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.

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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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Nursing Sister Kate Luard: diary from a Field Ambulance, spring 1915

We have previously written about Essex girl Kate Luard, who served as a nurse on the Western Front throughout the whole of the First World War. One of Kate’s relatives, Caroline Stevens, is writing a blog about Kate’s wartime experiences, and here, 100 years after they were written, shares with us some of Kate’s diary entries for spring 1915.

On August 6, 1914, two days after the British Government declared war on Germany, Kate enlisted in the QAIMNSR (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve).  During her first year in France and Belgium she serves on the ambulance trains until, on April 2, 1915, she receives movement orders to report to the Officer Commanding at No.4 Field Ambulance. This brought her close to the front line and she referred to this in her diary as ‘life at the back of the front’. Here she also worked in an Advanced Dressing Station.

A Field Ambulance was a mobile front line medical unit for treating the wounded before they were moved to a casualty clearing station. Each division would have 3 field ambulances which were made up of 10 officers and 244 men. A field ambulance would include stretcher bearers, nursing orderlies, tented wards, operating theatre, cookhouse, wash rooms and a horsed or motor ambulance.

The field ambulances set up and supplied Advanced Dressing Stations which were basic care points providing only limited medical treatment and had no holding capacity. The wounded were brought here from Regimental Aid Posts which were only a few metres behind the front line in small spaces such as a support or reserve trench.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916

An advanced dressing station of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) on the Montauban – Guillemont Road. September 1916 (Imperial War Museum)

From Kate’s diary:

April 2nd, 1915. Good Friday

So hell became heaven and here I am at railhead waiting for a motor ambulance to take me and my baggage there.

11 A.M.  Had an interesting drive here through a village packed with men billeted in barns and empty houses–the usual aeroplane buzzing overhead, and a large motor ambulance convoy by the wayside. We are in the town itself, and the building is labelled No.4 Field Ambulance Dressing Station for Officers.

Still Good Friday, 10pm. (Kate spends a luxurious night in Maire’s Château where Generals and officers are usually billeted.)

 

April 3rd, 1915. Easter Eve, 10 P.M.

Have been on duty all day. They [the wounded] are nearly all evacuated in a few days, so you are always getting a fresh lot in.

I found my own new billet this morning before going on duty; it is a very old little house over a shop in a street off the big Place. It is a sort of attic, and I am not dead sure whether it is clean on top and lively underneath, but time will show.

 

April 7th, 1915. In bed, 10.30 P.M.

We are busy all day admitting and evacuating officers. A very nice Brigade-Major came in, in the night, with a shell wound in the shoulder. This morning a great jagged piece was dug out, with only a local anaesthetic, he stuck it like a brick, humming a tune when it became unbearable and gripping on to my hand.

I was off at 5pm and went to Beuvry, the village two and a half miles away that was shelled last week; it is about half-way to the trenches from here. Met and passed an unending stream of khaki, the men marching back from their four days in the trenches, and all steadily trudging on with the same coating of mud from head to foot, packs and rifles carried anyhow, and the Trench Look which can never be described, and which is grim to the last degree. Each lot had a tail of limping stragglers. They said they’d had a very “rough” night last night – pouring rain – water up to their knees, and standing to all night expecting an attack which didn’t come off; but some mines had been exploded meant for their trench but luckily they only got smothered instead of blown to bits.

 

April 10th, 1915. 10.30pm.

It is difficult to settle down to sleep to-night: the sky is lit up with flashes and star shells, and every now and then a big bang shakes the house, above the almost continuous thud, thudding, and barking of the machine-guns and the crackling of rifle firing; they are bringing in more to-day, both here and at the hospice.

THE BATTLE OF ARRAS, APRIL-MAY 1917

Stretcher cases awaiting transport to a Casualty Clearing Station lie on the ground outside a dressing station at Blangy near Arras, April 1917 (Imperial War Museum)

April 16th, 1915

This afternoon I saw a soldier’s funeral, which I have never seen before. He was shot in the head yesterday, and makes the four hundred and eleventh British soldier buried in this cemetery. The French gravedigger told me there was another to be buried this afternoon. It was very impressive and moving, the Union Jack on the coffin (a thin wooden box) on the waggon, and a firing party, and about a hundred men and three officers and the Padre. It was a clear blue sky and sunny afternoon. The graves are dug trenchwise, very close together, practically all in one continuous grave, each with a marked cross.

 

April 26th, 1915. 11 P.M.

