Wartime in spring: letters from Sister Kate Luard

One of the stories we have been following over the course of the First World War centenary commemorations is that of Sister Kate Luard (read all of our Kate Luard posts here). Kate was born in Aveley in 1872 and grew up in Birch near Colchester. On the outbreak of the war she volunteered to nurse on the Western Front, and remained there for the duration of the war. During this time she wrote numerous letters, the majority of which are cared for at ERO. As we welcome warmer and longer spring days, Kate’s great niece Caroline Stevens has put together the following extracts from her letters written during wartime springs.

Amidst the horrors of the Great War and the often insurmountable pressure of nursing the wounded soldiers Kate Luard found time to note not only the extremes of weather but the landscape, flora and fauna. This love of nature must have lifted her spirits during these stressful times.

This first collection of extracts were written while Kate was working on ambulance trains in the spring of 1915:

Wednesday, February 3rd, [1915]. Moved on last night, and woke up at Bailleul. Some badly wounded on the train. Beyond Rouen, the honeysuckle is in leaf, the catkins are out, and the woods are full of buds. What a difference it will make when spring comes.

Friday, February 5th [1915], Boulogne. Today has been a record day of brilliant sun, blue sky and warm air, and it has transformed the muddy, sloppy, dingy Boulogne of the last two months into something more like Cornwall. We went in the town in the morning and on the long stone pier in the afternoon. On the pier there were gulls, and a sunny sort of salt wind and big waves breaking, and a glorious view of the steep little town piled up in layers above the harbour, which is packed with shipping.

Sunday, February 7th, Blendecque. We went for a splendid walk this morning uphill to a pine wood bordered by a moor with whins [gorse]. I’ve now got in my bunky hole on the train (it is not quite six feet square) a polypod fern, a plate of moss, a pot of white hyacinths, and also catkins, violets and mimosa!

Bright yellow gorse flowers

Bright yellow gorse flowers (photo: Caroline Stevens)

Wednesday, March 10th [1915]. We got to Étretat  at about 3 p.m. yesterday after a two days and one night load. The sea was a thundery blue, and the cliffs lit up yellow by the sun, and with the grey shingle it made a glorious picture to take back to the train. It had been a heavy journey with badly wounded.

We are now full of convalescents for Havre to go straight on the boat. There are crowds of primroses out on the banks. Our infant R.A.M.C. cook has just jumped off the train while it was going, grabbed a handful of primroses, and leapt on the train again some coaches back. He came back panting and rosy, and, said, “I’ve got something for you, Sister!” I got some Lent lilies in Rouen, and have some celandines growing in moss, so it looks like spring in my bunk.

Thursday, March 11th [1915]. We are being rushed up again without being stopped at Rouen. The birds are singing like anything now, and all the buds are coming out, and the banks and woods are a mass of primroses.

Delicate spring primroses (photo: Caroline Stevens}

Delicate spring primroses (photo: Caroline Stevens}

Thursday, March 18th [1915]. We had a heavenly ramble this morning, and found blue periwinkles and anemones in the wood, but no primroses. Lots of palm and gorse. Robins, willow-wrens, and yellow hammers were singing—much prettier music than guns, and it is good to get away from the sound of motors and trains and whistles.

These letters from 1916 and 1917 were written by Kate while she was working in Casualty Clearing Stations:

Tuesday, April 11th, Lillers. 1916.  We had all the acute surgicals out in their beds in the sun to-day in the school yard, round the one precious flower-bed, where are wallflowers and pansies.

We went for a walk after tea in the woods, found violets, cowslips and anemones.

Tuesday, May 16th [1916], Barlin. Sister S. and I had another ten-mile ramble to-day. It was again a blue day and the forest was lovely beyond words, full of purple orchids and delicate green and the songs of little birds, and ferns. We tracked up through it over the ridge and down the other side looking over Vimy with a spreading view of a peaceful kind.. We had our tea under some pines …

Saturday, March 17th, 1917…no sign of any buds out anywhere in these parts. I’ve got a plate of moss with a celandine plant in the middle, and a few sprouting twigs of honeysuckle that you generally find in January, and also a bluebell bulb in a jam tin.

Celandine

Celandine, whose presence was noted by Kate in March 1917

Saturday, April 21st [1917].  No rain for once, and the swamp drying up. Went for a walk and found periwinkles, paigles, anemones and a few violets – not a leaf to be seen anywhere.

Monday, April 30th [1917]. We have had a whole week without snow or rain – lots of sun and blue sky. I went for a  ramble after tea yesterday to a darling narrow wood with a stream. Two sets of shy, polite boys thrust their bunches of cowslips and daffodils into my hand. Also banks of small periwinkles like ours, and flowering palm; absolutely no leaves anywhere and it’s May Day to-morrow.

Wednesday, May 9th [1917]. And what do you think we have been busy over this morning? A large and festive Picnic in the woods, far removed from gas gangrene and amputations. We had an ambulance and two batmen to bring the tea in urns to my chosen spot – on the slope of the wood, above the babbling brook, literally carpeted with periwinkles, oxlips and anemones. We had a bowl of brilliant blue periwinkles in the middle of the table.

Periwinkle

Lesser Periwinkle – a bowl of which graced a picnic Kate described on 9th May 1917

Monday, May 14th [1917]. … it was Gommécourt over again but in newly sprung green this time. I think it made the hilly, curly orchards and wooded villages look sadder than ever, to see the blossom among the ruins, and the mangled woods struggling to put their green clothes on to their distorted spikes.

Saturday, August 18th [1917]. We’ve had two dazzling days, but as there is not a blade of grass or a leaf in the Camp, only duckboards, trenches and tents, you can only feel it’s summer by the sky and air.

