Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve at The Front

Second  Lieutenant John Walcote  Gamble (D/DLI 7/238/4(1))
D/DLI 7/238/4(1) Second
Lieutenant John Walcote
John Walcote Gamble was a Second Lieutenant in the 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  In our collections we have a typescript book of the letters (D/DLI 7/238/4) he wrote, likely to his mother, from 9 October 1915 to 17 May 1916.  Well educated, his letters are evocative of the ups and down of a soldier’s life, and are not without a sense of humour.  

Xmas Eve 1915.
It is not the pleasantest of Xmas Eves, but it might be a lot worse, and we are all sitting chatting in a dug-out now, and keeping as cheery as possible.

Everyone is in a fairly good humour, inspite of the wet, the strafing, and the effects of that horrid gas attack, from which we have not all properly recovered.

Yes, most of the Officers are in a good humour - absolutely must be - because one of them, who possesses a fountain-pen, which he guards like a priceless treasure, and which he will rarely allow anyone but himself to use, has offered me the loan of it whilst scribbling this!

The Bosche is not so wicked to-night as he has been recently, and we are taking advantage of it to try and get our Xmas Eve Dinner.  We are just waiting for it to appear now, and the cook is working manfully to give us something like a spread.

His greatest difficulty is to keep a fire going, for there is water in the trench (it is raining) and whenever Fritz sees a cloud of smoke he invariably sends a whiz-bang into it.

We are well supplied with good things thanks to you and other friends, and to the other 4 Officers' "yous" and other friends, and don't we just appreciate them?  We shall be compelled to eat most things cold, both to-day and to-morrow, but we shall not enjoy them any the less.

The poultry is coming in now, and it does look splendid. (Adjournment for Grub).

The Bosche's quietness rather puzzles us tonight.  Whether it means he is trying to be festive and enjoy himself for a little time, or whether he is working up for a "strafe big" to-morrow is the question, but it does not really matter what his idea is, because we are going to give him a little present to put in his stocking in return for the gas he presented us with last Sunday.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Festive Fridays - Christmas Dinner

Menu card for the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Christmas dinner 1917.  The Battalion was in reserve at Ecurie, France, at this time. (D/DLI 2/662/2(133))
D/DLI 2/662/2(133) Menu card for the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Christmas dinner 1917.  The Battalion was in reserve at Ecurie, France, at this time.
Samuel Warwick was a Lieutenant Colonel, born in Houghton-le-Spring in 1897.  He enlisted in the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry at just under 17 years old, by Christmas 1916, he was a Lance Corporal serving with the 8th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment and took it upon himself to make Christmas dinner.  He recounted the experiences of this event 60 years later (D/DLI 7/748/3).

“We moved up to the front line from Zillebeke through Sanctuary Wood…The temperature was well below zero but if you were not sweating you were a sick man.  The language was pungent, repetitive, and far from Christmassy…

“This was the battalion’s second Christmas in the trenches and Christmas Eve was dead quiet.  But – just after midnight on the Christmas morning a battery of our field guns opened up on the German trench in front of us…

“About 2 o’clock [am] I…thought I would prepare a meal for the four of us sharing a dugout…[finding a water source] I had an ex-petrol can, now a water can and to fill it I used my steel helmet.  The water could not hurt it, it was already wet with sweat.  I did not know how revolting this liquid looked until I got it into the candle light of the dugout and poured some out into a mess tin…My squad were all asleep with their feet wrapped in sandbags so I…started to make the Christmas meal.  The method was as follows:-

Empty a tin of bully beef into a mess tin.  Half fill the empty tin with candle grease.  There is always plenty where a candle burns day and night.

Using a piece of four-by-two (which is the flannelette used for pulling through a rifle) as a wick, you have got yourself a first class cooking stove albeit it looks like a miniature bonfire when lit.

Next take some hard biscuits, break them up with the handle of a bayonet and soak them in water until they are mush.

Drain off the surplus water and mix this biscuit mush with shredded bully and add some bacon fat which you have saved in a Woodbine tin.

To this savoury platter add a good doze [sic.] of Curry powder (which every good soldier carries to camouflage any sort of rotten taste).

