The Great War 1914 - 1918

If you have other material, photographs, documents, memorabilia etc. that has connections with the villages, and that might be published on this page, please contact us. We would be pleased to hear from you and to see what you may have.

The Great War - or World War I (WW1)

has been well documented elsewhere and it is intended here only to reflect on how it immediately affected the villages.

As in all parts of the country, villagers of East Winch and West Bilney fought and died in the Great War.

From West Bilney five men lost their lives in the war, whilst from East Winch six men died. There are war memorials at both churches All Saints, East Winch, and St Cecilia, West Bilney commemorating these men.

From West Bilney, George H Back,

Samuel Frederick Bell,

John Dix,

George Dix

Joseph Newman

lost their lives.

(Click on the links to see more about each of the men)

From East Winch, W J Brown,

A Berry,

James Reeve,

BT Edwards,

R B Weston, and

A E Reeve

died during the war.

At the outbreak of the First World War the British Red Cross Society and the St. John Ambulance Brigade joined forces to care for sick and wounded soldiers.

The Manor House at West Bilney was for some time used as a military hospital - caring for soldiers who had been injured. See more about this here.

From a newspaper cutting

Pte. Reginald Neal, of East Winch, has recently been removed from a French military hospital, suffering from an acute attack of dysentery, to the Kitchener Hospital, Brighton. His progress is slow but sure.

During 1914 recruits were sought to join the armed forces.


“Your King and Country need you” was the slogan which called hundreds of thousands of eager recruits to the Colours in 1914 and early 1915. Under the direction of Lord Kitchener these men were grouped into “new armies” and underwent training for active service.

The military depots and areas were quite inadequate, so that men drilling in parks and other open spaces became familiar sights in all parts of the country.

Over the first five days of war – 4th to 8th August 1914 – nearly 8,200 men joined the British Army (not including the existing reservists and Territorials who were called up). In London alone, 2,152 men joined up in those few days.

Patriotic Meeting

A newspaper reported that at East Winch:-

"the schoolroom was well filled on Tuesday evening 22nd September when a meeting was convened by Mr. F G Thorne (Heacham), for the purpose of giving some particulars of our position in the war, and with a view of influencing recruits towards joining Lord Kitchener’s army. Mr. William Goodwin occupied the chair.

A letter was read from Sir William Lancaster expressing regret at his inability to attend through engagements in London.

Mr Thorne, who addressed his hearers, dwelt upon the origin of the war, its progress up to date and future prospects of positive success against the enemy. He also set forth a strong appeal to all those present eligible for service to consider their responsibility and loyal duty for joining the forces.

The proceedings terminated with a vote of thanks to Mr. Thorne and the singing of the National Anthem".

The Norfolk Regiment

The Regiment raised 19 Battalions, was awarded 70 Battle Honours and one Victoria Cross, losing 6,000 men during the course of the war.

By the 4th. August 1914, Britain and much of Europe were pulled into a war which would last 1,566 days, cost 8,528,831 lives and 28,938,073 casualties or missing on both sides.

Work of the Norfolks

From an Officer’s diary

“There has been a stream of wounded Turks and Arabs brought in, also a lot of prisoners.

The wounded, poor wretched devils, had been lying out in the open mostly in scanty clothing and it is a marvel they are not dead, having been without food and water all the time.

Prisoners seem quite happy and the men have been supplying them with chapatties to supplement their ration of dates only!.....

August 6th saw the first ‘call to arms’ published; Lord Kitchener (the Secretary of State for War) called for 100,000 men to join up ‘for three years or the duration’ and recruiting posters went up around the country.

Norfolks brought in a lot of papers, taken from the dead, which were handed over to Intelligence Section Headquarters, and they buried thousands of rounds of ammunition in the desert. As soon as it gets dark the sniping begins on the outpost line, and we are getting accustomed to it, but this evening it was nearer than usual, one bullet whizzing over us at dinner and another chipping off a date branch behind us.

A contemporary poster recruiting for the Reserve Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment

At Christmas 1914 it is reported that German and British forces called a truce in some places along the line. It ran from Christmas Eve and lasted for some 48 hours - though in places for much longer.

A contemporary poster recruiting for the Reserve Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment

The Daily Telegraph - 7 December 2014 - reports that opposing men played football and smoked cigars together. The photograph shows German and British troops socialising on the occasion of the truce.

General Sir Walter Congreve VC

A letter from General Sir Walter Congreve addressed to his wife, and dated Xmas 1914, has recently come to light.

The letter reads:-

Xmas Day [1914]

Darling dear – as I cannot be with you all, the next best thing is to write to you for so I get closer. We have had a “seasonable weather” day – which means sharp frost & fog & never a smich [smidgen?] of sun. I went to church with 2 of my battalions in an enormous factory room & after lunch took down to the N. Staffords, in my old trenches at Rue du Bois,

There I found an outstanding state of affairs – this a.m. a German shouted out that they wanted a day’s truce & would one come out if he did; so very cautiously one of our men lifted himself above the parapet & saw a German doing the same. Both got out then more & finally all day long in that particular place they have been walking about together all day giving each other cigars & singing songs. Officers as well as men were out & the German Colonel himself was talking to one of our Captains.My informant, one of the men, said he had had a fine day of it & had “smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army, then not more than 18. They say he’s killed more of our men than any other 12 together but I know now where he shoots from so I hope we down him tomorrow”. I hope devoutly they will – next door the 2 battalions opposite each other were shooting away all day & so I hear it was further north, 1st R.B. playing football with the Germans opposite them - next Regiments shooting each other.

I was invited to go & see the Germans myself but refrained as I thought they might not be able to resist a General.

Frank Lyon came over this p.m. & brought me a note book from John & the enclosed letter from Henry Wilson to whom you can write your thanks. Tom Holland, looking very tall & gaunt, came to lunch with me yesterday. He also is at General Hd. Qtrs. He was just like his pleasant self.

To commemorate the 100th. Anniversary of the start of the Great War an art installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, was laid out in the dry moat of the Tower of London..

88, 246 individually hand made ceramic poppies were 'planted'; each represented a British or Colonial military fatality during the war. The moat was progressively filled from mid July until Armistice Day on 11 November.