Friday, 11 August 2017


This is the 200th Durham at War blog post. To mark it, I decided to have a look through the Durham Light Infantry archive collection, held here at Durham County Record Office, at items that have 200 in their reference number. I have wondered before, what it would be like to look at a sample from a catalogue based on a number. Once I had searched, I had to extract the items that are related to the First World War. This gave me a list of seven potential items to look at:

Ref: D/DLI 2/18/24(200)
Photograph of the coast of Sardinia, taken from on board the SS Ivernia, c.1916

Ref: D/DLI 2/1/18(200)
Photograph, from a magazine, of the grave of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, taken at Agny, France, c.1917

Ref: D/DLI 2/7/18(200)
Photograph of a railway track running by a ruined building in France or Belgium, c.1914 - 1918

Ref: D/DLI 7/63/2(200)
Colour sketch map of a section of the Western Front between Neuville and Vermand, France, c.1917

Ref: D/DLI 7/63/5(200)
Newspaper cutting concerning the death, from pneumonia, of Major Biggs, 5th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 2 December 1916

Ref: D/DLI 7/172/1(200)
Newspaper cutting headlined 'Magnificent Gallantry of our Troops', c.1916

Ref: D/DLI 7/701/2(200)
Newspaper cutting concerning celebrations at the Newcastle Exchange following the end of the war, November 1918

Original grave marker of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (D/DLI 2/1/18(200))
D/DLI 2/1/18(200) Original grave marker of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry
I decided to have a closer look at the photograph of the grave of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, as he died 100 years ago, and served with 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (10 DLI), which connects to our Shiny Tenth project.

Gerald Sewart was born in West Yorkshire in 1893 to the Reverend Anthony Wilkinson Sewart and his wife Margaret. Sadly, Margaret died three days later, likely from complications following the birth. As a vicar, Anthony moved around and at some point found himself in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. Here, he met Constance Annie Ormsby, and the couple married in 1900. A daughter, Mollie, followed in 1903.

By the time war was declared, the family was living at the rectory in Brignall, near Barnard Castle. This part of the small area covered by Durham at War that was Yorkshire at the time, but is now part of County Durham. Gerald was having a successful education, first attending Giggleswick School, then in 1912 being accepted to study maths at Oxford University. He won a form of scholarship called an exhibition. Gerald also made a name for himself in the university’s rowing community. He graduated with a first class in Mathematical Moderations in 1914.
Portrait of Second Lieutenant Gerald Sewart (D/DLI 2/1/18(200))
D/DLI 2/1/18(201) Portrait of Second Lieutenant Gerald Sewart

There was no time for Gerald to enter the workforce, however, he took a temporary commission as a second lieutenant with 10 DLI, commanded by Colonel HHS Morant. The battalion entered France in May 1915 but Sewart was only there a month when a shell exploded close above him, killing a fellow officer. Suffering from shock, he was sent back to England for convalescence. During this time, he became a musketry instructor at the military training camp in Ripon, not too far from his family.

Gerald got back to 10 DLI in France in early 1916, but his service there was once again cut short, and sadly it was also to be his final resting place. On 8 May 1916, the battalion was in reserve at Agny, and Gerald was giving instructions in the use of the Stokes mortar, a simple and fast trench mortar that fired 3.2 inch shells. After firing one round, the Germans retaliated with two of their own. He pushed the lance corporal he was instructing into shelter and safety, but took a direct hit himself.

Strangely, especially given that he was an officer, the official war diary makes no reference to the incident. The entry for 8 May 1916 reads:
‘A very quiet day. Enemy m[achine] g[un] suspected at [location] M 15. B.8.2. This appears to be very strongly built.’

Colonel Morant’s memoirs make no specific reference to these days in reserve, but he does acknowledge in an annotated photograph from 1915 that Second Lieutenant Sewart was killed.
Photograph from Colonel HHS Morant's memoirs showing himself, and Second Lieutenant Sewart (circled), May 1915 (From D/DLI 7/1230/3 ))
From D/DLI 7/1230/3 Photograph from Colonel HHS Morant's memoirs showing himself, and Second Lieutenant Sewart (circled), May 1915

Being a vicar, Reverent Anthony Sewart is frequently mentioned in the local newspaper, the Teesdale Mercury. The archive of this is searchable online. There is an article to say that Reverend Sewart received news of his son’s death, and that a service was held at the church in nearby Rokeby. There is also an article from March 1920, reporting on the unveiling of a war memorial in Brignall cemetery to Gerald Sewart, and four others.
The war memorial at Brignall church, taken by David Rogers, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license
The Teesdale Mercury warrants a close look with regards to the Sewarts and their activities at home during the war period. I found a letter from August 1918 from Constance, Gerald's stepmother, to the editor. In it, she offers her assistance to anyone with a missing or prisoner relative, in the form of writing letters to the correct authorities, even offering to pay the postage costs herself.

So a speculative endeavour based on the number 200 has revealed a story of a young man’s simultaneous bravery and sad end. It has also revealed the beginning of a story about the wartime life of a small village vicarage and the efforts of those left behind to cope with their loss.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Breaker

At the end of June, a story appeared on the ABC News website (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) about a man who found a hessian bag on a rubbish tip in New South Wales. It contained Boer War items, seemingly connected to the Australian folk hero Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant.
Harry 'Breaker' Morant, Australian War Memorial, A05311 (public domain)
Harry 'Breaker' Morant, Australian War Memorial, A05311 (public domain)
I am cataloguing the papers of Colonel Hubert HS Morant who was the commanding officer of 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, during the First World War. This collection was purchased at auction with help from the Friends of the National Libraries, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Trustees of the former DLI. Breaker Morant is a result that always comes up on doing a google search on the family name. I hadn’t noticed anyone closely related called Harry, but the Morant family had many branches, and with this recent news report, I wanted to know if there was any family connection.

