Trio’s labour of love saves first world war collection for the people of Norfolk
Amid the heartache felt in Norfolk during the first world war there were many tragic, heroic and dramatic family stories which have been passed down from generation to generation.
And now, thanks to a labour of love from three Norfolk historians, one family’s remarkably well-maintained story from almost 100 years ago has been transcribed and presented in almost perfect condition, to ensure their records are saved for posterity.
Local military historians Michael Eastaff, Graham Prior and Dick Rayner have formally handed over records of the Mason family, of Necton Hall, near Swaffham, to the Norfolk Record Office so that letters, military records and messages of condolence are available to the public.
The trio purchased the collection at an Aylsham auction in October 2009 to ensure the collection stayed where it belonged – in Norfolk.
The collection centres around correspondence to and from Captain Arthur Humfrey Mason, known as Humf, a director of a Norwich nrewery, who was involved in one of the best-known and most shocking episodes in the history of Norfolk and of the British army.
On August 12, 1915, the 5th Territorial Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment attacked the Turkish positions at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.
The day is forever associated with the so-called ‘disappearance’ of the King’s Sandringham Company, an episode which was the subject of a controversial BBC television drama starring David Jason in 1999.
The film, All the King’s Men, was based on those events and the mystery that to this day surrounds the loss of an entire company of soldiers.
The documents have now been received by the conservation studio at The Archive Centre at County Hall in Norwich.
Norfolk county archivist, Dr John Alban, said: “Everyone in Norfolk is aware of the dreadful military tragedy which occurred at Suvla Bay on that August day in 1915. The letters in this collection add a very human dimension to that event.
“Reading them, one cannot fail to be struck by their immense emotional force. They form an outstanding record of the saga of sacrifices made by Norfolk soldiers and their families and it is therefore very important that they should be preserved for posterity.
“The Norfolk Record Office is immensely grateful to Messrs Eastaff, Prior and Rayner for their great public-spirited gesture of placing these items in our professional care.”
Norfolk born and bred, Captain Mason was educated at Charterhouse, in Surrey, before joining Morgan’s Brewery in Norwich, as a director. In 1911, he applied for a commission in the 5th Norfolks.
The papers in the collection relate to his military service and include letters to his mother during his army service at Colchester and en route to Gallipoli, Ward family letters from Captain Mason’s sister, Audrey Ward, whose husband, Arthur, a fellow officer, was also killed in action at Gallipoli, and many letters of condolence sent to Captain Mason’s family.
The majority of the letters are routine and full of usual correspondence, many addressed to ‘Dear Mama’ and ‘Dear Papa’, and signed ‘ever your loving son’.
One in particular stands out, written by Captain Mason’s mother and sent from Swaffham on August 18, 2015, six days after the battle of Sulva Bay.
It states: “My very dearest Humf. The family is rejoicing greatly at hearing (sic) from Mr Jack Knight that you have all safely embarked at Alexandria.”
Amongst the many letters of condolence there is also a message which seems to encapsulate the mood of the country during the first world war.
Signed with just ‘Clara’ and from an address in Glan-hen-Wye, Glasbury, Hereford, the letter reads: “My dear Mrs Mason. We feel most dreadfully cut up and I send you all my love and sympathy to you all in your trouble.”
The letter then finishes solemnly with: “Oh! The trouble in the world now. Nobody escapes.”
The collection is now available upon request at the Norfolk Record Office.
- The Norfolk Record Office is a joint service of Norfolk County Council and the district councils in Norfolk. For more information on the services it provides, go to www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk
- Have you got a heritage story? Contact reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418 or firstname.lastname@example.org