We have been admitting, cutting the clothes off, dressing and evacuating a good many to-day. There is a great noise going on to-night, snapping and popping, and crackling of rifle firing and machine guns, with the roar of our 9.2’s every few minutes.

 

Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western FrontThe above are extracts from Kate’s first book ‘Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915’. Go to www.kateluard.co.uk and click on ‘blog’ for entries which are posted on the same day as the events of 100 years. You can also read all the extracts which you have missed.

During her time in France, Kate exchanged numerous letters with her family at home in Birch near Colchester. The majority of these letters are held in the Luard archives at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford.

ERO is stronger with Friends: purchase of the Saulez collection

The Friends of Historic Essex are a charity which supports the ERO. Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends and ERO are working together on the Essex Great War Archive Project, which aims to preserve documentary evidence of the period for educational study, family history research and community histories. The project includes looking out for documents relating to Essex people and places during the War, and where possible acquiring them for our collection.

If you would like to help, would you consider making a donation or becoming a member of the Friends? Details are available on the Friends’ website.

Here, Archive Assistant Sarah Ensor shares details of the most significant purchase made as part of the project to date – the Saulez family collection. (A version of this article first appeared the Autumn 2014 edition of the Essex Journal.)

The Friends of Historic Essex have recently acquired a family collection which has since been deposited at the Essex Record Office (Accession A14026).

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DP-511-28-1 Robert Travers Saulez crop

Rev. Robert Travers Saulez (D/P 511/28/1)

A large part of the collection consists of letters and telegrams from and relating to the sons of the Reverend Robert Travers Saulez (right). Robert was born in India in 1849 where his father, George Alfred Frederick Saulez, was an assistant chaplain at Nainee Tal. After gaining his degree from Trinity College Cambridge Robert served as curate in Lancashire, Hampshire and London before moving to Essex in 1886. According to Crockford’s Clerical Directory he was vicar of Belchamp St. Paul from 1886 to 1901 and rural dean of Yeldham from 1899 to 1901, vicar of St. John, Moulsham from 1901 to 1906 and rector of Willingale Doe with Shellow Bowels from 1906 to 1927. He retired to Twinstead where he died in 1933.

Robert and his wife Margaret Jane had three sons and a daughter between 1882 and 1887. Their sons, Robert George Rendall, Arthur Travers and Alfred Gordon were all educated at Felsted School and later served in the army. The letters deposited appear to date from towards the end of the Boer War through the Great War and beyond.

Robert George Rendall Saulez answered the call to serve in the South African Constabulary from 1902 to 1904 so is likely to be the author of the earliest letters in the collection. He volunteered soon after the outbreak of the Great War and served with the Army Service Corps in Egypt and Palestine. He was a good horseman and was recognised during the war for his share in providing an efficient transport service by ‘Horse, Camel or Motor’. After the war he served in the Supply and Transport Corps in the Indian Army until about 1922 after which it is believed he settled in the country.

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Bundles of letters fill the boxes

On leaving school Arthur Travers Saulez attended the Royal Military Academy before joining the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was posted to India in 1907 but returned to England prior to 1914 and was sent to France in May 1915. He achieved the rank of Major and having survived the Battle of the Somme was killed on 22 April 1917. The pencil in his diary which is amongst the collection is lodged in the page of the week of his death. A window was erected in the church at Willingale Doe in memory of Arthur Travers Saulez by the officers, NCOs and men of his battery.

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The diary of Arthur Travers Saulez, with the pencil still marking the spot where he made his last diary entry before being killed in April 1917

 

Hart’s Annual Army List for 1908 shows that the youngest of the brothers, Alfred Gordon Saulez, had joined the Army Service Corps in 1906 and when war broke out he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Like his brother Arthur he rose to the rank of Major but unlike his brother he survived the war; however nothing is known of his service throughout the conflict so hopefully some of his letters are in the family collection and will reveal more. Following the Armistice he was posted to Mesopotamia where he died in 1921 apparently as a result of the ‘excessive heat’; he left a wife and two children.

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One of the more unusual items within the collection – a remedy for poisonous gas

Robert and Margaret’s daughter Margaret Hilda embraced the opportunity that the Great War gave women to be involved. She served with the Scottish Churches Huts which, like the YMCA, provided support behind the lines in France. Following the war she married Wilberforce Onslow Times at St. Christopher’s in Willingale Doe with her father conducting the service.

