Baptism of Fire

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment at Loos

26th September 1915

Private 15895 Samuel Percival Armfield who served with the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

Private 15895 Samuel Percival Armfield who served with the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

The 26th September 2015 marked the 100th Anniversary of the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment going into action on the second day of the Battle of Loos, this is their story.

The 9th (Service) Battalion had been raised in Norwich on 9th September 1914 and three days later had proceeded to Shoreham with a strength of 900 men under the command of Major E. Orams. By June of 1915 the battalion had joined the 71st Brigade in the 24th Division under the command of Colonel Mansel Shewen. In August that year the 24th Division was inspected by Lord Kitchener and in that same month it was considered battle ready. They sailed for France and the 9th Norfolks landed at Boulogne on 30th August and they marched to Montcavrel the next day.

On 21st September 1915 Colonel Shewen was promoted to command the 71st Brigade and the battalion was handed to Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Stracey. As with my Great Grandfather’s battalion, the 8th Buffs, who were serving in the same division, the 9th Norfolks did not see a front-line trench during their initial time in France. They remained at Montcavrel and received training.

The battalion received orders to move on 21st September and reached Bethune that evening. From there they marched onwards and eventually got to a position marked as Lonely Tree Hill in their war diary situated to the south of La Basse. Here they formed up but were not initially used but on 26th September they were ordered to assist the 20th Brigade in attacking German positions at Vendin le Veil. The reason for this being that were going to be used in the ongoing battle at Loos.

Looking out towards Lone Tree from St Mary's A.D.S. Cemetery. Lone Pine was where the 9th Norfolks started from and ended back at on 26th September 1915.

Looking out towards Lone Tree from St Mary’s A.D.S. Cemetery. This was where the 9th Norfolks started from and ended back at on 26th September 1915.

By 9.30 a.m. on 25th September 1915 the 22nd Brigade of the 7th Division had captured the Hulluch Quarries and had sent patrols to the edge of Cite St Elie itself. However, further advance was found to be impossible without further support, and the positions captured thus far at the Quarries had to be consolidated. The 21st Brigade moved up from reserve in Vermelles, splitting into two sets of two battalions, and were ordered to advance through the positions gained so far. They were also halted in and around Gun Trench and the Quarries but were unable to penetrate uncut wire in front of Hulluch under fire from Cite St Elie.

The 21st and 24th Divisions had moved by a night march into the Loos valley. Progress was slow and exhausting and the men were carrying extra supplies, equipment, rations and ammunition. At 1.20 a.m., the Brigadiers of 24th Division met to consider their actions for the next morning.

The Official History of the Great War noted this about what happened next.

‘The 71st Brigade, in rear of the 72nd, moved forward to the British original trenches, centre opposite Lone Tree, where it halted for the night. During the early hours of the 26th Br-General Shewen was ordered by the 7th Division, who furnished an officer as a guide, to detach one of his battalions “to retake the Quarries”. The 9/Norfolk  was sent at 1 a.m., …South of the Quarries, the Wiltshire and part of the Bedfordshire held the line along Stone Alley to Breslau Avenue. Here the Green Howards had rallied, thus linking up with the units in Quarry Trench.

A counter attack was delivered on the Quarries from the old German front trenches at 6.45 a.m. on the 26th, by a battalion (9/Norfolk of the 71st Brigade) of the 24th Division, lent to the 7th Division by the XI. Corps for this purpose. Dead tired by its night march its attack immediately stopped by heavy fire and had to be abandoned after 13 officers and 409 other ranks had become casualties.’

What is known from the battalion’s war diary and from the WW1 history of the Norfolk Regiment is that by 5.30 a.m. they were in the old German front-line and at 6.45 a.m., as noted by the Official History, they went over the top advancing towards the Quarries. But the German fire was heavy from the start, especially from numerous snipers, and their advance faltered and they suffered heavy casualties.


The area where the 9th Norfolks fought taken from an Official History map for 25th September 1915.