Friday, April 12th [1918], Nampes. Orders came for me on Wednesday to take over the C.C.S. in Nampes. Two other sisters came too, and we took the road by car after tea, arriving here at 11 p.m., after losing the way in the dark and attempting lanes deep in unfathomable sloughs of mud. It is an absolutely divine spot, on the side of a lovely wooded valley, south of Amiens. The village is on a winding road, with a heavenly view of hills and woods, which are carpeted with blue violets and periwinkles and cowslips, and starry with anemones. Birds are carolling and leaves are greening, and there is the sun and sky of summer. The blue of the French troops in the fields and roads adds to the dazzling picture, and inside the tents are rows of ‘multiples’ and abdominals, and heads and moribunds, and teams working all night in the Theatre, to the sound of frequent terrific bombardments.

Sunday, June 16th [1918]. We emerge about 7.30 from our dug-outs, to a loud continuous chorus of larks, and also to the hum and buzz of whole squadrons of aeroplanes, keeping marvellous V formations against a dazzling blue and white of the sky. The hills are covered with waving corn, like watered silk in the wind, with deep crimson clover, and fields of huge oxeye daisies, like moving sheets. To-day there is no sound of guns and it is all Peace and loveliness.

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Unknown Warriors coverMany of Kate’s letters are published in Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918, a copy of which is available in the ERO library. The original letters can be found in amongst the Luard collection, catalogued as D/DLu.

 

Zeppelins over Essex

On the night of 23 September 1916 12 Zeppelins crossed the Channel to attack locations around the country. Two of them were to make their final resting places in the fields of Essex, much to the surprise of the locals who found these giant machines descending upon them.

One of the giant airships, the L33, made a forced landing at Little Wigborough and the crew all walked away largely unharmed. The other, the L32, crashed in flames in Great Burstead, killing all on board.

There are many records in our collections which tell the stories of both of the airships coming down, from civilians, Special Constables, Police and the military.

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The wreck of Zeppelin L33 at Little Wigborough

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The wreck of Zeppelin L33 at Little Wigborough

Why were there Zeppelins over Essex?

Zeppelins were giant airships used by the Germans to drop bombs on Britain during the First World War. They were named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who pioneered them from 1895. They were filled with hydrogen which is lighter than air, but explosive. They were 650ft long and carried a crew of 22 and a payload of 2 tons of bombs.

Airships flew over Essex attempting to reach London. They crossed the North Sea and flew over the Essex coast, before following the Great Eastern Railway or the River Thames to London.  Many never reached their destination because of anti-aircraft guns around the capital, and turned back, dropping their bombs indiscriminately over Essex.

 

Zeppelin L33 – Little Wigborough

On the night of 23 September 1916 Zeppelin L33 was busy dropping incendiary bombs over Upminster and Bromley-by-Bow when it was hit by an anti-aircraft shell, despite being at an altitude of 4,000m. Its gas bags were punctured by shrapnel and it started to lose height.

By following the railway line, the crew navigated to Chelmsford where they were engaged by Lieut. A de B Brandon of the Royal Flying Corps, but his machine gun fire had no effect.

The ship was losing height and the crew jettisoned everything they could; items were found strewn across the fields over the next few days, including a machine gun, two cases of machine gun cartridges, and maps.

By 1.15 a.m. the ship had reached the coast, but the crew realised they could not make it back across the Channel.  The Commander, Kapitanleutenant Bocker, turned the ship inland and brought it down near Little Wigborough, narrowly missing some cottages.

Bocker spoke good English, and he warned the residents of the nearby cottages that the airmen were going to set fire to the airship to prevent it falling into British hands. The Zeppelin was burnt and left as a broken shell, but there was still much in the wreckage that the British could learn from in building their own airships.

The crew then set off to walk to Colchester to give themselves up. They were found on the road by a Special Constable and remained in captivity for the rest of the war.

 

Eyewitnesses

Records at the Essex Record Office include several eyewitness accounts of the both Zeppelins which came down on the night of 23 September 1916. One of the most detailed accounts of the descent of the L33 is an excited letter written by 40-year-old Rose Luard who lived nearby in Birch. (We have written before about her sister Kate Luard who was a nurse on the Western Front throughout the war.)

In her 6-page description Rose describes the ‘thrilling’ night the L33 landed in Wigborough, with most of the household dashing from window to window to see the drama unfolding a few fields away. On the following day members of the family went to see the wreckage:

The Zep. is a vast monster, lying in its naked framework of girders, across 2 fields & a land between them. Parts of it look absolutely unhurt, but of course the gas bag is all burnt and the bottom machinery part is all smashed on the ground, & its back is broken & bent in several places, so that it looks like a gigantic antediluvian reptile of sorts, with its nose posed in the air, & its tail intact behind. I tried to make a very rough sketch of its shape as it looked from the stubblefield, which was the nearest we were allowed to go, about a field off.

Her writing is a little tricky to read in places, but still the letter gives us a sense of the sensation the Zeppelin created in the village and surrounding areas; you can read a transcript of her whole letter here.

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Rose Luard’s sketch of the wreck of Zeppelin L33 at Little Wigborough, 24 September 1916 (D/DLu 76)

Police reports

There are several documents written by Police and Special Constables which tell us about what happened on the night of 23 September and in the following days and weeks. This letter from Captain M Ffinch reports on how the Special Constables of Peldon helped to control the traffic and sightseers which descended on the village on day after the Zeppelin landed. It also includes a report from Special Constable Edgar Nicholas, who was the first local man to encounter the German crew.

Nicholas described being in bed and hearing an explosion at about 1.20am. He got up and set off on his bicycle towards Little Wigborough, where he could see a fire. Before he reached the site of the wreck he came across the German crew who were trying to find their way to Colchester to hand themselves in. Nicholas followed them to Peldon village, talking to those in the crew who spoke English. One of the Germans asked him what English people thought about the war, and shook Nicholas’s hand. The party soon encountered other Special Constables and the crew was handed over to PC Charles Smith at Peldon, who telephoned the army to come and fetch the crew to take them prisoner.

