Docking heritage exhibition brings alive terrible memories of the Somme

Stephen Theunissen (Theunissen) shows Margaret Withers alongside her daughter, Diane Mann,  pictures of her father who fought in the First World War together with other members of her family. MLNF16PB05215 Peter Bird ANL-160405-165215001

Stephen Theunissen (Theunissen) shows Margaret Withers alongside her daughter, Diane Mann, pictures of her father who fought in the First World War together with other members of her family. MLNF16PB05215 Peter Bird ANL-160405-165215001

One visitor to Docking Heritage Group’s ninth exhibition at the Ripper Hall over the weekend brought with her poignant memories of the Somme.

The centenary of that bloodiest of battles will be commemorated in July.

Helena Aldis with the few pictures the group have of the Boyden family whose descendants they would like to trace. MLNF16PB05216 Peter Bird ANL-160405-165422001

Helena Aldis with the few pictures the group have of the Boyden family whose descendants they would like to trace. MLNF16PB05216 Peter Bird ANL-160405-165422001

Margaret Withers’ father, Herbert William Allen, was maimed but survived but Stephen Theunissen had put together an exhibition highlighting three Docking men who did not return.

They were Pte Arthur Playford, Sgt Thomas Masters and Pte Karble Rout.

Two died at the Battle of Transloy and the third was killed at Ancre

The offensive, named after the river, was not one but a series of twelve battles waged between 1 July and the 18 November 1916.

Casualties on all sides totally over a million before it was over.

Most notorious in the annals of warfare was the first day where 57,470 men of the British Fourth Army were wounded or died. French losses were under 2,000 whilst the Germans suffered between 10,000 - 12,000 casualties.

Mr Allen was born in Docking in 1887

Mrs Withers, now aged 90 and living in Heacham, said: “We lived in a house in East Street. He was a corporal in the Berkshire Regiment.

“He was badly injured in the Somme Offensive. He was invalided out. His right arm had to be amputated. But that did not stop him playing his part in World War Two. He was a civilian batman at the Bircham Newton air base.”

In another section, group secretary, Helena Aldis, was keen to identify any descendants of Alice Boydon, called Annie by her friends, who ran a shop in the east end of Docking. The mystery arose after a photograph of her, her husband, Alfred, and daughter, Maggie, was found in a cupboard in the former shop.

“The picture remained undiscovered although the building had been renovated and changed hands many times. I’m surprised the picture was still concealed.”

But now it has been found a family tree, six generations back, has been produced along with several family photographs and a newspaper clipping of Annie Boydon from 1960 when she was 93 years old. The group are anxious to identify any family descendants as the trail in Docking has gone cold.

“After the exhibition we will display the information in our Heritage Room at the hall which is open every Wednesday morning,” said Mrs Aldis.

Local visitors were keen to see what their village looked like in bygone days. Where photographs, some more than one hundred years old, exist member Paul Hewitt had travelled round the village photographing the sites as they are today providing a pictorial contrast between then and now. “They show how much the village has changed and, in some respects, stayed the same. For example, the east end still retains a lot of the old buildings,” said Mrs Aldis.

One valuable aspect of the group’s work is an ever-expanding collection of the taped reminiscences of older residents. Oral historian, Michael Strutt, said that they were encouraged to remember their childhood, their experiences of World War Two, what it was like working on farms which were once labour-intensive, or working for Wagg’s Bakery, an important local business which closed in the mid-seventies. The recollections collected from some twenty residents so far - some in their eighties and nineties - have also been transcribed onto paper so that visitors could read about a world, now gone, by people who lived through it.

Intriguing, too, was a section, describing the roots and origins of village surnames. Names still well-known locally today such as Skerry, Playford, Pitcher, Crisp, Pooley and Playford for example. Research so far has traced some of the names back more than a thousand years.

“We had a continuous stream of visitors over the two days. I’m very pleased, yet again, with the interest shown,” said Mrs Aldis.