They had to seek cover and remained there, watching the 2/Worcestershires going through their position in an effort to capture the quarries. At 7 p.m. the Germans fired flares and they then opened fire on the Norfolks. This fire was so heavy that the Norfolks had to retire to reserve trenches eventually being relieved by the Grenadier Guards.

Having marched back to Lone Tree they then moved to Vermelles reaching there at 6 a.m. on 27th September.

The Loos Memorial where those that fell serving with the 9th Norfolks are now commemorated.

The Loos Memorial where those that fell serving with the 9th Norfolks are now commemorated.

A roll call identified 5 officers killed and 9 wounded with 39 other ranks killed and 122 wounded. This totalled 209 men. It is noted in the Norfolk’s history of WW1 that in total, when they reached Ham on 29th September, they had 16 officers and 555 other ranks from an original complement of 30 officers and 987 men. This totals a loss of 14 officers and 432 other ranks killed, wounded or missing in their initial baptism of fire on the killing field at Loos.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists that between 26th and 27th September 1915 the 9th Norfolks lost 69 men killed. One of these men can be identified as Private 15895 Samuel Percival Armfield a Draper’s Assistant who is pictured at the top of this article and records show he was just 18 when he died. Like most of the men who were lost that day he has no known grave and is now commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

The battalion would now move with the rest of the 71st Brigade from the 24th Division to the 6th Division where they remained until the end of the war. By October they were in the Ypres Salient and they would then remain in that sector for the rest of 1915 and the beginning of 1916. We will look at their war in 2016 when they would again go into action this time on the Somme.



The White-Haired Colonel on the Wire

The 8th Buffs at Loos

26th September 1915

Col F C Romer - Pb050635

Colonel Frederick Romer C.B., C.M.G. C.O. of the 8th Buffs.

Frederick Charles Romer was born in 1854 and was the son of Charles and Hannah Romer. In 1878 he had married Marie Kate Leaf and had one son Malcolm. Sadly Marie died in 1908. Frederick had served in the Lancashire Fusiliers prior to WWI and had seen action in the Boer War. When war came Frederick was 64 but was offered the choice of raising one of the three service battalions of the Buffs, he chose to raise the 8th Battalion.

As noted in one of my August blogs the 8th Buffs went to France on 31st August 1915, my Great Grandfather, Private G/5203 Frank Smith amongst them. They had spent their entire time in France at a camp until they were called forward to move to the front.

The 8th Buff’s war diary is very detailed in where they route marched.

‘21.9.15: Preparation for march. Left MANNINGHEM 6.30 p.m. via St MICHEL, BELLVUE, RIMEUX, DENNEBROEUCQ, NOUVEAUVILLE, about 14 miles, arrived about 2.30 a.m.’

‘22.9.15: Rested, marched 6.15 p.m. via PONCHE, BASSE-BOULOGNE, AIRE, LA HAMEL, ISBERQUES, MOLINGHAM station to GUARBECQUE, arrived about 2.20. Heavy march about 18 miles. Men marched very well, several men…help but all managed to get to billets except one picked up by ambulance, good billets, very nice night to march moonlight and clear road. Buffs led Brigade.’

On the 23rd September 1915 they rested up in billets in Guarbecque. On the 24th September 1915 they marched to Bethune. Here they received orders that they were going into action for the first time. By this time they had marched around 32 miles and had had very little food, although they were luckier than other units who had to rely on their emergency rations when their field kitchens failed to find them. They were headed for Loos and this battle had started on 25th September 1915.

Col F C Romer - Pb050637

Colonel Frederick Romer sat centrally with his SNCOs of the 8th Battalion Buffs (The East Kent Regiment).

On the eve of their baptism of fire Colonel Romer had the battalion form up and he spoke to the men, the war diary recorded what he said.

‘25.9.15: The Battalion formed up this morning and Colonel Romer said the following words. ‘Men I am not going to say very much to you this morning, only to ask you to remember that you are the Buffs’. We then moved forward, approaching the firing line via VERMELLES.’

The advance of the 24th Divison on 27th September 1915.

The advance of the 24th Divison on 26th September 1915.

