Diss and District in the First World War: Part 9 - A nation prays for peace

Dennis Cross Memory Lane ANL-140907-171645001
Dennis Cross Memory Lane ANL-140907-171645001

A large advertisement appeared on the front page, of the first edition of the paper for the New Year on January 4, announcing ‘A Special United Intercession Service’ at the Corn Hall on Monday, January 7, “in connection with the King’s proclamation.”

It was hoped that the nation would join in prayer for peace to come in 1918. There was a further advertisement on page 4 relating to the National Act of Prayer: “Do you want Victory and a successful end to the war? Then go to your place of Worship on Sunday…”

After three years of war and so much loss and suffering everyone hoped that 1918 would bring an end to the conflict abroad and the hardships at home.

Page 2 carried a long article entitled ‘The Year’s Story’ which summarised events at home and abroad over the last 12 months.

The leading topic was food and its increasing shortage, chiefly in imported goods, such as tea, butter, sugar and bacon. These shortages carried on into the New Year and intensified.

A Local Food Economy Campaign was being run by the Diss Urban District Food Control Committee. A Public Lecture entitled ‘Stocking the Larder’ was to be given in the Corn Hall on January 22, according to the paper. Hints would be given about how to fill the larder without a single import and a demonstration among other things about the varied use of potato.

Food was becoming even more of an issue than it had been. The German aim to starve the nation by sinking everything in sight continued and our merchant fleet still needed building up to counteract the losses to the ‘U’ boat threat.

This was compounded by the announcement in the ‘Express’ on February 15 on page 5 that the Kaiser had created a special war decoration for ‘U’ boat crews “as a recognition for meritorious work during the war.” The article went on to say “German naval writers confess that the ‘U’ boat is Germany’s last card” and that Britain “can only be forced to peace by the German submarines”.

The paper had headed the article “Help towards Victory” and went on with the exhortation “Mothers, wives, sisters, sweethearts- every woman in the land – must loyally play her part to defeat the ‘U’ boats in the fight for freedom and democracy.”

“Women of Britain, you must realise that every planned meal you serve that saves wheat, meat, fats and sugar and wastes nothing, is a victory won and a shot fired at the ‘U’ Boats.”

Lord Rhondda, one of the Government ministers, was predicting that the food situation would reach its most difficult stage during the next two months.

While a strict food rationing scheme had not been imposed in 1917, one was about to come into force in the early months of 1918. The paper on February 8 gave details of a new food rationing scheme affecting butter, margarine and meat. This was announced by the

Food Ministry, and would be firstly for London and the Home Counties and would come into force on February 28 before being extended to cover the whole nation on

March 25.

Two separate Ration Cards for food and meat would be issued for every individual, including children, and all had to be registered with local shops to guarantee a supply of goods. Special schemes would be put in place for Mothers and Infants.

Featured in the paper on March 29 were further restrictions which would affect everybody. Column 1 of page 7 was headed “Less Lighting.”

“Drastic steps to save Coal, Gas and Electricity.” This move toward yet another form of rationing had been announced in the House of Commons, by Sir Albert Stanley, Head of the Board of Trade. The use of precious resources had to be drastically cut. Measures included cancelling passenger trains and no illumination of shop windows.

Perhaps the most telling reports in the paper early in 1918 before the German Spring Offensive in March relate to the losses of local men and the bravery of others.

One of the first reports of the year related to Private John Norman of Brockdish, who had been killed in action on December 1, which his wife and two surviving children heard about on Christmas Eve, 1917.

In Diss, news had reached Mrs Cooke that her son, PO 1st Class William Robert McMurren, serving on HMS Raglan, had died when his ship was attacked. The paper announced that a memorial service would be held at Diss Congregational Church, where he had been a Sunday school scholar.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Walter High of Ashford, who had formerly run the Bell Inn in Diss, heard that their son Rifleman Walter High was feared drowned on December 30, when the troopship he was on, HMS Aragon, was torpedoed.

Death notices in the paper on March 29 included that of Rowland Bryant.

His body was recovered from a shell hole “Somewhere in France” on 28 February and the family included a verse in his memory in the announcement.

“...And its awful days of war, Ever on the world is moving, And all human life is proving,

It is reaching toward the purpose,

That Great God meant it for.”

NEXT WEEK: The stories of 1918 continue in Part Ten