Tank Week

Norwich Tank Week

1st – 5th April 1918

Nofolk Constabulary0012

News of tanks being used on a massive scale at Cambrai increased public desire to see the charismatic new war machine, thereby creating a fundraising opportunity for the National War Savings Committee. Charged with raising money for the war, the Committee initiated a ‘Tank Bank’ campaign which, though carried out at home, would become one of the most successful tank operations of the entire war.

Tank Week Report 3

A notice in the Norwich Evening News letting people know that the tank would arrive on Monday

The first Tank Bank was established shortly after the Battle of Cambrai. A battered tank named ‘Egbert’ was recovered from the battlefield, shipped to London and installed in Trafalgar Square. People were then invited to buy war bonds and certificates, and to queue up outside this unlikely ‘new god’ so that their bonds could be specially stamped by young women seated inside the tank.

Tank Week Report

A report on the third day of Tank Week, 3rd April 1918, detailing donations made by local schools

Having proved successful in Trafalgar Square, the campaign was soon extended elsewhere. A collection of tanks was brought back from France and toured around the country, under the guidance of the National War Savings Committee’s ‘tank organisers’, spending a week at a time in scores of cities and towns. In total, there were six tanks that were used to tour the country. They were called Julian, Old Bill, Nelson, Drake, Egbert and Iron Ration.  As would be expected, Nelson was sent to Norfolk. 

Tank Bank Week April 1918

Nelson being escorted to the Guild Hall by men of the Norfolk Regiment

As in London, politicians, churchmen, war heroes and theatrical celebrities were invited to perform and address the crowds from the top of the tank. A competitive league was established to see which town could raise most per head of population, and the atmosphere that built up around the visiting tanks at the end of their week-long visit was likened to a pre-war football cup final.

Tank Week Report 2

An advertisement in the Eastern Daily Press noting that the tank would be leaving on Friday night

The Tank Banks were reported to have raised prodigious sums of money as they travelled from one place to the next. Large employers invested through the tanks, but they were also said to be particularly effective in attracting investment from the working class and people without bank accounts.

Lucy Bignold Tank Bank Week

Mrs Charlotte Lucy Bignold stood at the front giving a speech on top of Nelson

But fundraising was not their only role. The Committee’s tanks were taken to exert their ‘moral effect’ in areas troubled by political militancy. For instance, in South Wales, the Tank Banks were used not just to sell war bonds, but to stir up a ‘tank patriotism’ that could be turned against miners who opposed the war and were taking their lead from the peace proposals made by Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin following the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in November 1917.

From Monday, 1 April 1918, ‘Norwich Tank Week’ was held in an effort to raise war bonds, with Nelson displayed outside the Guildhall. The EDP reported that the most memorable part of the week was arranged by the newly formed National Union of Women Workers.

Tank Week Report 4

An advertisement in the Norwich Evening News encouraging those that have purchased war bonds to purchase more

‘There were units of munition girls in uniform, including a large party from Norwich Components and parties also representing women railway workers, Carrow Works, the Women’s Land Army, the Women’s Co-Operative Guild, Milk Girls and women and girls employed in printing and allied trades.’

The article revealed that the female workers of J. & J. Colman alone had raised £1,219 4s 6d. The final day of Tank Week saw the EDP report that,

‘The success of the week is already assured; but we are not content with a measure of success below a million; and we trust that today’s final effort will achieve it.’


Civil dignitaries, including the Chief Constable of Norwich City Police, seen stood central wearing the helmet

And meet it they did. A final ceremony was held and further funds were donated, including two cheques from Norwich City Police whereby the Chief Constable, John Henry Dain, presented the Lord Mayor, Richard Jewson, with a total of £50,000 raised through private donations from police officers and their families.

In total a staggering £1,057,382 was raised for the war effort.


A Jolly Good Chap (Part 3)



Frank Smith seen in 1915 prior to him going out to France. This is the photo I vividly remember seeing at my Grandparent’s house in the 70s and 80s

Frank’s wife Edith did not receive any notification of his missing status straight away and wrote to him on 1st April 1918. By this time she knew that there had been a big battle because she notes in the letter,

‘I read of how the Buffs have made a name for themselves in fact every Regiment.’

Edith was initially told that Frank was reported wounded and made a series of attempts to try and find out what had happened.

She asked a number of local dignitaries, including Lady Rose Weigall, to make enquiries, from this she received notification from the Red Cross which again recorded him as being wounded.

1918 Post Card British Red Cross1

The Red Cross card notifying Edith that the War Office believed Frank was wounded

Edith wrote to the battalion but did not receive any firm news back from them, and certainly they were still embroiled in the heavy fighting in France to confirm what had happened. They could only tell her he had not answered roll call.


A newspaper cutting reporting the fact that Frank was missing

It was only until a letter arrived from a Mrs Laura Isabel Kingsland that she learnt about Frank’s fate. Written on 23rd June 1918 Mrs Kingsland had written to Edith because her cousin had told her of Edith’s search to learn the truth. In the letter she directly quotes what her husband, Private 203385 Mark Frederick Kingsland, told her, whilst at this time, he was still serving as a POW in Germany.

1918.06.23 Letter Mrs Kingsland Dartford0

The letter from Mrs Kingsland confirming that Frank had died on 21st March 1918

‘Will you write to Mrs Smith 1. Salisbury Terrace, Haine, Ramsgate & and tell her from me that her husband was killed on 21st March 1918. He was shot by a sniper, a jolly good chap, we had many long talks about Kent. Perhaps she wouldn’t know otherwise. I saw him. It is very sad. He had 6 children.’

It confirmed Edith’s worse fears and Frank’s death was officially confirmed by the War Office on 8th October 1918.


The official notification from the War Office

Many years later we also learnt that Mark Kingsland recorded Frank’s loss in a diary, noting for 21st March 1918,

‘10.00 a.m. Smith killed.’