At 11:00hrs, on the 26th, both the 21st and 24th Divisions attacked the German lines to the north of Hill 70 which was a massive German strong point. It was a direct result of an attempt to capture further German ground that had not fell at the start of the battle on 25th September.

The war diary for the 8th could only record this.

‘At 10.30 a.m. verbal orders arrived to prepare for an attack at 11 o’clock a.m. Almost at once the enemy commenced a heavy bombardment of our trenches. At 11 a.m. an attack across open country commenced, the objective being a German position about a mile away. Artillery formation was adopted on leaving the trenches, but long distance rifle fire caused us to extend our lines almost immediately. The Buffs were supporting the West Kents. The advance was carried forward rapidly and by 11.30 a.m. the leading lines of the Buffs had arrived within 25 yards of the German barbed wire. No gaps could be observed in the wire entanglements. During the advance a heavy fire from machine guns on both flanks was encountered. At 1155 a.m. an order came down the line from the right to withdraw. The enemy’s fire especially from our left flank became heavier and very considerable losses occurred. The Buffs were relieved during the night 26/27th 1915. Rested in a field close by SAILLY LA BOURSE.’

The Historical Record of the Buffs had this to say about the ill fated attack by the 8th Buffs.

‘It was 11.55 that an order came to withdraw, and from that moment the hostile fire, especially from the left flank, becoming hotter than ever and, of course, the casualties heavier… Colonel Romer was early shot in the shoulder, but continued in his place, showing an example to all, till he was killed by a bullet through his heart.’

The field in which the 8th Buffs advanced on Stutzpunkt IV on 27th September 1915.

The field in which the 8th Buffs advanced on Stutzpunkt IV on 26th September 1915.

In that advance the war diary records that they lost 24 officers and 530 other ranks in an action that took two hours and the battalion was led out by a junior officer, Lieutenant James Vaughan. Lieutenant Vaughan won a well deserved Military Cross for this, his citation, listed in the London Gazette on 23rd November 1915, stating,

Temporary Second Lieutenant James Vaughan, 8th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

For conspicuous gallantry and ability near Hulluch on 26th September 1915. When all his senior Officers had become casualties he took command of his battalion, and brought it out of action safely and in good order.

Once it had been officially tallied the total number of officers and men killed on this day totalled 178. Amazingly Frank Smith survived this.

The 24th Division did not see any offensive action for the rest of 1915, having lost 8,000 officers and men at Loos. They spent most of their time around La Panne in France and then the Ypres Salient in Flanders. Eventually they would end up going in and out of the line around Ploegsteert Wood, which had earned the nickname ‘Plugstreet’ by the troops who first took up residence there. I will return to their story next year in June and August.

The panel on the Loos Memorial for the Buffs including Colonel Romer's name.

The panel on the Loos Memorial for the Buffs including Colonel Romer’s name.

So why did I give this blog the title ‘The White-Haired Colonel on the Wire’? Well that is because of a German account of the aftermath of the battle.

A description of the desolate scene was given by Leutnant Aschenbach, observation officer of the 6th Battery of the German 233 Feld-Artillerie-Regiment. On 25th September, luckily for him, he was on a day off and was at rest in a village behind the front line. By the end of 26th September he was in a forward observation post about 1 kilometre north of the wood of Bois Hugo. He said he crawled into No-Mans-Land that evening and was confronted with a shocking sight of about 500 British dead piled up in one small area in front of the German wire. He implied they had simply been mown down. He found several dead officers including a white-haired colonel on the wire. He praised the courage of the British commanding officers to have been in the thick of the fight and was deeply moved that so many brave men had lost their lives.

It is possible that the white-haired colonel, whom Aschenbach remembered so vividly, could have been Colonel Frederick Charles Romer.

Colonel Romer has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Worstead’s Old Contemptible

Private 16/5482 Frederick Cecil Leach

16th Battalion (The Queen’s) Lancers


Frederick Leach in Lancers uniform. This photo was taken prior to 1914.