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Marriage of Margaret Hilda Saulez, with her father as minister (D/P 338/1/11, image 95)

Until this collection of over 300 letters and other items can be sorted and catalogued the full story of this family’s experiences serving their country remains untold. It is hoped that funding can be raised to expedite the cataloguing and storage of the collection and the provision of an educational resource for students and people of all ages. If you as an individual, group or institution are interested in helping fund this project then please contact the Friends of Historic Essex by e-mail or by writing to them care of Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT.

You can also help to support the Essex Great War Archive Project by coming to a fundraising quiz organised by the Friends on Friday 17 April 2015 at Galleywood Heritage Centre – full details, including how to book, can be found here.

An Essex nurse on the Western Front: Sister Katherine Evelyn Luard (1872-1962)

On International Women’s Day 2015, we thought we would highlight the story of one extraordinary Essex woman, Sister Kate Luard. A version of this post first appeared in Essex Life magazine.

Katherine Evelyn Luard was born in Aveley in 1872, the tenth of 13 children, the daughter of a vicar. She grew up at Aveley Vicarage, and then Birch Rectory near Colchester.

Kate Luard Birch Rectory

Sister Kate Luard in her Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve uniform in the doorway of her family home, Birch Rectory. Reproduced courtesy of Caroline Stevens.

Kate, known as Evelyn or Evie to her family, was aged 42 when the First World War broke out, but she headed straight to France, arriving there on 20th August 1914, just 16 days after war was declared. She had previously served as a nurse in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900-1902, and joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Reserve as a Sister. She worked as a nurse on the Western Front until December 1918, in field hospitals, casualty clearing stations, and on ambulance trains. She was awarded a Royal Red Cross and bar for exceptional service in military nursing.

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Kate and her family exchanged hundreds of letters during the War, many of which are held at the ERO, and she also kept a diary, which was published anonymously in 1916 as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, 1914-15; a copy is available in the ERO library. A collection of her letters was also published in 1930 as Unknown Warriors: the Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. A new edition of Unknown Warriors was published in 2014 – you can find out more about it here (again, a copy is available in the ERO library).

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Kate’s letters home are a mixture of descriptions of her nursing work and requests for her family to send her food and other home comforts. In one letter written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle at St Nazaire she describes a night transferring sick and wounded soldiers from the hospital train she was then stationed with:

When you stand off for a few hours from the gruesome details & pathetic streams of broken, dirty, ragged bandaged cripples that one is occupied with all day it gets more & more infathomable & heartbreaking. 1500 were disembarked from the trains yesterday & they are still streaming in. One train of bad cases yesterday took 8 hours to unload.

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First page of a letter from Kate Luard to her family written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle (D/DLu 55/13/4)

In another letter written from Rouen Kate asked her family to send her a tin of bullseyes, a tin of oatmeal biscuits, tea, Slade’s toffee, chocolate almonds, a large homemade spice cake, a tin of honey (if such a thing existed), and nut-milk chocolate. She also asked for an aluminium camp candlestick, a probe and a comfortable cushion to use on the uncomfortable hospital train.

Kate worked on the Western Front throughout the war, and returned home in 1918 to care for her sick father. She later worked as matron of a house at a boys private school, and in the last years of her life she lived in Wickham Bishops with two of her sisters.

If you would like to discover more about Kate, have a look at the published versions of her diary and letters in our Searchroom library, or you can order up the documents we look after that relate to her for yourself. If you would like to find out more about our county during the War, keep an eye out for our First World War displays and events throughout 2015.

We Will Remember Them: North Primary School Roll of Honour

This guest post is written by Laura Davison, project officer for We Will Remember Them. This HLF-funded school project has used documents stored at ERO and included a visit to ERO for the pupils involved.

Year 5 pupils at North Primary School in Colchester are working on the year-long project We Will Remember Them, researching the lives of the 50 former pupils who volunteered or were conscripted for action in the First World War. This innovative project explores how the discovery of locally relevant histories can engage and inspire pupils in responding to moments in the history of the First Word War.

The project was initially inspired by entries in the school’s log book written by the Head Master John Harper on 9 July 1915 and 11 November 1919:

july 23 sch admissions reg - 256 enrolled 10 died 1

Entry into the North Primary School log book by Head Master John Harper, describing a Roll of Honour which was to be hung permanently in the school hall, recording the names of former pupils who were serving with the armed forces in the First World War (EML 86/2)

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Another entry by Harper, describing the observance of two minutes of silence on 11 November, and a display of photographs of the 50 men from the school who lost their lives in the way (E/ML 86/2)

The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour, installed in the school hall in 1915, is unknown.  The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for We Will Remember Them will enable the school re-instate the Roll of Honour, restoring this object of heritage to its original setting within the school’s Grade II listed building. This will be supported by a showcase exhibition, publication and teachers’ pack narrating the untold stories of the former pupils’ lives and how they were affected by the First World War.