On each side of the bonfire place a full tin of bully.  On these rests the loaded canteen and let cooking commence exactly the right distance from the flame.

My hands were now perfectly clean.  There is nothing like squeezing wet biscuit for getting dirt of the hands.

The smell, or should I say aroma woke the sleepers and they were soon sitting up with canteen lids and spoons ready. 

For afters I knocked up a little something with ‘burgoo’ which is army porridge and tastes like wall plaster when unadorned.  Smother with condensed milk and add a sauce of neat rum (plenty)  with sugar.  If you have saved the rum from yesterday in an old sauce bottle the added flavour is superb…

“The Company Sergeant Major lifted the ragged canvas door of the dugout and spoiled everything just as we were going in to ‘While shepherds watched’ with the vulgar remark ‘What’s all this bloody row about.  The Bosche can hear the flaming noise’  We had forgotten all about the Bosche.  The next morning when dawn broke we ‘stood to’ in the trench, a bird twittered, a rat nuzzled an empty tin in no-man’s land, but from the enemy trench we could hear a German playing a flute.”

Friday, 13 December 2013

Festive Fridays - Christmas Cards

Company Christmas card (D/DLI 2/9/374)
D/DLI 2/9/374 Company Christmas card
In last week’s blog post I wrote about the embroidered postcards.  At Christmas time, some companies, battalions, or even brigades, produced their own Christmas cards.  Sometimes these were of a basic design with just the relevant insignia printed on the front, or they might have featured a serious image of a soldier.  Other times, they were humorous ones. 

Many soldiers passed the time by drawing.  As well as sketches in letters and diaries, the Durham Light Infantry collection has several sketchbooks by soldiers such as Private Thomas McCree and Captain Robert Mauchlen.  Two army chaplains, Reverend C. Lomax and Reverend J.A.G. Birch, also produced drawings and sketches both prior and during the war.

The two examples of Christmas cards here were drawn by Second Lieutenant Gerald Palmer, 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, who had been an art student.  The card of B Company, 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry has faded a lot but shows 1915 represented by the old soldier, his back bent and his beard long, leaving the trench while the one representing 1916 comes in upright and fresh-faced.  This is under the glare of a sun wearing a German Pickelhaube, the sentiment wishes the recipient a ‘D.L.I. (t) ful Xmas’.  The card of the 151st Infantry Brigade (of with 9th Battalion, DLI were part of) shows a German soldier being chased over fields by a British soldier and wishes the recipient ‘a good run for your money in the new year’.  

Brigade Christmas card (D/DLI 7/776/36)
D/DLI 7/776/36 Brigade Christmas card
Both cards were for Christmas 1915 and wishing a good 1916, however, the new year did not bring happiness for Second Lieutenant Gerald Palmer, on 8 February 1916, under German attack, he had his jaw broken in several places by flying shrapnel.  He did survive the war though, relinquishing his commission in 1919 due to ill health caused by injuries.  

Friday, 6 December 2013

Festive Fridays - Silks

Embroidered postcard showing a design incorporating  the Allied flags and mistletoe (D/DLI 7/652/31)

D/DLI 7/652/31 Embroidered postcard showing a design incorporating 

the Allied flags and mistletoe

One of the most popular items that soldiers bought to send home were embroidered postcards, also called silks.  These consisted of a strip of silk that was either factory made or embroidered by women in France and Belgium.  Perhaps surprisingly, not a lot more is known about their production.

The most common subjects were flowers, regimental insignia, and flags.  However, as might be expected, around the festive period, other motifs were made or, in the case of the card at the top, incorporated with some of the more usual themes.

Embroidered postcard showing a snowy scene with pine cones and flowers (D/DLI 7/913/419)
D/DLI 7/913/419  Embroidered postcard showing a snowy scene with 
pine cones and flowers
The cards were popular because they were something pretty, and easy, to send home to loved ones from the frequently grim conditions of France and Belgium, especially at a time of year when home would be at the front of their minds.  

Monday, 25 November 2013

Movember Mondays

Top left: (D/DLI 2/18/24(8)) Top right: (D/DLI 2/18/24(8)) Bottom left: (D/DLI 2/18/24(35)) Bottom right: (D/DLI 2/18/24(43))

I was going to do separate posts on these gentlemen of the 18th (County) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, but a seed of doubt was cast in my mind as to who was who.  I tried putting it to other staff in the Record Office with a view to getting a consensus.  Unfortunately, nearly everyone had a different answer. 

