It is 1914. War with Germany has been declared on August 4th, the Germans have bombed London in October and all able-bodied men are called to join either the regular services or the Territorial Army. There is no conscription but the pressure on young men to enlist is intense. Anyone who doesn’t is labelled a “shirker”.
Not everyone is, however, of military age or fit enough to go and fight but nevertheless they feel the need to serve as best they can. All over the country groups of people come together to form Volunteer Associations and Wymondham is no exception. Britons have done this many times in previous centuries when faced with the threat of invasion.
A committee is formed and appoints Wymondham solicitor Mr J B Pomeroy as its Secretary; a not surprising choice since the Norwich Volunteers are already up and running and Mr F A Bainbridge, a Norwich solicitor and its secretary is actively encouraging Mr Pomeroy.
In November the Government publishes regulations making it clear that nobody may belong to an Association who is of military age and has failed to enlist “without a good and sufficient reason”, a feature that guarantees endless controversy over the following years. Members are required to sign an undertaking that they will enlist for active service if specially called upon. By way of encouragement it is made clear that in the event of capture, members of a properly constituted Corps with the word “Volunteer” in its name will be treated under the Hague Convention as part of the Army whereas non-members will be treated as non-combatants and may be set to work digging trenches and burying the dead.
On the 22nd December 1914 a public meeting is held in the Church School (now the Ada Hart Rooms) chaired by Mr W B Fryer JP and addressed by Mr Edmund Reeve (of Norwich) and the Wymondham Volunteer Training Corps is formed. There is some local objection on the grounds that it is not democratically formed and that some members of the committee are under the age of 38 and thus eligible to join the Regulars. This is swiftly overcome with the help of advice from the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps in London and training begins.
By March 1915 there are 130 men and 5 drill sergeants on the roll and detachments have been set up in Hethersett, Wicklewood and Barnham Broom. The Corps now begins to find a role for itself and is asked among other tasks to provide guards for the railway in the event of invasion. The Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, the Earl of Leicester now seeks to bring a greater sense of organisation to the enthusiastic amateurs and, calling all the individual corps in the County together forms the Norfolk Volunteers. Regimental Orders are published in the Eastern Daily Press and Wymondham becomes part of C Company 4th Battalion with Mr F A Bainbridge as its Company Commander.
By Whit Monday further detachments have been formed at Hingham and Honingham and the whole Company (about 150 men) parades at Kimberley Park where they were put through various company drill movements by Platoon Commander Fred Bowden. The Press report records that after inspections and speeches, three rousing cheers were then given for the Earl of Kimberley who had not only lent the use of the park but had also provided refreshments and after further “movements” the men marched back to their respective detachment headquarters. The park was thrown open to the public and large numbers on foot and in vehicles were present. This was clearly a very enjoyable day out for all concerned.
Despite Government support for the Volunteer Movement, no central funds, uniform or equipment are provided. Indeed, perhaps there is some scepticism from the Army Council since it rather pointedly writes to tells all the Corps that Kings Regulations provide that they must not wear uniforms or badges or use ranks which suggest any connection with the regular army. As a result, the local volunteers initially wear just a brassard bearing the initials “G.R.” Members pay a weekly subscription of one shillng and letters go out to everyone in the area seeking donations. By June 1915 the Corps is receiving quotations for uniform both from local tailors such as George Williamson of Damgate as well as from further afield. A quotation for thirty one shillings and two pence seems to have been accepted.
By June however trench warfare is well established and the threat of imminent invasion seems to be receding. Interest in the Corps begins to wane and Mr Bainbridge, the Company Commander writes to Mr Pomeroy lamenting that numbers get less every drill.
In January 1916 Mr Pomeroy suffers “a nasty accident” and resigns as secretary of the Committee.
And there, tantalisingly, the record ends. Mr Pomeroy’s file of papers in the Town Archive stops at that point. But what happened after that? Did the Wymondham Volunteers go o from strength to strength or did they just quietly fold up. Does anyone out there know? If anyone can continue the story do please let us know.
WYMONDHAM TOWN ARCHIVE
Published in Wymondham Heritage Society Newsletter