On 18 October 2014 SLHC held their annual Peter Northeast Conference at Blackbourne Hall, Elmswell. The topic of the conference was Suffolk and the First World War and consisted of four lectures, each followed by question-and-answer sessions.
The first lecture, 'From Murder to the Marne', was delivered by Dr Anne Folan, secretary of the SLHC. This set the scene by highlighting in detail the origins and early stages of the Great War, a complex and controversial topic which has been a subject for much historical debate during the past century. It would appear that the only consensus is that there is no consensus;
a heated debate followed, with the many interesting contributions made from the floor supporting the theory that no single factor could be said to be the direct cause of the war.
The second lecture put the contribution of the Suffolk regiments into context when Dr Margaret Thomas, chair of the SLHC, enlightened the audience about the experiences of the
5th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment and the Suffolk Yeomanry at Gallipoli in 1915. The Military's lack of preparation, the appalling conditions in which the soldiers lived and fought, and the high casualty rates among the soldiers were illustrated in great detail by a series of maps and photographs. Particularly moving were accounts written by Cyril Smith and the diaries of Major Edward Cadogan, both of the Suffolk Yeomanry.
After lunch, the third session, presented by SLHC Vice-Chairman Dr Nick Sign and supported by some fascinating photographs, examined the effects of the war on life in Suffolk. The county was actively recruiting for the services throughout the 1914-18 period, and was used as a training ground for many units of the British Army. Having a lengthy coastline, the threat of invasion and attack from the sea made it necessary to fortify the Suffolk coast, echoing the earlier fortifications built to counter the Napoleonic threat. Some coastal towns were subjected to naval bombardments by the German fleet, and many towns, including Ipswich, were attacked by Zeppelins. As in other areas of the country, those living in Suffolk saw a dramatic change in lifestyle, with women increasingly taking on roles previously carried out by men. Factories, particularly in Ipswich, were taken over to produce aircraft, weapons and munitions for the war effort. Most notably, the Stokes Mortar was invented by Sir Wilfred Scott Stokes of Ransomes & Rapier in Ipswich.
The final session, presented by Gwynn Thomas from the Suffolk Family History Society, gave an in-depth description of the many types of War Memorials found in Suffolk. A series of photographs illustrated some of the one thousand plus memorials to be seen in the county. These were very important to those who lost loved ones in the war as it was the policy of the government not to repatriate the bodies of those who were killed abroad.
The day was rounded off with much appreciated coffee and cakes and we can thoroughly recommend this annual conference to other Ipswich Society members.
Tony and Jacky Robson