I don’t have any names, I only know that the top two are different people, as they are cropped from the same photograph.  The bottom two men may be one of each of the top ones, both one of the tops ones, or completely different people altogether.  With the 18th being a Pals battalion, there is also the possibility that they are related.

In the archives world, we can’t make assumptions.  In some cases we can have circumstantial evidence so we could describe a record as possibly being something.  It also means that we are used to the fact that we don’t always have the answers and that we may never have them.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Movember Mondays

Sergeant Major Chaplin of the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry  taken at Cocken Hall, 1914 (D/DLI 2/18/24(89))
D/DLI 2/18/24(89) Sergeant Major Chaplin of the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry taken at Cocken Hall, 1914
When the Army Order was issued that King’s Regulations paragraph 1696 would be altered so that moustaches were no longer mandatory, the newspapers picked up on it. 

The Times of 7 October 1916 ran an article headlined ‘The Army Moustache.  Optional under new order’, in which it tells how moustaches were not always in favour,

‘…it was not until after the Crimea that the modern world came to tolerate it in polite society.’ 

Lieutenant Leybourne, 8th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, utilising a motorcycle mirror as a shaving aid at Ravensworth Park, c.1914 (D/DLI 2/8/60(19))
D/DLI 2/8/60(19) Lieutenant Leybourne, 8th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, utilising a motorcycle mirror as a shaving aid at Ravensworth Park, c.1914 

In 1916, it seems that moustaches were falling out of fashion again.  The Times believes news of the order

‘…may come as a surprise to the older, and as a relief to the younger, member of the Service.’

A month later, on 11 November 1916, the change was reported in The Deseret News, a Utah paper, via Associated Press Correspondence.  The article claims that whilst it was

‘…comparatively easy in the old days to control the army mustache [sic …] in the tremendous new fighting machine now martialed under the Union Jack they had […] begun to border on the ridiculous.’

Drawing by Reverend J.A.G. Birch,  5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry,  thought to be 1916  (D/DLI 7/63/2(142))
D/DLI 7/63/2(142)
Drawing by Reverend J.A.G. Birch, 
5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 
thought to be 1916 
Much as I have enjoyed coming up with ways of describing the beauteous bristles adorning some of the faces of the Durham Light Infantry, so too, I think, has the writer of the news article who goes on to say,

‘It is a salve to the old soldier that the new rule is merely optional.  It would have been a great grief to many of the old sergeants-major to part with the splendid, branching twirlios they have cultivated over five and 20 years.’ 

Given Sergeant Major Chaplin’s carefully tended ‘tache, I doubt he would have been reaching for the shaving foam on hearing the new order.  

Monday, 11 November 2013

Theophilus Jones

Theophilus Jones, from the book ‘The Hartlepools in the Great War’ by Frederick Miller, 1920

Theophilus Jones has been on our research list as the first British soldier to be killed in action on British soil in the First World War, during the Hartlepool Bombardment on 16 December 1914.  James at the North East War Memorials Project has been researching Jones and he alerted me, without knowing about my Movember plans, to this photograph in ‘The Hartlepools in the Great War’ by Frederick Miller, published in 1920, in which Theophilus has a very distinguished moustache.  You can read an extract from the book here about the bombardment , as well as find out about memorials recording Theophilus’ death.

Theophilus Jones was a school master at St. Aidan’s and attested with the 18th (County) Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, on 3 October 1914.  The 18th Battalion were stationed at Heugh Battery during the bombardment.  Five members of the 18th Battalion were killed that day:  Private C.S. Clarke; Private Alex Liddle; Private Walter Rogers; Private C.D. Turner; and Private Theophilus Jones is thought to be the first.  Private Thomas Minks died of wounds the following day.  Men from other army units and the navy also died during the bombardment, as well as over one hundred civilians.  Jones was 29 at the time of his death and is buried in Hartlepool (Stranton) Cemetery

You can also learn about some of the men of the County Hall War Memorial, including Thomas Minks, here:

Each year, a small Remembrance service is held at the memorial on 11 November.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

First World War Event, County Hall

We are holding a drop in event in the Durham Room at County Hall on Saturday 9 November, between 10 am and 2 pm.

