Just One Man

William Thomas Green

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William Thomas Green as PC 75 Green Norwich City Police

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the passing of this Norwich City Police officer.

William Thomas Green joined Norwich City Police on 23rd October 1911 and had given exemplary service.

After war had broken out three Royal Engineer Field Companies were formed by the Lord Mayor of Norwich, John Gordon-Munn M.D., in February 1915. These were the 207th, 208th and 209th Field Companies. They are rightly 3 ‘Pals’ units and evidence shows that many men joined up together to serve in them. The prime example of this is William who joined up with three other police officers from Norwich City Police. The others being Harry Hazel, William Jinks and Herbert James Whitehand. All of them initially served in the 208th Field Company.

We can ascertain this because Norfolk Constabulary records show they all joined up on 7th June 1915 and their service numbers were between 85503 (Jinks) and 85550 (Hazel). Because these service numbers were sequential you can see that their service numbers are just 47 digits apart between William Jinks & Harry Hazel joining up. William Green became Sapper 85542.

The three Norfolk Royal Engineer Companies went on to serve with the 34th Division and by 15th January 1916, the whole of the division were in France. Their first experience of battle was terrible. On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the three brigades of the division were given the task of attacking the heavily defended area in front of La Boiselle and lost 6,811 men killed or wounded between the 1st and 5th July, including 8 senior officers.

The division was taken out of the line and after a brief period of rest and recuperation was put back into the fighting on the Somme. They saw action again between July and August 1916 fighting around Bazentin le Petit and Bazentin le Grand in an effort to capture Intermediate Trench. Sadly their efforts to do that failed

Having been pulled out of that area they then spent the rest of 1916 around Armentieres. In total their casualties up to the end of the year was 733 officers and 15,235 men killed, wounded, missing or sick.

Of this total William Green became sick and contracted trench fever. This was a type of typhus which was contracted from lice that plagued the soldiers in the war. On the louse there lay a bug which has been described as being central between a virus and a bacterium in size named Rickettsia Quintana. This got into the soldier’s body by way of the bloodstream and the symptoms are described thus,

‘There is an incubation period of 8-30 days, a sudden onset with severe headache, myalgia, trunk, leg and, characteristic shin pains. Rigors were common. There was sometimes a short lived maculo-papular pink rash, sometimes lasting only hours. The spleen was usually enlarged. The fever was exceedingly variable, but was usually of a few days, followed by a remission and then relapsed after 5-6 days. Relapses were single or multiple, up to 12 relapses every 5 or 6 days were not uncommon!’

From Lice and Men: Trench Fever and Trench Life in the AIF by Dr M.G. Miller

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William’s grave in Earlham Cemetery.

Death would generally come in the later stages of the illness and was generally due to heart failure. Sadly it was a condition that a lot of men never recovered from. William died at St John’s Hospital in Southport on 18th November 1916. He was 27 and the son of Louisa Emma Green of 19 Bishop Bridge Road in Norwich, and the late Daniel Thomas Green. His CWGC listing notes he was formerly a constable in Norwich Police Force.

The Battle of the Somme officially ended the day after William died when the subsidiary Battle of the Ancre finished with the first snowfall and is recognised as being the end date in the Official History of the Great War.

William was just one man who now lies in Earlham Cemetery who had served on the Somme from the opening of the battle and is, to me, an unsung hero.

He probably did not think that. He certainly would not have thought that when he was dying. But I do think it. He volunteered, he could have stayed in a reserved occupation, but he didn’t. So to me he is an unsung hero.

So perhaps, if you get a chance, you could go and visit this unsung hero and say hello.

 

 

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A Chief Constable Before His Time

Part 2

Major Egbert Napier

Norfolk County Constabulary

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Major Egbert Napier Chief Constable Norfolk Constabulary 1909- 1915.

Major Egbert Napier, the Chief Constable of Norfolk County Constabulary, after not being called back to the colours, felt that he had no option but to take a commission in the army. He could have lived out the war in a secure post but he chose to go and serve his King and Country.

He initially joined the Northumberland Fusiliers as a Colonel, but took a reduction in rank to re-join his old regiment the Gordon Highlanders, initially serving in the 3rd Battalion, which remained in the UK as a reserve/training unit. However, on the 14th October 1916, he was sent to France as a replacement officer and was attached to the 1/5th Gordon Highlanders, a territorial unit, who were serving on the Somme.

