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“They are part of the village’s history and need to be remembered properly.” - Commemorative choir concert to remember Gressenhall men who died in the First World War

PUBLISHED: 18:00 10 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:59 15 April 2017

Dr Bridget Yates from Gressenhall who is behind the commemorative performance of we Will Remember Them at St Mary's Church in Gressenhall, to remember men who died in the First World War. Picture: Ian Burt

Dr Bridget Yates from Gressenhall who is behind the commemorative performance of we Will Remember Them at St Mary's Church in Gressenhall, to remember men who died in the First World War. Picture: Ian Burt

Four humble landworkers from a small mid Norfolk village who were victims of the First World War will be remembered in a moving choir performance.

The Gressenhall War Memorial in St Mary's Church, Gressenhall. Picture: Ian BurtThe Gressenhall War Memorial in St Mary's Church, Gressenhall. Picture: Ian Burt

The Gressenhall Singers are singing We Will Remember Them at St Mary’s Church, Gressenhall, on April 23, St George’s Day, at 11.15am.

It will mark just over 100 years since the Second Battle of Gaza which killed Gressenhall villagers William Atmore, 28, Ernest James Freezer, 27, and Edward James Reynolds, 21, on April 19, 1917.

All three men were members of the 5th battalion of the army’s Territorial Force, part of the former Royal Norfolk Regiment.

Another villager, Ernest Albert Abel, 34 - who was part of the 5th Battalion and died of his wounds in Nazareth Hospital in May 1917 following the battle - will also be remembered in the free commemorative performance.

The special event was the idea of former Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum curator Dr Bridget Yates, from Gressenhall, who is a member of the community choir and has researched the lives of all 11 men who feature on the village war memorial in St Mary’s.

Dr Yates said: “We Will Remember Them is a serious piece. It is nice the Gressenhall Singers is putting on a commemorative performance. I hope the congregation in the church will be moved by it. It will allow them to reflect on these poor men.

“We hear of pals battalions from the north of England. We do not think of the loss of life during the First and Second World War from small villages. To lose three young men in one day from a small village would have had a tremendous impact on people.”

The memorial in the church features 10 names of men who died in the First World War and one man who died in the Second World War.

Dr Yates has spent the past two years researching the lives of all 11 men as part of the Men in the Memorial project, funded by Gressenhall Parish Council.

The history expert wanted to find out about the victims’ lives in the village before they joined the brutal conflicts and has collated her findings in a book which will be available this summer.

“These are people who would have gardened the same gardens and walked across the same fields as we do now. They are part of the village’s history and need to be remembered properly.”

Soldiers’ stories

William Atmore, who died aged 28, was born and bred in Gressenhall and went to the village school.

He lived with his father on The Green and worked on the land before signing up to the 5th battalion.

Ernest James Freezer, who died aged 27, worked for Sir Ralph Hare at Gressenhall Hall before joining the Territorial Force.

Both he and Mr Atmore do not have a grave but are remembered with honour at the Jerusalem War Cemetery which marks the names of soldiers who died during the First World War while fighting in Palestine.

Edward James Reynolds, who died in battle aged 21, lived in Dillington Hall, Dereham, but went to Gressenhall village school.

He is buried and remembered with honour at the war cemetery in Gaza.

Ernest Albert Abel, who married in 1907, lived at Vale Farm Cottages in Bittering Street. He is remembered with honour at Haifa War Cemetery.

History of the 5th battalion and Second Battle of Gaza

The Royal Norfolk Regiment was a line infantry regiment of the British Army until 1959.

William Atmore, Ernest James Freezer, Edward James Reynolds and Ernest Albert Abel were all members of the regiment’s 5th battalion which was Territorial Force.

The 5th battalion’s headquarters was in Dereham on the corner of Church Street and Quebec Street.

During the First World War there would be some 3,000 soldiers in the town. They would have all they stayed in people’s spare bedrooms.

Men from the 5th battalion, served in the Gallipoli Campaign in mid 1915 alongside members of the Territorial Force’s 4th battalion.

The Second Battle of Gaza was fought between April 17-19, 1917, against the Ottoman Army in southern Palestine. The Ottoman Army won and on April 19, more than 75pc of 5th and 4th battalion, 1,100 men, were killed or injured.

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