.... were not new to Occold at the beginning of the 20th Century.
For example George NOLLER, of Redlingfield Road and born 1875, was a regular soldier with the 1st Life Guards.
Also A H PECK, a ‘Driver Wheeler' with the 22nd, Army Service Corps, died of disease on 28th December 1900 at Maritzburg. He is commemorated at the Christchurch Park Boer War Memorial in Ipswich.
But nothing could have prepared the village for the maelstrom that was to engulf their young men following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in a remote corner of the Balkans. One needs to try to look through their eyes to see why they queued up to enlist in Eye or wherever they happened to be.
Within four weeks of the assassination, the UK had tried to convene an international conference to settle the dispute but Germany opposed it. As the armies facing each other started to mobilise, Germany declared war on Russia and then France.
A day later Germany invaded neutral Belgium in a long prepared plan to outflank the French. Immediately Great Britain declared war on Germany.
Many local lads may not have travelled far but they knew that Belgium was just the other side of the German Ocean (as the North Sea was called at that time) and felt the threat of German expansionism personally as well as patriotically.
On the day war broke out, 4th August 1914, Lord Kitchener called for 100,000 men to join the army. They enlisted into the Service Battalions (signed for three years or the duration of the war whichever was the lesser).
The K1 Battalion which most Occold men joined was the 7th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment.
Frederick ELLIOT, Charles Robert MULLENGER and George Frederick MULLENGER from Occold all enlisted on the same day in Eye. They joined the Suffolks and never returned.
Within a few weeks this quota had been found and K2 and K3 Battalions for Kitcheners New Army were initiated. The war that would “be over by Christmas” dragged on to the next Christmas (1915) when conscription was introduced.
At first a war of moving battles, as has been seen before, ensued, even including cavalry charges, but by the end of 1914 it had settled into the bloody attrition of trench warfare which was to typify this new kind of war.
The first Occold man to die was twenty one year old Private Charles Robert MULLENGER who having fought in France and Flanders died of his wounds after repatriation to England. As he lay dying, in January 1915, the first Zeppelin bombs were falling on Kings Lynn.
Much of 1915 was marked by indecisive gains and losses by both sides on both the Western & Eastern Fronts in contrast to the rapid war which the German military had planned and the British press & public had expected
As the first tank was being demonstrated to British military leaders in early September 1915, George HAMMOND was travelling to Flesselles in France. But his stay in France was to be very short and by October he was moved by train to Marseilles and embarked for Salonika in northern Greece where he was to spend the final year of his life.
The first half of 1916 was marked by the German Verdun offensive which caused more than a quarter of a million deaths. Verdun was the longest battle of WWI and is to France the nightmare story which the Somme became to Britain.
The Somme offensive was brought forward to the 1st July 1916 in order to aid the beleaguered French forces at Verdun. As the Commonwealth troops endeavoured to advance it became increasingly apparent that despite their unstinting bravery, the ‘Pals' and the country boys of Kitcheners New Army were no match for the well trained and well protected Prussian and Bavarian regulars.
In particular the German commanders understood the new weapons and the new tactics better than British commanders who were more versed in colonial wars. The picture of lines of overloaded infantry plodding through the mud to be mown down by dug-in machine guns, has remained to haunt us.
From the first day, of The Somme, to the last when appalling weather brought the fighting to a halt, the British and French forces had gained little more than the distance from Occold to Diss. Well over a million soldiers died of which 420,000 were British and at least 5 were from Occold.