“The best British football manager ever” – Alf Ramsey

Photograph copyright David Kindred www.kindredspirit.comAlf Ramsey celebrating winning the Championship in 1962. Photograph copyright David Kindred kindred-spirit.co.uk

The World Cup finals are always accompanied by a glut of retrospectives, and it seems inevitable that there will be references to the only man who ever guided England to win that trophy, Sir Alf Ramsey. Unfortunately it’s equally certain that those references will for the most part be clichéd and predictable: Ramsey’s accent, the elocution lessons, his reputation as a private, uncommunicative man with little sense of fun and no ability to relate to others. Worse still, though, it appears that many writers consider his achievements on the football field to be insignificant or that they’ve been overrated in some way. Somehow, it seems, golden boy Bobby Moore won the World Cup all by himself or England won the World Cup despite Alf Ramsey rather than because of him. His achievements in club football  are often overlooked too but I suspect that, for many reasons, he will forever remain the only manager of Ipswich Town ever to achieve the highest award in English football.

Sadly the first two mentions of Sir Alf that I’ve seen in the run-up to Brazil 2014, both by writers I admire very much – Barney Ronay of The Guardian and the incomparable Danny Baker, in Brushing Up on the World Cup, a comedy clips show – resorted to this lazy stereotype. Ronay even failed to mention that Ramsey had won the trophy in 1966, as if it’s some minor detail, while praising Alf’s predecessor as England manager, Walter Winterbottom, who – not to put too fine a point on it – won, appropriately enough, sweet FA.

Researching for a chapter on Sir Alf Ramsey for my book about the history of Ipswich Town FC, I read everything that I could find about the man and also spoke to a number of people who had met or knew him: someone who as a small boy knocked on the door of Alf’s house in Ipswich to ask for his autograph, the woman who was his secretary for his entire time at Ipswich Town, ex-footballers who played for him. Every one spoke of his kindness, courtesy and love of the game.

The contrast between the Alf that they spoke of and the cold, detached and rather unknowable figure depicted in the books and newspaper articles that were written during his lifetime is remarkable. Yet frequently, as well as invariably talking about Ramsey’s shyness, his detachment, the regret that they could never quite get to know him, people also spoke warmly of the respect and love they felt for him – and in several cases they actually used the word love. These were (mostly) men of my father’s generation, men who would rarely, if ever, speak openly about their feelings especially towards other men. One example – and it’s quite typical – is Alan Ball, who was in Ramsey’s England squad for many years, and said: “I loved him to death. He was very, very special in my life.”

Most biographies and articles about Ramsey, however, portray a quite different individual. One in particular, by Max Marquis, is a clear and obvious attempt to destroy the man’s reputation and it was published while Ramsey was still alive. I enjoy a good hatchet job as much as the next woman (see Taylor Parkes on Tim Lovejoy in When Saturday Comes for one of the best) but Marquis seemed to have an agenda to bring Ramsey down. Perhaps it’s just that thing foreigners notice about the British, that we have a need to destroy anyone who is successful, to point out that they have feet of clay. Perhaps it was more personal than that. Whatever, his motivation, it makes painful reading.

Alf Ramsey was born in Dagenham, then a small village, in 1920. When interviewed he said that his family “were not exactly wealthy.” This was a characteristic understatement on Ramsey’s part, and like his much-quoted reply to a question about where his parents lived (“I believe they live in Dagenham.”) is often used as evidence of an almost eccentric desire to hide his origins. I don’t believe that this was an attempt on his part to cover up the poverty of his background or some kind of snobbish dismissal of his folks by a self-made man. Ramsey was a diffident person who disliked speaking to the press, and some of the things that he said may simply have resulted from a desire to protect his family from unwanted intrusion.

There may be more to it, however. Ramsey’s grandparents came from Suffolk and Essex and were agricultural labourers. His father had a smallholding and sold straw and hay. Like many farmworkers, they moved around quite frequently. People had to go where the work was. This may be the reason that as a young man, including when he was a professional footballer, Alf had been given the nickname of Darkie, which apparently referred to the fact that many people thought that he was from a Romani (or gypsy) family. There is no evidence that the Ramseys, or his mother’s family, the Bixbys, were Romani, but nevertheless this may have caused him to be a little more reticent about his background than he might have been. Let’s not pretend that attitudes towards travellers were particularly liberal in the 1950s and 1960s.

