Norman Fisher (1890-1918)
Born circa February 1890, he worked as a commercial traveller and was residing at Spring Grove, Thongsbridge, at the outbreak of the First World War.
He was invalided out of the forces in July 1916, "being no longer physically fit for war service". According to his medical record, he suffered from muscular rheumatism (i.e. trench foot) and spent 21 weeks recovering at Middlesex Hospital.
He died of pneumonia towards the end of 1918.
Two of Norman's letters home were published in the Holmfirth Express newspaper and were transcribed by Holmfirth Local History Group and Vivien Aizlewood for the "Lives of the First World War" project.
8 May 1915
AN INFERNO OF 200 GUNS - HOLMFIRTH SOLDIER’S TELLING NARRATIVE
“We now know what War really is, and I think nobody can imagine what it really is until they have been there. Reading the papers in an easy chair in front of a nice warm fire is all right, but you get the real feeling when you are in the thick of it.”
Thus writes Private Norman Fisher, a local youth who threw in his lot with Kitchener's Army when war broke out. Before the crisis Private Fisher was engaged in the shop of Mr Hey, outfitter, Victoria Street, Holmfirth. Recently it was reported that Private Fisher was ‘missing’- which often means the soldier’s grave is on the battlefield; the receipt of this letter disposes of that story and proves that the gallant youth, far from being rendered ‘hors de combat’ is very much alive and in capital spirits.
Private Fisher draws a telling picture of modern warfare:
“A short time ago 200 guns of our Artillery we're firing at once. Well, you will have some idea what kind of noise that would make, and we were in the midst of that. One day last week our Artillery shelled the German trenches 30 yards in front of us. When the shells dropped on the parapet of the trenches we can see the sandbags fly into the air like paper. They succeeded in wrecking them; then we had to keep up firing to stop the Germans from repairing them so we had a busy day that day. We do four days in the trenches and four days out, and we are billeted in barns when not in the trenches. Barns to us are perfect havens of rest, and we look forward to a jolly good night’s rest when we leave the trenches.”
That the best feeling is prevalent in the ranks is evident from subsequent comments:
“We have had a few casualties so far, but our commanding officer read a letter to us to the effect that all were pleased with us so far and that our casualties are far below the average. I am very proud for our officers in our Company - they have proved themselves real British officers on more than one occasion. As we go backward and forward to the trenches we can see all around us ruined farms and houses, with dead cattle, horses, dogs etc lying unburied. You can scarcely imagine what it is after the troops of passed along to fresh positions. These things we get accustomed to and think no more about them.’
Happily, even a battlefield has its brighter side for the optimist. Private Fisher proceeds:
“Then we have the pleasant side of things. We get lots of fun doing our own cooking, washing, mending etc. Tonight, we are having a concert in our barn; all seats are free. It will be a kind of an impromptu one. We shall have no piano as an accompaniment, but one or two of us will hum the accompaniment. We are not without talent, I can assure you; we have some really good singers amongst us.”
19 June 1915
NO SCRATCHES, BUT PLENT OF NARROW SHAVES
In a letter addressed to Mr W Wagstaff, Nether Thong, Private Norman Fisher has sent his thanks for the school cake and a personal gift. Fisher, who is attached to the Leicester regiment, was formerly manager for Messrs Hey & Co, outfitters, Holmfirth, and was connected with the Nether Thong Wesleyan Chapel, being a member of the choir. He received his parcel, when he was preparing for the trenches once more.
“We do four days of duty in the firing line,” he writes, “and four days out. Whilst out of the trenches we are in bivouacs, situated in beautiful surroundings, which differ very much from our surroundings in the trenches. I am getting along A1 so far. As you are aware, a soldier's life is very much different to the one I had been accustomed to, but I am always pleased to think I have been able so far to do my little bit in preserving the freedom of dear old England without even getting a scratch. Mind you, I don't mean to say that I haven't had some narrow escapes. We have all had some fairly near “shaves” by now, and every time I come out of the trenches I feel thankful I am still spared to continue doing my little bit.
By now, I feel quite a veteran at the game. In fact, we are just at present instructing a new division which has recently come out. So far, our casualties are by no means low, but those that are left of us, are hoping to get ample revenge for our more unfortunate comrades, who died as they lived, - “brave soldiers.” We see some awful sights out here, but the only way to deal with these things is to dismiss them from our minds at once. I am very thankful we did not get here in the winter, and I hope we shall have the whole thing over before next winter comes. I can imagine what our soldiers, who came out at the beginning, have gone through. How those that are left of them pulled through I can't tell. The hardships must have been awful. I am pleased to say that so far, the murderous poisonous gasses have not come our way. I have seen the effects of it, though. We have a lot of odds against us, but we shall undoubtedly crush these Huns in the end.”
Lives of the First World War
Norman Fisher was born on 5 February 1890 in Netherthong, the son of weaver John Fisher and his wife Alice. In the 1911 census, John is living in the family home with his parents and two elder sisters Edith Alice and Emma, his occupation given as shop assistant. Later in June 1915, the local paper described him as ‘formerly manager for Messrs Hey & Co, outfitters, Holmfirth.’
Three years later, at the age of 24 years and 11 months, John was in Leicester where he enlisted in 4 Bn Leicestershire Regiment in September 1914, a month after the outbreak of war. He gave his occupation as Commercial Traveller. He served initially in England but went out to France on 2 March 1915 seeing active service which he graphically described to friends at home in two letters reproduced in the local newspaper. He returned home on 5 January 1916, possibly ill or wounded because his service came to an end on 13 July 1916 when he was invalided out of the army under King’s Regulation xvi with Silver War Badge number 8195, being no longer physically fit for war service.
The nature of his infirmities is not known but he died in October 1918 at Harrogate. He was 28 years old. His body was returned to his home village of Netherthong, West Yorkshire where he was buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church.
- History of Netherthong: Netherthong and its WW1 heroes
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission (ID #)
- Imperial War Museums: Lives of the First World War (ID #2469507)