Memoirs and Photos – an ERO book review

Archivist, Lawrence Barker, from Essex Record Office, is our guest blog writer this week, and brings us a taste of some of the books in the local studies library.

Complementing the historical records kept at the Essex Record Office is a significant local studies library.  As we near the centenary of the start of the First World War, one of our aims will be to acquire publications which describe what happened and the experience of the war, especially by Essex people in Essex places.

A Really Dangerous Game, the memoirs of William Rolfe Nottidge from Bocking.

A Really Dangerous Game, the memoirs of William Rolfe Nottidge from Bocking.

We have recently acquired a personal narrative written by William Nottidge of his war service in the 3rd Bedfordshire Regiment.  Although he lived in Kent, his father was born at Bridge House, Bocking, the home of the prominent woollen-manufacturing family of Nottidge, one of whom, Thomas Nottidge, rose to become Sheriff of Essex in 1790.   William describes how he and his brother were ‘the only Nottidge boys left’ and how he would spent his holidays staying with his aunt who lived in a large house in Braintree called ‘Queenborough’.  The ERO holds some of the records of the Nottidge family of Braintree (D/DQu).

Later, whilst studying law at Oxford, he joined the Oxford University Officer Training Corps rising to 2nd Lieutenant and after a brief period at the Bar in Lincoln’s Inn, he joined up at Oxford at the outbreak of the war.  He eventually served at the Somme where he survived being blown up.  After a period of convalescence, he served out most of the rest of the war in Devon in Command of an Officer Cadet Battalion where he trained 5 companies.  His bravery during the Somme was mentioned in despatches but he describes the mixed feelings he had receiving news of that whilst at the same time receiving news of his beloved brother’s death in action.

And it is his personal memories of what happened during the war which are so valuable.  He describes the atmosphere and feeling among people at the outbreak of the war, which was characterised in general by a mixture of anxiety and a sense of duty not to leave the French to face the enemy alone.  He describes the long periods of training; the waiting around to be deployed without knowing where due to a pervasive secrecy about operations; the condition of the trenches which varied from sector to sector, sometimes well built, other times shoddy and permanently flooded; the desolation of the town of Ypres in 1915; the sound the intense artillery fire at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme heard some 25 miles away which nevertheless ‘made the air throb and quiver’; the gruelling 60 mile route march to the battlefield; his experience of being blown up by a shell which he survived whilst others around him perished; and so on.  All of it is related in a quiet, modest and unsensational way which somehow lends to it a sense of authenticity.

Alistair Smith's Royal Flying Corps.

Alistair Smith’s Royal Flying Corps.

In contrast, another recent acquisition is a book in the Images of War series, Royal Flying Corps by Alistair Smith, which features in its last section rare photographs of seaplane trials (of type 184) carried out on the River Crouch at Fambridge taken in c.1915, and of a plane (BE2E) taken at Stow Maries in 1917.  The photos come from an album which belonged to a WW1 pilot, Lieut. William John Shorter of Squadron no.46, who was killed in the war aged only 20.  The importance of the Crouch and Fambridge in early aviation history is now increasingly recognised by historians.  Fambridge even had an early aircraft factory before 1909, but it had only a short-lived existence.

Another review can be found on the War History Online website.

You can download Royal Flying Corps from iTunes.

Both books are available to view at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.


Wickford at War, Part 2

Guest blog writer, James Nason, continues his story of his family in Wickford and their experience of the First World War.

I have been tracing my family tree now for 5 or 6 years.  I’ve managed to trace my ancestors back to the 1500’s.  On my Dad’s side most of them are from Essex, Wickford and Colchester, which explains why I’ve always felt overjoyed to see the ‘Welcome to Essex’ signs on the occasions I’ve left the county.

I have found 8 relatives, from both sides of my tree, who were killed during the First World War.  The first of them to die was a second cousin, George Neville, who is one of 4 relatives I have listed on the Wickford & Runwell War Memorial.

George was born in Wickford on Tuesday 22 October 1889, the second of 7 children born to George and Laura Ann Neville.

Laura Ann Neville, nee Carter

Laura Ann Neville, nee Carter

By 1911 the family were living in the Railway Cottages in Wickford and, like his father, George was employed by Great Eastern Railways.

Annie is nearest the camera.  George and Percy are standing at the back.  Elsie is holding Annie's hand, Frederick is dressed as a sailor and Mabel is behind him. This is taken by the crossing at Wickford Train Station around 1906.

Annie is nearest the camera. George and Percy are standing at the back. Elsie is holding Annie’s hand, Frederick is dressed as a sailor and Mabel is behind him.
This is taken by the crossing at Wickford Train Station around 1906.

Cousin George enlisted in Stratford during October 1914 and joined the 4th (Reserve Battalion) Coldstream Guards.  Before his regiment were to go to the front George went home for a few days leave.  On Sunday 2nd May 1915 George felt unwell, the following day he had a sore throat and a doctor was sent for.  Scarlet Fever was diagnosed and on Wednesday George was taken to Billericay Hospital.  On Friday 7 May 1915 George died whilst in hospital.

George Neville

George Neville

Less than a year later, in February 1916, George’s father was killed whilst working on the tracks at Wickford train station. I’m always pleased that George’s family could bury him as so many families didn’t get that opportunity.

George Neville's war grave in St. Catherine’s Churchyward, Wickford.

George Neville’s war grave in St. Catherine’s Churchyard, Wickford.