There is another reason, however, why Alf Ramsey may have wanted to be a little bit discreet about his family background. He had three brothers, Len, Cyril and Albert. Alf learned to play football with his brothers as a schoolboy in Dagenham. Albert, was a little older than Alf, according to the Leo McKinstry in his biography, was usually known by his nickname “Bruno,” and was a heavy drinker and gambler, who kept greyhounds. “Bruno’s disreputable life would cause Alf some embarrassment,” according to McKinstry.

There’s a further possible reason for Alf’s growing detachment, and this is speculation on my part, but like many professional footballers in the days when they played with those leaden old footballs, he would eventually suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. His mother, Florence had the same illness. Although Alf was only formally diagnosed with the disease in the 1990s, who knows what effect it might have had upon his personality and behaviour?

How the Alf Ramsey of the media stereotype managed to get along with the notoriously bibulous Cobbold family when he went to manage Ipswich Town at Portman Road is uncertain. He was never an unsociable man during his time in football though, and was often photographed at parties. One of Alf’s former players at Ipswich told me that Ramsey always wanted his players to have fun, even though he didn’t want to join them himself. He felt that encouraging his players to go out and have a good time was an important part of building team spirit. Latterly, Ramsey has been criticised for coming down hard on his England players for over-indulging, but it has since transpired that some of them had serious problems with alcohol. It would have been odd if he had turned a blind eye to that as the manager of a national football team.

What’s clear is that Ramsey always wished to ensure that his players were protected from the attentions of the media but also given all the credit for any success that they might have. When Ipswich Town won the Championship in 1962, the football correspondent of The Times wrote: “The players, called from their humble dressing room, did a lap of honour almost embarrassed by all the attention; and an incessant chant rose for the man who had quietly planned this remarkable feat in the background.”

One of Ramsey’s best players at Ipswich Town, Jimmy Leadbetter, said: “He did not want any praise. When people congratulated him, he gave all the credit to the players.”

A story that has often been told but is still endearing is that when all the celebrations of that great Championship victory for Ipswich were over and everyone had gone home, Alf’s chairman John Cobbold found him sitting alone in a completely deserted, dark Portman Road, staring out over the pitch. Without a word, Ramsey handed Cobbold his jacket, walked down onto the pitch and ran a silent lap of honour, alone.

When researching my book almost all the photographs that I could find of Alf showed him smiling. He seems to have been particularly happy when coaching, or with his players. He mistrusted the media and this may not have helped him, particularly after he fell foul of the Football Association and the ridiculous Harold Thompson who appeared to have had a vendetta against him following an incident when Ramsey – once again trying to protect his players – asked him not to smoke a cigar in front of the England team.

To this day, the media continue to use a stereotypical – and I think innacurate – portrayal of Alf Ramsey and that makes it difficult for many people to see beyond the suit and the clipped, artificial accent. He should be judged as a man of his time, the era of National Service, of post-war austerity, of overt and often cruel class distinction. It’s unhelpful to impose the attitudes of our own time. A quiet man from a working-class background, in a society where there was a great deal of snobbery and deference, might be forgiven for taking elocution lessons, or for being a little bit reticent about his origins. The men in blazers at the FA were very powerful people and, indeed, they never quite accepted Alf Ramsey – partly because of his background but also because he did something that someone from his class was not supposed to do. He stood up to them.

In the end, Thompson had his revenge. Ramsey was treated so shabbily by the Football Association that when he died there was no FA representation at his private funeral at St. Mary-le-Tower in Ipswich. According to The Guardian, his widow had “in effect told the Football Association… to go jump in the Thames.” It did not add that Lady Vicki’s  instruction – had it actually been uttered – would have been accompanied by the loud cheers of every Ipswich Town fan in the country. Typically, the BBC – part of the same Establishment as those officials at Lancaster Gate – reported this as Sir Alf’s “last snub” to the FA.

The prevailing view in the 21st century appears to be that Ramsey’s achievements were not so remarkable, that perhaps after all he was only building on the work of his predecessors at Ipswich (Scott Duncan) and England (Walter Winterbottom) but as any Ipswich Town fan will tell any Norwich City supporter: it’s what’s in the trophy cabinet that counts in the end. Bobby Robson who also achieved great things for both Ipswich Town and England, declared that Sir Alf Ramsey was the “greatest British football manager ever.” Who are we to demur?