Frederick Leach was born in 1887 in the village of Smallburgh. The 1901 Census records that he was the eldest son of Henry and Sarah, who had another two sons, Henry and Basil and one daughter, Ethel. Henry senior was the landlord of the King’s Head Pub in the village and in 1914 Frederick was 27 years old. We know that Frederick was a pre-war regular as his occupation is listed as ‘Army 16th Lancers’ in the 1911 Census. This correlates to the 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers, which was one of the very first units to go to France when war broke out.

Henry Leach stood outside the King's Head pub in Worstead. His son Frederick can be seen stood extreme right.

Henry Leach, arms folded, stood outside the King’s Head pub in Worstead. His son Frederick can be seen stood extreme right.

The 16/Lancers were based in Curragh, Ireland where they had been dealing with the upsurge of Nationalism, showing that the troubles on that island are nothing new. They, along with the rest of 3rd Cavalry Brigade, had been mobilized on the 10th August 1914. As the BEF embarked it is not as widely noted that the King sent a message to his troops, it said,

‘You are leaving home to fight for the safety and honour of my Empire. Belgium, whose country we are pledged to defend, has been attacked, and France is about to be invaded by the same powerful foe. I have implicit confidence in you, my soldiers. Duty is your watchword, and I know your duty will be nobly done. I shall follow your every movement with deepest interest and mark with eager satisfaction your daily progress; indeed your welfare will never be absent from my thoughts. I pray God will bless you and guard you, and bring you back victorious.’

The whole Regiment embarked on the 15th August on the Leyland Liner “SS Indian”. They were actually sent off in much pomp and circumstance, which must have been strange to the soldiers who had only recently treated the locals as potential enemies. They landed at Le Harve in France on the 18th August where they were met with much enthusiasm from the French and they entrained the next day heading for Jeaumont via Amiens-Mauberge. For the next two days they marched from Cousolre to Bray and were eventually billeted at Estinne au Val. On the 22nd August, they moved out towards Bray and their war started.

The rapid advance over the last few days was one of the things that thwarted the planned Schlieffen advance. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was not a large body of men, it only totalled 80,000 men, and to this end, the French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre had placed this small but highly trained army on his left flank, where he believed there would not be any fighting.

The history of the 16/Lancers states,

‘The original design of General Joffre, who was in supreme command of the Allied Armies in France, was to maintain the positions which he held from Namur to the Swiss frontier, and to wheel his left wing, consisting of the 5th Army and the British Corps, to the right, pivoting on Namur, against the right flank of the German advance, and to join up with the Belgian Army along the line of the Schelde. The German plan of campaign was to effect a great wheel of their right, pivoting upon Thionville, and after rolling up the French line to attack Paris.’

The plan called for the French to take on the brunt of the German Army, but they were bloodily repulsed and the advance of the BEF stopped on the 23rd August at the Mons-Conde Canal and this is where their first, major battle took place. For it was at Mons that the British 1st and 2nd Corps met the German 1st Army commanded by General Von Kluck. The Germans attacked the BEF and vied to cross the canal in order that they could capture the main bridges there.

But the BEF had no hope of holding Mons and by 1300hrs of the 23rd August 1914, the British were retreating as the Germans had managed to cross the canal and gain footholds, from this the British would continue to withdraw and this became known as the ‘Retreat from Mons’. The French Army was capitulating in other sectors and the BEF ran the risk of being outflanked on both sides as the Germans gained ground. They had to retreat and the order was given by French in the early evening.

Over the next few days the 16/Lancers were in action, witnessing their fellow cavalrymen of the 2nd Brigade being wasted in a futile charge to assist the beleaguered 5th Division where it was estimated  that the 9/Lancers and 4/Dragoon Guards suffered 60% casualties. The 16/Lancers themselves came under artillery fire on numerous occasions as they acted as the rearguard to their brigade.

The BEF was, by now, carrying out a fighting withdrawal and many units were ceasing to exist. The rapid advance made by the Germans had to be checked somewhere and it was also becoming more and more difficult to stop to rest. The French were now also in headlong retreat along with the Belgians and the 16/Lancers moved south past Le Cateau where plans were being made to place a British rearguard to protect the bulk of the BEF. The Battle of Le Cateau occurred on 26th August with the Germans placing heavy pressure on the British. By the afternoon, the British rearguard was at a risk of being overrun and it was only the arrival of French cavalry that prevented this.