You will recall in Part 2 that the first part of the Buffs position to be attacked by the Germans was A Company and the Canal Post. This diary entry, Mark Kingsland’s account and what is known of the fighting from the Buffs history pretty much confirms that Frank must have been one of the first casualties that the 7th Battalion incurred on 21st March 1918. It is also known through correspondence with Mark Kingsland’s son that he described in letters that he spent time in a forward position and had to cross a stream to get to it. This is pretty much the area where Canal Post was placed and it is almost certain that Frank died when the position was attacked. It is known that elements of A company held out till the 22nd, the history noting,

‘As a matter of fact, it was afterwards ascertained that Lieut. Kennett’s platoon fired on the German transport on the 22nd and held out till the evening of that day.’

Edith never got to read the diary of Mark Kingsland as that did not come to light until the late 70s. As a boy I can remember my Grandfather discussing all of this with my Father and he learnt of snippets about all of this from enquiries made by a second cousin. At that time all I was told was that he was killed during what my family termed as the 2nd Battle of the Somme. As I have already noted his photo was on display in my grandparent’s house when all of this was going on.


Frank’s name on one of the panels on the Pozieres Memorial

Then, during a trip to see friends in France in December of 1979, my Father decided to find where Frank is commemorated. In snow and fog he got us horrendously lost on the Somme. But eventually we found the Pozieres Memorial. As a young boy I felt disappointed that he was just a name on a wall and had no idea of the scope of what he had been through. I wanted to know more about him but did not do anything about that until I was much older and serving in the RAF.


The wreath we laid in memory of Frank at Vendeuil in 2011

This was where I learnt about the full extent of his war in France and Flanders and eventually got to see letters written by him. In 2011 I had the honour of taking my Father, my Uncle and my Aunt to trace his war from Loos to Vendeuil.

He is one of my most striking memories of my childhood, especially when I went to see his name on the Pozieres Memorial for the first time.

He is why I guide.

He is there with me on the battlefields and cemeteries of France and Flanders.

I often shed a tear over his loss, especially when I am following in his footsteps.

He is out there somewhere either still in the ground where he has not been found, or he is a Soldier of the Great War in a cemetery somewhere.

Frank Smith and Family

Frank seen in 1915 with his beloved Edith and six of his seven children, from left to right, standing Len, Maud, Dolly, Frank, Daisy (sat on his lap), Edith (his wife), Alf and Henry (my Grandfather). Missing from this image is his last son Leslie who was born in February 1918 just one month before his father was killed in action

This aspect of his time over there haunts me as there is no place I can go to stand at his grave. But I find solace when I go to places like Loos, Ploegsteert, Ypres and Guillemont, knowing he was there in 1915 and 1916. 

I follow in his footsteps.

I will remember him.


A Jolly Good Chap (Part 2)

The 7th Battalion Buffs (East Kent Regiment)

21st March 1918 

Vendeuil Map 1918

The 7th Buffs positions for 21st March 1918. ‘A’ Company was positioned to the south of Vendeuil facing the Sambre Canal.

By the beginning of March 1918 the 7th Buffs were positioned around a small French town called Vendeuil. This is situated due south of St Quentin. They were in an area known as the Battle or Forward Zone, meaning it was devoid of civilians. The positions they held were rudimentary to say the least and they were enduring great hardships at the end of a very severe winter.

They were put on a frontage of 5,500 yards and had their companies widely extended with platoons occupying parts of the old French line in the ruins of Vendeuil and their support companies spread out across the whole front. Just two platoons were left in reserve on what was known as the Vendeull-Ly Fontaine switch. There was also a garrison at Fort Vendeuil which was commanded by Captain Fine of the 7th Buffs who had commanded a mixture of infantry and engineers along with two machine guns.

At dawn on 21st March 1918, the Germans would unleash a huge barrage of artillery fire on British positions on the Western Front, primarily concentrating on areas around the Somme . This was the beginning of the “Kaiserschlacht” – the “Kaiser’s Battle ” which, it was hoped, would end the war before the arrival of the Americans in substantial numbers.

The main German offensive in the Somme was code-named “Operation Michael”, and initially had stunning success. Many of the areas chosen for the assault were lightly held, and the British defenders lacked the ability to hold this offensive. The British Third and Fifth Armies lost 38,000 casualties.

At ten minutes past five on the morning of the 21st March 1918, General Sir Hubert Gough, commanding the British 5th Army, was awakened by the roar of a Bombardment,

‘…so sustained and steady that it at once gave me the impression of some crushing, smashing power. I jumped out of bed and walked across the passage to the telephone in my office and called up the General Staff. On what part of our front was the bombardment falling? The answer came back immediately: All four corps report heavy bombardment along their front.’

For the 7th Buffs the 21st March 1918 would become a day of infamy. Their day started at 04:45hrs when the German bombardment began. Stand to was ordered and as daybreak began a thick blanket of fog and gas was seen all around their front line. Communication began to break down as the shells being fired cut field telephone lines and the Buffs became isolated into small groups.

‘The Boche bombardment began at 4.40 A.M., a bombardment that swelled into a deep roar along the whole front. The 18th Divisional area back to the Crozat Canal was drenched in gas, and as the German artillery programme developed, it became clear that for the first two hours their gunners were searching for our guns; next, their object was to bombard our infantry positions with gas and high explosives; afterwards hundreds of mortars assisted in a culminating crescendo of shelling that acted as escort to the advancing German infantry and continued to ravage our positions and road approaches. Our own outnumbered guns replied spiritedly, and at 5.12 A.M. our troops manned the Battle Stations.’

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

Within all this confusion the Germans began to infiltrate the positions and at 10:00hrs they could be seen in ‘A’ Company lines.

‘The first intimation of any hostile infantry on the sector held by the Buffs came from A Company (Captain Grant) reporting about 10 a.m. that thirty Germans were about Canal Post, near the quarry. After this headquarters lost communication with Captain Grant.’

This account from the Buffs history is important because Frank was in A Company. From what can be gathered from a witness he was in the Canal Post and had to retreat with the rest of this outpost.

Vendeuil South 1918

A trench map showing the area to the south of Vendeuil. ‘A’ Company were positioned around grid 25.