Poor, murdered woman – a refugee’s story

Ruth  Towards the end of the Second World War, a murder hunt took place in north Staffordshire. Mrs. Annie Lovatt was blackberrying with her 12-year-old daughter, Pamela, in a quiet, rural spot called Counslow when she found a young woman’s body in a gravel pit. According to her post mortem, the woman, Ruth Schmerler, a Polish refugee, aged 20, had died from “shock and internal haemorrhage due to stab wounds in chest. Murder by person or persons unknown.” Her clothing was torn and dishevelled and one of her stockings was missing. Police did not think that robbery was the motive for her murder. They had recovered one of her shoes and her necklace, a gold cross which perhaps indicated that she had converted to Christianity – who knows? –  and her black leather suitcase was missing.

I know about this story because my mother grew up in a small market town nearby and her family knew the people who had found the body. My mum would tell me about it, and – as she often did with the family stories she would tell  – she gave it an air of mystery as if she knew that there was something more to the tale (she didn’t). My mother had a big heart and – even though she only knew the story second hand – many years afterwards she would still feel emotional and have such empathy for a young woman who had come to this country as a refugee and died, abused and alone, miles away from home that her eyes would fill with tears.

I researched the background of the story a while ago and couldn’t discover any evidence to support any kind of cover-up or conspiracy about Ruth Schmerler’s death as some writers have alleged. It seems to me that it is simply the old, old story of the “poor murdered woman laid on the cold ground” as the folk song has it. This is as much of Ruth’s story as I can manage to find out.

Ruth Schmerler was born in Poland in around 1924, probably in Galicia. Her family were Jewish, the Schmerlers seem to have been a religious, even Rabbinical family. It seems that most of Ruth’s family were wiped out in the Holocaust. She and her younger brother Kurt, came to England in 1939 as part of the Manchester Children’s Refugee Movement. At some point she worked as an assistant in a pharmacy in Manchester but  – according to some reports – she left her job,  joined the Women’s Land Army and was working in Worcestershire in 1944. Others say that she was taking an “agricultural holiday” with a Jewish group in Bromsgrove. Whichever it was, Ruth decided to travel back to see Kurt, who was by then an apprentice optician in Manchester. He may well be the same Kurt Schmerler who had an optician’s practice in Harley Street after the war, in which case he died in 1999.

During the Second World War, it was common to hitch hike and presumably, this was how Ruth planned to travel to Manchester. She was last seen accepting a lift from a soldier: the Nottingham Post reported on 3rd October 1944 that she was picked up by an “Army touring model motor car” in the outskirts of Birmingham at 1pm on the 21st of September. The police were looking for the driver, a soldier “about 30 years of age, rather tall and of slim build.” Another report described him as “aged 30, height 5ft 10ins, slim build, rough complexon with a full moustache.” When he came forward, he told the police that Ruth had got out of his vehicle and into another that was heading north.

Ruth’s suitcase and her missing stocking were found near Shap Fell in Cumbria where they were probably thrown from a vehicle. A soldier was interviewed at Thornhill, Dumfries in Scotland but no charges were ever brought.

The police made strenuous efforts to find Ruth’s killer. They sent squads of police officers to interview soldiers in barracks around the country, used mine detectors in the quarry at Counslow and even grafted a photograph of Ruth’s head on to a picture of a policewoman dressed in her clothes and carrying a similar suitcase in an attempt to create what they called “a walking picture” of the victim and jog people’s memories.

At a time when there was all kinds of movement around the country and tremendous upheaval, when people of all kinds of backgrounds and characters had been conscripted into the British, US and other military forces, burglaries, rapes and murders were all committed during the war by soldiers away from their home areas who were almost impossible to trace and identify. Ruth Schmerler was one of the victims. It is all the more poignant somehow that this woman, who had fled such persecution and survived the Nazis when most of her family had not, should die in such a lonely, violent and unnecessary way.

I think my mother wanted me to write about Ruth Schmerler, so that she would not be forgotten.

