Whilst researching my second book I contacted the Norfolk Constabulary Historians with some requests for information on things like the Defence of the Realm Act and what measures were implemented to counter things such as the Zeppelin raids on Norfolk in WW1. The result was being allowed to have full access to Norfolk Constabulary’s archives. What I did not expect at that time was what I would find out about the men who served in the Army during the Great War and especially the ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
A total of 20 officers and police staff fell in the Great War. Not all fell in combat and some succumbed to illness. It was not just one police force in those days, if fact there were 4, which were Great Yarmouth & King’s Lynn Boroughs, Norfolk County Constabulary and Norwich City Police. At that point in time there was no central point where all of these officers were recorded so I set about looking at this and the result was to create a Roll of Honour at Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters at Wymondham.
Although I cannot tell the story of every man who died in this blog, although their stories will be told in later blogs, these are a snapshot of some of the men now recorded on the Roll of Honour.
The first men to die were ones that were recalled back to the Army, this included Absalom Snowley of Norfolk County Constabulary who went back into the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.
Absalom landed in France on 13th August 1914. He died on 14th September 1914, literally a month later. And in Absalom’s case the term ‘Died’ means that the War Office could not ascertain what happened to him. However, records show that the 1/Coldstreams were in action at the Battle of the Aisne on the day he died. On that day they were north of Cerny forming one of the advanced posts on the right of centre of the British line. Over a two hour period the Germans would continue to make a series of counter attacks here in an effort to dislodge the British from this area but as the day progressed these got weaker and weaker until by 3 p.m. they had died away.
In February 1915 a number of Norwich City Police officers joined up together. What is not as widely known is that three Royal Engineer Field Companies were also formed by the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Dr Gordon Munn, who raised these ‘New Army’ units in February 1915. These were the 207th, 208th and 209th Field Companies who would go on to serve with the ill-fated 34th Division. They were three ‘pals’ units and evidence shows, as in similar cases across the country, that men from similar areas or similar lines of work would often join up together and were initially encouraged to do so. The police officers from Norwich City Police who joined up together were William Thomas Green, Harry Hazel, William Jinks, Herbert James Whitehand and Henry Crisp, who all originally served in 208 Field Company Royal Engineers.
The Norfolk Constabulary records show that these five policemen all joined up on 7 June 1915 with army service numbers which fall between 85502 and 85592. Since these service numbers were sequential it is almost certain that these men joined together, with just ninety numbers between Green and Crisp joining up. Perhaps spurred on by the action of these men, three other police officers from Norwich also joined the 208th Field Company. On 8 June 1915, William Sawford Andrew enlisted and was given the service number 85549, while on 14 July 1915, Henry Crisp joined up as number 85595. Finally, Arthur Bell enlisted on 14 August 1915 and received service number 85666. Between 28 and 31 August 1915, the entire division moved to Salisbury Plain and camped around Sutton Veny near Warminster, where they carried out some final training and practised live firing. The 34th Division embarked for France on 8th January 1916.
On 1 July 1916, the 34th Division advanced on La Boiselle and managed to occupy the massive mine crater called ‘Lochnagar’ and a defensive position called Scots Redoubt but further advances could not be made. It was here that all three Norfolk field companies were used to support the troops who were occupying these positions. The war diary for the 208th Field Company reveals that:
‘Several casualties were sustained and the sections became scattered. About 40 men were collected and remained in our lines under 2nd Lt C.A. Ablett until 2 p.m. when they were utilised by carrying bombs and water to the south mine crater via the tunnels until 9.30 p.m.’
La Boiselle did not fall that day and the 34th Division lost 6,811 men – all killed or wounded between the 1 and 5 July – including eight senior officers. This included Harry Hazel.
Sapper Thomas Green contracted trench fever in November 1916 and was evacuated home. Sadly, like many others who contracted this illness, he died at home and is now laid to rest in Norwich Cemetery.
On the night of the 5th/6th May, 1917, the men of Z Company were busy setting up over 200 gas projectors behind a ridge hidden from the Germans, ready for a gas attack near Bullecourt. G and P Special Companies were also involved and L/Cpl. Gray and the other NCO’s were busy organising the unloading of the equipment from the horse drawn transport. Suddenly, without any warning, a lone German shell came hurtling out of the night sky landing almost on top of the waggon carrying the propellant charges. A huge explosion followed and all the men grouped around the waggon were killed instantly.