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Report from Capt M Ffinch on the activities of the Peldon Special Constables on the surprise arrival of L33 (J/P 12/7)

Zeppelin L32 – Great Burstead

While the L33 was making its forced landing in Little Wigborough, the L32 had bigger problems.

It had dropped its bombs in Kent before flying north over Essex. It was spotted by a BE2c flown by 2nd Lieut. Frederick Sowrey, who hit the airship with incendiary bullets which set it alight. The L32 came down in flames near Great Burstead. The entire crew of 22 men was killed.

The following day, just as at Wigborough, the wreck site became a tourist attraction. Catherine Brown, who worked at the Kynochtown munitions factory at Corringham, later recalled:

The next morning, some of the girls who lived that way went to view the wreck. They also saw some of the poor lads who had been shot down; they only looked about 16 years. We could not help but feel for their mothers in Germany.

Sgt James McDiamid was stationed nearby with the Glasgow Yeomanry, who were despatched to help guard the wreck. On Monday 25 September he wrote to his brother Hugh giving his perspective on events:

Well, yesterday morning at 7a.m. we were sitting at breakfast when the adjutant came in and told us to be ready as soon as possible full marching orders – that is horses and men with everything on. The first twenty who were ready were sent off with Lieut. Young (I was one of them) to where the wrecked Zepp was. We had ten miles to go and we travelled hard. There was a mark along the road of the sweat off the horses. We trotted every step of that ten miles. We picketed our horses, left three men to guard them, and fixed bayonets and down about 20 yds to where the heap of wreckage was lying. We had to keep the people back form it. Everybody wanted a souvenir & most of them got it too. There must have been an explosion after she landed for there were bits found a mile away.

The heap of twisted bars of alliminimum [sic] was about 40 ft high. A tremendous pile, unless you saw it you would hardly credit it. Then the work of pulling out the bodies commenced. It was a gruesome job. The R.A.M.C. and the R Flying Corps did that. They got twenty two bodies. The commander was not badly smashed but some of the others were in an awful mess.

The crewmen were buried in Great Burstead churchyard. Their bodies were later moved to Cannock Chase.

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Burial of the crew of L32 at Great Burstead (D/P 139/1/23)

 

Sightseeing and souvenirs

The following day, both sites were abuzz with sightseers. Rose Luard described the scene at Wigborough:

A dazzling day & a very happy heterogeneous crowd of country people, mixed with Colchester of course, all taking their Sunday matins in that pleasant form. A good many soldiers and officers of course from Colchester, with their womenfolk & I saw one old General & lots of red tabs prancing [?] about on the stubble with the common herd. It was Fred & I who swelled the godless crowd. I persuaded him to come with my in the morning. Daisy & Nettie have gone this afternoon, but I expect the few hundreds will have swelled to thousands this afternoon. It was such a jolly local crowd, gazing at their own Zeppelin, none of y[ou]r hoards from London.

Special Constables, Police and the military were deployed to control the crowds. Sgt McDiamid told his brother:

The crowds were immense during the day but very orderly, altho’ quite annoyed at not getting closer. During the day there were six British aeroplanes and a British airship came along to see the wreckage. One of the aeroplanes landed not twenty yards from where I was standing.

Capt. M Ffinch sent the Special Constables of Peldon out ‘to assist in the control of the enormous traffic caused by the thousands of sightseers in all kinds of conveyances’.

Many of these sightseers wanted a little piece of Zeppelin of their own as a souvenir of their unusual experience, which caused an even greater problem for those tasked with guarding the wrecks.

The wrecks were considered to be of military importance, and punishments for anyone found with anything taken from the wreck sites were severe – a fine of £100 or imprisonment with hard labour for six months.

Despite the warnings, many people still collected and kept fragments of wreckage or other items – including, it seems, police and the military themselves. Rose Luard described:

Our Policemen got near & picked up a bit of the burnt gas bag covering and gave it to George whom I met on the field & he gave a bit to me. It is very fine canvas with a silky sheen on it.

Sgt McDiamid told his brother:

I got a lot of wee bits of Zepp but we were not supposed to take them away altho’ there wasn’t a man there who hadn’t a bit. This is a piece of it I picked up near it. The cloth is a piece of the commanders [sic] clothing.

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Two fragments reputed to be from Zeppelin L33 which have been made into pendants (M55, M56)

impact-of-catastrophe-cover-1080Even though this is one of our longer blog posts there is still plenty of material in the archive which we have not had space to mention. If you would like to know more, we recommend The Impact of Catastrophe by Paul Rusiecki which is available to read or buy at ERO (£17 + P&P – call us on 033301 32500) or to borrow from Essex Libraries. If you would like to go straight to the primary sources themselves, why not have a search on Essex Archives Online to discover what other stories our archives hold.

 

 

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On Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 2016 the village of Little Wigborough is holding Zepfest  to mark the centenary of the landing of L33 in their parish. There will be a small display from ERO in St Nicholas’s church, and there are activities taking place all weekend.

Captain Charles Fryatt: 100 years since his execution

Today, 27 July 2016, marks exactly 100 years since the execution of Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt by the German army in Belgium. He was tried by a military court despite being a civilian, and his death sentence was carried out just two hours after his trial, provoking international condemnation.

Fryatt worked for the Great Eastern Railway (GER) Company, captaining steam ships which sailed between Harwich or Tilbury and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The ships carried post, food supplies and sometimes refugees fleeing the continent. The ships continued to sail during the war, despite the dangers of enemy warships and submarines, blacked out coastlines and floating mines. Here we take a look at the story of Fryatt and the crew under his command as told through the pages of the GER magazine.

