Holidaying on the Norfolk Broads during the First World War

At 11pm on the night of the 4th of August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Whilst a massive poster campaign in which Lord Kitchener urged the men of Britain to volunteer to join the army encouraged over 200,000 men to sign up during the first month alone, on the home front the government introduced a “business as usual” policy under Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. The belief was that the British public needed to continue as normal with daily life in order to maintain a stable and functioning country, and anything less would lower the nations morale and would be a victory for the enemy. Popular belief held that the war would be over by Christmas anyway.

On the Norfolk Broads the holiday industry carried on as it had before. Those who could afford to do so were still able to hire yachts and wherries and engage the services of crew who would sail and attend to their daily needs. Whilst a good number of young men in the region would have volunteered for Kitchener’s Army in the early days of the war, there was no compulsory conscription, and presumably skippers and crew were initially still readily available. As the war dragged on, it was to impact on the every day lives of the British public in many ways.

I was very fortunate to be able to buy two collections of photographs for the archive recently which document holidays taken on the Norfolk Broads during the years of the Great War. The first, an album of over 60 photographs, begins in July 1915 and contains some quite wonderful snapshots of a holiday aboard the yacht Victoria which was hired from John Loynes boatyard at Wroxham. There are clearly at least two holidays featured within the album and, whilst there is no written date for the others, I’m confident that they must be c1917-1918. The second collection of 24 photographs are also undated, but clothing would suggest that they too date from the same era. I haven’t really come across many images of the Broads taken during WW1, so these will be a superb addition to the website.

bm15_027_smlThis first photograph was captioned on the back as: “Party on board yacht ‘Victoria’ July 1915” and includes the skipper and mate whose services would have been included in the hire terms for a large yacht such as this. Built by John Loynes, Victoria was listed as being a 17 ton “smart cutter-rigged yacht with comfortable sleeping accommodation for seven persons“. The plan below shows that the crew slept in cots in the forepeak which also housed the stove on which meals for the party would have been prepared. The ladies slept in the aft cabin whilst the gentlemen berthed in the saloon.  A small toilet compartment was situated opposite the companionway between the two cabins. Loynes didn’t advertise his yachts on Blake’s Yachting List at this time, but a similar sized yacht cost around £8 10s to hire for a week in July. On sister ships Coral and Volunteer a small piano could be hired for an additional 15 shillings per week. It’s relevant in the chronology of these photographs to note that this first image from 1915 includes men who would have been of fighting age. Another earlier photograph album featuring the same family which was up for auction when I bought this one shows at least one of the gentlemen seen here in military uniform. Sadly, although it also featured some Broads images, I just didn’t have the funds to buy both.

victoria_blakes1929 By the beginning of 1916 it became clear that it was not going to be possible to continue fighting with just volunteers alone. In March 1916, compulsory active service was introduced for all single men between the ages of 18 and 41, and in May that was extended to include married men.  Clergymen, teachers and certain classes or those deemed to be employed in jobs which were vital to the war effort were exempt, as were those who were medically unfit. Whilst some of the Broadland boatyards were engaged in the building of craft for the Admiralty and some staff would therefore been included in that exemption, I suspect a great many skippers and crew would have been eligible for conscription. It’s evident from the memorials found in Broadland villages that a great many local men lost their lives during the war, countless more would have fought and returned home. Families were being torn apart. Husbands, fathers and sons were being shipped overseas, unsure of when, or if,  they would see their loved ones again. The number of deaths and casualties sustained on both sides by the end of 1915 alone was just mind numbingly staggering.

Zeppelin Air Raid on Great Yarmouth, January 1915

Back in Britain, the threat to civilian life became all too real with the destruction that was being wreaked by the aerial bombardment from German airships. Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn were targeted in the very first Zeppelin raid on the night of January 15th 1915 and  over the next three years the eastern coastline of Britain, London and the Midlands area were to experience many more such raids. Women were expected to play their part in the war effort too, filling the gaps in the workforce left by the men who were sent off to fight. From munitions factory to train driver, from tilling the land to working for the war office, it was every woman’s duty to do her bit. A difficult backdrop under which to conduct “business as usual”, but carry on we seemingly did.

On the Norfolk Broads the boatyards continued to offer holiday boats to visitors, although it would be interesting to know just how busy the waterways were during this period. Blake’s 1916 Yachting List provided a rather lovely introduction on what one might expect from a Broadland holiday and how to conduct a cruise:

frys1908_broadspic10All lovers of nature will be greatly impressed the moment they find themselves on this wonderful lakeland, for one feels the glamour of it stealing over you. We cannot overrate the attractions or The Broads. It is impossible to feel lonely with all the other yachts and wherries about, and there is always something to be done: assisting in sailing the yacht, preparing for the next meal, looking to rods and lines, for The Broads are an angler’s paradise. After a day’s sailing is over and evening sets in, the yacht moored and everything made snug, one may stroll to the village near which you are moored and taste the delights of foraging for supper, and replenishing the depleted stock. A visit to a local inn, where refreshments of every description are served, must not be missed, for many a good yarn may be heard, spun by veteran wherry and yacht skippers, who know little of other life besides that of cruising up and down The Broads District, summer and winter. On your way back, very likely, the sounds of a gramophone, phonograph, or other kind of talking machine, will reach you, and those possessing a good machine should take it on this holiday, for nowhere can one of these machines be heard to greater advantage than on board. It is simply delightful to sit on deck in the twilight listening to a favourite song with no discordant sound; the stillness of the evening being only broken by the rustle of the reeds and the splash of rising fish.

