Poignant memories of the First World War are the focus of Holkham Hall’s next exhibition, which tells the story of a faithful canine companion who returned from the Front alone.
Duty Calls: Holkham 1914 to 1918 will commemorate the centenary of the start of the war while telling a small part of the story of war’s impact upon the Coke family and Holkham village.
Viscount Coke said: “The Great War was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’, but as Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier known to have fought in the trenches said, ‘We have learnt nothing from it’.
“The making of this exhibition has been fascinating. I knew a fair bit about my great-grandfather Arthur’s service and his ultimate death at Gallipoli, but we have unearthed so much more about his brothers’ involvement in the war and that of many other Holkham men and women. I challenge our visitors not to be moved by it.”
Through a collection of personal letters, books, photographs and artefacts, the exhibition will relate experiences, such as those of Arthur Coke, second son of the 3rd Earl of Leicester and grandfather to the present 7th Earl of Leicester.
He spent his early service days in the Royal Navy before moving to the Horse Guards and seeing action in Flanders in the first Battle of Ypres which lasted for three months in 1914.
Visitors will be able to view extracts from letters he wrote from the Front, taking the reader from the build-up to the war and his reaction to the fighting to his very early realisation that the war in Europe was set to be a static war in the trenches.
At the end of 1914, Arthur transferred to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Armoured Cars. Four months later the Armoured Cars were in Lemnos, a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea, which was used by the Allies as a base to try to capture the Dardanelles Straits.
With the cars waiting for action, Arthur volunteered to help man the SS River Clyde which was the first troopship to put men ashore at ‘V’ beach on the Gallipoli peninsula. He was put in charge of five machine guns in the bows. Battle commenced and lasted for 13 hours, but despite heavy losses the beach landing held.
Arthur described this action as: “The greatest day of my life.” He went on to join the battle for Krithia but was killed on May 2, 1915, during a particularly fierce offensive by the Turks.
Throughout his time in Gallipoli, Arthur was accompanied by his faithful dog, Jack – an Airedale Terrier. Following Arthur’s death, Jack was brought back to Holkham by Arthur’s fellow officers, where he lived out his days and was buried in 1918.
The exhibition will feature Arthur’s two brothers, Tom and Roger, who were also involved in the war, and the impact the war had on both the family and the families of over 90 Holkham men who are mentioned on the Roll of Honour.
Part of the exhibition will demonstrate the creative talent of students at Norwich University of the Arts, who designed and built a two-thirds scale profile of a Mark V tank and a replica 20-foot section of a trench representing the Somme battlefield.
The trench display will also feature a memorial wall on each side and inside it will feature periscopes, a sniper hole and a selection of graphics.
On August 4 there will also be a special day of reflection to commemorate Britain joining the First World War. Further details of the day will be published on the Holkham website.
The exhibition will be open to visitors from April 1 to October 31 on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, and normal admission charges will apply.
For further details about visiting Holkham, go to www.holkham.co.uk