Alfred Funnell was the eldest son of George and Elizabeth Funnell (nee Back). George was a baker and corn dealer in Saxlingham Nethergate and in July 1891 he married Elizabeth Back in Hethersett. She had been working as a servant in Saxlingham Nethergate prior to her marriage. Alfred was born on 22nd July 1892, the first of their nine children. He had five sisters, Lillian born in 1896, Ethel in 1900, Evelyn in 1905, Ida in 1908 and Kate in 1910. His brother Robert was born in 1899, George in 1902 and Arthur in 1904. The family lived at the Bakery which was near the centre of the village.
Alfred along with his siblings attended the village school and he left in 1905 aged thirteen. He then worked in the family business as a baker.
His hobby was bell ringing at the local church. He was a very talented young ringer. Bell ringing was a very popular past time of young men at the beginning of 20th century. With the increased availability of bicycles and easy access to the railways they were able to visit other nearby churches to ring. Many belonged to the Norwich Diocesan Association and took part in peals, competitions and meetings throughout the county. The Reverend Pitt, who was instrumental in having the local bells re hung and adding two new bells, was an experienced and enthusiastic ringer and no doubt encouraged many young men in the village to ring.
Alfred was fairly young when he started ringing as he is in a photograph taken outside the church in 1908 when the new bells were about to be hung. He was fifteen or sixteen years old.
He went on to be part of the first local band to ring a peal on the new bells on October 13th 1910.
He also rang in peal at Saxlingham on 18th June 1914 when the average age of the ringers was eighteen and a half years old. He at that time was however 22 years old.
All the men in the photograph fought in the war but Alfred Funnell and Bertie F Turner were killed. Frank Copeman also rang at Saxlingham but the other young men came from nearby villages and Norwich.
A recruiting meeting was held in Saxlingham on 21st November 1914 and along with four other men Alfred enlisted on that day. He joined the Norfolk Regiment and was posted the next day. At the time of joining he was aged 22 years and 4 months, he was 5 feet and 7 inches tall and weighed 9 stones 10 pounds. From November until 17th May 1915 he was stationed in Norfolk receiving training.
On 18th May 1915 he was posted to France as part of 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. His service records are difficult to read but he appears to have been on leave from 2nd June until 9th June 1916. He was made a Lance Corporal on 19th August 1916. He was killed in battle on 4th September 1916 and his body never found.
The Battle of the Somme began in early July and the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment became involved in the battle later in the month suffering heavy casualties. By the middle of August fighting was taking place in an area near Falfemont Farm. This was a German fortified position on high ground overlooking the Allied lines. It was decided to attack this fortification initially at the end of August but this was then postponed until the beginning of September.
Over night on 3/4th September the 1st Battalion as part of the 15th Brigade took up their positions in readiness to attack. The assault was expected to take place at 3.10 p.m. The weather was windy but with squally showers and also periods of bright sunshine. When the attack happened the 1st Norfolks had difficulties because the French regiments on their right were unable to leave their trenches. The Battalion was subjected to heavy machine gun fire and bombardment. At times progress forward could only be made by crawling from shell-hole to shell-hole. The farm was eventually taken in the early hours of 5th September 1916 with soldiers from the 1st Norfolks taking part. There was a great loss of life during this battle. Alfred was one of those killed and his body was never recovered.
Descriptions of the aftermath of these battles are awful with reports of bodies sinking in the mud and soldiers having to climb over them.
Alfred is one of over 72,000 men who died in this area and have no known grave. Ninety percent of these men died between July and November 1916.
He is remembered with them on the Thiepval Memorial near Thiepval village, Somme, France.
Alfred seems to have been a much loved son and respected member of the village. His parents included a photograph of him taken in 1915 in the Photo Index of Men killed in the First World War which is now in Norfolk Studies Library in Norwich.
They also donated a salver to St Mary The Virgin Church in his memory.
In the Memoriam section of the Eastern Daily Press on 4th September 1917 there were two entries for Alfred Funnell.
In loving memory of dear Alfred killed in France in September. Gone but not forgotten, from Florrie.
In ever loving memory of Alfred the dearly loved eldest son of George and Elizabeth Funnell, Saxlingham Nethergate, who was killed in action in France aged 24.
In the Census of 1911 Alfred was staying as a visitor with the Wright family in the High Street, Tittleshall, Swaffham, Norfolk. They had a daughter, Florence, who was the same age as Alfred. Perhaps the Florrie above is the same person and perhaps she was his girl friend. This can however only be supposition.
Robert, Alfred’s brother also enlisted in March 1917 and was in the Tank Corps. He survived the war but died in 1935 aged 36 years. It is said his health had been affected by his war experiences.
Census records: 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
Saxlingham Nethergate School log book.
British Army WW1 Service Records.
UK soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-18
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920.
Eastern Daily Press. 4th September 1917
Papers from Saxlingham Nethergate Church Chest now deposited at Norfolk Record Office.
1919 Annual Report, Norwich and Ipswich Association of Ringers.
Great War Forum- Western Front
The Battle of the Somme- A Topographical History by Gerald Gliddon & Alan Sutton Stroud 1998.
Background Europe: Guillemont, by Michael Stedman & Lee Cooper. 1998.
Storm Roberts. Photograph of salver