There will be information about how the project is progressing, the Colonel Morant records purchased at auction earlier this year, and the photograph collection of the 18th (County) Battalion - the Durham Pals.

The Durham Room is situated behind reception.  There is no need to sign in, just say that you are for the First World War event.  The canteen will not be open but there are vending machines for drinks and snacks in the reception area.  

Officers and soldiers of the 18th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, on parade in a field, waiting to begin a march in the United Kingdom, c.1914 (D/DLI 2/18/24(27))

Monday, 4 November 2013

Movember Mondays

(D/DLI 2/18/24 (8))
D/DLI 2/18/24 (8)
This month you may notice something hairy starting to creep over the top lips of many men.  This is for Movember, an initiative where men grow a moustache throughout November to raise money and awareness for men’s health issues.  It began in Australia in 2003 and made its way to the United Kingdom in 2007 where it is partnered with Prostate Cancer UK and The Institute of Cancer Research.  In 2012, the campaign raised just under £27,000,000.

Whilst at our Beamish event in October with the collection of photographs of 18th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, I was admiring some of the wonderful moustaches on display.  I also remembered that The National Archives [of America] used to do Facial Hair Friday on their blog and I thought it would be a good way to show off some pictures, have a bit of fun, and promote a good cause. 
Groomed moustache with a flick

The photograph at the top is a group of sergeants at Cocken Hall, County Durham, taken in 1914.  
It shows some wonderfully waxed moustaches, as well as some simple, but groomed, bushy ones. 
Natural bristled moustache

However, you can also see that there are some clean top lips.  The King’s Regulations (paragraph 1696) stated that ‘The chin and under-lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip’, 

Moustache waxed to a point
but from our various collections of photographs, we thought this must have been rescinded some time before the First World War.  However, the rules did not change until an Army Order was issued on 6th October 1916.  

With no reason appearing to have been given, speculation includes the inability of many recruits to the new army to grow a moustache, the time taken to maintain one versus just shaving, and the compatibility of facial hair and gas masks.

Full, luxuriant, yet groomed moustache
So how do we account for earlier photographs that show a lack of moustaches?  Hearsay suggests that the rule was not enforced as heavily in the Territorial Forces and new battalions.  Our photographs of the 18th Battalion seem to back this up.  They show that it tends to be the officers, pulled across from the regular army to train new recruits, who tend to have the moustaches.  

Thursday, 31 October 2013

How Do You Wear Your Poppy?

This is great video from The Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal on how to wear your poppy.  

Find out more about this years Poppy Appeal here:

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Stockton Needs You!

On 26th October we attended ‘Stockton Needs You!’, a First World War public awareness event that can only be described as a success for the town’s library hosting it.  

Our display at the Stockton library event

We took along some of the photographs from the 18th Battalion collection, as well as being on hand to answer queries from the public.  We were there along with representatives of Teesside Archives, Tees Archaeology and other groups and museums.  In the reference library there were also volunteers on hand to help people with their family history.

Elsewhere there were foods to try from both British and German front lines, and a reminiscence box which included scents of leather, Germolene, and roses among others (the apple one was lovely).
Knitted poppy made by Ingleby Barwick Knitting Group
Crafts were on display by both the Teesside WI and the Ingleby Barwick Knitting Group, the latter of which had knitted poppies for The British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

The library also launched their new membership card featuring Stockton’s Victoria Cross winner, Sergeant Edward Cooper, of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who received the medal for actions he took on 16 August 1917.

The day was rounded off with singing led by Mike McGrother; male voice choir Infant Hercules; and the Stockton Town Choir.

Mike McGrother, Infant Hercules, Stockton Town Choir

Our next event is one of our own on Saturday 9th November, a drop in day held in the Durham Room at County Hall, between 10am and 2pm.  We will be showcasing some of the Colonel HHS Morant records; updating visitors on the progress of the project; and inviting people to help us match up some more faces in the 18th Battalion photographs.

