Norwood during the First World War

9 November 2018

In Norwood’s archive we have some great documentary evidence showing how the Orphanage responded to the constraints and difficulties of the First World War. They show not only how Norwood was able to adapt to its changing circumstances but also the pride and gratitude it felt for former the Norwood boys and girls sacrificing their lives for the cause. As it is the centenary of the WW1 we thought it appropriate to share these memories and experiences with a wider audience.

During the period of 1914-1918 Norwood sadly lost a total of 21 former pupils.

Like the rest of the country the institution adapted to the changing economic and social circumstances and in 1914 resolved to immediately admit, without election, all children who may become orphans as a result of the war. Sadly, it wasn’t long until they received their first applicants.

During the war Norwood’s income and expenditure, the ability to maintain educational and domestic staff and securing employment for Norwood leavers were all significantly affected.

However, these hardships did not cloud the immense pride the institution felt for former pupils and staff, who were fighting abroad. Some of whom were distinguished by their military efforts.

In the 1917 annual report it was reported that:

‘two Old Boys…were awarded the Military Medal and that a third boy received both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal. One Old Girl [Betsy Angel] received the Red Cross decoration. Four more Old Boys laid down their lives during the year in the service of their country. Lieut. Rothfield, one of the Assistant Masters, greatly distinguished himself, winning the Military Cross and bar. He has been wounded twice, but he is now happily convalescent.’

Betsy Angel left Norwood in 1902 and served as a Sister in a military hospital in France, she was awarded the Red Cross decoration for her commitment to the cause.

One artefact that exists in Norwood’s archive from this period is a bronze memorial plaque, commonly known as the ‘Dead Man’s Penny.’ These pennies were plaques approximately 4½ inches in diameter and had the name of someone who died serving with the British and Empire forces in the First World War inscribed on them. They were issued to the Next of Kin of the casualty and accompanied with a scroll containing a message from the King.

Although quite a common artefact, Norwood’s penny is a slight anomaly because we don’t know who the gentleman named on the penny is. He isn’t featured on the roll of honour and there is no record of him in our admission books. We think that he might have been a staff member but none of the minutes from this period mention his name. Until we know more the penny is considered to be special artefact in our collection

When the Armistice was called in 1918 a Norwood boy recalled that:

Another Norwood boy remembered that the first Armistice Day and the peace treaty was celebrated with a grand Firework display.

To commemorate the ‘Old Boys’ who fell in the war, Norwood commissioned a Roll of Honour to be hung at the institution. The names of those who lost their lives were:

The sorrow but also the immense pride that Norwood felt for its former pupils is perfectly expressed in the 1918 annual report which states:

So, on 11th November 2018, Norwood joins the country on its day of Remembrance to commemorate not only the Old Norwood boys and girls for their bravery and sacrifice, but also for all who have lost their lives during times of conflict.