By 11:45hrs, ‘C’ Company was surrounded by the enemy and ‘A’ and ‘D’ Company were able to see Germans moving around in their rear lines. In fact their plight was becoming so un-tenable that all members of the HQ Company, which included cooks etc had to man defences and further reports from the regimental Chaplin and M.O. only confirmed that the Germans were slowly but surely infiltrating Vendeuil and isolating its defenders.


The Crozat Canal. On the left of this picture is roughly where the O.P., known as ‘Canal Post’ was positioned.

‘The line was so thinly held, it had to be so. The enemy had made surprise rushes through the mist. Corporal Waters, who with six men held the left forward post of the 7th Buffs, heard the opening bombardment, but it did not look as if the Boche attack was on his sector. The next thing he remembers was a large body of Germans on top of his position. Before the Germans could remove these seven Buffs to the rear they bolted in the fog and made their way back to their company, which they found retiring through Vendeuil.’

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

At 13:30hrs the Germans launched an attack on Vendeuil Fort, which was repelled by infantry and artillery fire, but the Buffs HQ was also attacked by a machine gun and the HQ staff had to fight off a number of determined attacks. The afternoon was one of sustained artillery attacks, directed by aircraft, and this only helped to assist the German infantry who slowly but surely managed to wear the defenders down.

‘Up to 3.30 P.M. the situation appeared unchanged, except for enemy attempts to capture positions holding out in the Forward Zone. A large body of Germans tried to storm Fort Vendeuil ; but Captain Harry Fine of the 7th Buffs and his garrison kept them out with rifle and machine-gun fire, and the 18-pounders of A/82 and B/82, fired over open sights, exerted such telling effect that the assault crumpled up. Further attempts were made on the 7th Buffs  headquarters at Dublin. These, too, were beaten off by Colonel Ransome’s confident and energetic garrison, which was made up of runners, signallers, cooks, water-cart men, and a few stragglers. Captain C. K: Black, the Adjutant, and Lieutenant G. J. Howcroft, the Intelligence Officer, showed any amount of resource in organising the defence of this quarry headquarters. One of the signallers, Private A. C. Coleman, had been out four hours, exposed to gas shelling and machine-guns, trying to restore communication with Fort Vendeuil. The Boche shelling had broken Coleman’s wires in over 40 places.’

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

A Coy

The main area for ‘A’ Company on 21st March 1918

So much so that by 18:00hrs Vendeuil Fort came under a prolonged and intense artillery attack and it was deemed to be lost, although the fort managed to hold out for another 24 hours. All 4 companies were now either deemed lost or were operating in disjointed groups and it became apparent to the Buffs that the whole area was now lost to the Germans.


The rough area where ‘Canal Post’ was positioned with potential evidence of an old trench running parallel to the canal

Colonel Ransome asked for Written orders; the officer had none, but he insisted that he had instructions to escort the Buffs head-quarters by the only clear route to Liez. Colonel Ransome Waited While his Adjutant, Captain Black, bicycled to Remigny to obtain information. Captain Black returned and said he had telephoned to Liez and the orders were correet all troops to be West of the Crozat Canal by dawn. Patrols were sent out again to try and reach Fort Vendeuil and the reserve company, but Without success. So having destroyed all papers that could not be removed, and leaving behind reluctantly a quantity of Whisky, port, and beer, the Buffs headquarters party set out for Liez about 1 A.M. ; eventually they reached Liez at 2 A.M.

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

So at 01:55hrs, after orders from brigade, what was left of the 7th Buffs was out of the zone and back at Liez. They could only muster 3 companies, but where heartened by the fact that they had been the only battalion to hold out on the 21st from the whole of 3 Corps and that this had greatly aided the rest of the defending troops around the Crozat Canal as they desperately fought to reorganise their defences.

Between the 21st to the 26th March 1918, the 7th Buffs lost 17 Officers and 603 Other Ranks killed, wounded and missing. However, many of the missing would be accounted for in the prisoner of war camps.

Frank Smith would be one of those men reported missing with the Buffs history noting, 

‘A Company was despaired of. The best that could be hoped was that the men were prisoners; but firing from their direction was heard up till midnight, and it was supposed they were then still refusing to surrender.’

We will learn of his fate in Part 3 of this blog.

A Jolly Good Chap (Part 1)

Private G/5203 Frank Smith

25th March 1917 – 26th February 1918

Group Shot

Frank Smith seen with an arrow pointing to him stood in the rear rank. This picture was taken in 1915 when he was serving in the 8th Buffs.

These next blogs have taken me since 1979 to write. They are based on a man who has been a big part of my life but was someone I never got to meet. He has been an enigma in my life and is someone that resonates through my family even today. 

So I also apologise that these blogs will look at the East Kent Regiment and not the Norfolk Regiment. I am currently writing my third book on the Norfolk Regiment on the Western Front so what happened to the battalions of the Norfolks around this time will be covered in that.

These blogs look at the last months of my Great Grandfather’s life before he found himself at Vendeuil on 21st March 1918.

After Frank was wounded on 18th August 1916 he was sent home to recover from his wounds. Evidentially we know that Frank did not go back to a front-line unit and that he had to recover from his wounds. However, based on his medal roll, we know that the War Office decided that he was fit enough to be sent to a Labour Corps unit, which has been confirmed as the 44th Company. He was given a Labour Corps number of 198065.

B & VM

One of Frank’s medal rolls which details his move to the 44th Labour Company in the Labour Corps.

The 44th Labour Company was originally formed as the 5th Infantry Labour Company Lincolnshire Regiment and most war diaries for the Labour Corps have not survived or were never written. We are lucky that this unit kept a record of their movements on the Western Front. The places mentioned in the war diary relate to either an area around Dunkirk, or positions to the east of Amiens on the Somme. He served with them until December 1917.

26.02.1918 Letter Frank Smith

The first part of Frank’s letter to Edie and his children which he wrote on 26th February 1918.

By January 1918 Frank was deemed fit enough to return to front-line duties and
went back to the 8th Buffs. However, by this time, the 8th Battalion were just a shell of their former selves having seen further action on the Somme and then at 3rd Ypres in 1917. Most of the original men who had joined up with Frank were either dead, wounded or prisoners of war. Those that were left saw their battalion disbanded and they were sent to the 7th Buffs. 