I didn’t really know the details about Breaker Morant until I started looking into the connection. Harry Harbord ‘Breaker’ Morant began to make a name for himself ‘acquiring a reputation as horse-breaker, drover, steeplechaser, polo player, drinker, womaniser, [and] from 1891 he contributed bush ballads to the Sydney Bulletin as ‘the Breaker’ (Australian Dictionary of Biography). He enlisted in the Australian army and fought in the Boer War. The story (disputed by some) is that he and some other men shot and killed several Boer prisoners, and a German missionary. They were arrested in October 1901, and the trial lasted until January 1902. Breaker Morant and a Lieutenant Handcock were both sentenced to death. On 27 February 1902, they were killed by firing squad. A film was made in 1980 in which Edward Woodward played Breaker.
D/DLI 7/1230/4 Hubert HS Morant, c.1918
D/DLI 7/1230/4 Hubert HS Morant, c.1918 
So, what is the connection between Breaker Morant and the commanding officer of a DLI regiment? Well, there isn’t one, not by blood at least. Breaker claimed to be the son of Admiral Sir Digby Morant, the cousin of HHS Morant. The claim was denied by Admiral Morant, and it was never proven. Breaker is thought to have been born Edwin Henry Murrant in Somerset in 1865, to Edwin and Catherine, and emigrated to Australia in 1883. A recent book, ‘Breaker Morant, the Final Round Up’, by Joe West and Roger Roper, suggests that Breaker adopted Harbord into his name from a newspaper report on the death of Horatio Harbord Morant, HHS Morant’s father (and the Admiral’s uncle). Horatio Morant had served with the 68th Foot Regiment, a predecessor of the Durham Light Infantry, in the Crimean War, and as a senior officer in New Zealand.

Of course, in 2017, we can look up birth entries on Ancestry, and dig around the internet to put a family tree together. If we want to move to another country, checks are in place to make sure we are who we say are. But at the turn of the 20th century, when Edwin Murrant went to Australia, moving to a new country could literally mean starting a new life.

You can read more about Breaker Morant here:

You can watch the report of the recent find, or read a transcript, here:

Friday, 28 July 2017

Heaviside Asides

This week, Jo reflects on the Heaviside commemorations and looks at some of the other people from Craghead and Stanley.

So, the dust has finally settled on the Heaviside commemorations, and we have started talking about the next Victoria Cross events (for George McKean, in April 2018). As with the completion of every large project, there is something of a feeling of come down when everything that you have been working towards for months is at an end. The dust may have settled on our celebrations of an extraordinary man and his deeds but the Durham at War website enables us to preserve not only Michael Heaviside’s history but also the stories of those around him. 

The Stanley News report of the parade for Michael Heaviside provided us with a fantastic basis for recreating the procession a hundred years later and was one of the sources that we used in the schools education sessions:

But it also hints at a number of other stories of the people of Craghead and Stanley, for example here are the words of Henry Greener from that report:
"He (the speaker) stood before them with not unmixed feelings, as they might guess; but one had got to weep with those who wept, and rejoice with those who rejoiced. His had been a time of weeping, and had he yielded to his own personal feelings he might not have been there; but he had set those feelings aside, and was glad of the privilege afforded him, in their name, of extending the most hearty and most cordial of welcomes to a man who had brought such honour to their village (Cheers)."
Harry Greener, Stanley News, 26 April 1917
Harry Greener, Stanley News, 26 April 1917
Just three months before, Mr Greener’s son and namesake, Harry Greener, had been shot and killed in France. His younger son, John William Greener, had just been discharged from the army as being medically unfit in June 1917 after having been shot in the face and gassed. He died in 1919. 
Harry Greener
John William Greener 

Another name that stands out from the newspaper report is that of Anthony Kuhlman:
"The children having sung “Rule Britannia,” Mr A Kuhlman moved a vote of thanks to all who had lent motor cars and assisted in other ways. There were many proud faces round him, and he could say that was the proudest day he had had in Craghead."

The people of Stanley turned out for the Heaviside parade in 2017  (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The people of Stanley turned out for the Heaviside parade in 2017  (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
It is perhaps surprising to learn that Anthony Kuhlman was born in Germany and that he had resigned from Stanley Urban District Council because of “international differences”. In spite of this, he appears to have thrown himself into preparations for the town’s festivities and was struck by the cohesive effect that the parade had:
"That day to him, coming through Stanley, South Moor, and there, had been wonderful. He had never seen a day like it; it was an eye-opener that he never expected. It just required someone to set the ball rolling, and it would gather moss galore and take huge proportions. He never saw such a crowd. The committee were thoroughly and highly satisfied with the response to the efforts they had made. They had done a little good, but their efforts, if not seconded, would have fallen flat. Everyone had pulled together, so making work a pleasure. They could not expect to have many days like that, which was one of work and pleasure."

Anthony Kuhlman

Anthony Redhead Kuhlman (his son)