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Honouring those from Norfolk who were lost in the First World War

13:00 03 August 2014

First World War Recruitment in Norfolk. Pictured: The men who would form the ‘Businessmen’s Company’ of the 8th (Service) Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment marching down St Giles to enlist en masse. Picture: SUPPLIED

First World War Recruitment in Norfolk. Pictured: The men who would form the ‘Businessmen’s Company’ of the 8th (Service) Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment marching down St Giles to enlist en masse. Picture: SUPPLIED

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Looking back, one hundred years almost to the day from the outbreak of the First World War, it seems hard for us to imagine a conflagration of that magnitude.

Despite the many ongoing flashpoints still bringing danger across the world, the idea of an all-consuming four-year struggle between nation states, claiming something in the region of 15 million lives, can be a difficult concept to fully grasp.

Our special supplement today will, we hope, help to bring home to readers something of the devastating impact of that conflict and help them to remember its human cost.

We have set out to do this by simple means: honouring each individual from Norwich and all towns and villages across our region who marched off to war and never came back.

Today, we reproduce every one of their 16,500 names - a figure greater than the current population of Dereham. Indeed, the high death toll from our region were said to represent, by proportion, the greatest sacrifice made by any part of the entire country.

Among them are grocers, fishermen, accountants, headteachers, farm workers and a myriad other professions, men who had answered the call to fight.

Every one of those names tells a story – of personal tragedy and family loss – and we recount many of these tales: From the father whose wife and four children – one of whom he had never met – walked from Hemblington, near Blofield, to Norwich station, where his train was passing on his way to the front, only to miss him by minutes; to the Lowestoft fishing skipper who – his legs shot off by a German shell – ordered his crew to throw him overboard to improve their chances of survival. They refused and, moments later, he passed away in the arms of his son, also on board.

We also tell the tales of those who were fortunate enough to survive the trenches, among them the railway worker’s son from Drayton who returned as one of the conflict’s most decorated soldiers, and the stories of the communities left behind.

We also provide the background to those momentous events of 100 years ago this month, when the world went to war, and produce a timeline and a map which charts the course of that conflict, year by year.

Keith Simpson, the Broadland MP and military historian, meanwhile, writes on why - and how - we should mark the centenary, as well as the danger of “war fatigue”.

Our coverage will continue on Monday, when we produce another supplement – “East Anglia at War” – chronicling in further detail how the region went to war, and more stories of those who served.

Perhaps the most poignant tale we recount, though, is the story told today of one of our villages in particular: St Michael, South Elmham.

This tiny settlement, near to Bungay, is unique in Norfolk, north Suffolk and the Fens in being a “Thankful Village” – one of only a handful across Britain from where not one inhabitant was lost to the war.

In its singular status, its story brings home the human cost of a war that reached deep into every other corner of our region, and resonates still today.

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