A Norfolk Regiment Centenary Tale
Within a well trodden cemetery on the outskirts of Ypres there are three men who now lie ‘In Flanders Fields’.
If you visit Essex Farm Cemetery you will almost certainly visit Private Valentine Joe Strudwick, perhaps the most famous underage soldier to come out of WW1 who was 15 when he was killed in action on 14th January 1915.
You will definitely visit the Advanced Dressing Station next to the cemetery where John McCrae wrote his famous ‘In Flanders Fields’ poem. And perhaps you will stop by the Victoria Cross holder, Thomas Barratt of the 7th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, who was awarded his VC posthumously for supporting a patrol in no man’s land by killing enemy snipers and covering the retirement of the patrol. Tragically soon after reaching safety he was killed by shell-fire, he was 22 years old.
But what about the stories of other men who are now laid to rest? Perhaps you would like to visit three others?
Essex Farm was located on the western end of Bridge No 4, which crossed the Ypres-Yser Canal, to reach the ADS. Here in June 1916 two men who served in the Norfolk Regiment were evacuated to the ADS where they died. Another man, almost a year later, was also laid to rest here in June 1917.
Private 16393 Alfred John Knights was born at Lakenham on 15th December 1893. He was educated at Carrow School and he is listed as living at 6 Cozens Road in Norwich working as a Labourer in a printing works in the 1911 Census.
He enlisted at Haverfordwest in Wales on 11th November 1914 joining the 9th Battalion and went across to France on 14th October 1915 as one of the replacements for losses the battalion had incurred at the Battle of Loos. Alfred was 22 when he was killed and was the son of Arthur and Emma Jane Knights.
Laid next to Alfred is Private 14850 William Mason who was born at St. James in Norwich and who enlisted in Norwich. Looking at the 1911 Census this is most likely William Edmund Mason who was born in 1882 and who lived at 37 Leonard Street in Norwich where he worked as a Bricklayer. William initially served with the 7th Battalion when he landed in France on 30th May 1915 but must have been sent to the 9th Battalion some time after it landed in France on 31st August 1915. William was the son of Abnor and Lucy Mason and was 34 when he was killed.
On the night that Alfred and William were killed the battalion provided 17 officers and 565 other ranks for working parties. The war diary records that both were killed on 1st June 1916 although Alfred is listed as having been killed in action on 2nd June.
The third Norfolk Regiment man is Sergeant 12719 Eli Theodore Cox who was the son of Mrs. E. Cox of Red Cottage at Greenfield near Ampthill in Bedfordshire. He was more than likely one of the large number of men from outside Norfolk who were sent to the battalion in August 1914 to make up the numbers. Certainly the fact that he enlisted at St Paul’s Churchyard on 28th August 1914 and was in Norwich on 29th August suggests this was so. He landed in France on 30th May 1915.
The 7th Norfolks were not in the Ypres Salient when Eli was killed in action on the night of the 9th/10th June 1917. They were positioned around Verquin. So how did he end up in Essex Farm? Luckily his service record survived WW2 and it notes that at the time of his death he was attached to the 173rd Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. A letter dated 3rd July 1917 confirms he was attached to that unit when killed. Eli was 23 when he died. The service record records that he died from a gunshot wound to the head.
So June 1st 2016 marks the Centenary of the death of Alfred and William and I also thought it fitting that we also remember Eli’s passing on this day as well. Alfred and William are buried in graves II. T. 15 and 16 and Eli is now laid to rest in grave II. V. 11.
So if you do go to Flanders Fields and visit Essex Farm perhaps you could stop by and say hello to Alfred, Eli and William?