of the countless tragedies of the war. In July 2016 Ernest Bailey wrote to his parents William and Louisa, of West Rudham, near Fakenham, telling them his brother George had been killed at the start of the Battle of the Somme, and their other son, Robert, had been wounded. Before the year was out all three brothers were dead.

See more correspondence between soldiers at the front and their anxious families back in Norfolk, plus letters from a captain of the Norfolk Regiment about men who had died serving under his command - and the replies from heartbroken relatives.

Volunteers, many of them experts in particular aspects of the period, or with their own family links to the war, have helped research the exhibition. Curator Kate Thaxton said: “Thanks to their efforts we now understand the Great War’s impact on Norfolk in greater depth than ever before.”

The devastation and grief of the war years as young men were slaughtered in their thousands, is brought home, a century on, in the stories of individual families. But Kate said: “I didn’t want it to be all about death. It’s also a celebration of how people managed, of their resilience.”

As the men were called away to fight, women began working on farms and in factories sparking a profound change in attitudes about what was ‘woman’s work’. The exhibition shows examples of women’s clothing from before and after the war, to illuminate the huge shift in social attitudes.

Norwich became an industrial powerhouse with everything from aircraft to army boots and the wire netting for a ‘wire road’ which enabled troops to walk through the Sinai desert, made here.

Find out about life and loss for those left behind on the home front, how Norfolk suffered both the first sea bombardment of the war and the first fatal Zeppelin raid, and how the county marked the end of the war and the return of men changed for ever by their experiences. Many were casualties long after 1918.

Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk runs at Norwich Castle from October 20 until January 6 2019.

It is open Monday to Saturday 10am-4.30pm and Sunday 1-4.30pm. It will open early, at 11.02am, on Remembrance Sunday, November 11 with free admission for members and veterans of the armed forces.

Linked events run throughout the exhibition including a chance to find out what life was like for a First World War infantry soldier with the Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group on Saturday November 24.

The Castle’s Christmas activities will include a 1918-style Peace Street Party.

museums.norfolk.gov.uk

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