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The cover of the September edition of the Great Eastern Railway company magazine focused on the execution of Capt Charles Fryatt

Fryatt lived in Harwich and had joined the GER continental service as a young man in 1892. By the outbreak of the First World War he was a captain, and between the beginning of the war and his capture he made 143 trips across the Channel. The GER ships faced dangerous journeys during the war years, and on more than one occasion were hassled by German submarines. It was a run-in with a German submarine that ultimately led to Fryatt’s capture and execution.

The GER magazine of September 1916 described an incident in which the s.s Wrexham, under Fryatt’s command, had been chased by a submarine:

On March 2nd, 1915, about noon, near the Schouwen Bank, the ‘Wrexham’, proceeding to Rotterdam, was chased for 40 miles by an enemy submarine. Deck hands assisted the firemen to get every ounce of speed, and the enemy’s signal to stop was ignored. They made sixteen knots out of a boat which could hardly be expected to do fourteen knots, and dodging shells and floating mines, as well as the submarine, Captain Fryatt got his boat safely into Dutch waters. She entered Rotterdam with funnels burnt and blistered, the crew black with coal-dust.

A couple of weeks later, on 28 March 1915, Fryatt had a second meeting with a submarine, this time while in charge of the s.s. Brussels. A German submarine was sighted nearby, and the Brussels being unable to outrun it, Fryatt took the decision to attempt to ram it. He ordered the engineers to get all possible speed from the ship, and steered it straight at the submarine, which was forced to dive. Fryatt and others in the GER service were awarded watches for their bravery, but the Germans had different thoughts on the matter.

On the night of 22/23 June 1916, the Brussels, under Fryatt’s command, left the Hook of Holland with a cargo of food and refugees. The ship never arrived in Harwich, and two days later reports reached England that the ship had been captured by the German navy and taken into Zeebrugge in Belgium, then under German control. When the stewardesses were later released their tale was recounted in the GER magazine of November 1916:

After the tiring work of providing for the refugees on board the “Brussels” they were resting, when at 1.30a.m., June 23rd, they noticed the stopping of the engines and heard noises on deck. Chief Steward Tovill said there was trouble and told them to get their life-jackets on. The ship was the prize of five torpedo boats and the Germans were on board. The captain had been hailed in English. For the sake of the women and children he sent no wireless message: if it had not been for them there is little doubt that the Germans would not have been able to take the ship whole.

 

During the journey to Zeebrugge and then Bruges, ‘the captors on the way enjoy[ed] a most hearty meal. They called for wine but fortunately, think the stewardesses, there was none on board. The stewardesses were kept busy for some five hours serving the Germans and comforting the unfortunate weeping refugees’.

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Photographs of some of the crew of s.s. Brussels in the Great Eastern Railway magazine

According to the GER magazine, when the Germans wondered at the calmness of the stewardesses and asked if they were not afraid of being shot, ‘“We are Englishwomen” was considered sufficient reply’.

The crew of 40 men and 5 stewardesses was taken to Bruges and locked up in the town hall, before being scattered to various prison camps. Eventually, postcards from the crew reached Harwich, saying they were well enough but in need of aid packages. Fryatt sent his wife a letter from Ruhleben on 1 July; it only reached her on 29 July, just after his death.

Fryatt and his second-in-command, William Hartnell, were interrogated for three weeks, and on 27 July 1916 were tried by a military court in Bruges. Fryatt was found guilty of attempting to ram submarine U33 on 28 March 1915 and was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out just two hours later – Fryatt was tied to a post and shot, receiving 16 bullet wounds. His death left behind a widow and seven children, aged between 18 and 2.

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Mrs Fryatt with her six daughters and one son

The execution of Charles Fryatt provoked a storm of protest in Britain, and was denounced in the strongest terms in Parliament and in the press. The September edition of the GER magazine, in one of its milder statements, said ‘one does not expect a European nation to murder its prisoners of war’.

In its report of Fryatt’s death on 4 August 1916, the Chelmsford Chronicle condemned the German decision to capture and execute him:

The murder by the Germans of Captain Fryatt, who  commanded the Great Eastern Railway Co.’s steamship Brussels, brings the fact of German frightfulness home to the country in general, and Essex in particular. The gallant captain’s offence, in German eyes, was that he, in self-defence, attempted to run down and sink and enemy submarine, which by all international law, to which Germany herself subscribed, he was perfectly entitled to do. There seems little doubt, however, that the Germans had planned some time ago to capture the Brussels and her intrepid commander, and when the opportunity came they appear to have lost no time in placing Capt. Fryatt on a trial of a sort and condemning him to death, a sentence which was carried out with feverish expedition, so that the crime they had decided to commit might not be interfered with by a neutral nation…Of course the whole Empire is crying out for vengeance.

Mrs Fryatt received telegrams of sympathy and support from several high profile people and organisations, including from Buckingham Palace:

Madam,

In the sorrow which has so cruelly stricken you, the King joins with his people in offering you his heartfelt sympathy.

Since the outbreak of the war, His Majesty has followed with admiration the splendid services of the Mercantile Marine.

The action of Captain Fryatt in defending his ship against the attack of an enemy submarine was a noble instance of the resource and self-reliance so characteristic of that profession.

It is, therefore, with feelings of the deepest indignation that the King learnt of your husband’s fate, and in conveying to you the expression of his condolence I am commanded to assure you of the abhorrence with which His Majesty regards this outrage.

