Last Poppy in Chelmsford Library

As we all plan our summer holidays and outings you may want to consider popping along to Chelmsford Library throughout August to see the Now the Last Poppy has Fallen touring exhibition.

In addition to this the Essex Record Office also have a First World War exhibition.

The library have  arranged for an afternoon of activity on Saturday 30 July, including for young computer whizzes a Sonic Pi workshop for 8 – 13 year olds creating a WW1 soundtrack for the Battle of the Somme film, and for family history enthusiasts there will be a WW1 family history helpdesk run by the East of London Family History Society.

201607_30_Chelmsford_WW1 helpdesk_sm

2016_07_30_Chelmsford_Sonic Pi battlefield_sm


Exhibition: From Monday 22nd February…

In a change to the published schedule, from Monday 22nd February 2016, the touring exhibition will now be on show at Loughton Library (open from 9am – 5pm Mon – Fri) until around 17th March. It will be brought to Chelmsford in time for our concluding showcase of works produced during the project, on Wednesday 23rd March at Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre. The evening of poetry, dance and music will be a fitting ending to an insightful project. Tickets are free but must be ordered through the Civic Theatre box office on 01245 606505.


Essex at War programme

We are excited to share with you the Essex at War programme.

Don’t forget that it’s this Sunday, 14th September from 10am – 4pm, at Hylands House in Chelmsford.

Essex at War programme-page-001


The official exhibition launch is at 12:45 and will include performances from project artists Luke Wright, Georgia Strand and Vo Fletcher, with Ric Saunders. The exhibition will be opened by Lord Petre.

Included in the programme:

Luke Wright’s 2nd Poem

Doris Bardell nee Carter (courtesy of Michael Bardell)

Doris Bardell nee Carter (courtesy of Michael Bardell)

The second of Luke Wright’s original poems based on stories of World War One in Essex, has now been written.

It is called Zeppelin Attack, Braintree, 1916 and is based on a reminiscence from Doris Bardell, nee Carter.

Doris’ memories feature on one of the exhibition panels that will be unveiled during the Essex at War event on Sunday 14th September at Hylands House, Chelmsford.

Luke writes about the inspiration for this poem on his blog:

I come from just up the road from Braintree. I didn’t know about Crittall’s before researching this piece. Many of the window frames that made post-war Art Deco buildings so distinctive were made there, in this sleepy Essex town.

The bit about the German captain knowing where he was due to the bell has been disproved, as St Michael’s Church never had a bell, but that was the myth and myths make better poems. For me, what was fascinating about Doris’s account of this raid was the fact that despite it being the closest she got to the actual war it paled in significance with the wait for her dad to get home. Much is made of the collective suffering and collective striving of war, but I was struck by this private and personal longing.

You can read the poem on ‘Our Poems’ page or listen to Luke reading it:


Launch update!

We are delighted to announce that the project touring exhibition will be launched by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Lord Petre of Ingatestone Hall at the Essex at War event on Sunday 14th September 2014, 12:45 at Hylands House. The event is part of Heritage Open Days.

More information can be found on the Essex Record Office blog, and the poster and flyer is available for you to share with others.

We’d love to see you there!

Essex at Ear event poster

Hylands Military Hospital

 Linda Knock, volunteer and Friend of Hylands House, tells us a little about the history of Hylands House in Chelmsford during the First World War. I wonder if V Festival participants will appreciate the rich history of the house and its inhabitants.

Our research comes under two headings – ‘Hylands Military hospital and the people who were there’ and ‘The Men of Hylands who served in the Great War’. Our task was to find ‘the stories’ of these men.   For both lots of research the Widford Choir books in the Essex Record Office and the local newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive proved invaluable.  We have also been helped by the families of the men we have found.  By building trees on Ancestry and putting a post there, I am in contact with the descendants of three men, and have been helped by a member of the Family History Society of Queensland [Australia] – I posted a request on their Facebook page and the following day one of their members went for a walk in the cemetery in Brisbane and found the family’s grave, including a mention of the soldier who died at Hylands.  The emails to the local papers unfortunately did not produce any results, but the piece in the Friends of Hylands House newsletter found the descendant of one local soldier.  Information from Luckings, the funeral directors, was very useful.

An Australian war grave for Samuel Barrow, a patient in the hospital who was presented with his Military medal on the ward, and then was sent home to Australia.

An Australian war grave for Samuel Barrow, a patient in the hospital who was presented with his Military medal on the ward, and then was sent home to Australia.