 Schmerler 1

Between the Wars – Alf & Ada Salter of Bermondsey

When I read the broadcaster Danny Baker’s autobiography, Going to Sea in a Sieve, last year, I discovered that we had both lived in the same council-owned tower block in south east London, Maydew House, albeit not at the same time. At least, I don’t think so. I’m sure that I would have recognised him in the lift.

view from maydewThe view from my flat

I loved living in Bermondsey. The area around Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks is full of history and most of the people who live around there are lovely. After years of struggling to find an affordable home in north London, and as a young person without a family, I liked living in a tower block too. Someone came to do a survey of tenants once and went away shaking his head in disbelief as I told him how great it was to live way above the noise and dirt of the city, with the south London railway system as my own personal train set and a well-built, light, warm, airy flat about ten minutes walk from Tower Bridge and the City. Well, it was great when the lifts were working anyway.


Bermondsey slums, early 20th century

That part of London was badly bombed during the Second World War and before that had been an area of great hardship and social deprivation. People lived in unhealthy, dilapidated slum dwellings and the Dockers’ Shelter – where men stood waiting to be taken on for a day’s work – was still on the corner of Redriff Road when I lived there. It was knocked down when the area was redeveloped to be replaced by a bog-standard shopping centre with a very big Tesco, called “Surrey Quays.”

There were memorials all around the area to Dr. Alfred Salter and his wife, Ada, Christian Socialists (Quakers), who believed that they had been called to work in the Bermondsey slums. Members of the Peace Pledge Union and founders of the Socialist Medical Association – which began the campaign for a National Health Service – they worked hard to improve the lives of the families of south east London before the Second World War. Alf became involved in politics and was elected to Bermondsey Borough Council in 1903 and London County Council in 1906. The death of their 8-year-old daughter Joyce from scarlet fever only reinforced their commitment to try to help other people in the area, especially children, lead better, healthier lives. As a GP, Salter could have afforded to send Joyce to a different school but he never wavered in his commitment to equality, sending her to Keeton’s Road School where infectious diseases were rife.

lf & Joyce

After the First World War, Alf Salter was the Labour candidate for Bermondsey in the General Election but lost to the sitting MP, a Liberal. He and Ada both served on the LCC for many years and Ada was the first woman mayor of Bermondsey. Alf was eventually elected as MP for Bermondsey in 1922 and he remained in Parliament until he stood down because of poor health before the 1945 election. Their work is described in detail in a fascinating book, Bermondsey Story, written by another Christian Socialist, Fenner Brockway, whom I was privileged to see giving a speech when he was nearly 100-years-old.

Alf with Joyce

Among the things that stood out for me though were the Beautification Committee which Ada chaired for eleven years from 1923. It’s agenda was “Fresh Air and Fun.” Meanwhile Alf opened a health centre, where local children were given free “sun-ray” treatment to combat diseases such as rickets – a disease which is returning to Britain according to a news item that I read recently. From 1924 Bermondsey council reserved six places each year in a pioneering Sun Clinic at Leysin in the Swiss Alps. Five of the first six patients sent there went on to make a full recovery and many local people benefited from the treatment.

Nothing was too good for the people of Bermondsey, according to the Salters, and quite right too. All the green spaces, the beautifully planted up flower beds and pleasant parks, were down to the Salters and people like them. We live in less idealistic times where the bottom line of profit (for some) is everything and I was reminded of the work of the Salters when I read about Shelter’s campaign to help the 80,000 children who will be homeless this Christmas. Britain is one of the wealthiest nations on earth but it is also one of the most unequal.

AdaAda Salter

A Constable portrait & a neglected cemetery in Ipswich

In about 1807, the Suffolk painter John Constable, renowned for his landscapes, painted a rare portrait. It was a painting of a very old lady, who lived in the parish of St Peter’s, Ipswich. The woman was called Sarah Lyon and she had been born in 1703.

Sarah Lyon

Sarah Lyon died in 1808 at the age of 105. It is believed that she was buried in the Jewish cemetery, close to Fore Street. A transcription published in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, vol. XL, part 2 (2002), of the few remaining tombstones, mostly faded to illegibility and all written in Hebrew, includes one to “The woman… 5565 or 5568 [= 1805 and 1808]” which might be hers.

Yesterday, because I’m researching the history of Judaism in East Anglia, I visited the Jewish cemetery. It took me some time to find it and I’m not going to give exact details of its location, because – although it’s hard to believe – there are still people anti-Semitic enough to want to vandalise it.