Further information will follow.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


On Saturday and Sunday, 19-20 October, we took a collection of photographs of the 18th (Service) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, to Beamish Museum. The event was timed to coincide with the Durham Pals recruiting weekend at the museum. The Durham Pals group re-creates the life of soldiers in the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry during the Great War. 18 DLI was a Kitchener Army unit, made up of men from all walks of life from across the County of Durham or with links to the area.

Members of the Durham Pals group looking at photographs of the 18th Battalion, DLI, at an event at Beamish

We laid out hundreds of photographs in the room above Barclay’s Bank to display the collection in a way that has never been seen before, and asked visitors to help to identify some of the people and places in the photos. The photographs show soldiers enlisting and training in the county in 1914-1915 in great detail and proved very popular with visitors.

One visitor said ‘The exhibition gives a real sense of what it felt like at the time to be part of the recruitment drive.  The camaraderie shines through’. 

Through the window you could see the Durham Pals re-enacting the drill and manoeuvres depicted in the photographs.

Durham Pals group preparing to march at Beamish

The Book, ‘War History of the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry’, written by the Commanding Officer at the end of the war, tells how the battalion was raised in September 1914 after a meeting of a committee of gentlemen from the county, headed by Lord Durham.  The battalion would be funded by subscribers, the list of names can be found in the book, and the first appeal raised c. £10,000.  Lord Durham also provided Cocken Hall as a base for the new battalion.

As well as being a County battalion, the majority of the men being recruited from the region, it was also a Pals battalion.  This meant that friends, workmates, and family members could sign up and serve together, intended to encourage enlistment.  Of course, once fighting began, this would have serious ramifications on families and communities. 

A series of photographs of the battalion (D/DLI 2/18/24-65) were produced at points throughout the recruitment and training process of 1914-1915, which were published to encourage recruitment.  The photographs didn’t have much contextual information, but in many cases, locations were determined by knowledge of the battalion's movements, and comparison with other photographs.  Equally, very few names are given, however, in his book ‘Durham Pals’, author John Sheen found names for some men from other sources.  What we would like to do is improve the information we have, locating unidentified places, matching faces and names, as well as identifying, where possible, when the same men occur in different photos, such as:

You can see the same man in these two photographs, only identified in the first one as Private J. Oliver 
Members of 18th Battalion, DLI, at Cocken Hall, one soldier also appears on the photograph below, 1914-1915 (D/DLI 2/18/24(108))
D/DLI 2/18/24 (108)
Members of 18th Battalion, DLI, at Cocken Hall, one soldier also appears on the photograph above, 1914-1915 (D/DLI 2/18/24(30))
D/DLI 2/18/24 (13)

As a result of this event we now have a positive identification for the sousaphone player in the battalion band.

More information on the 18th Battalion can be found in:

‘War History of the 18th (S.) Battalion Durham Light Infantry’, Lieutenant Colonel W.D. Lowe, DSO, MC, Oxford University Press, 1920

‘Durham Pals, 18th, 19th and 22nd Battalions of The Durham Light Infantry in the Great War’, John Sheen, Pen and Sword Military, 2007

Thursday, 17 October 2013


Welcome to the blog for the project First World War in County Durham.  The aim of this project is to gather and connect information about the people, places, events and objects associated with the First World War (WW1) in the historic county of Durham, between the Rivers Tyne and Tees. Coverage includes the area to the south west of the present county that was in Startforth Rural District, Yorkshire North Riding, during WW1.

We would like volunteer help to collect as much data as possible, check its accuracy, and organise it so that it can be linked to an interactive mapping website. The proposed mapping website will also publicise WW1 centenary events and ongoing research projects in 2014 - 2018.

The first stage of this Heritage Lottery Fund project runs to the end of 2013. If the application for second stage funding is successful the main project will run from 2014 to 2018. The website will go live in August 2014 and volunteers will be able to contribute content until at least 2018.
If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities, you can follow this link

The intention of the blog is to:

We will also be attending the event at Beamish on the 19th and 20th October 2013.  We will be bringing copies of hundreds of photographs of the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry in 1914-1915.

Find the Bank building in the town. Upstairs you can help to identify some of the soldiers and locations in the photographs.

For information about Beamish Museum and how to get there please visit  (entrance charges apply)