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, 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 WWI. 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 helped around the house where she lived. Her daughter Pauline recently transferred it to the care of Terry Pegg of the Harleston and District Branch of the Royal British Legion.
Terry has been working with local researcher and author Ruth Walton to find out more about the 144 names on the tablecloth, 104 soldiers and 40 other personnel. This includes staff and other patients – many of the staff were local people. It is planned to showcase the tablecloth and the research at suitable venues and events in and around Harleston during the coming months, when we hope to learn much more about the 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 Woolwich Arsenal munition workers.
In the next month the tablecloth, which has survived remarkably well and is thought to be quite rare, will be professionally conserved by Norfolk 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.
The tablecloth will be professionally conserved to museum standard and it is hoped to find a suitable venue where it can be permanently displayed. It is hoped also to showcase it at some local events in Harleston during the coming months. Many thanks to Harleston Town Council and the Grapevine for providing the money needed for the conservation.
Details of when and where the tablecloth will be displayed will be published after the Tablecloth has been returned from The Norfolk Museum Service later in April. This will also include some stories behind the names on The Tablecloth.
If you have any information and want to contact the researcher, Terry Pegg. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org