Diss and District in WWI - part eleven - Scrabbling for fighting men

Dennis Cross Memory Lane ANL-140907-171530001
Dennis Cross Memory Lane ANL-140907-171530001

There was much excitement in Diss over Easter as people enjoyed the programme of events being held, for Diss Businessmen’s Week.

You almost want to slip back in time and join in. Though of course there was a serious side to the occasion.

The paper on April 5 was encouraging people to check the clock in Diss Market Place which was acting as a totaliser for the value of the investment made in Government War Savings Bonds and Certificates.

At the cinema on Victoria Road an interesting programme of films was being shown on April 9.

This consisted of two films made by the Admiralty “The Story of The Drifters and The Sea Dogs that Man them”, and “H M King visits the Grand Fleet”. The bravery of the drifter crews, from master to mate down to the young deck hands has to be appreciated, as they had been called into service to protect our coast and convoys.

The next week’s paper was able to report on the great success of the fundraising week. Upwards of £55,000 had been raised, far above the £10,000 target, which was passed on the first day. The tremendous sum raised given the circumstances, showed the sterling effort being made to support the war effort and hopefully bring the conflict to an end.

The sum included investment made at Aldrich Brothers factory, where the ‘Aldrich’s Diss War Savings Association’ purchased War Savings Certificates and Savings Bonds to a value of nearly £3,000.

Late March 1918 had seen a strenuous attempt by the Germans to reach Amiens. Page 7 of the April 5 edition carried a piece headed “The Great Battle”. Despite enormous losses the German Army was still trying to cut their way through between the British and French armies to Amiens. On page 5 of the April 12 paper, there were stark reminders of the continuing war. It was announced that there was a call for the Military Age limit for service to be raised to include men up to the age of 50. Mr Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, had introduced the Manpower Bill in the House of Commons. He made reference to the latest German offensive and said that at one time the battle had been highly critical.

“The situation was retrieved owing to the magnificent conduct of our troops,” he said.

The Government began taking men from essential work such as munitions, and also 50,000 miners would be taken for the forces. The editorial column in the April 19 edition expanded on the issue, relating that “The serious menace of our enemies makes it...necessary for immense drafts of the military...to proceed overseas and the defence of this country is likely to depend more than ever upon the Volunteer Forces. It went on to implore more local men to volunteer for the Diss Company, if they were under military age, or ineligible for military service through age or injury. 
Recent war deaths recorded in early April included that of Private Henry Anness, a Military Medal winner, whose father had shops in the town. In February 1918 he requested a transfer to the 2nd Battalion the Sherwood Foresters, to serve in the 71st Trench Mortar Battery. Other casualties recorded in the edition were George Gaskin, of Mission Road, and George Kerry.

On May 17 there was an unusual report appeared in the paper of the Memorial Service held for George Gaskin at Isel Church in France.

The family later made a contribution toward the cost of the War Memorial Chapel in St Mary’s Church. George Kerry had been missing for almost a year before the announcement was made in the paper.

Enquiries as to his whereabouts had been made through the British Red Cross Enquiries Bureau, the report said.

The war situation was certainly becoming more serious as April 1918 progressed as was reported in the Express of April 19. On page 7 was an appeal from Sir Douglas Haig,Commander in Chief of the British Army in France and Flanders.

“To the Last Man.” Sir Douglas Haig has issued the following Order of the Day:

“To all Ranks of the British Army in France and Flanders.

“With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause everyman must fight onto the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind depend alike upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

“Every position must be held to the last man there must be no retirement.”

Next week: Summer of 1918, part two.

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