One for the folks at home
Two Norfolk Regiment Territorial Battalion pals, dressed in their hospital blues and pith helmets, call in at an Egyptian photography studio in the Cairo suburb of Helouan, 1917.
5th Battalion’s Reserve Battalion
One of the early parades of the men of the 5th Battalion’s Reserve Battalion, East Dereham Market Place, 1914. Note that uniforms had become scarce at that time and men would have to parade in their own clothes and boots for several weeks until they got their complete uniform.
Soldiers from F Company, 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment (T.F.)
Soldiers from F Company, 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment (T.F.) on Sheringham station, ready to leave for summer camp, July 1910. In the event of war the Territorial Force would be mobilized to take the place of the Regular Army battalions that would have left our shores as a BEF and stand ready to defend Great Britain. The Territorial Force was not intended to fight in military campaigns abroad.
Medics and Gunners
By 1917, the 54th (East Anglian) Division did not just contain men from county regiments of line infantry, there were Corps troops too. This included the 2nd East Anglian Field Ambulance who had their headquarters on Bethel Street, Norwich and all three batteries of 1st East Anglian Brigade Royal Field Artillery who had their headquarters at Ivory House on All Saints Green.
Among the members of the 2nd East Anglian Field Ambulance was Private Frederick Freestone who grew up on Marlborough Road in Norwich. He had been employed at Boulton & Paul’s constructing industrial glasshouses and as a plumber on the railway but decided to join up with some of his pals in 1915 when he was 21. Frederick freely volunteered for overseas service and served through both the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns. He stayed on in the military for a while after the war but left to get married in 1924 and settled in Lakenham where he lived until his death in 1963, aged 69.
Gunner Alfred Alexander Anderson RFA (1892-1983)
Alfred Alexander Anderson enlisted into the 1st East Anglian Royal Field Artillery on All Saints Green on 30 November 1914, aged 22. He trained and became a proficient gunner and driver. He married in May 1915, perhaps thinking his deployment abroad was imminent. However, when 54th Division sailed for Gallipoli in July 1915 the artillery remained at home and were later sent to France in November 1915. In January 1916, as the new front opened, the East Anglian gunners were sent to Egypt as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) to man the defences of the Suez Canal. Alfred served through the desert campaign and ran supplies up and down the lines by camel transport during the Second Battle of Gaza. He did not return to England again until 1919.
Alfred kept a diary during his military service which was only discovered by his family after his death in 1983 aged 91. In his lifetime, like so many other ex-servicemen, he never really spoke about the war to his family.
Ernest enlisted into the Reserve Norfolk Battery, CCLXX, 1st East Anglian Brigade, Royal Field Artillery on 3 October 1914. This was part of the 54th East Anglian Division, a Territorial Force. Ernest spent August 1914 – May 1915 on coastal defence duties. In May 1915, while most of the Division refitted and deployed to Gallipoli, Ernest and the rest of the artillery stayed in the UK to rearm. He remained at Brandon and Thetford before sailing for France on 17 November 1915. He was concentrated near Blaringhem four days later.
In January 1916, Ernest was sent with the rest of the Royal Field Artillery to join the campaign in Egypt and Palestine. The Royal Field Artillery concentrated at Mena Camp, Egypt from 8-15 February 1916 where they once again came under the command of the 54th East Anglian Division.
Ernest was engaged in defences along the Suez Canal and in the campaigns in Palestine. His role was to ride a horse and raise a flag when a target had been sighted allowing the guns to then ‘lay on’ to the flag and engage the target. Ernest survived the war and was discharged on 31 March 1920.
Case Study Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Woods Purdy T.D. (1873-1960)
Thomas Woods Purdy of Woodgate, Alysham had served a number of years in 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment when war broke out in 1914. On the morning of mobilization he mustered his men in Aylsham Market Place and marching at their head, led them to the station. He left behind his wife of 6 years Nona and their 3 small children.
As a Major, Tom Purdy fought and was seriously wounded in the campaign in Gallipoli, Turkey on 12 August 1915 and was sent home to recover. After recuperating he was stationed at a training camp in Tring, Hertfordshire where Nona joined him. In July 1916, Tom Purdy received the Territorial Decoration and returned to the front in Palestine, in October 1916 where he helped to man posts along the Suez Canal.