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A trench map of the Beaumont Hamel area for late 1916. The 153rd Brigade faced the Y-Ravine situated at the bottom of this map.

The 1/5th Gordons were part of the famous 51st (Highland) Division and it had been fighting on the Western Front since May of 1915. There is no mention of him joining the battalion in their war diary. The only record we have is the fact that his arrival to the battalion was recorded by Lieutenant Alexander Cheyne who was also serving them

Oct 15

Letters from JWC and Nora
Sing-song in loft with Padre in evening
Major Napier arrives.

At this time the battalion was at Courcelles and they held a church parade before sending out working parties.

When Major Napier joined his battalion the Battle of the Somme was coming to a climax and Field Marshall Haig was looking at one area on the battlefield that had held out since the 1st July 1916. Beaumont Hamel was a fortified village surrounded by a network of trenches, including the formidable position known as Y-Ravine which ran East to West about 800 metres South of Beaumont Hamel and was a deep ravine with steep sides and was lined with dug-outs.

The attack was set for the 13th November 1916 and the Highland Division were ordered to capture the fortified village. The plan was assisted by the fact that  a new front-line had been dug right under the noses of the Germans and a new mine would be fired under the old one at Hawthorn Ridge.

Zero Hour was set for 5.45 a.m. and at bayonet point, in frost, sleet, snow mud and fog the Highland Division attacked. The 1/5th Gordons were in support with the 1/7th Gordon Highlanders and the 1/6th Black Watch leading the advance.

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The Newfoundland Memorial Park. Over this part of the park the 153rd Division advanced using the trenches in the middle distance as their jumping off point. The 51st (Highland) Division memorial can be seen in the distance. They entered the southern part of Beaumont Hamel.

The battalion reached the first German line and met no opposition but as they reached the second German line they found it strongly occupied. Here they became involved in hard fighting with the enemy and were assisted by the 6th Black Watch and the 7th Gordon Highlanders.

They succeeded in clearing this line out by bombing their way through the communication trenches where they managed to reach the third German line and by this time only one officer was left in the two lead companies where by now they were also being supported 4th Gordon Highlanders and this meant that elements of the battalion reached the 4th
German line.

Although the 51st Division met with heavy resistance, especially from well-sited machine guns in various bunkers and cellars in the village, the Germans capitulated in the afternoon and they managed to join up their advance with other units and divisions where the 1/5th then formed a defensive flank to the east of Beaumont Hamel to join up with the 63rd (Naval) Division.

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Beaumont Hamel in 1916.

Egbert Napier was not amongst the survivors. He had been killed in action during the advance along with 5 other officers and 60 other ranks. Knowing Napier like I do I think he would have led his men from the front and would have died quite early on. Certainly the war diary confirms that most of the officer casualties were incurred in the initial advance. His death is not mentioned in the war diary. The only record of his passing is mentioned in Lieutenant Cheyne’s diary,

Nov 13.

Receive 43 francs as C Coy Mess fund from 2/Lt Thomas.
ATTACK ON BEAUMONT-HAMEL
Take 3 lines of trenches.
Officers killed – Major Napier, Capt Stephen, 2/Lts Wilson, Sykes, R.M. Ferguson, John Watt.
Wounded – Gilmore, Johnstone, Brackenridge, Gibb, Red, Manson, Capt Robertson, K W Ferguson
Killed OR -60
Wounded – 130
Missing- 40

The war diary considered their casualties light compared to the German losses and noted that they captured 305 men.

Major Napier’s passing was reported in the news and he was commemorated as ‘…a soldierly figure at all times’. The changes he made in Norfolk County Constabulary were ground breaking and, to my mind, was all for the greater good and for the welfare of the men who served under him. He has been recorded as a man with a kindly disposition and he was much loved by his officers. It was a sad loss to the service but he died fighting alongside his men and is almost certainly a hero in my books.

Most of the dead were taken to Mailly Wood Cemetery in Mailly Maillet where Major Napier now lies. He was 49 and he left a wife, Evangeline, and two daughters.

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Egbert Napier’s grave in Mailly Maillet Cemetery.

I have visited Egbert Napier’s grave on a number of occasions and have stood by his it and held a small silence for a man I greatly respect.