It was a beautiful spring day in Ipswich and when we eventually found the little patch of ground with a small number of headstones that remain, we took the following photographs through a padlocked, wrought-iron gate. It is a peaceful place, despite being surrounded by extremely busy roads.  A robin was singing within the brick walls that surround the graves. Some of the Hebrew inscriptions are still legible.

There was a synagogue serving the Ipswich Jewish community in Rope Walk, not far from the cemetery. The Jewish population dispersed (probably to larger cities) and by 1877 the synagogue had become so neglected that it was demolished. Ipswich Jews nowadays must go to Colchester to worship.

An Education

Yesterday I visited the House of Commons for the first time in my life. It was wonderful to see the site of so many important historical events, such as Westminster Hall, where state trials used to take place, including those of Guido Fawkes and Warren Hastings.

I was there to watch an awards ceremony that had been made as a tribute to a family member who had spent many years pioneering Access to Higher Education courses. After the ceremony, we were taken on a short tour of the building by Nick Dakin, Labour MP for Scunthorpe, who had presented the awards. He was extremely kind and we even managed to get into the amazing and highly-decorated Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/estatehistory/the-middle-ages/chapel-st-mary-undercroft-/

We’d been promised a cream tea in Portcullis House, so were slightly puzzled when Nick Dakin stopped outside a cupboard which seemed to contain electrical or computer equipment and asked us to step inside. We could only go in pairs and I went in first with another woman. On the inside of the door was a rectangular plaque which had been secretly put up by Tony Benn MP to commemorate the fact that on Census night, 1911, a suffragette called Emily Wilding Davison hid in the cupboard – then a broom cupboard – as a simple act of protest at not having the right to vote. She was able to register as being resident at the House of Commons and here is the evidence:


Emily Wilding Davison was born in 1872 and brought up in Blackheath, Surrey. She achieved First Class honours at Oxford University in 1895. Although women could by then study for degrees, they were not allowed to graduate so she left without a degree. She began a career teaching in girls’ schools and later became involved in the militant wing of the Woman Suffrage movement, the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU). She went to prison several times for fairly minor offences, such as attempting to give the Liberal Prime Minister, Asquith, a petition. During a later prison term, she went on hunger strike and was force fed. I don’t know if any research has been done on the psychological effects of force-feeding, but it certainly proved to harden the suffragettes’ campaign.

Emily Davison is, of course, more famous for her final act of protest when she threw herself under the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913. She was badly injured and died in hospital four days later. No-one knows if she intended to die. She had a ticket to a dance for that evening so it’s possible she only wanted to make a protest.

Tony Benn had tried to have a memorial put up to record Emily Davison’s protest for some time. In the end, he took a hammer and put the plaque up himself. He said: “It is a modest reminder of a great woman with a great cause who never lived to see it prosper but played a significant part in making it possible.”

Women over 30 were given the vote in 1918 and in 1928, this was extended to women over 21, making them equal with men for the first time.

It was a privilege to be able to see it.

Homes for Heroes: ex-servicemen & the squatting movement in 1946

There is legislation going through Parliament at the moment which will make squatting in unoccupied properties an imprisonable offence.

Squatting – as a form of non-violent protest and an act of desperation by the homeless – has been around a long time. In The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill describes how 17th century cottagers (people who made a subsistence living on common land), squatted on land after it had been enclosed. In the 1650s, there was a concerted campaign against squatters by magistrates and cottages were destroyed in Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Warwickshire. One commentator wrote: “The poor increase like flies and lice, and these vermin will eat us up unless we enclose.”

The enclosure of common land certainly played a large part in the creation of a dispossessed class who were then forced to seek food and shelter in this way, but some of these squatters would have been people displaced by the recent civil wars, including ex-soldiers. The history of public unrest in Britain can often be linked with periods following war, when large numbers of soldiers and sailors would return home, many without shelter or work.

We have never treated our ex-servicemen well. The Napoleonic Wars “ended amidst riots… Thousands of disbanded soldiers and sailors returned to find unemployment in their villages.” (E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class). Following the First World War, having been promised “homes fit for heroes,” but given unemployment, economic depression and poverty, ex-servicemen were attracted in large numbers to the political extremes on the left and the right. Many of Mosley’s Blackshirts were people who had fought in the trenches.

The impression is often given that things were different following the Second World War, but towards the end of the war and in its immediate aftermath, there was a great deal of social unrest. There were strikes by members of the armed forces and in 1946, homeless ex-servicemen and their families took to squatting in disused military camps.