That night, the Allies withdrew to Saint-Quentin with the British having sustained 8,000 casualties; the infantry especially paid a heavy price. This battle was to be fought in some respects as though Wellington and Napoleon were facing one another again. This is because trench warfare was still a thing of the future and so it would be fought by two standing armies with very little cover.

The Lancers history of WWI had this to say about Le Cateau.

‘Unfortunately it was next to impossible to convey orders to many of the company commanders in the firing line, and as these with the usual obstinacy of the British soldier, never thought for a moment of quitting their position till they got them, numerous platoons and even companies were left behind, and these fought on until they were surrounded and the few unwounded survivors overwhelmed and made prisoners. The Gordon Highlanders were the worst sufferers in this respect, for some 500 with their commanding officer were surrounded and, after a desperate attempt to fight their way through, were eventually obliged to surrender near Bertry.’


The 16/Lancers seen in France in September 1914.

The whole of the BEF continued to retreat and the 16/Lancers acted as the brigade rearguard for most of the time, continually moving, and often coming under fire they continued to move south. With the Allies in a certain amount of disarray the Germans began to set their sights on Paris. Relations between the French and the British at this time had reached an all time low and Sir John French was of the opinion that he must withdraw the BEF to reorganise. The French military saw this as a disastrous move and it was only after the direct intervention of the minister for war, Lord Kitchener, that John French relented and agreed to keep the BEF at the front so long as their flanks were not threatened.

As the Germans tried to surround Paris, their 1st and 2nd Armies went southeast of the capital and exposed their right flank, something which had worried the original planner of the Schlieffen Plan. The French commander Joseph Joffre noticed their error and he managed to get John French to agree to commit the BEF to assisting the French Army in attacking the Germans all along the front line.

On the 5th of September a desperate struggle ensued when the Battle of the Marne began. The BEF was now in an advance in what the Official History of the war termed the ‘Advance to the Aisne’ and this had begun on the 10th September when the BEF began to pursue the German 1st Army.

On the day Frederick Leach died the situation on the Marne had been decided when the French 6th Army had managed to stop the Germans.

A map of the area that the 16/Lancers came into for 12th September 1914 with Venizel seen almost centrally.

A map of the area that the 16/Lancers came into for 12th September 1914 with Venizel seen almost centrally.

And so with the Marne coming to a close and the 1st Battle of the Aisne about to begin, the 16/Lancers saw action around Chassemy situated to the north of the River Aisne and just east of Soissons.

The 16th Lancers history stating,

‘Instructions were received from General Joffre on the evening of the 11th to continue the pursuit on the front Bazoches—Soissons. The advance to be supported on each flank by the 5th and 6th Armies, General Maunoury being ordered to endevour to outflank the German’s right flank. Sir John French’s special orders were to seize the bridges over the Aisne and to occupy the high ground north of that river.’

16th Lancers War Diary,

’12/9/1914 Brigade moved to Serches. Regiment then sent to Ciry and forward to support the 5th Lancers on high ground by Chassemy. In the afternoon IL MG and “D” Sqn attacked with the Brigade dismounted “A” moving to the left to charge but the enemy firing from a wood “A” had to dismount as well. Withdrew to Ciry for the night. One man killed two wounded.’

It is not surprising that from all of this that Frederick’s death was only listed as ‘one man killed’. For a start, other ranks were not generally mentioned by name in the casualty figures in a war diary, but the situation was so fluid and hectic at this time that the war diary would have been very brief in content in any way. As in many cases it would not have been un-common for us to never know what happened to him had it not been for a letter written to someone who must have contacted the regiment on behalf of the family.

