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Remembered Today:

letter home christmas 1917 Palestine to Brisley Norfolk


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Letter sent home by Alfred J Howling of the 1/5th Norfolks shortly after Christmas 1917.

My Dear Mother Father and All

Just a few lines to you trusting you are all still well and glad to say I am quite alright at present. Well we got over xmas quite alright we enjoyed ourselves the best we could under the circumstances. The worst of it was we had very wet weather we were up to our knees in in mud, but it has been a bit better the last day or two.

Well dear Mother how did you get on at Xmas time I hope you had a good time of it. I have not received the apples that Annie told me about yet, but I expect I shall get them soon if they keep good and I have not yet received Helenas parcel  yet. Well we are in the midst of the Palestine winter now, we are now expecting three weeks of rain so I don’t suppose that  it will be very comfortable . We have just captured a little village with some farms around it so we have been killing fowls, pigs and bullocks and milking some cows and can tell you we have had a real feast just lately, and there were also a great quantity of almond nuts there too. Well has Fred been home again yet. What do you think of the peace conference, do you think it will come to anything good, I sometimes think it will soon finish things are fairly quiet here at present we don’t hear anything about leave yet. Well dear Mother I think this is all for this time, you must excuse scribble as am in a hurry.

Yours ever loving son Alfred

Remember me to all goodbye




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ALH records also stated that it rained, as it had been doing for some days before Christmas, while the Anzac Mounted Div was resting around Esdud and Richon, the Australian Mounted Div was in the line around Kuddis and an advance would start tomorrow towards the Wadi Shamy and Namah Ridge.



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The Medal Index Card for a Private 240907 Alfred J Howling Norfolk Regiment shows he was originally Private 4276, so possibly he’d been with them since before the renumbering at the end of 1916 and so had survived Second and Third Gaza.


The birth of Alfred James Howling was recorded in the Mitford Registration District of Norfolk in the January to March quarter, (Q1) of 1898. Mitford District included the civil parish of Brisley.


The 1911 census shows him, aged 14, living with his parents Joseph, (49, Labourer on Farm, born Brisley) and Jessie, (49, born Brisley), at a dwelling at Brisley near Elmham.


On the 1912 Electoral Register, (prepared at the end of 1911), there is a Joseph Howling recorded as eligible to vote in Parliamentary, County and Parish elections as he was the (male) householder of a dwelling house on the Fakenham Road, Brisley. He does not appear on the subsequent editions for 1913-1915, (the end of the current series available via the Family Search site), having previously been there consistently since the early 1880’s.


At the time of the 1911 census Joseph and Jessie had had 9 children, of which 8 were then still alive. Piecing together the family from the 1901 and 1911 census, as well as Alfred there was:-

Walter, born circa 1883, (17 in 1901 / 26 in 1911 and married “Walter H”)

Frederick, born circa 1888, (12 in 1901 / 21 in 1911 and married)

Jessie, born circa 1890, (10 in 1901 / n\k, possibly married Q4 1911 Horace Reeve)

Helena, born circa 1892, (8 in 1901 / 18 in 1911, live in Domestic Servant, “Helen”)

Julia, born circa 1894, (6 in 1901 /  n\k 1911, possibly married Q2 1914 Albert J Head)

Frank,  born circa 1902, (----------- / 9 in 1911)

Annie, born circa 1905, (------------ / 5 in 1911)


Alfred and Frederick would survive the war – well at least they are not on the Brisley War Memorial.


May be a coincidence but the marriage of an Alfred J Howling to an Annie A Dagless was recorded in the Mitford District of Norfolk in the October to December quarter, (Q4), of 1921. There is just one likely child recorded in England and Wales.


Similarly could be a coincidence but the death of a 70 year old Alfred J Howling was recorded in the East Dereham District of Norwich, (following Local Government reorganisations, Mitford no longer existed), in the October to December quarter, (Q4), of 1968. The 1968 Probate Calendar actually records his place of death on the 2nd October 1968 as Chapel House, Whissonsett, Norfolk, which is a couple of miles north west of the village of Brisley.


The Regimental History last has them seeing any action in the middle of December 1917 before going on to say little happened in the first six months of 1918.


Pages 155-156 “The Norfolk Regiment, 1685-1918: Vol 2” by F.Loraine Petre.


During December 13th and 14th preparations were made for an attack on Stone Heap Hill in which the 1/4th Norfolk was in front, supported by “A” and “C” companies of the 1/5th.


Stone Heap Hill is described as rocky feature overlooking the plain on the west, and flanked on the south-east by a similar hill known as Sanger’s Hill. These two were joined by a rocky saddle 200 or 300 yards long. From the west point of Stone Heap Hill there ran, nearly due south, a spur stretching almost to the village of Deir Turief and ending in olive groves surrounding its foot. Between this spur and Sanger’s Hill was a fairly deep depression, forming a watercourse which joined a Wadi at the edge of olive groves.