At the time of Fryatt’s death, the rest of the crew were still in prison camps. From their initial imprisonment in Bruges the stewardesses were put on a cattle train to Ghent, then sent to Cologne, then a camp at Holzminden near Hanover, then finally deposited at the border with neutral Holland. The GER staff magazine of November 1916 reported:

It was indeed a pleasure and a relief to see again the released stewardesses of the s.s. “Brussels.” Mrs. Elwood, Miss Elwood, Mrs. Stalker, Mis Bobby and Miss Smith have passed through a most trying experience and have done so in a manner of which G.E.R. women can be proud.

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The stewardesses of s.s. Brussels while being kept prisoner

After the war, the government decided to repatriate Fryatt’s body, along with the remains of Edith Cavell and the Unknown Soldier. (We have written previously about the papers we have in our collection from Bruges relating to the release of his remains to the British.)

In July 1919, the coffin was exhumed from its grave in Bruges in the presence of Hartnell and Fryatt’s brother William. The Chelmsford Chronicle of 11 July gives a full account of the day of processions and funeral services marking the return and reburial of Fryatt’s remains. The coffin was transported from Antwerp on HMS Orpheus, and was received at Dover with full military honours. To the strains of Chopin’s Funeral March, the coffin was carried to Dover station, and from there taken to London for a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. Music was provided at the service by the orchestra of the Great Eastern Railway Musical Society, and the coffin was placed under the great dome of the cathedral. After the service, the coffin and mourners proceeded to Liverpool Street, and from thence to Dovercourt, where crowds awaited the return of their local hero. At the reburial, the Bishop of Chelmsford said that Fryatt was one of the representatives of the ‘self-sacrificing spirit of the English people’ during the great war.

Next time you pass through Liverpool Street station, see if you can spot the memorial to Captain Fryatt, which today can be found near the exit onto Liverpool Street.

Battle of the Somme film screening

On Saturday 16 July 2016 we will be screening The Battle of the Somme film here at ERO.

The Battle of the Somme is one of the most infamous engagements of the First World War. Beginning on 1 July, it raged for 141 days. Nearly 20,000 British soldiers were killed just on the first day of the battle, and over 30,000 were wounded.

The Battle of the Somme film was shot during the opening weeks of the battle. Released in cinemas in autumn 1916, it was seen by 20 million people, almost half the population of Britain at the time. The film is looked after by Imperial War Museums, who have re-released it in 2016 to show to audiences across the world.

Following the screening, there will be a talk from Ian Hook, Keeper of the Essex Regiment Museum, on the Essex Regiment’s experiences at the Somme.

Still from The Battle of the Somme, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Still from The Battle of the Somme, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Amongst the thousands killed at the Somme were several Essex men:

  • Cpl, William Robert Elliston, 18th (Service) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps spent his early life in Ipswich, before moving to Chelmsford, where he worked for a printers. He joined up in November 1915. In February 1916 he married Ada Jane Barker at St John’s church in Moulsham. The couple were married just 8 months before William was killed. William’s battalion left for France in May 1916, and took part in the Battle of the Somme during the summer and autumn. William was wounded in the thigh on 15 September. He was operated on, but died on 22 September at No. 5 General Hospital in Rouen, aged 28. He is buried at St Sever Cemetary, Rouen. In spring 1917 Ada, who lived in Lady Lane in Chelmsford, was sent William’s personal effects, including a ring, wrist watch, cigarette case, pipe, and mirror. She never remarried, and lived to the age of 85, dying in 1980. (Information kindly supplied by Andy Begent of chelmsfordwarmemorial.co.uk)
  • Cpl James John Halls, DCM, 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade was born in Saffron Walden in 1895. He was one of five children, and attended the Boys’ British School in the town. On leaving school he worked as a telegraph messenger. He was sent to France in late August 1914, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘conspicuous gallantry’ at Ypres in May 1915. He and one other N.C.O. had spent 9 hours under heavy fire in a destroyed trench, firing on the enemy. Just before the Battle of the Somme erupted, Halls had written to his mother reassuring her he was in good health. Tragically, by the time she received it he had already been killed in the early hours of the action on 1 July, aged just 20. (Information kindly supplied by Robert Pike – read more here)
  • Children from North Primary School in Chelmsford remembering Joseph Gant at the Thiepval memorial

    Children from North Primary School in Chelmsford remembering Joseph Gant at the Thiepval memorial

    Joseph Gant lived in Brightlingsea and attended North School in Colchester. By age 15 in 1911 Joseph had a job as an errand boy for a china shop. He joined the 2nd Essex Regiment and arrived in France on 28th December 1914. On 1st July 1916 Joseph took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme and was killed, his body never recovered. He was aged just 19. His younger brother, Arthur, was also killed in France in September 1918, aged just 18. (Information kindly supplied by Claire Driver of the We Will Remember Them project)

The Battle of the Somme film screening takes place at the Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT on Saturday 16 July, 1.30pm-4.00pm. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance on 033301 32500.

For more information about the First World War Centenary Partnership’s plans to commemorate the Battle of the Somme visit 1914.org

A Romantic Essex War Wedding

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Recently, I was scouring the wonderful British Newspaper Archive and, as so often happens when one has such a treasure trove of stories to explore, I got sidetracked.

Searching for Essex soldiers who were killed at the Battle of the Somme, my search results included this small piece, titled ‘Romantic Essex War Wedding’ from the Chelmsford Chronicle on 16 February 1917:

A romantic wedding has just taken place at Epping, the contracting parties being Miss Clara Elizabeth Potter, late a cashier in a Bishop Stortford house of business, whose home is at Roydon, and Driver Chas. T. Kydd, R.F.A., of Belfast. The bride-groom joined Kitchener’s Army and went to France in June, 1915. He became friendly with a Roydon soldier, and together they fought side by side at Loos, Armentieres, and on the Somme. Miss Potter, as a Roydon girl, commenced sending parcels to the Roydon soldier, which he shared with his Belfast friend. Driver Kydd wrote a letter of thanks, and a correspondence was started, with the result that, although they had never seen each other, a marriage was arranged to take place as soon as the soldier got his first home leave. This has just happened, and Miss Potter met her unseen fiancé at Liverpool Street station, and the banns having been already published, they were married two days later. The little village romance has aroused much interest in the Roydon district, where the bride and her people are well known.

