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Four lives lost in WWI remembered at Norwich church

49 men lost their lives in WW1 from St Mary’s Church in Norwich and on Remembrance Sunday, the congregation learnt about the lives of four of them.

St Mary’s Church is now the site of Norwich Central Baptist Church and a wooden memorial hangs in the church with the inscription of the surnames and initials of those who died in the war. Four additions were made after WW2.

Throughout the Great War St Mary’s kept a Roll of Honour which eventually bore the names of over 300 men on active service who were associated with the various ministries of the church.

The few written records from the time help to piece together these lost lives, people who were known and loved within family friendships and circles.

Walter Albert Bassett and Douglas James Gallpen are connected by the date Wednesday 13th October 1915. It was the day they were both killed in the same military manoeuvre of 7th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. Walter served as a Private; Douglas was a Corporal.

Walter was a chimney sweep. He had taken over the family business after his father’s early death. He married his wife Laura at the end of 1912 and a daughter Audrey who was born before the outbreak of war. Their family home was at the side of St Saviour’s church in Magdalen Street. Walter responded early to the call to military service and after basic training in Kent and Hampshire left for France on the last day of May 1915. It is just possible that he saw his second child before his departure – for young Walter was born in the spring of that year.

Douglas was a printer in the family business. His father not only ran the business, he was one of the church leaders. Douglas, a single man still living in the family home in College Road, was a gifted musician. Occasionally, he deputised for the church organist and he played at the evening service in April before he departed for his military service. He joined the Norfolk Regiment at the same time as Walter and so they trained together and served together. They then both died on the same battlefield on the same day and were both buried at Dud Corner cemetery in Loos. Walter was 24 years old and Douglas 26.

In a letter to the minister of St Mary’s from the trenches Douglas wrote:

“Out here, where one is so often face to face with death … the presence of Christ becomes a very real thing.”

The lives of Victor George Holl and Sidney Ulph are also linked by a shared event. In the summer of 1917, no less than 25 young people had testified to their faith in Christ through baptism - 12 of them at the evening service on this day.

These two young men were linked also by the fact that they both signed up for the Royal Naval Reserve. More men had joined the Royal Navy than the fleet could sustain, so the Military decided that some should not go to sea but be trained to fight alongside army units in the field.

Victor, a clerk, living in Junction Road was called up a month after his 19th birthday. He joined the Howe Battalion in France and served for nearly 3 months. Over that winter season both sides were reduced to surviving the dreadful weather conditions in waterlogged trenches. Then on 7th February, during operations on the River Ancre, Victor sustained a gunshot wound in the left shoulder and was sent home to recuperate.  It was during his time at home that he publicly confessed Christ in baptism. In October he trained to be a signalman before re-joining the Howe Battalion just after his 20th birthday. After 3 months service he was transferred to Anson Battalion, only to lose his life at the Battle of Bapaume 6 weeks later. His name is inscribed on our monument and on the Arras Monument in France.

Sidney had also joined up for the Royal Naval Reserve but had not seen active service before his baptism. From his home in Knowsley Road he worked as a clerk with the British Gas Light Company. He, like Victor, trained as a signalman. He was not called up for service until early 1918 and he joined up with Hood Battalion. After two months at the front line he was posted to his Brigade HQ for a month before re-joining the troops.

When the balance swung in the allies' favour, the Royal Naval Division took part in the second battle at the Somme in August, the second battle for Arras and the battles to breach the Hindenburg line in September. Then, as the division crossed the Canal du Nord to take Cambrai with the Canadians on October 8th, Sidney was killed, aged 20, just four and a half weeks before the armistice.

Buried in Rumilly-En-Cambresis Communal Cemetery, his name is inscribed on the monument at St Mary’s and on memorials of the British Gas Light Company in Norwich and at the headquarters in Kingston-upon-Hull.

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