Diss and District in World War One - “The Great Offensive”

Dennis Cross Memory Lane ANL-140907-171614001
Dennis Cross Memory Lane ANL-140907-171614001

The New Year’s Honours List published in January contained the notice relating to the award of the Meritorious Service Medal to Quarter Master Sergeant A I Woods, of the South Wales Borderers, from Diss.

During January, February and March other families heard good news about their sons. Mr and Mrs Battley, of Mission Road, Diss heard that their son, Driver Fred Battley had been mentioned in dispatches again and the paper noted that “Driver Battley landed in France, August 16, 1914, and during this period has had the good fortune to escape injury”.

Charles Hubbard, of the Machine Gun Corps, won a Military Medal for bravery at Cambrai. He was one of the five sons of Mr and Mrs Hubbard from Diss who were serving.

Their son in law and five nephews were also in the forces the paper reported.

Meanwhile the spirits of the local female population were being lifted with the announcement of the Concert and Military Dance to be held by the 68th D.A.C Rugby Football team, and full D.A.C. Orchestral band at the Corn Hall on January 9th, and a Dance and Whist Drive on January 30.

Admission was for ladies only by invitation.

The 68th Divisional Ammunition Column were currently stationed in Diss carrying out their training ready to be sent abroad.

Increasingly adverts for social events over the following months asked ladies to bring sugar for their partners.

“Russia Submits” announced in the ‘Express’ on Friday, March 1, The Russian government of

Lenin and Trotsky had finally accepted the peace terms of Germany. The paper commented “…yielding to every demand, though only a day or two before they had issued an appeal to the Russian people to resist the invader and fight to the last.”

This must have caused widespread concern, which way would the war go now?

It was reported the next week that there was a considerable buildup of action on the British Front in France and that the Germans were launching strong day and night attacks. However a report had come in from the Government Press Bureau, which appeared in the paper on March 8, which would have heartened the readers considerably: “Sir Douglas Haig’s report, Saturday 10.25 p.m.”

There was a continuing succession of reports over the next few weeks relating to our raids into Germany, where strategic industrial and military targets were hit.

British airmen bombed Mainz and Stuttgart hitting factories there. On March 29 the paper carried the headline “The Great Offensive” on page two.

“The long expected German offensive in the Western Front began on Thursday on a front of 50 miles from the Sensée River, near Croiselles, to the (river) Oise, near La Fère. This attack had been long expected.

Mr Bonar Law speaking in the House of Commons said: “As I have no doubt it is known to members that an infantry attack was launched by the Germans this morning...This is as I may tell the House, an attack on a larger scale than anything that has been made at any stage of the War on any part of the Front.”

Military supplies were now being put under the greatest strain of the war as the scale of the conflict increased. Throughout the greater part of the war people had been encouraged to invest in Government War Bonds and Saving Certificates, which raised vital funds for the Government war effort.

Easter was approaching and the Diss and District Businessmen’s Week over Easter, supporting the scheme was announced by way of a large advertisement in the paper on March 29.

There was a large and varied programme of events scheduled to take place, and the money invested by the public during the event through the sale of war bonds and savings certificates would go toward the Government’s war effort.

The aim was to raise £10,000 which would pay for four aeroplanes. The planned events included Military Sports on the Cricket Meadow, (now Gazes Sale Ground) including “Racing in Gas Masks and Helmets”. “An airship, will visit the town and drop literature amongst which will be prizes.” There would also be a ‘Baby Show’, at the Cricket Meadow on April 2nd and an aeroplane would visit and drop prizes during the afternoon.

This article is based on a forthcoming publication ‘A Norfolk Market Town at War– Diss 1914 – 1918’.

n Next week: 1918, Part two