The attack of the 1/4th began at 8 a.m. on December 15th, with “D” company on the right, “A” on the left, “C” in support, and “B” in reserve. It started from the point of assembly, about 1,600 yards south-west of Stone Heap Hill and on the north-west of Deir Turief. The left of the battalion was directed on the spur, the centre and right extending across the watercourse valley.  It at once encountered heavy machine-gun fire from Stone Heap Hill, and from Sanger’s Hill on its right flank.


It was necessary to hurry across the open space, and the crest of the objective was reached almost at charging pace. The supports, coming up behind the centre, enabled the right to swing round against the rocky saddle, from which the Turks were firing heavily on its right flank. The saddle was quickly cleared and, the 5th Suffolks having gained Sanger’s Hill, the enemy was dislodged from the whole position and driven northwards.


Consolidation was at once commenced, but had to be kept behind the natural features to avoid heavy shrapnel fire from an enemy battery at short range. In the afternoon orders were received to storm a small round hill, 600 or 800 yards north of Stone Heap Hill, overlooking Et Tireh village. For this purpose two companies of the 1/5th Norfolk were sent up from brigade reserve. Of these, one company and two platoons advanced, with the other two platoons in reserve on Stone Heap Hill. The way led along a narrow ridge connecting the two hills and exposed to fire from three sides. Thanks to a very efficient barrage, the objective was reached with a loss of only two killed and seven wounded, though a heavy shell fire was directed on the attackers, who held on to their capture without further loss till evening. The casualties of the 1/4th Norfolk were:


Killed – 2nd Lieutenant B.T.W. Davenport and eleven other ranks.

Wounded-2nd Lieutenant Knowles, Hole, and another officer whose name is not given, and sixty-five other ranks.


These losses were out of six officers and 219 other ranks engaged in the actual attack.


Captain King is specially commended for cool leading. Sergeant S. Beale is mentioned as having captured a machine-gun single-handed and killed the two Turks working it; also for great courage in attending to the wounded under fire. Sergeant Wardropper and Private Bates, King, and Andrews are also specially noticed.


The 1/5th Norfolk on this day lost two other ranks killed and seven wounded, all in the attack on the round hill.


However the Wikipedia article on the Battle Jaffa brings the unit, in the 54th Division, possibly a bit further on:-


The next day, 22 December, the British position was made even more secure when the 54th (East Anglian) Division captured Bald Hill to the right of the 52nd. In doing so the Ottoman defenders lost fifty-two killed and forty-four more were taken prisoner. By dawn the 54th Division had advanced further north occupying Mulebbis and Fejja; later in the day they also captured Rantieh



Merry Christmas from Norfolk,


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10 hours ago, PRC said:

going on to say little happened in the first six months of 1918.


This division was active in mid-March 1918 when the 162nd and 163rd Brigades advanced the line by about 4 miles; the 1/4th Norfolks at Ras el Ain.


While the first half of 1918 may be seen as inactive, this was not without good reasons. The problem faced by Allenby and his army at the end of 1917 was their success had taken them to their limit in certain respects

They had fought continuously for just over 60 days and they had advanced from the border at Gaza to Jerusalem, which is about 50 miles as the crow flies. During this time their fighting strength had been reduced from about 97,000 to about 69,000. The winter rains had now arrived and supply was a very real problem indeed. The roads (where they existed at all) were a morass and the railways' progress was delayed. While the fighting was going on the doubling of the line could not continue and now the weather played its part in further hold ups. Some stretches of rail were washed away and where it was possible to lay new track it was at the rate of less than ½ a mile a day.

Allenby saw the first few months of 1918 as a period of consolidation, allowing him to improve his communications and supply routes. After the German March offensive any other plans which he might have had were thrown into disarray as he despatched several divisions to Europe and the Western Front. These losses were eventually replaced by Indian troops, inevitably however a period of training was required to bring them into line with the remaining EEF



Season's greetings and best wishes for the New Year


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Thank you very much Gents for the information provided. I have several documents with reference to A.J Howling, I have recently had contact with a local historian from Whissonsett who has copied many of them and will be using them as part of a display in Whissonsett church later next year. Although born in Brisley A.J Howling spent much of his life living and working in Whissonsett he was a well known character who ran a small cycle repair shop in the village, I recently spoke to a couple of the older residents of the village both which remembered him well, there is another post I started on the forum in connection to A.J Howling and his service as a camel guide which may be of some interest.


Another letter home dated March 1918 Palestine.


My Dear Brother and Sister

Just a few lines to you in answer to your letter which I have just received Dated Feb 4th, so it has not been long coming. Glad to hear you are both still well as I am about the same at present .Yes I can remember quite well when oranges were 4  a 1d yes I am glad to say we are getting fairly good food now, I only wish you were doing the same. I have just heard from Helina , but I have not heard from Mother for some time now. I am enclosing one or two little cards with pressed flowers on them they are some I got from a little Jewish village , the other I shall have to try and give you another little present later on. I hope Alberts Brother in Law is right about us going home I think its nearly time, well we are still among acres of orange trees and also big fine lemons which I suppose you would be glad of in England, the weather is much better here now . There is talk about us going off this front, well Dear Julia I think this is all for this time so with best love to you both I remain yours ever loving Brother  Alfred.




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