Broadland During the First World War

July 2014 sees the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the Museum of The Broads at Stalham are planning to hold an exhibition to show how the war affected the local, Broadland community. Supported by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum will work with Stalham High School and Media Projects East to record the stories of families living in the Norfolk Broads villages during the war.

Starting at the end of this month, the project will train students from Stalham High School to interview and film local people, and then illustrate their stories using photos from private collections and local archives. The resulting DVD will be launched at the High School in July, before being shown at the museum itself as part of their special exhibition. The exhibition will be shown again at the museum during 2018, and a dedicated website will allow greater access to these stories of life in the Broads one hundred years ago.

Armed launch at Oulton Broad c1914-1918

I have very little within the Broadland Memories Archive which relates to WW1 as it’s a subject which I’ve not yet had time to research. A good number of wherry and yacht skippers and boatyard workers would have been called up to fight for their country, but the rivers and broads remained open and the holiday industry continued throughout. I’m sure that the waterways would have been considerably quieter though with so many young men being sent overseas. I do have a fabulous written account of a honeymoon taken on the Norfolk Broads in August 1918 on the website which makes for an interesting read. Amongst its pages, this original sailing log documents the difficulty the couple found in purchasing foodstuffs around the Broads at the time, and mentions having to register at Wroxham Post Office for “visitors rations”. I covered the log in a bit more detail on a blog post in February 2013 – you can find that here. The log itself can be found in the 1900-1950 section of the Personal Memories directory on the main website. Some of the Broadland boatyards were also building vessels for the Admiralty during the war. The photograph above right shows an armed launch alongside the boatyard of Leo Robinson at Oulton Broad. Both Leo and his brother Jack were involved in building these craft. The one seen in the photograph was apparently designed specifically for inland waterways use and was fitted with Vickers machine guns.

The project sounds fascinating and I will greatly look forward to seeing the resulting DVD and the exhibition at the Museum of the Broads. It is so important that the memories and photographs of the men who fought and died overseas, and the lives of those back on the home front are documented and preserved. To enable this all to happen, the museum needs your help! Did your family live in the Broadland area during the First World War? Was one of your relatives a local man who fought in Europe? If you have stories to share, family photos which can be copies, or family mementos which you are willing to loan for the exhibition, then please contact the curator Nicola Hems at the Museum of the Broads on 01692 581681 or email her at

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