I would argue that it is impossible to read something like that and not want to know more.

Nothing further was to be had from the newspapers, so I headed to Freebmd.org.uk to find the marriage, thinking it would be easy to find. On entering the names ‘Charles Kydd’ and ‘Clara Potter’ getting married in 1917, however, the site drew a blank. No results. Perhaps the story was a myth or a misunderstanding after all, and an expectant Clara never waited for Charles at Liverpool Street station, full of anxious excitement.

Knowing, however, that often records are not as straightforward as they should in theory be I was undeterred, and tried various searches until I found a potential match – a Charles T. Kydd marrying a Clara E. Benham in Epping in 1917. Everything was right except for the bride’s last name.

A bit more digging on Ancestry.com later, and I had an explanation. Clara was born in 1884, and her mother, Rosa Elizabeth Benham, was unmarried. In 1888 Rosa married Jonathan Potter, and from that point Clara appears in some records as Potter and others as Benham. Another lesson, so frequently learned in genealogy, that names are not always as straightforward as we might imagine.

In the last census before her marriage, in 1911, Clara was boarding at a house in Bishop’s Stortford, and working as a book-keeper at a butchers, which fits well with the description of her in the newspaper article.

Having untangled the essentials of Clara’s story, it was time to tackle Charles’s. By a stroke of good fortune, his army service record has survived, although it is one of the shorter ones. Charles Thomas Kydd was born in Belfast in about 1884. He joined the Royal Field Artillery in late August 1914, aged 28. His attestation papers describe him as being 5’5” tall, with a dark complexion, blue eyes, and dark brown hair. He had been working previously as a labourer. His next of kin was his brother, Sgt James Kydd, of the Royal Irish Constabulary in Longford. He was sent to France on 1 June 1915. He spent a few spells in hospital during his military service, the last of which was in April-May 1918 after being gassed. He was awarded the three First World War service records, the 1915 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal, known as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’.

Charles and Clara moved to London after the war. Electoral registers tell us that in 1924 they were living in Camberwell, and between 1927 and 1930 they were in Norwood, Lambeth. A potential death record for Clara would mean that she died in 1943, aged 59, but after that the trail goes cold.

It has been satisfying to uncover this much of their story so far, but I am still left with unanswered questions – the kind of questions that civil registration and census records can’t answer. What did Charles and Clara think of each other when they met for the first time, two days before their wedding? Was their marriage a happy one? What was Charles’s experience of the First World War like? Do their love letters survive somewhere?

Are there any relatives or friends out there who knew Clara and Charles who are able to fill in any of the blanks left by the official record? If so, I’d love to hear from you – do please leave a comment below or e-mail us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk

If you have a story of your own that you would like to trace, we have a guide on family history and one on researching First World War servicemen. You can use the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry.com for free in the ERO Searchroom or at your local Essex library.

The battle babies of Essex

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Jessamy Carlson recently published a post on the National Archives’ blog about the First World War phenomenon of giving babies war-related names.

Jessamy found 1,634 babies with such names, with 1,229 babies named after battles. The most popular battle to name children after was Verdun, with 901 babies given this name in 1914-1919. Verdun was one of the longest battles in human history, fought over 303 days from February to December 1916. Recent estimates put casualty figures at 976,000.
By coincidence we recently came across an Essex baby born in 1916 named Nancy Verdun, christened in Goodmayes in 1917. She was the daughter of bus driver Harry Miles and his wife Anna Louise Miles, who lived at 17 Percy Road.

Nancy Verdun Miles

This got me wondering how many other babies were born in Essex with the sort of war-related names that Jessamy had found, so I took to FreeBMD to find out. (The search results for Essex included the registration districts of Edmonton, Royston, Risbridge and Sudbury, which are mostly in Hertfordshire or Suffolk but include some Essex parishes.)

Verdun was by far the most popular battle baby name, with a peak in the second quarter of 1916 as the battle raged.

Jessamy also identified two other categories of war-related baby names – ‘hero babies’ and ‘end of war babies’. Hero babies are those named after significant First World War figures, such as Edith Cavell, Field Marshall Haig, and Lord Kitchener. End of war babies were those with names such as Peace and Victory.

Nationally, 25 babies were named Cavell in 1914-1919, and 3 of them were in Essex. Of 11 babies nationally named Haig, 2 were born in Essex, strangely enough both in the Romford district.

I can find only two babies named Peace (both registered in Edmonton so potentially actually in Hertfordshire), but 11 babies named Victory – including Victory D Tipple, born in Romford in the third quarter of 1919.

One wartime name which as far as I know is unique to Essex is Zeppelina. Zeppelina Clarke was born in the early hours of the morning of 24 September 1916, the night that two Zeppelins crash-landed in Essex. Zeppelin L32 crashed in Great Burstead, with no survivors, and L33 crashed in Little Wigborough, narrowly missing some farm cottages. The crew of L33 walked away largely unharmed. In nearby Great Wigborough, Mr and Mrs Clarke welcomed a baby girl, and their doctor suggested naming her Zeppelina, to mark the extraordinary circumstances of the night of her birth.

Zeppelin at Little Wigborough - Essex Record Office

The wreck of Zeppelin L33, after which baby Zeppelina was named

It is hard to understand today why people might have named their children after such terrible events as wartime battles, perhaps battles in which close relatives may have been lost. It would be fascinating to know how the babies given these names felt about them as they grew up – if anyone has any insights do leave a comment below.

