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12,000 lives were lost in Norfolk during WWI, the greatest sacrifice made by any part of the country

PUBLISHED: 13:56 04 November 2018

The 12th Norfolk (Norfolk Yeomanry) returning home  Picture: Archant library

The 12th Norfolk (Norfolk Yeomanry) returning home Picture: Archant library

Archant

Much has, is, and will be written about the end of the Great War. We must never forget and can learn much through the wise words of those who lived through it a century ago. Derek James reports.

It was called Peace Souvenir: Norwich War Record which was published by Jarrold at the end of the First World War and the foreword by author Percy W D Izzard paints a vivid and poignant picture of the impact of war. It is a colourful and timeless piece of history which deserves to be read again.

“The long night has passed, and the slow hour of dawn. Now the sun is on high, and the meek-eyed peace dwells with us.

“Edith Cavell sleeps in the ancient shadow of our steeple, and with a sacred joy we are tending to our shrines and rearing our memorials In twos and threes this glowing summer-time our war-stained lads are coming home.

“Was England ever comelier mother of her sons? Had sons ever richer heritage of fame and story? Did Royal Norfolk ever own her kingly title with completer right?

“Since that dramatic summons to fighting in the August night, since the bells of city and village rang their first call to intercessory prayer, the burden in our hearts grew daily heavier, and sometimes hardly could be borne.

“It was stout courage and a dauntless faith that brought us onward to this day. Well may we laugh and sing and make a joyful noise. The white winds glide along our rivers, the happy parties pleasure on our sands, the ships go by in darkness as in light and all the lanterns flashing.

“Deeper grows the corn along the green valleys, louder swells the choir of singing birds, brighter shine the faces of the summer flowers.

“It is the morning of all mornings we have known; for it is Peace” wrote Percy.

And he continued: “ Who shall forget the day of the Armistice – the sunshine that broke upon it like an omen of good, the joy of human faces, the music of long silent bells, the songs of praise, the re-kindling of the lights, the ecstasy of the lifting from the heart its patient load of dread?

“That sunny morning the multitude, thronged at a word to the heart of Norwich and filled it with their shoutings and their songs. A bloom of flags innumerable broke in all the streets, on all the towers.

“St Peter’s (Mancroft) epic peel sent the message out in stirring changes, and in the crowd there were those of pensive face who could find no speech, who hardly could listen to the bells with dry eyes.

“Overhead the airmen from Mousehold tumbled like plover at their games; below sedate folk joined with those of high spirits in extravagances of joy. And many went into the churches to give solemn thanks; perchance then they began to realize some small part of their Christian dream.

“In the country bordering the sea one saw the quieter joys of the village folk. For four years the scars of war had spread, the panoply of war accumulated. Often it had seemed that the coastwise villages would never recover their peace-time face, or know again their ancient freedom.

“The lads went, the young fathers, and then the middle-aged; and sorrowfully, yet with a proud joy, the people saw one and another name of the fallen marked on the roll of honour in the church.

“Women and old men, school-boys and soldiers worked in the fields, and harvests were sown and saved in such difficulties as the country had never known before,” said Percy.

“And when I remember how passed the day of the Armistice in those places, I know that I shall never see my England with happier countenance,” he added.

Armistice Day was, wrote Percy, the new Christmas Day but pointed out it was also the day of great remembrance. “This fact which we now celebrate is the affirmation of peace. And that peace has had to be won.”

And it came at a cost.

Across Norfolk, about 12,000 lives were lost...a number said to represent, by proportion, the greatest sacrifice made by any part of the entire country.

The number represented one out of 41 of the population compared with the national average of one out of 52.

We will remember them.

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