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Norman's war lasted just 16 days

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 24, 2014

  • The biscuit tin that was returned to West Bromwich with Norman's personal affects

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IN last week's Bugle we told the story of Joseph Jones who signed up to join the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914, right at the start of the First World War, and survived being wounded several times to see the hostilities right through to the bitter end.

But tours of duty during the war weren't always as long as the one Joseph Jones experienced, and Mrs. Shirley Caulfield has provided us with a heart wrenching account from the war, the story of her uncle, Private Cedric Norman Bunn from West Bromwich, who served with the 1st Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regt) and whose tour of duty lasted for just 16 days.

With all the moving stories we have received from Bugle readers regarding the Great War, everyone of which has been a privilege to publish, each has been a unique account from an age far removed from the one we live in today, and the temptation to include every detail of the lives of these young men after they left the relative safety of their homes and families to fight for King and Country, has been difficult to resist.

But from all the tales of courage, endeavour, fortitude and valour we have published so far, each one has a particular something that tugs at the heart strings, and Norman Bunn's story is no exception.

One of the most poignant Great War artifacts the Black Country Bugle has ever had the privilege to handle was brought in by Shirley, a simple biscuit tin, but one that is tinged with great sadness.

Norman's family had dispatched it to France to arrive in time for his 20th birthday, a treat of biscuits and sweets. Tragically he never received it. Just days before his birthday he was involved in the great push against the Germans in the spring of 1918 and was killed in action on Sunday, March 24.

The tin was returned to the family home in West Bromwich soon afterwards, but the sadness was compounded as it contained Norman's personal effects, including his leather wallet and the photograph of his 'girl', Dora, which was always close to his heart.

Extracts from the letters that Norman sent back to his family form the crux of this story, and after enlisting on October 31, 1917, followed by a period of training, Norman arrived in France on Friday March 8, 1918, from where he wrote the following letter to his mom.

"Dear Mother, I came over this morning on the Royal Mail steamer 'Victoria', starting from Folkestone about 9 and landing at Boulogne about 11, but I was not seasick.

"P.S. You may let Dora see this ....tell her I shall drop her a line soon. Coming through the town I saw two women with knickerbockers on. I had to look at them twice as I thought they were boys at first look. We are off today Saturday for Calais by train to do a bit of training, and when we move from there it will up to the lines."

In civilian life Norman had worked at Mr. Wones, the printer in Walsall Street and was a regular attendant at the Queen Street Primitive Methodist Church and Sunday School, where he was very well respected. He also earned respect from his officers and comrades in the regiment and in the end was noted for his courageous and unselfish spirit.

On Thursday March 21, Norman again put pencil to paper. "Dear Mother, I am writing a few lines to let you know that I am still getting on pretty well at present. I hope you are all in good health at home and remember me to grandmother. I hope she is still as well as it is possible to be at these times. I think this is all for the time being, so will close with love to all and remember me to Stanley and Arthur, your loving son Norman x x x x." That was the last time Norman was able to write home. A hand written note was delivered to the family home from the 'Field', dated April 4, from an officer named Harrison of the 1st Bn. Sherwood Foresters.

"Dear Madam. It is with deep regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son No. 96655 Pte. C. N. Bunn who was killed in action on the March 24, 1918. The sympathy of his comrades and officers is extended to you in your bereavement."

Two weeks later another letter dated April 15, arrived in West Bromwich from the garrison chaplain.

"Dear Madam, In reply to your inquiry regarding the death of your son No. 96655 Pte. N. Bunn. I write to inform you that he was killed in the line at a village named St. Christ, now in the hands of the Germans, and that he was buried there by his comrades before they returned from the village. I regret to inform you that no further information is at hand, and close with deepest sympathy from those of his comrades who are left."

The history books tell us that on the evening of March 23, 1918, Pte. Norman Bunn's unit was in a defensive position near the village of St Christ on the west bank of the River Somme. During the night the Germans attacked the bridge spanning the river, but were repulsed by 'A' and 'B' Companies. During this attack Norman was killed.

Thirty years ago a Kingswinford teacher, Mrs. Bronwyn Kerss, working on behalf of Norman's family, tried to find out more information about his final resting place from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In a letter dated April 15, 1986, the Commission replied. "After the war the Army Graves Service were unable to locate Norman's grave at St Christ, and he is therefore commemorated, by name, on the Pozieres Memorial, near Albert in France."

The response so far from readers to our request for Great War stories has been tremendous and we look forward to publishing more in the coming weeks.

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