Document of the Month, March 2016: Great Eastern Railway Staff Magazines

Our newest Archivist, Carol Walden, tells us about her choice for March’s Document of the Month.

The Great Eastern Railway (GER) staff magazines provide a wealth of material for a researcher (A10298). We hold an incomplete run of bound issues of the magazine that were issued monthly between 1911 and 1926. They were compiled in-house and the first edition says that it was ‘devoted to the interests of the many thousands of people directly concerned in the welfare of the GER’ and was only possible with the assurances of support from all grades of staff. The focus ‘was on the interests of all, from shareholder and director to the humblest person in their employ’ as well as for the public at home and overseas. The aim was ‘to knit the loose connecting strands of casual intercourse into a closer net of continuous communication; to strengthen the bond of friendship and promote a feeling of unity throughout the service’.

They cover the geographical area traversed by the company so not only encompass Essex, but also London, Suffolk and Norfolk locations. They include obituaries and notices of retirements and marriages of staff and ex-staff which can give the family historian extra information about their relatives. The ‘Woman’s Page’ affords an insight into expected female behaviours, fashion and diets. The magazines are packed with gardening and railway modelling tips; news from clubs and societies; book, magazine and play reviews; updates on new office machinery; educational articles which include places of interest in the GER area and information about the freight being transported; detailed descriptions of engines and rolling stock for the ‘inexpert’; photographs of male and female staff members; local, national and international news stories.

Fashion plates in a 'Woman's Page' of a GER magazine from early 1918

Fashion plates in a ‘Woman’s Page’ of the April 1916 GER magazine

 

Recipes from the Woman's Page in an early 1918 GER magazine

Recipes from the Woman’s Page in the April 1916 GER magazine

 

Another regular segment - From the Tea Room Windows

Another regular segment – From the Tea Room Windows, this one is from early 1918

During the First World War the content was expanded to incorporate regular features, such as ‘War and the Railway’, ‘Toll for the Brave’ which have a photograph and short biography of the fallen, ‘Roll of Honour’ a photographic record of staff members who had joined up and stories of local interest from those at home.

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Some of the members of GER staff serving with the forces who were included in the October 1918 magazine

The October 1918 issue, which is currently displayed in the Searchroom, includes a report of a ‘keenly fought’ sporting event organised by the GER Athletic Association between the Stratford and Temple Mills Chief Mechanical Engineer’s Departments at Romford.

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A women’s tug of war event, reported in the October 1918 edition

The Great Eastern Railway (GER) Society have an extensive collection of records which they are listing and can be accessed at ERO. They cover GER’s predecessors and successors as well as other lines within the GER geographical area and include plans, maps and drawings of tracks, buildings, rolling stock and vehicles; timetables; books and periodicals; staff rule and instruction books.

The Society holds a full set of the staff magazines and they have been scanned and copies are available to buy through their website where they also offer a paid search service for those who wish to see if the magazines hold references to family members (more information here – opens as a PDF).

Staff publications in general can be an invaluable resource to expand our understanding of individuals and working practices. At ERO we hold magazines that cover a variety of dates that include a number of railway companies as well as Harlow Development Corporation, Railtrack and Marconi Installation Design Office.

The October 1918 issue of the GER staff magazine will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout March 2016.

Unknown Warriors: Sister Kate Luard’s letters, autumn-winter 1915-16

One of the stories we have been following over the course of the First World War centenary commemorations is that of Sister Kate Luard (read all our posts about her here). Kate was born in Aveley in 1872 and grew up in Birch near Colchester. On the outbreak of the war she volunteered to nurse on the Western Front, and remained there for the duration of the war.

During this time she wrote numerous letters, the majority of which are cared for at ERO. Her great niece, Caroline Stevens, has put together the following extracts from her letters written home at this time 100 years ago, when Kate was posted to No.6 Casualty Clearing Station.

Kate Luard letters

A few of the letters in the Kate Luard collection deposited at ERO

During the Great War of 1914-1918, Kate Luard served principally on ambulance trains, casualty clearing stations and a field ambulance, but was also posted at times to Stationary and General Hospitals in the base areas.

On 17 October 1915 she was sent up the line to take charge of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers in France following four months at a base hospital, No.16 General Hospital. Her second book, Unknown Warriors, commences on this date and in this her letters home are a record of her times in various casualty clearing stations. This included time as Head Sister at No.32 CCS which became one of the most dangerous when the unit was relocated in late July 1917 to serve the push that was to become the Battle of Passchendaele, and where she had a staff of forty nurses and nearly 100 orderlies.

Tented nurse's quarters at a Casualty Clearing Station  (Courtesy of Sue Light)

Tented nurse’s quarters at a Casualty Clearing Station
(Courtesy of Sue Light)

A casualty clearing station was part of the evacuation chain of the wounded from the battle front starting with the regimental aid post just behind the front line, then an advanced dressing station and on to a field ambulance before transfer to a casualty clearing station. CCS’s were normally located near railway lines and waterways so that the wounded could be evacuated easily to the base hospitals. A CCS often had to move at short notice as the front line changed. Although some were located in temporary buildings, many consisted of large areas of tents and marquees and often several were near each other to enable flexibility.

The following are extracts from Unknown Warriors, which was republished in 2014 by the History Press. For more information about Kate Luard and her family see www.kateluard.co.uk

 

October18th

The sister has been showing me round and handing over her books and keys of office. The poor lads in their brown blankets and stretchers looked only too familiar. When there is a rush, the theatre Sister and I stay up at night as well. The CO [Commanding Officer], the Padre and myself are the only people allowed to do the censoring. I do it for the Sisters. I shall have to be very careful myself, not to mention names, numbers passing through, regiments, plans, or anything interesting.