Headteacher Alan Garnett discusses the impact of the project for the school:

This history project captures all our past, present and future. The children are often told that our school is more than just a magnificent building – it is the stories of all its former pupils and staff. To work with a local historian to uncover the stories of those who lost their lives in that terrible war will bring national and local history alive to our pupils. And to have our Roll Of Honour re-made and restored to its rightful place in our school hall, well that will be a proud moment indeed.

The Year 5 pupils have worked with Historian Claire Driver to research and record the former pupils. All the hard work has paid off, as they have identified sixty-two pupils who served and died in the First World War. Each pupil is paired with a former pupil to develop individual case study. Claire has shown them how to use archive records from the School Log Book, the 1901 and 1911 census and military records. Using the 1897 map of Colchester, they have plotted where all the former pupils lived and identified what shops were in Colchester High Street in 1914.  Gradually a picture is being formed of what it was like to live in Colchester 100 years ago.

Some of the fascinating facts the census records revealed were:

  • People’s jobs – fishmongers, bakers, railway porters, tailors, police constables and printing apprentices
  • How many people lived in a house – in some cases  up to 11 people lived in a 2 bedroom Victorian terrace house
  •  Some of the pupils even came from the workhouse at St Mary’s

The children have been on an amazing journey building up an understanding of the social context of the school to promote awareness of their lives in the context of the First World War and the impact it had on the school and its locality.

school trip 9 Pupils visit Colchester's War Memorial and discuss the symboliic meaning of the sculptures. They used 1897 maps to make comparisons of what the site looked like 100 years ago

Visiting Colchester’s War Memorial

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Identifying 4 former pupils on the Roll of Honour in St Peter’s Church, Colchester

An Open Day was held at the school, inviting local residents and families to get involved with the project and share their family stories and memories from the First World War passed down through generations.

open day 1Visitors looking at ERO WW1 exhibition

Visitors enjoy the EROs WW1 exhibition loaned for the Open Day

open day 4 Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

The children are so proud to be working on this project because it really happened in our school. Year 5 Teacher Maria Gray discusses the project with Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell

Recently, the pupils visited Essex Record Office to view the collections and discover how historians use archives to support their research. Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer at ERO and project Historian Claire Driver introduced the pupils to the wealth of material available from the collections and explained how to use a range of historical sources to find out what life was like during WWI. The children were able to ask questions about their former pupil and in some cases looked on Ancestry too.

They focused on the two fascinating stories of the nurse Kate Luard and soldier Alf Webb using sound archives, letters and an interesting range of hands-on activities which even included bandaging at a WWI dressing station.

Using different historical sources, such as photographs, sound recordings, letters and even the original admissions register and log book from our school from over 100 years ago, the pupils were able to uncover more information about life during World War One. Maria Gray, Year 5 Teacher

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Following on from the research, the pupils are now working with Creative Writer Baden Prince to creatively narrate in their own words each soldier’s individual story.  They will then work with Photographer Georgia Metaxas to document their homes, making comparisons with then and now.

Do you have any information to help our research?

If you have any information or images in relation to North Primary School during the First World War please contact Laura Davison, Project Manager at northwewillrememberthem@outlook.com

We Will Remember Them project has been made possible by the funding award from Heritage Lotter Fund’s First World War: then and now programme.

If you are planning your own First World War schools project and would like to use ERO resources or need advice, please get in touch with heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

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Essex Book Festival: interview with Jonathan Swan, author of Chelmsford in the Great War

Ahead of his talk at ERO as part of the Essex Book Festival, we caught up with author Jonathan Swan, whose new book Chelmsford in the Great War is just about to be published. Join us for Jonathan’s talk on his book Chelmsford in the Great War on Saturday 14 March, 11.00am-12.30pm. Tickets £6, please book in advance on 033301 32500.

 

How did you come to write Chelmsford in the Great War?

Not quite sure! I have been researching First World War military medicine for a number of years and during negotiations with Pen & Sword Publishing my editor happened to mention a major series they were commissioning, “[Your Town] in the Great War”. This sounded interesting, so I spent a weekend in the library to see if there was enough material and sent in a proposal. And eighteen months later we have a book!

Chelmsford in the Great War

 

What sort of sources did you use to piece together your history of First World War Chelmsford, and where did you find them?

The library was my starting point, but Essex Record Office proved a great resource for maps, photographs and the wartime council minutes and other papers and records. Online resources such as the British Newspaper archive were invaluable.