The history of the regiment in WW1 wrote the 8th Battalion’s epilogue 

‘This ended the only 8th Battalion the regiment ever had. Ever since the 26th September 1915, when it suffered so severely near Loos, and when it lost the gallant Romer, this unit had borne a brave share in the great struggle. Very few, if any, of the men raised by the gallant Colonel Romer in 1914 were passed on in February, 1918 (Major J. Vaughan, M.C. being one of the exceptions), but the regimental spirit was still a living thing, and it was a right and happy order that men should remain Buffs and no new badge should replace the ancient dragon.’

26.02.1918 Letter Frank Smith 2

Page 2 of Frank’s letter written on 26th February 1918


Frank could rightly call himself one of the original men raised by the gallant Colonel Romer. However, as noted in the disbandment these men went to other battalions in the regiment and we know that by 26th February 1918 that Frank was in No 3 Platoon, ‘A’ Company the 7th Buffs.

This is because he wrote a letter, probably one of the last ones he wrote, to Edith. In this letter he mentions his ‘unknown son’ this refers to Leslie Smith who had been born on 6th February 1918 and whom Frank never got to meet.

1918 Photo Edith Smith with Leslie0

Edie with Leslie who was born in February 1918

Frank’s letter is hopeful that he will get leave soon and that good news will be coming before he gets leave. Sadly this hope would be shattered by the Germans in March 1918.





















Memorial Tablets

WW1 Memorials at Thorpe Market Church


Thorpe Market Church which was built in 1796 on the site of an earlier medieval church by the first Lord Suffield. Inside and out there is a lot of history that remembers WW1.

Recently I visited Thorpe Market Church with my wife Claire to see the snowdrops that had sprung up in the grounds. This was in conjunction with a small open day where there were a few stalls dotted in and outside the church.

I have visited the church grounds previously for my first book. The reason for that being that I knew that there was a WW1 casualty buried within. This man sadly died of pneumonia in the military hospital at Ipswich on 11th November 1918. I often wondered if the bells to celebrate Armistice were being rung as he died, which must have been such terrible thing to know when your loved passed away on the day we stopped fighting each other.

But I never ventured into the church and did not know that there were three war memorials to men who fell in the Great War within. The first is the memorial tablet that records the loss of eleven men from the parish. There are three brothers commemorated on that, they are Peter, Walter and Frederick Cook all sons of Sarah Ann Cook of Thorpe Market.


Lance Corporal 18462 Walter Cook who died of wounds on 3rd October 1917 serving with the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. The 9th Battalion were situated around Maroc at that time and Walter was wounded when three shells fell on men from ‘C’ Company as they were forming up for a working party. He is buried in Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery. All of the eleven men on this memorial served with the Norfolks bar one, Frederick Cook, the brother of Walter and Peter. 

Private 16281 Robert Allen was killed in action on 22nd October 1917 when the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment assaulted and captured what was left of Poelcappelle. He is incorrectly listed as serving in the 9th Battalion on the CWGC database.

Private 13820 Sidney Attew was killed in action on 7th May 1917 serving with the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment whilst they were serving in reserve trenches around Neuville Vitasse. He was aged 26 and was the son of Mrs Elizabeth Ann Attew of Thorpe Market. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Private 18738 Frederick Cook is reported to have died on 15th October 1916, aged 23, when he was serving with the 1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Between 9th to 14th October 1916 this battalion saw action in trenches to the east of Les Bouefs where they captured and consolidated Cantelope Trench.

Private 13552 Robert Hurn was killed in action on 1st July 1916 when the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment took part in the 18th (Eastern) Division’s assault on Montauban. He was 21 and the son of Mr and Mrs John William Hurn of Thorpe Market. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Serjeant 5656 Herbert Keeler was killed in action on 9th October 1917 during the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment’s assault on Polderhoek Chateau. He was aged 36 and a veteran of the South African Camapign. He was the husband of Mrs. J. Reynolds  (formerly Keeler) of Alby Common at Hanworth.

Private 18687 Robert Nicholls died in Norwich Hospital on 8th May 1915 aged 35. At this point in time he was serving with the 3rd battalion Norfolk Regiment and is now buried in Norwich Cemetery. He was the son of the late Josiah and Ann Nichols of Thorpe Market and the husband of Frances Marion Nichols of The Tower at Gunton Park.

Private 13713 William Turner was killed in action during the assault on the Quadrilateral on 15th September 1916. Aged 26 he was the son of George and Martha M. Turner of Thorpe Market and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.


Private 18522 Peter Cook died of wounds on 17th January 1916. Although he is listed as Norfolk Regiment he was attached to the 6th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers who had served around Lake Doiran and Strumica briefly in early December 1915. He is buried in Plovdiv Central Cemetery in Bulgaria and at this time it would mean he died as a prisoner of war.

There is also another memorial tablet which records the loss of five of the eleven men commemorated on the main war memorial as well as listing Cecil Burdett. Looking at the dates the men are recorded as having died between May 1915 and July 1916.

Private 23421 Cecil Burdett died of wounds at No.21 Casualty Clearing Station at La Neuville British Cemetery near Corbie on 23rd July 1916 aged 21. He had served in the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, where he was wounded at Delville Wood on 19th July 1916, and was the son of Mary Anna Bates of Colby. 

Timothy Gibbons KIA 19 Jul 16

Serjeant 13360 Timothy Gibbons who was killed in action on 19th July 1916 when the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment fought at Delville Wood. He was 32 and had been awarded the MM earlier in the war. He was the son of Mrs Elizabeth Gibbons of Hoveton St. Peter. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

The final memorial is a private one remembering the loss of Edward Archibald Beauchamp who was the son of Sir Edward and Lady Betty Beauchamp. Edward was the earliest casualty when he was mortally wounded in December 1914.


The private memorial to Edward Beauchamp

Although the memorial lists what happened to Edward there is an excellent obituary in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour which I have posted below.

Beauchamp Obit

E A Beauchamp

Second Lieutenant Edward Archibald Beauchamp who is now buried in Lillers Communal Cemetery. Image IWM.