In February 1917 a new campaign emerged in Palestine and Major Purdy marched across the Sinai Desert with his Brigade to join the advance. On 19th April 1917 many men of the Norfolk Regiment fought in the Second Battle of Gaza, where the regiment’s war diary records 600 men were killed or missing and a further 700 were wounded. Lieut-Col. Purdy was not involved in action in the battle as he had been taken into Ras El Tin hospital in Alexandria with kidney inflammation. Many of his comrades lost their lives in the Second Battle of Gaza and Lieut-Col Purdy records the accounts of those who survived in his war diary.
Lieut-Col. Tom Purdy continued to serve in Egypt and Palestine throughout 1917 and 1918 where he was based at a prisoner of war camp for Turks and Germans in Alexandria. He returned home in 1919 with the retirement rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
During his active service Lieut-Col. Purdy carried a field camera from which he took many photographs of serving Norfolk soldiers and the landscape in the Middle East. He also kept a war diary which seamlessly mixes his account of battle, with his great concern for his men and his passionate interest in wildlife, particularly birds.
Lieut-Col. Purdy was a brave and well respected Norfolk Regiment Officer. In civilian life he was a solicitor in his home town of Aylsham. He never forgot his men and did much for returned soldiers and families of the fallen in the years after the end of the First World War.
Private Francis Robert Mayes (1897-1969)
Pte. Francis Robert Mayes was born in Cromer in 1897. As he was a little under military age, he enlisted to serve as a drummer boy in 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment.
He saw his first action in Gallipoli in August 1915. In April 1917, a few days after his 20th birthday, Francis was back in action at the Second Battle of Gaza. He had a premonition about being shot and did not eat before they went into action. Francis believed this saved his life as he was hit by a bullet that passed through his stomach and lodged in his backbone. He was evacuated home and treated at Stanford Road Hospital, Brighton but the operation to remove the bullet was considered too dangerous. Once recovered Francis was transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps and served the remainder of the war in Egypt. The bullet from Gaza remained in his back until he died in 1969.
Private Thomas William Kemp (1894-1970)
Pte. Thomas William Kemp was born at Little Walsingham in 1894 and grew up in Wells-next-the-Sea where he worked as a gas stoker. He joined C Company, 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment just after he turned 18 in 1913. Thomas served with the battalion in Gallipoli but it was at the Second Battle of Gaza where he suffered gunshot wounds to both arms from the hail of fire that hit his battalion as they advanced. Removed to hospital, Thomas did recover but he was left with a 30 per cent degree of disablement. He was no longer fit for front line service but carried on in a variety of units until he was finally discharged in 1919 and granted a disability pension of 8s 3d. After the war Thomas only returned home to Wells-next-the-Sea for a short while. He left to join the London Fire Brigade and served as a fireman through the blitz on London during the Second World War.
John Eric Bruff
John Eric Bruff (known to the family as Jack) served in the 1/4th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in the campaigns in Gaza and Palestine. He was one of five sons of Mr and Mrs Bruff of 14 Dover Street who all survived the war.
After the war John returned to Egypt and became driver to Howard Carter in 1922. During the Second World War he worked as a civilian alongside the American forces where he looked after their electrics.
The Fallen of Gaza
Captain Evelyn Beck MC (1885-1917)
Arthur Evelyn Beck (known as Evelyn) joined 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment with his brother Alec in 1914 ‘to keep an eye on’ their Uncle, Captain Frank Beck, the King’s Estate Agent and Company Commander of the Sandringham Company. Evelyn Beck’s quick thinking and bravery during the fateful action of the attack on Anafarta Ova, Gallipoli, 12 August 1915 was recognised with the award of the Military Cross. Beck drew together the remaining members of the battalion to hold a line and make a fighting retreat, undoubtedly saving many lives in the process.
Like a number of other survivors of the Gallipoli campaign, Evelyn Beck was killed in action leading his troops at the Second Battle of Gaza, 19 April 1917, aged 31. A popular and respected officer of the 5th Battalion, he left his wife Jennie a widow and their young son Arthur without a father.
Corporal Austin Lewis (1898-1917)
Corporal (Cpl.) Austin Lewis was the eldest son of John and Etheldreda Lewis who lived at the Greenland Fisheries on Bridge Street, King’s Lynn. He was born in 1898 and was one of the first to be baptised in the newly-rebuilt Catholic Church on London Road, King’s Lynn where he eventually served at the altar. His father was a baker and Austin helped in the business.