As with today, it was normal for the relatives to want to know more about what happened to their loved one. Many never found out, or the details were very sketchy. I can speak from experience when I say that it took until 1979 for our family to really start to piece together what happened to my Great Grandfather in WWI. However, many did write, or had others write to the units on the behalf of the family. In this case, I have been very lucky in having the privilege of reading and transcribing a letter that was written by one of Frederick’s comrades. The letter of enquiry had been written by a ‘Miss Holt’. I cannot specifically locate a lady with that surname and wonder if she had been staying with Frederick Leach’s father as a boarder.

The letter is dated the 15th May 1915 and was written by Staff Quarter Master Sergeant (SQMS) H Hunt.

C Squadron
16th Lancers

To Miss Holt,

I received your letter enclosing Mr Leach’s address & I am writing to you to give you what news I can of his son when he was killed in action on the 12th Sept in the advance that followed the retirement from Mons.

I was in charge of a patrol of 8 A. Coy and men including pte Leach and our objective was to find out if the bridge over the river was intact or blown up by the Germans who were retiring over the Aisne at Venizel.

It was about a kilometre gone when the Squadron was halted and we got into the village alright but were fired from the cross on the square in the centre of the village and just round the bend of the road. As we could not proceed any further that way I tried to go round another road to gain the information I wanted but only with the same result being fired at by the enemy lying at a corner of the road.

After we got back to the 1st corner where we were fired on first Leach rode out to see if the Germans were still there and was fired on as he reached the bend. The bullet entering his body in the abdomen causing him to fall off his horse in the middle of the road and his horse galloped back to the remainder of the patrol. I waited a few minutes with the intention of rescue if possible but saw a resident of the village pick him up so went back the Squadron to report.

We got into the village later that day but found pte Leach had only lived ½ hour after being picked up and he was lying in one of the French houses. The Squadron had to go back some few kilometres that night but the next morning his own troop pushed on and prepared his burial and on arrival of his Squadron they halted and we laid him to rest.

His Squadron commander read the service and deeply respected his loss. The inhabitants of the village had made many wreaths during the night and the whole of the grave was covered with them. A cross was erected to mark the spot with his regt, no, and name, etc on it. I enclose a small sketch of the place and trust you will forward this letter for his father to read. I may add that Leach was a man who was well liked by his comrades who deeply regretted his death.

I beg to remain

Yours sincerely

H Hunt. SQMS

Frederick Leach’s grave in Buzancy Military Cemetery.

Frederick Leach’s grave in Buzancy Military Cemetery.

Frederick Leach now lies in Buzancy Military Cemetery which is situated to the south west of Chassemy and the cemetery is an amalgamation of graves of soldiers brought in after the war ended and those that were buried there when the 15th (Scottish) Division buried their war dead when Buzancy was liberated 28th July 1918. There are now 264 men buried here and Frederick can be found in Row III Grave A. 2.

Dereham Zeppelin Raid

8th September 1915

Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Alois Böcker.

The commander of Zeppelin L14, Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Alois Böcker.

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the Zeppelin raid over Dereham. What follows in this blog is the story of that raid from contemporary reports from 1918 when the censors allowed the story to be told.

Zeppelin L14, commanded by Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Alois Böcker, attacked Dereham on 8th September 1915 although Dereham itself was not the specified target and L14 was not the only Zeppelin to bomb England that night.

L14 was one of four Zeppelins of the German Naval Airship Division that set out on this raid. Zeppelin L9, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Odo Loewe, headed to the North of England and bombed a benzol and iron works at Skinningrove just south of Redcar although minimal damage was sustained. Zeppelin L11, under the command of Kapitänleutnant zur See Freiher Horst Treusch von Buttlar-Bradenfels, had problems with its engines and had to turn back before reaching its target. And L13, commanded by Kapitanlieutenant Heinrich Mathy, went to London and dropped a total of 15 high-explosive and 55 incendiary bombs on the city making it the largest number dropped on Britain up to that time and killed 22 and injured 87 people.

L14 also intended to attack London but like L11 ran into engine trouble as it made landfall at 8.10pm over Blakeney and so Böcker tried to follow a line that he believed would take him to Norwich but he appeared over Dereham instead.

