A FAMILY’S sacrifice
It was news dreaded by all parents waiting at home during the First World War - their beloved child serving abroad had been killed. For one Norfolk family that news came time after awful time. Angi Kennedy tells the story of the Halls of Reedham.
“I grieve so deeply for you in your triple loss. They are together again but how you must miss them in your lonely home. May God comfort you by raising your heart where your treasure is.”
The words, written with such a gentle touch by the Bishop of Norwich and sent to a grieving family in the Broadland village of Reedham, must have meant so much to James and Annie Hall as they grappled with the awful loss of three of their beloved sons.
John Herbert Hall - known as Jack and the youngest of the Halls’ four sons at just 24 - was the first to be killed in action in France in March 1917. His brother James Fredrick Hall, a corporal in the Royal Artillery, died of his wounds in Flanders in 1917, aged 26. Then, in January 1918 Ernest James Hall, aged 36, was killed when his ship was torpedoed and sank en route to Tunisia.
Tragically though there was more sorrow just around the corner - and that lonely home would be plunged even deeper into grief.
With the celebrations of Armistice Day followed quickly by the first Christmas of the new peacetime, the Halls would have been looking forward to welcoming home their daughter Susannah. She - and two of her sisters, Olive and Hilda - had volunteered for war service with the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Susannah had seen peace declared in November 1918 but was still in France where she was serving as a cook for the troops who were waiting to be demobbed.
And then the unthinkable news reached home. Susannah had fallen victim to the ‘Spanish flu’ that was sweeping across Europe. The 30-year-old woman, whose family were builders of boats and wherries, died in France on March 23, 1919. She was buried at the Terlincthum British Cemetery, Wimille.
Josie Dix is the great niece of Susannah Hall. She too grew up in Reedham, just a road away from the Halls’ Riverside home.
“She was talked about by my mother, who had been told Susannah’s story by her mother, my grandmother,” says Josie. “Susannah didn’t have to sign up, she did it out of choice. We know that she was posted to Romford and Folkstone before she went out to France in September 1918, not long before Armistice.
“She would have known that war ended and was presumably looking forward to coming home. But they would still have needed cooks to look after the people until everyone was brought home.
“It is unbelievable to think what the family went through. As a mother of three myself, I think it must have been unbearable for Annie losing four of her children - the three boys during the war and her daughter
just after war had ended.”
Josie’s grandmother Olive Hall also joined the QMAAC and returned safely to Reedham after the war had ended. She married William Race and had a daughter, Esme, who married Charles Brister in 1957. By coincidence, Charles’ middle name was Armistice as he was born on November 11.
For Josie and her family, the Reedham War Memorial was a reminder of the sacrifice of the Halls in the First World War. The names of the three brothers were inscribed there and in 1995, at last, Susannah’s name was added too. Her story and those of the other villagers whose names feature on the memorial are told in a fascinating book called Reedham Remembers by Noel Morris.
And the remembrance continues this November for Josie, who now lives at Poringland. The story of her great-aunt has been researched by Daryl Long for an exhibition at The Forum in Norwich, Norfolk In The First World War: Somme to Armistice. Women: Their Legacies, as part of this, is the culmination of a two-year project to commemorate women across Norfolk 100 years ago whose lives were transformed during the war.
“Susannah’s story is very special, and we have discovered some incredible stories of Norfolk men and women,” says Sarah Power, learning and events manager at The Forum. “My hope is that the amazing stories and legacies uncovered may encourage more people to undertake research about their family or friends who lived through such an extraordinary period of history.”
Josie has loaned the exhibition Susannah’s identity bracelet which bears a little lucky black cat motif. And on Sunday, November 11, Josie will lay a wreath at the war memorial by Norwich’s City Hall to represent Susannah and all the women who died in the First World War. An important exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery will be Armistice; Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk, which launches on October 20 and runs until January 6, 2019. The exhibition will explore the impact of the First World War on Norwich and Norfolk, and provide a fitting finale to four years of centenary commemorations and research by individuals, local history societies and museums around the county. Exhibits range from aeroplane models to medical aids, children’s toys to trades union banners, and posters to clothes.
Norfolk In The First World War: Somme to Armistice Exhibition is at The Forum, Norwich from November 1 to 13. For events and talks linked to the free exhibition, see the website: theforumnorwich. co.uk/ww1
Josie Dix, great niece of Susannah Hall.
Susannah Hall, who died shortly after the end of the First World War.
Susannah Hall’s identity bracelet which is in the Forum exhibition.