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World War One Tablecloth - Harleston, Norfolk

Inscribed by wounded soldiers, nurses, staff and others at The Red Cross Hospitals in Harleston, Norfolk during the first World War 1914-1918.

A unique piece of World War One history has recently been discovered in Harleston, a three- foot square linen tablecloth, signed by many soldiers who stayed at the two Red Cross hospitals in the town between 1914-1918. They have written their names and service details in ink which can still be clearly seen; the tablecloth is like an international autograph book with signatures from many countries including England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Australia and France.

At the centre of the tablecloth are signatures of medical staff and those that kept the hospitals running, one name we know, Mr Alderton, was the quartermaster and the father of a son killed in WW1. Another, Miss Ellen de Jerzey Forrest, who lived in Pulham St Mary, is the lady we must thank for taking care of the tablecloth when the hospitals closed. She folded it away until some twenty years later she gave it to Mrs Adcock, a lady who had been helping her towards the end of her life. Her daughter Pauline recently transferred it to the care of Terry Pegg of the Harleston & District Branch of the Royal British Legion.

Terry has been working with local researchers and authors Ruth Walton and Kate Chenneour to find out more about the 145 names on the tablecloth.  This includes 105 soldiers and 40 other personnel which were nurses, staff and other patients - many of the staff were local people. There was a huge community effort that people from Harleston and nearby villages must have made to help the sick and wounded soldiers, and possibly other casualties such as The Woolwich Arsenal munition workers.

Research has so far discovered that at least 7 of the soldiers that have their names on the Tablecloth, were awarded medals for gallantry.  One soldier was awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal.  6 other soldiers were awarded the Military Medal and 1 was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.  There are also some tragic tales as well with at least 5 of the soldiers being Killed in Action after returning to the Front Line which includes a local soldier from Pulham St Mary.

The tablecloth, which has survived remarkably well and is thought to be quite rare, has been professionally conserved by Norwich Museums Service, ensuring that from time to time it can be displayed safely, and will be seen by future generations. This has been made possible by generous grants from ‘The Grapevine’ magazine, Redenhall with Harleston Town Council, the Harleston branch of the Royal British Legion and other kind benefactors.

Hopefully the tablecloth will be going on display at a national museum later this year.  Details of the date and which museum will be published on this web-page.

To see the full list of soldiers and staff and to learn more about this historic artefact which could be of national importance, please click on the following link:

Harleston World War One Tablecloth




If you have any information or want to contact the researcher his details are as follows: 

Name:  Terry Pegg     Email:  harlestonww1tablecloth@yahoo.com

The White House Red Cross Hospital on Mendham Lane in Harleston, Norfolk was opened on 29th October 1914 with 14 beds and closed on 19th February 1916 having admitted 123 patients.  This was the home of Mrs Sarah Stagg who acted as Matron. She received a mention by the Secretary of State in the Gazette on 3rd December 1918.  In this picture you can see the Red Cross Flag in the garden of The White House.  Also a soldier can be seen laying on his bed on the lawn.

Caltofts Red Cross Hospital.  William Henry Hazard then allowed his house ‘Caltofts’ on Broad Street, Harleston, which is behind the War Memorial to be used as a Voluntary Aid Society Hospital with 20 beds.  This was open from 5th May 1917 until it closed on 7th April 1918 having admitted 136 patients.  

The soldiers wore a uniform of light blue jacket and trousers, white shirt and red tie.  They were not allowed to visit any Public Houses.

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