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It’s 1917, and Great Yarmouth people are suffering war casualties, job losses and hunger

PUBLISHED: 21:29 09 December 2017

Flower beds in the Wellington Pier gardens were dug up in 1917 and used for potato growing to help alleviate food shortages. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

Flower beds in the Wellington Pier gardens were dug up in 1917 and used for potato growing to help alleviate food shortages. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

Archant

Despondency and gloom were pervasive. There was little to be cheerful about, no optimistic bright side.

Gorleston's Cliff Hotel, gutted by a Boxing Day inferno in 1916, would cost £30,000 to rebuild, it was announced in 1917 - that would be £2.4 million today. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVEGorleston's Cliff Hotel, gutted by a Boxing Day inferno in 1916, would cost £30,000 to rebuild, it was announced in 1917 - that would be £2.4 million today. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

A century ago, in 1917, Great Yarmouth and the rest of the nation were suffering bleak times after years of a seemingly endless war.

“The third year of the war found the town in one of the most depressing periods of its history. The local Press was filled with accounts of the doings of our local troops and casualty lists,” wrote local historian Arthur (“Bill”) Ecclestone in his 1977 compilation of significant and noteworthy events in the half-century between 1886 and 1936, assisted by members of our local Archaeological Society.

“Unlike inland towns, Yarmouth suffered severe distress and unemployment owing to the collapse of the holiday industry and was declared a Depressed Area.”

Grants from Canada and the Government totalling £47,750 “alleviated somewhat the near-starvation conditions of the unemployed and especially the keepers of boarding houses.

The last of the trees lining the landward side of South Quay were removed by the council in 1917. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVEThe last of the trees lining the landward side of South Quay were removed by the council in 1917. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

“Considerable bitterness was caused by the lack of definite guidelines to determine exemption from military service.”

The plight was aggravated not only by three weeks of continuous frost in January but also by food shortages, so the borough council rented out 358 allotments and bought seed potatoes for sale at 1s (5p today) a stone. Flower beds in the Wellington Pier Gardens were used for growing potatoes. Seven thousand cabbages from a nursery near the Bure-side refuse destructor were sold for 6s (30p) per 100.

But the bid to be self-sufficient food-wise was harmed by “considerable damage” being done to the North Denes allotments by horses belonging to the Monmouth Regiment.

No fewer than 3,000 people packed the parish church for a service of dedication marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, an occasion rendered all the more solemn because the borough coroner, Mr C B Diver, died during the service. Another significant death was that of the new Vicar of Gorleston, the Rev J M Parry, only two days after his induction.

One bright spot for the populace was the marriage of Flight Lieutenant Edgar Cadbury to Mary, daughter of the Vicar of Gorleston, the Rev Forbes Phillips.

The airman had endeared himself to the borough the previous year by bringing down a German Zeppelin returning after an air raid on Yorkshire. He and colleagues took off from Burgh Castle with other planes and set the airship on fire, causing it to crash in flames into the sea off Lowestoft, earning him the DSC.

Maximum prices for certain foods were fixed. Bread was to cost 5½d (2p) a loaf, rump steak 2s a lb (10p), sausages ls (5p), and beef, sirloin, lamb and pork 1s 6d (7p). And while I am interpreting £sd in today’s decimal currency for clarity for younger readers, I note that in 1917 our Chamber of Commerce called for decimal currency to be introduced – and for a new bridge and development on the west side of Breydon.

One thousand loads of shingle were taken from the beach south of the Britannia Pier and deposited at the South Denes air station.

As an emergency measure to safeguard the population, it was proposed to bridge dykes west of Lichfield Road to help evacuation. And the council bought 2,000 tons of coal for emergencies.

There was an air raid in the July which caused no civilian casualties but led to a public meeting urging reprisals on Germany. It was announced that sirens would be used in future to warn of air raids.

An unusual order was made by the Army prohibiting Shropshire and Cheshire Regiment personnel entering shops before 4pm.

Road repairs necessitated by wear and tear caused by heavy twin tyres and the large number of horse-drawn vehicles prompted the council to ask the Government for a grant, resulting in £368 being awarded. Tenders were invited by the borough accountant for the purchase of spent bullets from the rifle butts.

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