We were pleased to discover that Sir Daniel Gooch made the bedside lockers for the wards when the ground floor of his house was made into a hospital; first used by the 2nd and 3rd South Midland Field Ambulance Corps, then for Belgian soldiers and British soldiers.  Many of the latter were from Scottish regiments and the local newspaper at the time of their arrival at the Hylands Halt on the railway said  “Several Scottish regiments were represented, but as they were all in khaki it was difficult to distinguish their regiments.”  There were also soldiers from Canadian and Australian regiments and I have to admit it was easier to access their records than those over here [and at no cost].  From over 1500 men who were treated at Hylands we have only 9 names from the local newspapers.  But from those names we have found their families and their stories. One success already was the cleaning of the war graves in St Mary’s Churchyard in Widford.  I was very upset when I visited the graves in November last year to find they were green, so I emailed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was pleased to find that when I returned in April that they are in their original condition.

The grave of Private Gough, Canadian Infantry, in Widford churchyard

The grave of Private Gough, Canadian Infantry, in Widford churchyard

At the time of the Great War the Hylands Estate was not the park as we know it now, but a huge estate including many of the farms around – Widford Hall, Skeggs, Montpeliers, Webbs, Elms and many others, so the task was huge.  We decided to find out as many names as possible from the 1911 census and the 1918 voters list [ERO].  There were many men who were the right age, so we have a list of names, but are concentrating on producing the stories of a few.  We decided to include Widford as it was so close to Hylands and many of the men attended, or were choristers at St Mary’s Widford. The stories we have chosen so far are those of Lancelot Gooch of Hylands House, two brothers who went into the Army and the Navy at 16, a soldier and his wife who both died of influenza just after Peace was declared, a gamekeeper who lived in one of the Estate lodges, and a soldier who lived in one of the Causeway Cottages that belonged to the estate.

Eric Robinson of Widford on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth

Eric Robinson of Widford on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth

If anyone reading this has information about soldiers who were treated at Hylands Military Hospital, or those who were from the Estate, please get in touch.

The results of our research will be displayed in the House at the event on 14th and 15th September.

Why not visit Hylands House on Sunday 14th September to see the research presented and also to get the first glimpse of the Last Poppy touring exhibition. The official launch will be at 12:45 that day! Watch this space…

Blood From The Poppy

An art installation commemorating the fallen of WW1

by Artist Nabil Ali
29th July – 1st September 2014
Chelmsford Museums

Nabil Ali poster

The common poppy – Papaver rhoeas.L, a well known survivor that emerges on the ridges  of our fields, was one of the plants mentioned in the LDA (Liber diversarum arcium) [1] a 14th century art manuscript outlining art discipline with insightful knowledge into medieval workshops. This research led me to explore the innovative techniques and methods used
from that period to create a full bodied red ink, with elements tracing back to the 3rd Century AD [2].

The extracted juice from the plant when freshly made into a drawing ink is a rich crimson colour, and has been associated with death over the last 8000 years [3]. It is one of the most recognizable plants from around the world and is still associated with the memory of the Dead and found in many cultures around the world. Its small delicate petals resembling the colour of blood, are prominently visible across our landscapes, notably reminding us on how short life is.

This exhibition commemorates people across the world who were affected by the destructive force of WW1 that changed the world we live in. The painting will depict an abstract view of the poppy plant commemorating the dead with the symbolic meaning to society, accompanied with poppy ink made from old technology in a new way.  This is an introduction to ongoing research exploring ways in making colourants from Nature working with organic paint systems to create art.

More info from Nabil

[1] Original Latin text translated by Prof. Mark Clarke from New University of Lisbon.
[2] Leiden papyrus V.
[3] Saunders, N (2013) The Poppy: A Cultural History from Ancient Egypt to Flanders Fields to Afghanistan.
Oneworld Publication.

Merry it was to laugh there…

Jubilant Productions


Merry It Was To Laugh There

Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road, Chelmsford CM1 1JG

Friday 4 July 2014 8pm

Tickets £13.50 Concessions £12.00

Box Office 01245 606505

Merry it was...

Jubilant Productions present Merry It Was To Laugh There, a poignant and evocative reflection on World War 1, using poetry and diaries written during the global conflict. Merry It Was… comes to the Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford on Friday 4 July at 8pm.

Merry It Was… marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Weaving together poetry, songs and diaries with archive imagery and pertinent facts about the lives of the men who were fighting and the women waiting for their return, Merry It Was… acknowledges the legacy of the written word which stands as a powerful archive of the experiences of ordinary men and women.

A devised piece, it captures the realities of war reminding us of the universal and enduring nature of the emotions expressed whilst acknowledging the unique and unimaginable conditions and situations of that time.

Merry It Was… moves from the poetry of the early war and the poet soldiers such as Wilfred Owen to the words of the soldier poets such as Woodbine Willy writing Trench poetry. It draws on the diaries of a serving soldier and gives a voice to those poems written by women who were finding a new role to play in the world while their men were fighting at the Front. It is an evocative, moving, at times funny, at times tragic, depiction of real life experiences of the war to end all wars.