On 17th August 1946, the Times reported: “More huts formerly used by the services in various parts of the country were occupied by homeless families yesterday. After commandeering huts at the rocket battery site at Cowley Marsh, Oxford, “squatters” extended their activities to the ex-Admiralty huts on Balliol College ground at Jowett’s Walk.”

Other squatters were reported at Crayford in Kent, Cricklewood in North West London, plus at various locations in Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Essex and Shropshire. In Gravesend, a sports club was occupied by a homeless family who refused to allow club members in to attend a meeting.

There are hints in contemporary newspaper reports of an unsavoury side to the squatting movement caused by the resentment of “Poles” (presumably those Polish servicemen who had fought for the British during the war) and Prisoners of War who were yet to return to their native countries. Most of the squatters were simply desperate, however:

“A demobilized soldier, accompanied by his wife and son, has taken possession of Wellingborough Grange, near Lincoln, a seven-bedroomed house which has been empty for nearly two years, and eight families have occupied Litley Court, a large house taken over by Herefordshire Agricultural Committee for use as offices.” (Times, 23rd August 1946.)

The Prime Minister and several other members of the Cabinet decided that matters should not prevent them from taking a short holiday, but by September the squatting movement had taken off. Private houses, not just military properties, were being occupied and the squatters were moving closer to the home of the government itself:

“The organized invasion of private property in Kensington and elsewhere in London… has confronted the Government with a situation which they regard far more seriously than the recent seizure of military camps.” (Times, 10th September 1946). The final straw appears to have been the occupation of the Duchess of Bedford House, a block of luxury flats in Campden Hill Road, Kensington. The Minister of Works took legal advice. The Times began to sound panicky, describing it as “… [an] invasion to a point where no private house would be safe.”

The tone of the Times’ coverage, initially sympathetic, changed. It began to point out that there were thousands on the council’s waiting list for housing and the squatters, in its opinion, were trying to “jump the queue”  and it quoted “some Kensington women:” “There are no Kensington people here. … It is just for Communists.” Although its editorials were critical of the squatters, however, it acknowledged that there were 250,000 families on local authority waiting lists and that there was, indeed, a desperate need for more housing to be made available.

The Labour government, represented by Aneurin Bevan, refused to support the squatters, despite having recently passed laws that would have enabled the use of military camps for emergency housing. Newport (Montgomeryshire) Housing Committee used those laws to convert a military camp, putting in water and other facilities, and housing people from their own waiting list, but most authorities did nothing.

University of London students took over the Ivanhoe Hotel in Bloomsbury in mid-September. They hung a large placard from a window: “600 rooms vacant; why be homeless?” The local authority took no action to evict them – they were waiting for a decision on another case in the High Court – but massive numbers of policemen were posted around other empty buildings in the area.

The government’s response continued to be hostile to the squatters and they resorted to classic tactics: picking out the politically active (Communist Party members) and prosecuting them and “divide and rule” – by continually describing the squatters as “jumping the housing queue” they hoped to encourage resentment towards them by other people in need of homes.  The withdrawal of basic facilities like water and sanitation was also sanctioned. On 17th September, the Times reported that a deputation of squatters had visited 10 Downing Street with a 2,000 signature petition but Mr. Attlee declined to receive them.

Soon afterwards, the High Court granted the Minister of Works an injunction “restraining the defendants [named members of the squatters’ committee] … from entering, remaining or otherwise trespassing on the premises” at Duchess of Bedford House.

What may have initially appeared to be a defeat for the squatting campaign, however, resulted in an immediate change of heart from the Labour government. The disused military camps, plus other former hostels and hotels that had been requisitioned during the war, were released as temporary accommodation (with full facilities) for homeless families and as soon as 23rd September 1946 a massive programme of building 100,000 temporary and 100,000 permanent dwellings was announced, to be completed by the end of the year. The next few years saw a huge increase in house building resulting in many of the council estates that provided good homes for the less well off until the Thatcher government sold them off under the “right to buy” in the 1980s.

More recently, soldiers returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have had problems obtaining the accommodation and health care they need:


The issues surrounding how we treat our veterans may have changed since the Napoleonic wars but our society still doesn’t appear to show them very much gratitude for what they have done in our name.