‘The Zeppelin was first noticed by the people of of Dereham at 8.30 or thereabouts. It was coming from the direction of Great Ryburgh and soon made its presence felt by dropping both incendiary and explosive bombs into the town and surrounding fields. It was reported at the time that soldiers had been signalling from the tower of the parish church and it was believed that this had attracted the hostile aircraft.’

From the EDP on 18th December 1918

L14 dropped bombs all the way from Bylaugh Park to Dereham and many craters would be found in fields after the raid, which included a number of unexploded bombs. Bylaugh Church had all its windows blown out by falling bombs and a total of 75 bombs were dropped very rapidly over the town. They fell in a very confined space around the Market Place, comprising of Church Street, the High Street and Commercial Road. Damage was caused, including several buildings which were completely demolished, and a number of houses suffered damage to their roofs within 100 yards of the Corn Hall. Between 8 to 9 bombs fell on the Vicarage which was now being used as a Red Cross Hospital.

‘As the bombs fell around the Red Cross Hospital the patients ran out and wounded soldiers, clad only in their nightshirts, were dodging the bombs amongst the trees in the Vicarage grounds. Some of them said it was more terrifying than the falling of shells at the front, for they had a chance of retaliating, but in this case there was an absolute feeling of helplessness.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

Luckily not one bomb that fell here exploded.

The Red Cross Hospital at the Vicarage in Dereham.

The Red Cross Hospital at the Vicarage in Dereham.

Another bomb fell close to the Guildhall in Vicarage Lane and this struck the road and made a hole 4 feet deep and 6 feet across. It brought down part of the outbuildings of the Guildhall and damaged the roof of the infant’s school on the other side of the road. The concussion also broke windows in the church.

‘The house occupied by Miss Vincent, which adjoins the Guildhall, remained intact and a very old cottage nearby, dated 1800, were not touched. A telegraph pole nearby was cut in two, and the wires were brought down, which interrupted telegraph communication with the town for some hours.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

Damage caused to the 5th Norfolk’s Orderly HQ at the corner of Quebec Street

Damage caused to the 5th Norfolk’s Orderly HQ at the corner of Quebec Street

Serious damage was caused at Church Street. The roof of the White Lion pub was destroyed and all the windows blown in. Two customers, Mr and Mrs Johnson, were sitting in the pub and were seriously injured. An office owned by Mr Beck was badly damaged and a big hole was made in his garden with an apple tree uprooted. Mr Hammerton’s grocer shop was blown out and his goods scattered into the road.

‘The entire place, indeed, was in ruins and the walls of the buildings opposite side of the road were as full of holes as pepper-box. It was just here that a soldier was killed and a portion of his body was found on the roof of a building by the side of the Corn Hall.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

The soldier mentioned in this report was Lance Corporal 2872 Alfred Ernest Pomeroy of 2/1st City of London Yeomanry.  Charles Robert Mott, a cinema operator and a witness to his death, told the Coroner that Pomeroy had left his shop at about 9 o’clock and a few minutes later he heard an explosion. He went out into Church Street and saw Pomeroy lying dead in the centre of the street and saw the Zeppelin and bombs being dropped from it.

The Corn Hall Corner of the Market Place. Gertrude Ayton, nee Weir, is holding the two baskets of fruit. Her father was a market gardener and they lived at Littlefield Nursery.

Damage at the Corn Hall Corner of the Market Place. The girl holding the baskets is Gertrude Ayton and her father was a market gardener.

Telegraph poles were brought down in this vicinity and the orderly rooms for the 5th Norfolks were seriously damaged with the force of the explosion shattering the windows of the King’s Arms Hotel and all of the buildings nearby. The 3 banks in the town suffered considerable damage and Mr Aldiss’ shop on the corner of Church Street was wrecked with his other business also suffering damage.

