Fighting in WW1’s bloody Gallipoli battle at the age of 14
PUBLISHED: 15:52 23 October 2015 | UPDATED: 15:52 23 October 2015
Too young and immature to know what he was letting himself in for. He must have been mad! What were his parents thinking of?
Those might well have been among the general reaction of Great Yarmouth residents when they read in their Mercury a century ago in 1915 about local teenager George Robert Carr who volunteered for military service in the Great War and fought in the bloody Gallipoli campaign - at the tender age of only 14 years and seven months.
Tens of thousands of troops on both sides perished in that ghastly nine-month encounter roughly where Turkey stands today. Somehow that plucky – or foolhardy, depending on whatever perspective one puts upon it – youth survived the carnage and brutality unscathed, having to leave the front line only because he contracted dysentery.
I wrote recently about this well-built lad who responded to a local recruiting campaign by passing himself off unchallenged as old enough to enlist in the Norfolk Regiment, quitting his job at box-maker Wenn on North Quay, near his family home in Bowling Green Walk.
Despite her efforts, his mother failed to dissuade him from his desire to join up, but his father declared: “Let him go as he is set on going.” Not only did young Robert Carr enlist; he then also volunteered to serve abroad at Gallipoli.
That column brought a response from the young soldier’s nephew, Roy Carr, who lives on the Ormesby Road in Caister.
“All I really know about him is that in later years he worked as a foreman on a fruit farm in the Cambridgeshire village of Haddenham, near Ely,” Roy tells me. “He never spoke of his time in the Great War and, as he lived away, we didn’t have much contact.
“All I can remember is his rare visits to see my father when he would bring us crates of apples from the farm, and return visits there when he once lent me his gun to shoot some pigeons!
“In Haddenham he married my Aunt Hilda. My wife, Doreen, and I went there in the 1960s for a week’s holiday. I never did hear George talk of his time in the Norfolks. The information I got is through my father, Arthur Carr, George’s brother.
“On one occasion George, who was a very good swimmer, swam under fire to a ship with a water container strapped to his back to get some fresh water for his unit, but had to abort the mission in order to save himself.
“My father told me that he has known George to swim to Scroby Sands and back. I have seen a photograph of him diving off the crane on South Quay.
“His brother Charles worked on the Yarmouth drifter John Robert (YH708), one of a flotilla called the Dover Patrol; they were commandeered by the Royal Navy and converted to minesweepers. He also was in the Dardanelles, and I did hear that they met up when George was in hospital.”
One account says that the former teenage soldier in the 1914-18 war left Yarmouth for Haddenham as part of the 1939-45 war evacuation programme, and decided to stay in the Cambridgeshire countryside rather than to return to his native town when hostilities ended.
As for my octogenarian correspondent, Roy Carr, he spent his working life as a carpenter and joiner. He and Doreen have a son, Michael, who works in the building trade, and a daughter, Amanda, who is employed at the James Paget Hospital.
Roy had a great passion: for eel fishing – babbing, as it is termed by its devotees. “In fact, I spent the last 15 years of my working life as a commercial eel fisherman,” he says. “I fished Breydon and the lower reaches of the Rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney up until I was 75 years old.
“I have been best pals with Donny Hubbard for 70 years and we have never fallen out. We fished together in the early years, then fished separately but for the final five years we fished together again.”
Donny Hubbard was raised in neighbouring Lime Kiln Walk.
Both Lime Kiln Walk and Bowling Green Walk were familiar addresses for older Yarmouthians but have all but lost their identities as redevelopment and improvements have brought change in recent decades. Both linked North Quay with the River Yare quayside and last century were mainly residential, as was narrow Foundry Walk which possibly linked them.
The residents of these three riverside Walks may have lacked “all mod cons” but were certainly well served by public houses, as were the wharf workers who were also able to slake their thirst as and when the opportunity arose.
According to local historian and author Colin Tooke’s 2006 book Time Gentlemen Please!, there were at least four in the immediate vicinity, and several others only a short stroll away.
In the early 1800s, a century and more after a riverside bowling green was laid and became very popular, a public house was opened, accessible from Bowling Green Walk; through its existence, it traded under four names, all of them including the words “Bowling Green”. It was also the venue for cock fights and entertainment, possessing a large upstairs concert room with outside balcony,
Men whose livelihoods or interests stemmed from Breydon Water were regulars at the pub, their presence and mardles attracting visits by celebrated Yarmouth naturalist and writer Arthur Patterson. But the pub experienced waning custom and closed in the early 1900s.
On North Quay, between Foundry and Bowling Green Walks, stood the Staff of Life, a small beer-house. Nearby was the Lord Nelson, built on the corner of Lime Kiln Walk and North Quay in 1895. This pub closed 40 years ago, the building becoming a restaurant. And there was once a small beer-house named the Princess Alexandra among a terrace of homes in Lime Kiln Walk.