There is also a 1920 burial for a man in the church grounds 

Private 6077546 Reginald Allen died on 24th December 1920. He enlisted with the The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) on 29th April 1919 and joined the 1st Battalion aged 17. He is listed as having died in Londonderry. He was the son of George and Harriet Sexton and husband of Violet Marion Sexton from Gunton.

I mentioned the man who died of pneumonia in the military hospital at Ipswich on 11th November 1918. This is Thomas Panks Mayes who is buried in the north west part of the church grounds.


Corporal 3/10053 Thomas Mayes who served in the 3rd Battalion Norfolk Regiment but had been transferred to the 331st Company Labour Corps when he died of pneumonia on 11th November 1918 aged 49. Thomas had been admitted to the Military Hospital at Ranelagh Road in Ipswich on 12th October 1918. He was the son of Charles and Mary Mayes and the husband of Annie Mayes of Thorpe Market.

To me these memorial tablets are quite rare in that at least two of them seem to be ones erected prior to the end of the war. They make me think of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Memorial Tablet. 

SQUIRE nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’ … that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west…
What greater glory could a man desire?

Whether you agree or disagree with Sassoon’s sentiments with his poem I often wonder did Sarah Ann Cook look up at these tablets at sermon time and what she thought of them?











































































































The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

30th November 1917

Lieut W G Collins KIA 30 Nov 17

Lieutenant William Geoffrey Collins who was posted missing on 30th November 1917. In fact he had been wounded and captured in the German advance. Sadly he died of these wounds as a prisoner of war and is now buried in Grave I. C. 3. in Hamburg Cemetery. William had been with the 7th Battalion since 7th July 1917 and had come from the ranks and had been commissioned on 15th December 1915, having previously served in the 1/1st City of London Yeomanry. He was 35 and the son of Mr. W. H. and Mrs. H. L. Collins of 13 Coopers Lane, Grove Park in London and the husband of Violet C. Collins of Hither Green in Catford. (Image IWM)

As the British took Bourlon and Bourlon Wood on 23rd November 1917, the Germans began reinforcing the area. As early as the 23rd, the German command felt that a British breakthrough would not occur and began to consider a counter-offensive. Twenty divisions were arrayed in the Cambrai area. The Germans intended to retake the Bourlon salient and also to attack around Havrincourt while diversionary attacks would hold IV
Corps; it was hoped to at least reach the old positions on the Hindenburg Line. The Germans intended to employ the new tactics of a short, intense period of shelling followed by a rapid assault, leading elements attacking in groups rather than waves and bypassing strong opposition. For the initial assault at Bourlon three divisions of Gruppe Arras under Otto von Moser were assigned.

On the eastern flank of the British salient, Gruppe Caudry attacked from Bantouzelle to Rumilly and aimed for Marcoing. Gruppe Busogny advanced from Banteux. These two corps groups had seven infantry divisions. Lieutenant General Thomas D’Oyly Snow, commander of the British VII Corps to the south of the threatened area, warned III Corps of German preparations.

The German attack began at 07:00 on 30th November; almost immediately, the majority of III Corps divisions were heavily engaged. The German infantry’s advance was unexpectedly swift. The commanders of 29th and 12th divisions were almost captured, with Brigadier-General Vincent having to fight his way out of his headquarters and then grab men from retreating units to try to halt the Germans. In the south, the German advance spread across 8 miles and came within a few miles of the vital village of Metz and its link to Bourlon.

At Bourlon, the men under Moser met with stiffer resistance. The British had assigned eight divisions’ worth of fire support to the ridge and the Germans suffered heavy casualties. Despite this, the Germans closed and there was fierce fighting. British units displayed reckless determination; one group of eight British machine guns fired over 70,000 rounds in their efforts to stem the German advance.

Bleak Trench

Bleak Trench where the Battalion HQ was situated for 30th November 1917

The 7th Battalion had been in reserve for the opening of Cambrai on 20th November and only ‘C’ Company had been involved in the 12th (Eastern) Division that day. They had then spent a relative period of quiet after the battle and went back into the line on 29th November facing Banteux situated on the western side of the Canal St Quentin. At 6.30 a.m. the Germans began to bombard Villers-Guislain hitting the entire divisional front and the divisions either side.

The ferocity of the German counter attack can be seen in Ernst Jünger’s book Storm of Steel in the chapter entitled ‘The Double Battle of Cambrai’. Junger was initially positioned in the grounds of Baralle Castle. (It must be noted that Jünger did not face the Norfolk Regiment who were further south to this position).

‘At nine o’clock in the morning our artillery began a powerful pounding, which from quarter to twelve to ten to twelve achieved the intensity of drumfire. The woods of Bourlon, which were not even under direct attack as they were too heavily defended, simply vanished in a chartreuse fog of gas. At ten to twelve we observed through our binoculars lines of riflemen emerging on to the empty crater landscape, while the rear batteries were harnessed up and rushed forward to new positions.’

Jogn Seaman died 2 Dec 17

Private 12335 John Stone Seaman was born at Little Walsingham in 1866 and was educated at Little Walsingham National School. He enlisted on 26th August 1914 and went to France with the battalion on 30th May 1915. He was killed in action on 2nd December 1917 and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial. He was the son of Alice and Albert Seaman

The war diary for this period was destroyed in the fighting so what is written in it was retrospective of the fighting on 30th November 1917. The entry is brief and states,

‘About 7 a.m. a very heavy Hun Barrage commenced and at 7.40 a.m. he attacked in mass in enormous numbers from Gonnelieu which he had just previously taken about 7.35 a.m. and also from Banteaux. The Bosche attacked the battalion from the right flank and the front. Our Lewis guns did splendid work, mowing down the enemy in large numbers, but by weight of numbers, he forced the Battalion to fall back on to Battalion Headquarters in Bleak Trench and a strong point on our  left front. The Hun succeeded in surrounding many of our men, who were thereby forced to surrender. We made a splendid  fight and accounted for enormous numbers of the enemy. About 10 a.m. 2nd Lieut G MADDISON was only officer left, and he, with the remaining men of the battalion, attached himself to the 9th Fusiliers Regt.’