“Each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds:” some Norfolk casualties of the First World War

In 2000-1, I was involved in a digitisation project for Norfolk libraries, which scanned, indexed and uploaded thousands of old photographs of the county. They have been available online (via the library website http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/Leisure_and_culture/Libraries/ ) for many years now – although I’m not sure that many Norfolk people are aware of them – and are now known collectively as Picture Norfolk.

One section of this collection comprises the Norfolk ‘Roll of Honour,’ photographs of every soldier and sailor (Royal and merchant navy) who was killed in the First World War. Most of the original photographs had potted biographies written on the back, some quite lengthy, and I found many of them very moving to read. I particularly remember the three brothers in south Norfolk, agricultural labourers, who were all killed. I believe there was another family where at least three brothers, sons of a clergyman, died too. The First World War did not discriminate according to social class.

The most upsetting thing, though, was when I read a desperate-sounding plea scrawled on the back of one photographs, along the lines of: “Please return this photograph. It’s all I have left of my son.”

Now that the last veterans of the First World War have died, and many of the children who remember them have also gone, we will forget them. That’s the way of things. But these are just a few of the young men of Norfolk who died in the First World War.

Please remember that the copyright on these images remains with Norfolk County Council and these images should not be reproduced without permission.

 1. First Class Steward Arthur Nunn, from Billingford


2. Private Walter J. Starling, 1st Norfolk Regiment, from Fakenham


Eldest son of Mr. & Mrs. W. Starling of Sculthorpe Lodge Cottages, Fakenham. Wounded and taken prisoner at Mons in 1914. Died in hospital in Russia (as a POW) in 1917, aged 23.

3. Private Benjamin Thorpe, 1st Norfolks, from Cromer


Born in 1896, he was killed in France in 1917 and buried in Roclincourt Military Cemetery, near Arras.

4. 1st Class Stoker Benjamin Watts, HMS Natal, from Acle


5. Private Walter Codling, Royal Army Medical Corps


Private Codling was an employee of Jarrolds. He joined a local detachment of the British Red Cross Society. He was lost on the Royal Edward, which was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea, in 1915.

6. Private Sydney Valentine Symonds, 1st Norfolks,  from Norwich


Private Symonds was born in Norwich in 1895, and went to  Thorpe Hamlet School. He enlisted in August 1912, and died from wounds at Mons in September 1914.

7. Captain Christopher Magnay, 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, from Drayton


Captain Magnay was born at Drayton, in 1896. He was killed in action at Vimy Ridge, 23rd April 1917

8. Corporal Robert Fisher, Coldstream Guards & Private Charles Fisher, Norfolk Regiment

http://bit.ly/uG0W7E                 http://bit.ly/smOPeJ

Robert – born at Fundenhall in 1892, the eldest son of Mr & Mrs Horace Fisher, of Barford, near Wymondham; enlisted 6 March 1911; died in London hospital, in 1915.

Charles – second son of Horace and Ellen M. Fisher, of Barford,  born at Fundenhall, in 1894; enlisted in 1913; killed in action 14 September 1914.

9. Lance-Corporal Alphonso Allison, 7th Norfolks & Corporal Horace Allison, Royal Marine Artillery,  & Private Dan Walter Allison, Scots Guards, from Bawburgh

http://bit.ly/vqhXY9      http://bit.ly/uB1MBD           http://bit.ly/vLweHC

Alphonso – Lance-Corporal Allison was born at Bawburgh, in 1893, the son of William & Maria. He enlisted in November 1914 and died of wounds in France, in October 1916.

Horace – the record only states he was from Bawburgh. Presumably, if not a brother of Alphonso & Dan, he was a member of the same family.

Dan – Private Allison was born at Costessey, in 1887, the son of William & Maria Allison. Killed in France in 1914.

10. Mrs. C. M. Fathers, Officer of Forage Corps


Mrs C.M. Fathers (originally Miss C.M.Spencer) was an officer in the Forage Corps, Royal Army Service Corps. It is not clear whether she survived the war.

11. Rev. Charles Ivo Sinclair Hood, Church of England Chaplain to H. M. Forces, 1/3 East Anglian Field Ambulance.


Reverend Hood was born in 1886 & enlisted in October 1915. He died in April 1918.

12. Lance Corporal James Rix, Royal Engineers


Lance Corporal Rix was killed in action in April 1918.