The Germans, realising something was going on turned every field gun they could muster on the ridge. The scattered survivors of the initial explosion scrambled for cover. When the shelling stopped they emerged to find a scene of utter devastation. P Special Company had lost 21 killed and 14 wounded, G Special Company had 9 killed and 17 wounded, Z Company lost 14 killed and 7 wounded. This included Herbert Whitehand.
One of the less well known battles of WW1 is the action seen by the 34th Division between 26 August and 11 September, when it took over a section of 3rd Corps ground around the Hargicourt-L’Omignon River sector. Here the division took part in an operation designed to capture part of the Hindenburg Line. On 1 September, another police officer from Norwich, Henry Crisp, was killed during the fighting here and a letter from a friend noted,
‘Well I thought I’d first write and let you know that I fixed Harry’s cross up before I left that place.’
Further casualties came at the Third Battle of Ypres. Gunners Cornelius Skipper and Archie Snelling had joined up together on the same day and died on the same day, 12th October 1917. Archie Snelling died in counter battery fire close to Birr Cross Roads and Cornelius Skipper died in 47th CCS, where his death was recorded in a letter:
‘I thought I would take the liberty to write to let you know, he was well cared for during the brief time he was here and also I done all he wished, he died peacefully from a shrapnel wound in the chest, hoping you will forgive the liberty I am taking in writing.’
And so today, Wednesday 11th November 2015, a new Roll of Honour was dedicated by the current Chief Constable Simon Bailey.
And this is a list of the men now recorded on the Roll of Honour.
GREAT YARMOUTH COUNTY BOROUGH POLICE
PC William Edward ELLIS Gunner Royal Field Artillery Died 17.10.1918 FRANCE
PC Frederick Charles JOHNSON Private Grenadier Guards Killed 11.09.1914 FRANCE
Mr Horace Milton BUDDERY Private Manchester Regiment Killed 18.08.1917 BELGIUM
(Horace was employed as a Weights and Measures Officer)
KING’S LYNN BOROUGH POLICE
PC Harold John BADCOCK 2nd Lt Norfolk Regiment Killed 18.10.1916 FRANCE
PC John DUNBABIN D.C.M. Sgt Norfolk Regiment Died 30.09.1917 HOMEFRONT
NORFOLK COUNTY CONSTABULARY
Chief Constable Egbert NAPIER Major Gordon Highlanders Killed 13.11.1916 FRANCE
PC William George BLYTHE Private Coldstream Guards Killed 14.09.1914 FRANCE
PC James Lewis BAILEY L/Corp Military Police Died 30.05.1917 BELGIUM
PC Arthur Davidson KEELER Private Coldstream Guards Killed 15.09.1916 FRANCE
PC Arthur Harry COOK M.M. L/Sgt Grenadier Guards Killed 12.07.1916 FRANCE
PC Leonard Archibald REYNOLDS Corp Military Police Died 14.03.1919 GERMANY
PC Absalom SNOWLEY Private Coldstream Guards Died 14.09.1914 FRANCE
NORWICH CITY POLICE
PC William Thomas GREEN Sapper Royal Engineers Died 18.11.1916 HOMEFRONT
PC Herbert James WHITEHAND Pioneer Royal Engineers Killed 06.05.1917 FRANCE
PC Harry HAZEL Corp Royal Engineers Killed 01.07.1916 FRANCE
PC Henry CRISP Sapper Royal Engineers Killed 01.09.1917 FRANCE
PC Herbert CHAPLIN 2nd Lt Suffolk Regiment / R.F.C. Killed 19.10.1917 FRANCE
PC Archie SNELLING Gunner Royal Garrison Artillery Killed 12.10.1917 BELGIUM
PC Cornelius SKIPPER Gunner Royal Garrison Artillery Killed 12.10.1917 BELGIUM
PC William Earnest DAWES Sgt R.F.C. Died 25.01.1918 HOMEFRONT
As noted I will tell their full stories as we move through the Centenary.
I would like to thank the Norfolk Constabulary Historical Collection, the current Chief Constable Simon Bailey and his team for their help and support in this venture.
We Will Remember Them!