Sendall KIA 30 Nov 17

Private Sendall was born in Skeyton on 25th September 1895, and was educated at Skeyton School. He enlisted on 14th June 1915, and was killed in action near Cambrai on 30th November 1917.

At that point in time it was not certain who had been killed or who had been captured. This included the C.O. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lex Francis Gielgud who was reported missing.

Ernst Jünger again,

‘The British resisted manfully. Every traverse had to be fought for. The black balls of Mills bombs crossed in the air with our own long handled grenades. Behind every traverse we captured we found corpses or bodies still twitching. We killed each other, sight unseen. We too suffered losses. A piece of iron crashed to the ground next to the orderly, which the fellow was unable to avoid; and he collasped to the ground, while his blood issued on to the clay from many wounds.’

Further German attacks forced the battalion back to the south of the Cambrai road where they ended up around Fusilier Reserve and Fusilier Trench at La Vacquerie. On 3rd December 1917 a much depleted battalion marched to Heudicourt.

La Vacquerie

The area around La Vacquerie where the remains of the battalion retreated to

Sadly Lt Col Gielgud had been killed in action along with a total of 18 officers and 333 other ranks killed wounded or missing. 

Pretty much all that had been taken in the previous offensive was now back in the hands of the Germans and it was only through counter-attacks by the Guards Division, the arrival of British tanks, and the fall of night allowed the line to be held.

Fusilier Trench

Fusilier Trench and Reserve where the battalion ended up

By the following day, the impetus of the German advance was lost but pressure on 3rd December led to the German capture of La Vacquerie and a British withdrawal east of the St Quentin canal. The Germans had reached a line looping from the ridge at Quentin to near Marcoing.

Villers Plouich Area 2017

The area on a French IGN map

On 3rd December, Haig ordered a retreat from the salient and by 7th December the British gains were abandoned except for a portion of the Hindenburg line around Havrincourt, Ribécourt and Flesquières. The Germans had exchanged this territorial loss for land to the south of Welsh ridge.

Bunn KIA 30 Nov 17

Private 17097 Edward Bunn was born in Norwich on 11th October 1891 and was educated at St. Peter Mancroft School. He enlisted on 5th December 1914 and went to France on 23rd June 1915. He was reported missing, believed killed in action, at Cambrai on 30th November 1917. He was 26 when he died and was the son of Mrs. Rosetta Bunn of 7, Distillery Terrace on the Dereham Road in Norwich. Edward’s body was found and he’s now buried in Grave VII. A. 12. in Villers Hill British Cemetery.

Casualties were around 45,000 for each side, with 11,000 Germans and 9,000 British taken prisoner. In terms of territory, the Germans recovered most of their early losses and gained a little elsewhere, albeit with a net loss of ground. The battle showed the British that even the strongest trench defences could be overcome by a surprise artillery-infantry attack using the newly available methods and equipment, with a mass tank attack as a bonus; it also showed the Germans the effectiveness of their similar new tactics so recently used against the Russians. 

Ernst Jünger’s company also lost heavily.

‘In this murderous sector of trench, all my NCOs and a third of my company were bleeding to death. Shots in the head rained down. Lieutenant Hopf was another one of the fallen, an older man, a teacher by profession, a German schoolmaster in the best sense of the word. My two ensigns and many others besides were wounded.’

These lessons were later successfully implemented by both sides. The German revival after the shock of the British attack improved morale but the potential for more attacks like this meant that the Germans had to divert resources to anti-tank defences and weapons, a diversion of resources the Germans could ill afford.


Private 40234 Daniel Lowder aged 26 who was killed in action at Cambrai. He was the son of Daniel Elijah and Sophia Lowder, of Gresham in Norfolk. Daniel is buried a long way from where he fell and is now laid to rest in Enclosure No.4 Grave X. E. 11. in Bedford House Cemetery near Ypres. 

In total 94 men from the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment were killed in action or died of wounds between 30th November and 3rd December 1917. Most have no known graves and are commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval.






The Battle of Cambrai (Part 1)

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment 

20th November 1917


The area around Cambrai where the battle was fought

General Hon. Sir Julian Byng, commanding Third Army, went to see Haig around three months before the attack, asking to be allowed to make a surprise assault on the formidable defences at Cambrai.

It required a methodical “bite and hold” advance in four stages using six Divisions. ‘Bite and hold’ called for an advance that would not extend beyond supporting artillery that could assist in defeating the expected enemy counterattacks.

Brigadier General Hugh Elles, commanding the Tank Corps in France, and his chief staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Fuller, made a convincing case that with growing strength in France, the Corps could be used collectively to punch a hole into the enemy defences. Cambrai, being on relatively undamaged rolling chalk land, would be ideal which effectively made it tank fighting country.

Byng’s Army had also developed a scheme for a surprise attack using unregistered artillery. The Tank Corps much approved of the idea, for it would avoid the devastation of ground that had caused so much difficulty for the machines at Ypres.

Cambrai had been in German hands since 1914 and had become an important railhead and hgarrison town. With its railways connecting Douai, Valenciennes and Saint-Quentin and the Saint-Quentin canal, from which the front could be supplied along the River Scheldt men and material could be moved along the western front.

If captured it would deny the enemy a key part of his communication system. But it lay behind a formidable defensive position.

Haig approved the plan on 13 October 1917.

In Third Army orders – codenamed Operation GY –  issued on 13 November 1917, the attack was defined as a coup de main, “to take advantage of the existing favourable local situation” where “surprise and rapidity of action are  … of the utmost importance”. It was also to be a deep attack on a 10,000 yard (5.6 mile) front that would be “widened as soon as possible”.

Once the key German Masnieres-Beaurevoir line had been breached by III Corps, the cavalry would pass through, reach around to isolate Cambrai from the rear and cut the railways leading from it. Haig would later say that the purpose of the attack was to compel the enemy to withdraw from the salient between the Canal du Nord and the Scarpe, although the objectives must be achieved within 48 hours before strong enemy reserves could come into play. So the high speed and short tactical operation had somehow become one of seizing and holding ground, and while not quite a plan for strategic breakthrough – there were never enough reserves to exploit a breakthrough – the orders had faint resemblance to the original concepts.


