Norwich man’s inspirational sketch of wartime France  

A scene of night time winter trees and river in France 1916

Wartime France at night, 1916, by Frederick Cobb - Credit: Frederick Cobb

A picture of winter trees, stark against a river and tower, sketched one wartime night more than a century ago, was the inspiration for a fascinating family memoir. 

When Frederick Cobb rediscovered the picture he had drawn in France in 1916 he began to look back on his life – and write his memoirs. That was in the 1970s and Fred told the story of his childhood in Thorpe Hamlet, near Norwich, in the early 1900s, serving in France in the First World War, a 50-year career in the railway industry and a life-long love of local football. 

Born in Norwich in 1896 he lived his entire life in Thorpe – apart from that military service in the First World War and a 10 year “exile” in Ipswich. 

Fred Cobb aged 16

Fred Cobb aged 16 - Credit: Cobb family

He also loved writing and regularly contributed to a railway magazine and the Eastern Daily Press and the Eastern Evening News. 

For more than 60 years Fred wrote match reports, plus reviews of amateur dramatic, and accounts of social events for the EDP and Evening News.  “All of which he had participated in and he invariably gave himself a mention!” said his great nephew Christopher Cobb. “The earliest one of these we have is dated April 1st 1911.”  

Fred finished his autobiography in 1973 and it was treasured by his family following his death, aged 80, just four years later.  

Fred Cobb in First World War uniform

Fred Cobb served in France in the First World War - Credit: Cobb family

Two years ago his nephew, Alan Cobb, by now 92 himself, began typing out the entire manuscript on his computer. Chris said: “The feeling among the family was that the manuscript was of sufficient quality and local interest to deserve a wider audience.” Other members of the family including Christopher and Fred’s daughter Janette helped with fact checking, proof reading, obtaining permission to use photographs, and everything else needed to turn the manuscript into a book. 

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It is now available as Under the Griffin’s Wing – a reference to the symbol of the Great Eastern Railway, which Fred joined as a teenager and continued to work for, through various incarnations, for 50 years.   

Fred Cobb in retirement

Fred Cobb in retirement - Credit: Cobb

His entire working life, before and after his war service, was spent in the railway industry, and it was his first job as a clerk at Norwich’s Victoria Station which meant he had the shorthand skills which took him out of the trenches, and their terrible death toll, perhaps ensuring his survival. 

Under the Griffin’s Wing by Frederick Cobb is available in Jarrold and other local bookshops and sold through local distributor Bittern Books.   

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