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.

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