 

What was the most surprising thing you found during your research?

Great War Chelmsford was so much smaller than it is today, and roads like the Parkway have completely altered the urban landscape. Not a huge surprise, but it made it difficult to understand how people moved around the town; the High Street was central to everything. The railway formed the western and northern boundary of the town and, as Basil Harrison put it in his “Duke Street Childhood”, the corner of Duke Street and Broomfield Road was the start of the countryside!

Ordnance Survey 6":1 mile map of Chelmsford, 1919 with 1938 revisions

Ordnance Survey 6″:1 mile map of Chelmsford, 1919 with 1938 revisions. The approximate outline of the modern city is shown in purple. Click for a larger version.

 

Are there any stories that you found during your research that have particularly stuck with you?

I’ve always been interested in local politics and democracy. In 1914 the council was made up of a number of unelected aldermen and a handful of councillors and they seemed to be incapable of civic leadership in the crisis – they didn’t believe in public air raid shelters, they didn’t want insurance for council property against bomb damage, they didn’t want public food kitchens, and there was a housing crisis because of all the additional munitions workers residing in the town and they did nothing about it. The high profile War Relief Fund did next to nothing because they didn’t think anyone merited assistance. The answer to any problem was to form yet another committee or subcommittee. And the idea of a conflict of interest appeared to have no meaning to them!

 

Chelmsford Brenda, the St Bernard dog who collected money for the Red Cross in Chelmsford during the First World War - one of the stories that Jonathan came across in his research (photo from scrapbook of Sir Richard Colvin, D/DU 787/4)

Chelmsford Brenda, the St Bernard dog who collected money for the Red Cross in Chelmsford during the First World War – one of the stories that Jonathan came across in his research (photo from scrapbook of Sir Richard Colvin, D/DU 787/4)

Do you have any family connections with the First World War?

My grandfather served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer. I followed in his footsteps by serving in the RAMC as a laboratory technician.

 

Is this your first book?

My first book was actually a text book on financial modelling, which is my day job. I’m currently working on the third edition. I’ve also written articles on corporate governance, local history, and military medicine.

 

Are you a full-time author?

I wish!

 

What is your connection with Chelmsford? We moved here from Newham in 2007. Both of my sons attended Boswells School. I spend some of my spare time interfering with the affairs of Essex County Council, Essex Police, Chelmsford College, and Anglia Ruskin University.

 

Where is your favourite place in Essex?

Anywhere I can go fishing!

 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of writing a history book?

A common mistake is to assume history is simply about dates and events. Good history books have a story to tell – it isn’t just what happened, it’s also why. And you must be selective: you will find fascinating little snippets about this or that, which may only amount to a sentence or two. I’ve left out a lot of material that didn’t really add any value – Corporal Rutland was tragically shot dead by his own pistol when showing it to a comrade in the Cherry Tree pub – interesting, but it doesn’t link to anything else. Conversely I’ve left out stories which merit a whole chapter or even a book of their own – Chelmsford teachers at war is a good example. A final point is that there are some very clever people out there, so make sure you can support any statements you make!

Essex at War on film

We were lucky enough to have Chris Church of Wire Frame Media film at Essex at War, 1914-1918 at Hylands House on Sunday 14 September, who has produced this fabulous short film capturing a flavour of the day. Have a watch for a snapshot of what went on, and if you came along see if you can spot yourself!

If you came along and would like to tell us what you thought of the day, do please fill in our short survey here.

Researching First World War servicemen

Has all the talk of the First World War this year got you curious about discovering your wartime ancestors’ stories? Or how about the stories behind the names on your local war memorials?

Tracing the stories of wartime servicemen can be challenging, but also fascinating, rewarding, and sometimes heartbreaking.

We have come up with some new advice sheets to help you trace wartime servicemen, along with case studies for the Army, Navy and Royal Flying Corps. Just click on the links below to download the sheets as PDFs.

Researching First World War servicemen

Army case study – Harry Lawrence Picking

Navy case study – Frank Herbert Mills

RFC case study – Kenneth Mathewson

 

A few other top tips:

You can access military records on Ancestry.co.uk free of charge in the ERO Searchroom or at any Essex Library.

If you are looking for someone who served in the Essex Regiment then the Essex Regiment Museum is a good place to visit or contact for information.

If you are looking for someone from Chelmsford who was killed in the armed forces during the war then see if they appear on www.chelmsfordwarmemorial.co.uk

You can always get in touch with us if you would like any further advice.