Private 27436 George Ptolomey, born in 1891 and pictured with his wife Eva, both of whom married in 1916, George 25 and was serving with 9th Battalion, when he was killed in action on 20 November 1917. He was the son of Charles and Catherine Ptolomey. Previously to joining the Norfolk Regiment George had served in the East Yorkshire Regiment and had been medically discharged on 29th December 1914. He is buried in Grave I. B. 4. in Ribecourt British Cemetery

More than 1000 guns and howitzers were concealed on the fronts of III and IV Corps and the opening bombardment and a total of 476 tanks, including the new Mark IV version tanks, were moved up to the front on 18 and 19 November with aircraft flying up and down the area mask their sound as they moved up. Their objective would be to crush wire defences and suppress fire from trenches and strong points.

Fascines would be dropped as makeshift bridges enabling the crossing of a wide trench removed one of the known shortcomings of the current tank design. Much attention had been paid to training, particularly for co-operation between infantry and tank, with the units designated to make the initial assault being withdrawn to Wailly for this purpose. An innovation was that the infantry would follow the tanks through the gaps they made, moving in “worms” rather than the familiar lines: their training seems to have done much to improve infantry confidence in the tanks, hitherto seen as a mixed blessing. The tanks were a notable operational success. Shrouded by mist and smoke, they broke into the Hindenburg Line defences with comparative ease in many places.

Most importantly the Germans failed to identify the imminence and nature of the British attack

Six Divisions were used in the attack and from right to left they were the 12th (Eastern), 20th (Light), 6th, 51st (Highland), 62nd (West Riding) and 36th (Ulster). In immediate support was the 29th, and ready to exploit the anticipated breakthrough and sweep round Cambrai were the 1st, 2nd and 5th Cavalry Divisions. The Tank Corps deployed its entire strength of 476 machines and were led by the Tank Corps GOC, Hugh Elles, in a Mk IV tank called ‘Hilda’.

1 Leics Cambrai

A Mark IV (Male) tank of ‘H’ Battalion ditched in a German trench while supporting the 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, one mile west of Ribecourt. Some men of the battalion are resting in the trench, 20 November 1917. (Image IWM)

The attack opened at 6.20am on the 20th November 1917 with an intensive predicted-fire barrage on the Hindenburg Line and key points to the rear, which caught the Germans by surprise. Initially, this was followed by the curtain of a creeping barrage behind which the tanks and infantry followed.

There was an issue with the cavalry and progress was slow when the bridge at Masnieres collapsed under weight of a tank. 

‘The 6th Division attacked on the front Villers Plouich-Beaucamps, with the 71st Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. P. W. Brown) on the left next to the 51st Division, the 16th Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. H. A. Walker) on the right next to the 20th Division. These two brigades were to advance about 3,000 yards to the first objective (Ribecourt and spur to south-east of it), and another 1,000 yards to the second objective (support system). The 18th Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. G. S. G. Craufurd) was ordered to advance through the 71st Infantry Brigade and secure the third objective about a mile farther on (Prerny Chapel Ridge), throwing back a defensive flank towards Flesquieres for the further operations of the 51st Division on its left and securing the flank of the 29th Division on its right. The latter division passing through the right of the 6th Division and the left of the 20th Division, was charged with securing the crossings of the St. Quentin Canal at Marcoing and Masnieres and seizing the high ground at Rumilly, thus facilitating exploitation to the south-east, preventing a concentration against the widely stretched defensive flanks of the III Corps and threatening Cambrai.’

From the Short History of the 6th Division

The 5th Cavalry Division advanced through them but were repulsed in front of Noyelles.

The 51st (Highland) Division had a very hard fight for Flesquieres, but its failure to capture it and keep up with the pace of the advance on either side left a dangerous salient which exposed the flanks of the neighbouring Divisions.


A map from the Norfolk Regiment history listing the positions assaulted by the 9th Battalion at Cambrai

The 9th Battalion left Longuereuil on 15th November and reached Peronne 12 hours later. They then moved to Manancourt and then to Dessart Wood. On the 17th they took over the line to the south of Ribecourt although 30 men of the Rifle Brigade remained in the forward trenches to mask the fact that they had been relieved by a fresh battalion. 

‘Two battalions of tanks, each of thirty-six tanks, were allotted to the Division. ” B ” Battalion (Lt.-Col. E. D. Bryce, D.S.O.) operated with the 16th Infantry Brigade, and “H” Battalion (Lt.-Col. Hon. C. Willoughby) with the 71st Infantry Brigade. The 18th Infantry Brigade advanced without tanks. The only points which caused anxiety, provided that the tanks functioned satisfactorily, were Couillet Wood on the right of the 16th Infantry Brigade front, in which tanks could not operate, and Ribecourt Village on the left of the 71st Infantry Brigade front. The former was successfully cleared by the Buffs, and the latter gallantly captured by the 9th Norfolk Regiment; the 11th Essex clearing and securing it for the advance of the 18th Infantry Brigade, while the 71st Infantry Brigade attacked the second objective.’

From the Short History of the 6th Division

The 71st Brigade was ordered to capture Ribécourt village and the 9th Norfolks would move off after the first wave of tanks and would leap-frog over the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. The battalion advanced with ‘D’ Company on the right, ‘B’ Company in the centre and ‘D’ Company on the left, ‘C’ Company would follow in support. The advance was quick with infantry moving quicker than the slow lumbering tanks and the C.O. at that time, Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Henry Leather Prior, recorded the action of the battalion in an account.

‘…the leading tanks, followed by the Leicesters, crossing our trenches and starting across No Man’s Land – a wonderful spectacle in the half light of the early morning. Ponderous, grunting, groaning, wobbling, these engines of war crawled and lurched their way toward the enemy lines, followed by groups of men in file. Overhead our shells were pouring over. The barrage lifted from the enemy’s outpost trench, where we knew that Unseen Trench was getting it hot; but the slowness of those tanks! It is at these moments that one itches for quickness and rapidity, and the slow, deliberate action of these monsters was exasperating. Neither tanks nor Leicesters were clear of our lines when we reached ‘A’ Company.’