Performed by two actors of great experience and depth, Christine Absalom (Radio 4, Mercury Theatre, Colchester) and Tim Freeman (Mercury Theatre, Colchester), Merry It Was... is a must for all who lovers of poetry, students of history and those who wish to learn from the past.

Tickets for Merry It Was To Laugh There are on sale now and cost £13.50 concessions £12. Book today by calling 01245 606505 or online at

Merry it was... 2

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.

Walton’s Hero, Herbert Columbine VC

Essex has many heroes from the First World War, men and women who went the extra mile. Our next blog is about Herbert Columbine and his story is told by Carole McEntee-Taylor.

Carole's book which tells the story of Herbert Colombine in greater detail.

Carole’s book which tells the story of Herbert Colombine in greater detail.

‘Save Yourselves, I’ll carry on’. These were the last known words of Herbert Columbine, shouted at his two companions on the afternoon of 22nd March 1918. At 9am that morning, in Hervilly Woods, France, 9 Squadron Machine Gun Corps had come under intense attack from a heavy force of German infantry. Private Columbine took command of an isolated gun, with no wire in front and began firing. As the German onslaught grew and casualties mounted, Herbert and two others eventually became separated from the rest of their Squadron. After several hours it became clear their position would soon be overrun so Herbert told them to escape while they could. Now on his own, Herbert hung on tenaciously, repelling several attacks, each one deadlier than the last. He was only defeated after the Germans bought up air support and dropped a bomb on his position. Herbert Columbine has no known grave.

Herbert was born in November 1893 in London to Emma and Herbert Columbine. When he was 6 years old Herbert’s father, caught up in the ‘khaki fever’ that was sweeping the country, joined the 2nd Battalion (10th Foot) Lincolnshire Regiment and went off to fight in the Boer War. He never returned. On the 11th July 1900 he was killed in a battle at Silkaatsnek leaving Emma a widow and Herbert fatherless.

crescent road

Crescent Road, Walton on the Naze

By 1911 Emma was living in Walton on the Naze and Herbert had joined the 19th Hussars. Three years later, as 3780 Pte Machine Gun Section, he was on his way to France with the BEF, subsequently facing action at Mons, the Race to the Coast and the subsequent actions at Ypres.

Herbert’s Machine Gun Section was brigaded into the 9th Cavalry MG Squadron on 28 February 1916. But Bert did not leave the 19th Hussars to become a member of the Machine Gun Corps until 27 June 1916. Together with sixty-nine other men of the 19th Hussars Bert was compulsorily transferred to the MGC Cavalry and given the new army number 50720.

Herbert stayed on the Western Front, taking part in various actions and also spending time in reserve. As a machine gunner he was a prime target for enemy snipers, yet somehow he survived. In March 1918 the Germans launched a massive offensive, the intention to defeat the Allies before the arrival of fresh American troops could really have any impact. The collapse of Russia had allowed the Germans to bring back all their divisions from the eastern front leaving the Allies hopelessly outnumbered. Herbert’s last stand helped to buy the retreating Allies time to regroup and reform their defence.


All author royalties from the sale of this book go to the Columbine Statue Fund of which Dame Judi Dench is Patron. This is a project to raise money for a lasting memorial to Herbert Columbine in his home town of Walton on the Naze, Essex. His medals are currently on display in the Essex Regiment Museum in Chelmsford Essex.

The statue in November 2013 with the sculptor John Doubleday (left) Will Columbine, Herbert’s great nephew (centre) and Carole McEntee-Taylor.

The statue in November 2013 with the sculptor John Doubleday (left) Will Columbine, Herbert’s great nephew (centre) and Carole McEntee-Taylor.

This was the statue in November 2013 with the sculptor John Doubleday (left) Will Columbine, Herbert’s great nephew (centre) and me. It has now gone to the foundry but we still haven’t raised all the money. For information on how to donate please see There is also so Facebook page to keep up to date with the campaign.

Herbert’s VC citation reads:

Herbert Columbine VC

Herbert Columbine VC

Herbert George Columbine

No. 50720 Private

9th Squadron Machine Gun Corps

Date of Act of Bravery: 22 March 1918

‘For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice displayed, when, owing to casualties, Private Columbine took over command of a gun and kept firing it from 9.00 am till 1.00 pm in an isolated position with no wire in front. During this time, wave after wave of the enemy failed to get up to him. Owing to his being attacked by a low flying aeroplane, the enemy at last gained a strong footing in the trench on either side. The position being untenable, he ordered the two remaining men to get away, and though being bombed from either side, he kept his gun firing and inflicted tremendous losses. He was eventually killed by a bomb which blew up him and his gun. He showed throughout the highest valour, determination and self-sacrifice.’

Herbert Columbine VC is available from all good bookshops and internet retailers. Carole McEntee-Taylor is the author of military history and historical fiction. She works at the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester and lives with her husband, David, in Essex.