Friday, 21 March 2014

How The First World War Affected An Historic Family, A Village And A Canine Companion Who Returned Alone From The Front To Holkham

Arthur Coke
When Holkham opens the doors to its 2014 exhibition it will lift the curtain on many poignant memories of the First World War, including one member of the Coke family whose faithful canine companion sadly returned alone from the front to live out his days on the historic north Norfolk estate.

Arthur Coke, grandfather of the present Earl of Leicester, spent his early service days in the Royal Navy before moving to the Horse Guards and seeing action in Flanders in the first Battle of Ypres which lasted for three months in 1914.

The exhibition will feature some poignant extracts from letters that Arthur wrote at the front and which take the reader from the build up to war, his reaction to war once action starts and his very early realisation that the war in Europe was set to be a static war in the trenches. At the end of 1914 Arthur wanted to see more action and was able to transfer to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Armoured Cars.

Jack The Dog's grave
Four months later the Armoured Cars were in Lemnos, a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea.  The island was used by the allies as a base to try to capture the Dardanelles Straits. With the cars waiting for action, Arthur volunteered to help man the S S River Clyde which was the first troopship to put men ashore at ‘V’ beach on the Gallipoli peninsula. He was put in charge of five machine guns in the bows.  Battle commenced and was to last for some 13 hours but despite heavy losses the beach landing held. Arthur described this action as: “The greatest day of my life.” He went on to join the battle for Krithia but was killed on May 2 1915 during a particularly fierce offensive by the Turks.

Throughout his time in Gallipoli, Arthur was accompanied by his faithful dog, Jack - an Airedale Terrier. Following Arthur’s death, Jack was brought back to Holkham by Arthur’s fellow officers.  He lived out his days at Holkham and was buried near the orangery in 1918.

The exhibition will feature details of Arthur’s two brothers, Tom and Roger, who were also involved in the First World War and the impact the war had on the family. Personal letters, archives, books, photographs and artefacts will all be on display and the exhibition will also aim to show the impact of the war for the families of over 90 Holkham men who are mentioned on the Roll of Honour.

Viscount Coke said: “The Great War was supposed to be ‘The war to end all wars’, but as Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier known to have fought in the trenches said: “We have learnt nothing from it.” The making of this exhibition has been fascinating. I knew a fair bit about my great-grandfather Arthur’s service and his ultimate death at Gallipoli, but we have unearthed so much more about his brothers’ involvement in the war and that of many other Holkham men and women. I challenge our visitors not to be moved by it.”

Two special features on display in the courtyard at Holkham will demonstrate the creative talent of students at Norwich University of the Arts. The students will design and build a two-thirds scale profile of a Mark V tank and a replica 20 foot section of a trench representing the Somme battlefield. The trench display will also feature a memorial wall on each side and inside it will feature periscopes, a sniper hole and a selection of graphics.

Sarah Steed, business director at Norwich University of the Arts said: “NUA students Andrew Rhodes and Jason Billman are delighted to have been selected to work on the Holkham project. They hope to use their skills as a fine artist and an illustrator to bring the exhibition vividly to life for the families that visit.”

On August 4 there will also be a special day of reflection to commemorate Britain joining World War 1. Further details of the day will be published on the Holkham website in the coming months.

The 2014 exhibition at Holkham Hall will be open to visitors from April 1 to October 31 on a Sunday, Monday or Thursday between 12 and 4pm and normal hall admission charges will apply.  For further details about visiting Holkham please go to the website

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