43112_1623_0-00274 (1)

A trench map from the battalion’s war diary showing the area where they assaulted

The C.O. followed his Battalion and very quickly found himself with ‘C’ Company who had outstripped both the tanks and the other three companies of the 9th Norfolks.

‘Ribécourt was immediately in front of us. I could see parties of the enemy running through the streets. Our artillery was putting down a smoke barrage on the farther side of the village, and several houses were on fire and blazing merrily. I had to decide whether to hang on in our present position and wait for the arrival of the tanks and the three other companies, or push ‘C’ Company in. The enemy already showed signs of recovering from the initial surprise. We were now being shelled pretty persistently and accurately, as well as machine-gunned. I determined to take immediate action, and directed Failes to push forward at once, take the part of the village lying on this side of the ravine, and hold the bridge crossing it. ‘C’ Company swept on and effected this in brilliant fashion, securing a large bag of prisoners.’

Ribecourt 11 Leicesters

Men of the 11th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment (6th Division) with Vickers machine guns in a captured second line trench at Ribecourt, 20 November 1917. (Image IWM)

The account sounds as though the advance was easy. However, in parts, it was not and A and B Companies met with strong opposition and became involved in hand to hand fighting. They came up against two machine guns which had to be knocked out at close quarters by a party led by Lieutenant John Hancock and C.S.M. Bertie Neale. Another machine gun was silenced by Lewis Gunners and it’s estimated that the Germans lost eighty killed or wounded and another six hundred wounded. 

By 9.00 a.m. the battalion had captured Ribécourt and were passed by the 11th Battalion Essex Regiment who went on to capture Kaiser Trench. The Norfolks then spent the rest of the day consolidating their gains.


Armes KIA 20 Nov 17

Private 40286 Thomas William Armes was born at Weasenham on 13th September 1892 and educated at Billingford school. He enlisted on 8th November 1915. He died from wounds on 21st November 1917 and is now buried in Grave I. F. 29. in Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery. He was 25 and the son of Thomas and Annie Armes.

‘The Division had a most successful day, with very light casualties (about 650), capturing 28 officers and 1,227 other ranks prisoners, 23 guns, and between 40 and 50 machine-guns and many trench-mortars, and receiving the congratulations of the Corps Commander.’

From the Short History of the 6th Division 

IGN Ribecourt

The area assaulted by the 9th Norfolks on a French IGN map

Lt Col Prior noted in his account that,

‘It would be impossible to set out all the extraordinary incidents of that glorious day’ how Hancock and his sergeant major rushed an enemy machine gun position and settled a bet as to who would kill most Boches. This was won by Hancock, but Sergeant-Major Neale always contends that he was unduly handicapped by having to use his bayonet, whilst Hancock had a revolver. How a runner of ‘D’ Company, without assistance, took over seventy prisoners, including a staff officer. How Worn, wounded in the first hundred yards of the advance, carried on with his platoon until he reached his final objective, the railway station, and consolidated his position. How Thompson of ‘B’ Company, who in the darkness of the night prior to the attack had fallen down and very badly sprained his ankle, deliberately refused to go sick, and, with the aid of his servant, limped over in front of his platoon, and carried on until the objective was reached. How one man of ‘A’ Company having very daringly and very foolishly penetrated an enemy dugout, leaving his rifle outside, knocked down the Bosche who thrust his pistol at his head, seized the pistol and harried his opponent by the vigorous application of the butt end.’

Lieut George DYE 21 Nov 17

Lieutenant George Harry Gordon Dye was educated at Bracondale School and Christ’s Hospital and was a private schoolmaster and had enlisted in August 1914. He was 26 and the son of George Arthur and Ellen Ann Dye of Victoria Road in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. George died of wounds on 21 November 1917 and is now buried in Grave III. B. 23. Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery.

The advance pushed four miles deep into a strong system of defence in little over four hours at a cost of just over 4000 casualties but 3rd Army failed to capture all of its objectives, with the cavalry being unable to push through a gap at Marcoing-Masnieres and on to encircle Cambrai itself and Bourlon Ridge did not fall that day. The Tank Corps lost 179 tanks destroyed, disabled or broken down. Cambrai would not remain a stunning victory for long.

Lt Col Prior finished his account by noting,

‘Some of these things are written down in the records of gallantry which have earned awards; many more and equally gallant actions never will be recorded, and some are recorded only in memory of those, and, alas! their number has sadly reduced who took part in that glorious first day of the fist battle of Cambrai.’

The 9th Norfolks lost 7 officers and 87 other ranks killed or wounded at Cambrai. 

Frank Edward Sabberton KIA 22 Nov 17

Private 43499 Frank Edward Sabberton who was born in Norwich on 23rd July 1889. He attended Angel Road School and enlisted 9th August 1914. Frank was aged 28 when he died and had served in “C” Company in the 9th Battalion. He was the son of Frank William and Emily Sabberton of St. Andrew Street in Norwich. He is now buried in Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery


The two men I have mentioned as having assaulted the machine posts and the ones Lt Col Prior mentions having the bet were Lieutenant John Eliot Hancock and C.S.M. 7178 Bertie Mark Neale. Both won awards for this action Lt Hancock won a D.S.O. and C.S.M. Neale won a D.C.M. Both were listed in the London Gazette in 1918. 

London Gazette 4th February 1918
HANCOCK, JOHN ELIOT, Temporary Lieut., Norfolk Regt.
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Owing to his company commander being seriously wounded, he took command of the left company in an attack. ‘When they came under heavy machine-gun fire he organised a frontal attack while he, with two N.C.O.’s, rushed across the open from a flank, killed or wounded all the gun team and put the guns out of action. He himself killed six men. In the subsequent fighting he showed great initiative in clearing the houses in a village and directing the advance.’
London Gazette 4th March 1918
7178 C.S.M. B. M. Neale, Norf. R. (Swanton Novers).
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in volunteering with an officer and N.C.O. to put out of action some machine-guns that were holding up the advance of his company. Under heavy fire from the two guns he succeeded in doing this, and in the hand-to-hand fighting that ensued killed four of the enemy.’