 

Thursday, October 28th

The weather is beyond description vile, and the little cobbled streets are a Slough of Despond and a quagmire. The King has been about here yesterday and today, and was to have held a very sodden and damp Review a mile away, only he had an accident riding and had to be carried away instead: no one knows if it was much or not.

 

Saturday, October 30th

A boy came in at 6 p.m. with his right arm blown clean off in its sleeve at 2.p.m. He was very collapsed when he came in, but revived a little later. ‘Mustn’t make a fuss about trifles,’ he explained.

 

Sunday, October 31st

This afternoon we took a lot of lovely flowers to the Cemetery for our graves for All Saints’ Day. It took all afternoon doing them up with Union Jack ribbon, and finding the graves. There are hundreds. It was a swamp of sticky mud, and pouring with rain.

 

All Saints’ Day 1915, November 1st

A Scotch RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) officer, who was with his Regiment all through, was talking about the early morning of the 14th, after we had tried to take the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the 13th. Our dead and wounded were lying so thick on the ground, that he had to pick his way among them with a box of morphia tabloids, and give them to anyone who was alive: tie up what broken limbs he could with rifles for splints, and leave them there: there were no stretchers.

 

Wednesday, November 3rd

A lad had to have his leg off this morning for gas gangrene. He says he ‘feels all right’ and hasn’t had to have had any morphia all day. You’d think he’d merely had his boot taken off. Some of them are such infants to be fighting for their country. One has a bullet through his liver and tried to say through his tears ‘there’s some much worse than what I am.’

 

Friday, December 3rd

Captain D. is a scrap better to-day, able to emerge from bromides, and talk a little. He told me that when they were holding the Hohenzollern trenches in that worst weather, when they stood up waist-high in liquid mud, two of his men slipped under it when they were asleep and their bodies were dug out next day.

 

Sunday, January 16th

D.F. the boy with the head wound, has been peacefully dying all day; his hand closes less tightly over mine to-day, but his beautiful brown eyes look less inscrutable as he gets further from this crooked world.

_________________________________________________________________________

Unknown Warriors coverUnknown Warriors is available in the ERO library, or you can find out more about the book and Kate herself here.

Spark of Interest: The First World War

A special event for Secondary Schools studying the First World War on Monday 9th November 2015.

The aim of ‘Spark of Interest – the First World War’ is to reinvigorate an interest amongst students in the First World War, using different themes and angles to approach the topic or expand on what they already know. The day comprises of short, well researched talks by ERO experts and guests. All talks will include primary sources.

Cost: £10 per student. One teacher/adult supervisor free per 10 students. Additional adults £10 each. Bookings can be taken for whole classes or for smaller groups.

Students from years 7-11 should be accompanied by a teacher. A level students may attend on their own.

How to book: please e-mail heritage.education@essex.gov.uk or telephone 03330132500

You can also download our FREE First World War resource pack to start using Essex primary sources in your classroom.

 

Last Poppy logo9.00-9.30 Arrive

Students can browse the temporary exhibition by The Last Poppy Project, which tells the story of individuals, families and communities during the First World War using local sources. Early birds can hear about the origins of the poppy as a symbol of the First World War and subsequent conflicts.

 

9.30-10.30 Richard Knight – Introduction to the First World War

At one hour this will be the longest talk of the day and equip students with an introduction or reminder of the events of the First World War, with a particular focus on the army and trench warfare. The talk is illustrated by a wealth of real and accurate replica artefacts from the era.

10.30-10.45 Break

Col F Whitmore10.45-11.15 Allyson Lewis – Colonel Whitmore

Carefully documenting his life Colonel Whitmore collected newspaper cuttings and took photographs.  This wealthy and influential man strongly encouraged other members of his community to join the fight in the First World War in the beginning. He saw action himself – was shot twice and suffered shellshock. Through his story students can see the successes and regrets of this interesting, compassionate gentleman.

 

11.15-11.45 Grahame Harris – Aliens in Essex

The story of Essex residents perceived as ‘the enemy’ during the First World War.

Composer of the Planets Suite, Gustav von Holst, conducting in Thaxted church in 1916. Even though he was born in England, Holst's Germanic name meant that he was watched closely and reported to the Essex authorities during the First World War.

Composer of the Planets Suite, Gustav von Holst, conducting in Thaxted church in 1916. Even though he was born in England, Holst’s Germanic name meant that he was watched closely and reported to the Essex authorities during the First World War.

11.45-12.15 Valina Bowman-Burns – War in the Air

Technology took leaps forward in the First World War and the newly invented aeroplane, previously the plaything of the rich and reckless, evolved into the reconnaissance, fighter and bomber that changed how wars were fought.

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12.15-12.45 Lunch

12.45-1.15 Martin Astell – First World War Recorded

Using the sound archive students will hear the recorded memories of people who lived through the First World War, including stories of zeppelin crashes and the first air raids.

Zeppelin1 watermark

1.15-1.45 Lawrence Barker – “INVASION! Though possible is somewhat improbable”

The words of a First World War poster alert the residents of coastal regions of Essex to their proximity to the Western Front. Students will be shown lesser known sources that tell us about the planning and preparations that were put in case of invasion.

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Discovering Sister Kate Luard’s story at the Essex Record Office

We have been taking part in Now the Last Poppy has Fallen, a project investigating stories of Essex people and places during the First World War, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As part of our involvement in the project, we have worked with year 8 students at Shenfield High School to create this short reflective film on the wartime experiences of Sister Kate Luard, who we have mentioned a couple of times on this blog before (here and here).

The students joined us for a day to see Kate’s original letters and papers, and to work with filmmaker Chris Church to tell part of her story.

We will shortly be launching a resource pack using several of our First World War sources for secondary schools; if you would like to register your interest in this please get in touch on heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

We had a great day making the film, and we hope you enjoy watching it. See below for some behind-the-scenes photos of the filming process.

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