Austin joined the Lynn Company of 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment aged 14 and served with them in Gallipoli. He died on 19 April 1917 in the Second Battle of Gaza, when although wounded himself, he stayed to help another wounded comrade and both were shelled. Austin Lewis has no known grave but he is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Jerusalem Memorial and on a memorial plaque in The Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, King’s Lynn.
Private Jesse John Howard
Private Jesse John Howard was one of fourteen children of William an Adelaide Howard of 6, Baxter Row, East Dereham. Born and bred in Dereham he joined his local Territorials – 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment, at their headquarters in the town. Missing, presume dead, after the Second Battle of Gaza, his name is recorded on the Jerusalem Memorial.
Private John Blake
Private John Blake of Pott Row, Grimston was the son of Charles and Sarah Blake, of Keeper’s Lane, Congham. John was a pre-war soldier in 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment. Mobilized for war in 1914, he served in Gallipoli with the battalion and then went on to the campaigns in Egypt and Palestine. He was initially reported missing after the Second Battle of Gaza and it was not until January 1918 his family were notified his body had been identified and was buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. He was 21 years old.
Soldiers from Congham: Private Edward Hugh Grief and Private Thomas Harper
Private Edward Hugh Grief (1879-1917)
Edward Grief was born to a single mother, Sarah Ann Grief, in Dersingham in 1879. In July 1900 he married Sarah Hipkin in Shernbourne. By 1911, the couple had five children, two girls and three boys. Edward worked on the royal estate at Sandringham and thus the family had an estate cottage. In 1912 the couple had another son called Alexander.
When War broke out Edward did not have to join the army immediately and indeed he may have been able to avoid military service even when conscription came in. However, patriotically, he enlisted in 1914 at East Dereham and joined the newly formed 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. This was the battalion in which Frank Beck’s E company, the so-called “Disappeared Sandringhams”, served. With the 5th battalion he set sail for Gallipoli in July 1915.
Edward died on 19 April 1917 in the Second Battle of Gaza.
Private Thomas Harper (1876-1917)
Thomas Harper was born in 1876 in Lydgate, Cambridgeshire to Thomas Harper and Elizabeth Belden. His mother had died when he was five and his father remarried six years later.
Thomas joined the Norfolk Regiment and served in Gallipoli. He died in the Second Battle of Gaza.
Thomas is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial in The Jerusalem War Cemetery and on Congham War Memorial, St Andrew’s Church.
Private George Leonard Bindley
Private George Leonard Bindley served with the 4th Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment in the campaigns in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine.
He was wounded during the Second Battle of Gaza but later recovered and spent time with the Camel Corps helping to transport supplies across the desert. George survived the war and was discharged from the Army on 4 April 1919.
Private Edward Arthur Bubbings (1899-1917)
Private Edward Arthur Bubbings was born in 1899 to W.G. and Alice Bubbings of 91 Harley Road in Great Yarmouth. Edward was fifteen when war broke out but as soon as he could he signed up with the 5th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment. He was only 18 when he died of wounds on 14th July 1917. Edward is now laid to rest in Deir El Belah War Cemetery in Palestine.
Corporal Robert John Dewing (1886-1917)
Robert Dewing was born in 1886 in Kelling, the youngest of five surviving children, to William Dewing and Sarah (née Pells).
Robert was a labourer at the railway’s stone pits, less than a mile from Kelling village, and lived with his widowed mother and older brother William. He enlisted at the beginning of the war in August, 1914.
Robert survived the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 but was killed on the first day of the Second Battle of Gaza. He is commemorated on the Kelling Parish War Memorial and the Roll of Honour board in the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Kelling.
Stanley Curson (1897-1917)
Stanley Curson was born in 1897, as the 8th of 10 surviving children, to John and Sarah Ann Curson (née Wilkerson) both of Great Ryburgh. He left school in 1911 and went straight into employment as a labourer.
Stanley signed up to the Norfolk Regiment on 27 November 1915. He was appointed on 25 January 1916 and became Private Stanley Curson. He trained for 164 days until 7 July 1916 after which he joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Stanley died in Palestine on 19 April 1917 during the Second Battle of Gaza. He had been initially reported as missing. Stanley’s military career lasted exactly one year and 86 days. He is buried at the Gaza War Cemetery.