The story of seven Norfolk policemen who went to fight in the First World War – with only three returning home

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
1:23 PM

War historian and author Steve Smith has unearthed the story of seven Norfolk policemen “pals” who went to fight in the First World War – with only three returning home and surviving.

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Steve Smith, at the grave of W.T. Green in Earlham cemetery, is researching the lives of Norfolk men who fought in WW1 for a book to be published later this year. 
Photo by Simon Finlay.Steve Smith, at the grave of W.T. Green in Earlham cemetery, is researching the lives of Norfolk men who fought in WW1 for a book to be published later this year. Photo by Simon Finlay.

He found details while looking into so-called pals units, comprising friends, neighbours and work colleagues who enlisted in local recruiting drives to serve together rather than joining an arbitrary unit on their own.

In February 1915, John Gordon-Munn, Lord Mayor of Norwich, formed three Royal Engineer Field Companies which were pals units.

These were the 207th, 208th and 209th field companies which went on to serve with the ill-fated 34th Division of the British Army.

Four police officers from Norwich City Police joined the 208th – William Thomas Green, Harry Hazel, William Jinks and Herbert James Whitehand.

Police records show they all joined up on June 7, 1915.

Perhaps spurred on by these men joining up, three more police officers from Norwich City Police joined the 208th.

William Sawford Andrew enlisted the next day on June 8, 1915, and on July 14, 1915, Henry Crisp joined up. The last of the seven men to enlist was Arthur Bell on August 15, 1915.

As part of the 34th Division, the men were all in France by January 15, 1916, and their first experience of battle was terrible.

On July 1, 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.

They were to be assisted by the firing of two mines either side of the village and they attacked at 7.30am.

Their casualties were appalling and were mainly caused by the fact that the Germans in the second and third lines were able to pour fire into the advancing troops.

One of the mine craters, called Lochnagar, and a defensive position called Scots Redoubt, were captured but further advances could not be made.

It was here that all three Norfolk field companies were used to support the troops who were occupying these positions.

Their war diaries and the official history of the Great War all record that they carried ammunition and water to the troops who held onto the crater.

On this day Harry Hazel was killed in action.

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

La Boiselle did not fall that day and the 34th Division lost 6,811 men, killed or wounded, between July 1 and July 5, including eight senior officers. William Green was the next to go when he contracted trench fever later on that year and he died at home on November 19, 1916.

He is now laid to rest in Norwich Cemetery.

Herbert Whitehand, who went on to serve in Z Special Company, was killed in action on May 6, 1917, during preparations for the final phase of the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt.

He was one of 14 killed that day in a German artillery strike as the unit was preparing a gas attack near Bullecourt.

His grave is believed to be in Beaulencourt British Cemetery, Ligney-Thilloy.

Finally, Henry Crisp was killed in action on September 1, 1917, during the fighting around Cologne Farm, near Hargicourt, where the 34th Division had been fighting since August 26. He is now laid to rest in Hargicourt British Cemetery.

Only William Jinks, who was transferred to the Military Foot Police, landing in France on July 8, 1915, Arthur Bell and William Andrew survived the war and returned to Norwich City Police.

• Mr Smith is looking to tell find more details of Norfolk people involved in the war effort.

In particular he wants to find out about women who worked in the factories or took on the roles of men after they had joined up; local businesses that have links back to the First World War and how their role changed to meet the requirements of a country at war.

He is also keen to hear from people with accounts and letters from Norfolk men who fought in the conflict.

Great War Britain Norfolk will be sent to the History Press by May 31.

If you can help Mr Smith, email stevesmith1944@hotmail.com or call 07903 859507.

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