The greatest charm a holiday spent in this manner holds for one is its perfect freedom and peacefulness, its absolute change and unconventionality; indeed the feeling of independence is paramount, and so long as one respects the few recognised laws of the district there is little you cannot do.

The brochure went on to provide a list of suggested clothes to take and foodstuffs to pre-order from one of the Broadland stores which included potted meats, tins of salmon, lobster and sardines, milk cream, bottles and tins of soup and fruit, fresh bread, butter, cheese, and cold cooked joints of meat and bacon. The following advice was issued regarding the latter; “Speaking generally, Norfolk bacon is not at all palatable to the visitors from London and the Provinces, and as this forms an important item in the stores it should be carefully considered.” It then went on to suggest laying in a stock of Harris’s Wiltshire Bacon. This introduction to the Broads seems to have been an updated version of a similar guide on how to conduct a cruise entitled “How to see the Broads” which was written by Harold Josling and published by Fry’s Magazine in 1908. Follow that link to read that article in full on the Broadland Memories website.

bm15_053_smlThe photograph above comes from the same album but appears to have been taken during another holiday which I believe is slightly later. The young gentleman seen amongst the boating party in the previous photograph is absent, would he have possibly been of an age for conscription I wonder. The skipper for this cruise is clearly beyond the eligible age, whilst his mate appears to be a young lad.  The group are pictured here cruising through Horning, with the Swan Hotel seen in the background on the right.

bm15_057_smlAnother photograph from the same c1918 holiday. In April 1918, such was the level of casualties that the upper age for conscription was raised to 50 (or 56 if the need arose). The men here certainly look to be under 50 but could possibly have been military men on leave, in reserved occupations or had other reason to be excluded from active service. Being another set of orphaned photographs which came without any background information, I will probably never know.

There is an original ships log within the personal memories section of the Broadland Memories website which was written during a honeymoon taken on the Norfolk Broads in August 1918. It’s a lovely read but also gives an interesting insight into what holidaying on the Broads was like during the latter part of the war. It took them over thirteen hours to reach the Broads from Rugby in Warwickshire “under war conditions“. Most people travelled to and from the region by train in those days. The first port of call was Wroxham Post Office where their ration books were presented and exchanged for a visitors ration card. Although they mentioned taking meals at Horning Ferry and the Kings Head Hotel at Wroxham during their two week cruise, the couple largely “foraged” for their own meals but struggled to find milk and other basics in the Broadland villages. Potatoes and Bovril seem to have made up a large part of their diet on the boat. The government eventually had to relent on its “business as usual” policy and take control of imported foods such as sugar, grain and meats. In 1916 it became illegal to eat more than two courses at lunchtime or three courses in the evening when dining in public. Fines were also introduced for anyone found feeding pigeons or wild animals. In 1917, Germany began  using submarines to target and sink ships which were carrying food and other essentials to Britain, hoping to starve the country into submission. In February of that year, voluntary rationing was introduced as food prices soared and supplies dwindled. Compulsory rationing was then introduced in stages between December 1917 and February 1918 with ration books being introduced in July 1918 for butter, margarine, lard, meat and sugar. One log entry mentions having the “government’s quota of National Controlled Tea” which was a reference to the government having also taken over the importation and pricing of the nation’s favourite cuppa.

The log contains photographs which the couple took during their honeymoon, but the writer notes how difficult it had become to procure rolls of film which were “a scarce commodity in these days of war (great demand for Army and Air service work).” They found that newspapers were pretty much unobtainable unless ordered and when they finally did find milk they were seemingly charged well over the odds for it. They found Broads chained off, Heigham Sound choked with “fungus weed” and mentioned visiting Horsey and sailing to the entrance to Hickling Broad but “didn’t go far into the Broad“, perhaps referring to the fact that the Broad was taken over by the Admiralty during the war for use as a seaplane base. On the night of the 29th of August 1918, the couple were moored just downstream of Wroxham: “These were more civilized surroundings than the last few nights & we indeed felt that we were returning to ordinary life when just as we were turning in, there was heavy firing from anti aircraft guns and Very’s lights over in the Norwich direction which lasted for some 20 minutes.” Bruce Robb, who transcribed his grandparents sailing log for me, could find no evidence of an air raid on the city that night, but if any local historians know otherwise then please do get in touch. It’s worth taking the time to go and read the whole “Log of the Frolic” if you get the chance as it is beautifully written and sprinkled with more than a touch of dry humour.

bm18_broads19_smlWe move on to a preview of the second collection of photographs which I believe date to between 1915 and 1918. These document a holiday, or holidays, at the other end of the scale, taken on board the two small cabin yachts Banshee and Melody, the latter of which is seen above. Melody was a 24ft, sloop-rigged cabin yacht which slept three to four persons and could be hired from Wroxham for around £4 per week in August 1916.

bm18_broads09_smlThere are several wherry photos within the set which are always an exciting find, and some interesting and more unusual Broadland scenes including the truly delightful image seen above of two marshmen sitting on the riverbank alongside their reed lighter. Perhaps this was a lunch break as they appear to have created some shade for themselves using the materials they had to hand.

Both collections require some major cleaning and a bit of restoration as they have been stuck down to album pages which has led to bad staining where the glue has seeped through. There is also the usual spotting and general staining associated with age. Those seen above are some which have already been done but, because it’s quite a time consuming process, I intend to put the photographs on in three batches as I work through them. The first set of 24 photos, featuring the 1915 holiday on the yacht Victoria have now been uploaded to the Broadland Memories website and can be viewed here.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.