‘The Corn Hall had a lucky escape. While bombs fell all round it, none actually struck it but the glass roof was shattered by the concussion. Other damage was confined to broken windows and battered walls. The bomb probably intended for the Corn Hall fell on a house by the side and in front of it, occupied by Mr Catton, agent for Singer’s sewing machines. There was no one inside, for Mr Catton had run out half a minute before the building collapsed but a soldier had passed it at the same moment seeking shelter, and the house fell upon him. He was got out alive but subsequently died. The same missile killed Mr James Taylor, a china and earthenware dealer, who was picked up dead in the street.’

The EDP 18th December 1918

The soldier mentioned here was Private 3081 Leslie Frank McDonald who died in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 11th September 1915. James Taylor was recorded as dying from a piece of shell case that had hit his abdomen. Harry Patterson, a jeweller, was also killed at the same moment while he was on an errand and his body was found lying in the entrance to the Norfolk Depot. He was also killed by blast damage and had a wound to the right side of his chest caused when a piece of shell casing had penetrated that area.

The Cowper Memorial Chapel in the Market Place also suffered damage and an incendiary bomb fell on the premises of Utting & Buckingham, an iron mongers, which set their oil stores alight and set off cartridges which became a hazard to the firemen who attended the scene.

A number of witnesses were interviewed after the event and a woman living on Church Street stated,

“I had been doing a little papering and cleaning up and did not finish until late. I then sat down and said to my daughter, ‘Now I think I have done and if the Germans come all my work will be in vain.’ My daughter replied, ‘Mother the Germans will never come here.’ But before she finished speaking bang went a bomb, and now look at the result.”

L14 flew off towards Scarning where it dropped nine high explosive bombs. These all fell on fields. It then turned north towards Fakenham and was seen over North Elmham, Ryburgh and Pensthorpe before moving towards Walsingham and then out towards Holt and then back out to sea at around 10 p.m. Efforts to intercept L14 by the RNAS ended in failure with two aircraft having to return because of engine failure and the third tragically crashing with the pilot being killed when the bombs he was carrying exploded.

Perhaps one of the most famous images from the raid. This shows Barbara and Margaret Kemp – posing with a large unexploded high-explosive Zeppelin bomb at Church Farm at Scarning.

Perhaps one of the most famous images from the raid. This shows Barbara and Margaret Kemp posing with a large unexploded high-explosive bomb which was dropped near to Church Farm at Scarning.

A total of four people were definitely killed and the Coroner’s inquest jury recorded that, ‘…death was caused by a bomb, “unlawfully dropped from a Zeppelin aircraft.”

Both Alfred Pomeroy and Leslie McDonald are commemorated on the “Rough Riders” Memorial at St Bartholomew the Great Church, Smithfield. Alfred now lies in Dereham Cemetery and Leslie is commemorated on Screen Wall. 31. W. 2. in Hammersmith Old Cemetery.

In total 6 people were wounded in the raid.

We then have Private H G Parkinson was also wounded during the raid by the L14 and is recorded as dying of those wounds. In the report it states,

‘Private H G Parkinson, 2/1st City of London Yeomanry. Died of shrapnel wound.’

But after that he is not mentioned again. And sadly although he is mentioned in all accounts I have read there is no record of this soldier. In one article printed by the EDP on 7th January 2015 he is listed as being named as Hardress Gerald William Parkinson. All records for this person show that one man with this name died in 1962. And I have been told that a Father and Son both served in the 2/1st City of London Yeomanry with that name and both survived the war.

So who was this man?

This was Private 2068 Humphrey G Parkinson who died of his wounds 21 days later on 29th September 1915. He is listed in the daily casualty lists as. ‘Casualty Status – Wounded – Air Raid.’ However, although I have tried searching, he is not listed on any other database which includes the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This, to me, is quite sad because everyone else who died in the raid have their details recorded for all to see. So I dedicate this blog to his memory.

My thanks go to two people who assisted me with information for this blog.

First Kitty Lynn who is currently writing a book about Dereham in WW1. Had it not been for Kitty then I would not have found out any information of Humphrey Parkinson. Kitty also provided other information such as the information on Hardress Parkinson. So thank you Kitty I could not have completed this without you!

Secondly thanks go Sue Walker White who supplied me with the images used in this blog and they come from the Bishop Bonners Cottage Museum collection.