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Friday, 26 December 2014

Festive Fridays - Christmas in Denmark

Hornbaek Strand [Denmark], 17 December 1918, drawn by Captain H. Wilkinson (D/DLI 7/773/2(18))
D/DLI 7/773/2(18) Hornbaek Strand [Denmark], drawn by Captain H. Wilkinson, 17 December 1918
Captain Henry Wilkinson of the 10th Battalion DLI was taken as a prisoner of war in Corbeny, France, May 1918.  He reached his final camp, Straslund, in July.  When released from the camp after the Armistice was declared, Wilkinson was transported to Denmark to be sent home.  The following is extracted from his diary, transcribed by one of the Durham at War volunteers.

Tuesday 24th December
The Danish Christmas dinner awaited us, complete with Christmas tree, wine, cigars and the rice the custom allows. To bed fairly early, amid the strains of much music and singing in the lounge.

Wednesday 25th December
Christmas day and we were all pretty fed ‘cos we weren’t in England — still it was better than Hun-land! Arose about 11am. in time for lunch and played bridge all afternoon, not going outside at all. At night the Christmas tree was all lit up, and we had several visitors for dinner. Then came the slips for the boat and I retired early to pack, for we were due to leave at 9am.
Hornbaek [Denmark], drawn by Captain H. Wilkinson, 22 December 1918 (D/DLI 7/773/2(19))
D/DLI 7/773/2(19) Hornbaek [Denmark], drawn by Captain H. Wilkinson, 22 December 1918
Thursday 26th December
Arose at 8am, breakfasted at 8.30 and were cheered on our way to the 9 train by a fair gathering of the population. At Helsingor we had a wait of an hour and a half, spent in having a cutlet and chocolate at an Hotel — it was still snowing heavily.

Leaving Helsingor at 11.30, we stopped at several stations to pick up people and finally arrived at the docks at 1pm. The ship was the “Frederick VIII” an awfully comfortable liner of 12,600 tons, built for the Danish – American Service; Symes, Howell and I shared a cabin. Some hundreds of Tommies came on board during the afternoon and a Danish Military Band played popular British airs at intervals, being supported by a huge crowd of well-wishers. At 4.30pm we left the Quay, amid enthusiastic cheering from ship and Quay — a hearty send-off. The fog had now lifted, and after tea at 5, I sat in the smoking room until dinner at 7. The sea was perfectly calm, and at 9 I retired, dropping into a deep sleep, and thankful that we were at last on the way home.

Wilkinson walked through his front door in Gateshead on 30 December.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Festive Fridays - Christmas Truce

This week Jo Vietzke writes about a school event with a bit of a difference.

Smoke on 'No-man's Land', Seaham College of Technology
Smoke on 'No-man's Land', Seaham College of Technology

It isn’t every day that you are invited to see a trench.

Not satisfied with reading about the First World War in their history lessons Seaham College of Technology decided to get more hands on.  They dug, sand bagged and barbed-wired (the Head assured me that it was harmless plastic but it looked pretty vicious) a 12m-long section of trench.  Over the last few months it has been a fantastic learning resource for schools across the county who have come to get a flavour of life at the Front.

On 10th December the Seaham trench was used as the backdrop for the re-enactment of one of the most arresting moments of the First World War.  At 11am the Seaham Choir sang the German Christmas Carol “Oh Tannenbaum” and a group of chilly but enthusiastic students scrambled up the trench ladders and onto their “No-Mans Land”.   As well as the students from Seaham, a group of students from County Durham’s partner county in Germany, Kreis Wesel, came over especially to join in the commemorations.

The “teams” were kitted out thanks to Beamish Museum who supplied period football shirts and a proper leather football with hand-stitching.  The game itself may have lacked strategic coherence but that was probably in keeping with the historic match!
The photographs here provide evidence of the media interest of the event and students kept getting whisked away from the preparations to be interviewed (after a little media-coaching from International Officer, Brian Stobie). 
English and German pupils in football kit exchange gifts
English and German pupils in football kit exchange gifts

As the groups of kids shook hands and exchanged gifts in front of the cameras, it was hard not to be moved.  It may have been that a bit of snow happened, coincidentally, to get in my eye at that point. The enduring fascination of the Christmas Truce Football match, representing a moment of peace and shared humanity during the horrors of war, is something truly to be celebrated.

Happy Christmas to one and all!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Hartlepool Remembered: Legacies of the Bombardment

Hartlepool Remembered

On 11 December the Durham at War project attended the ‘Hartlepool Remembered: Legacies of the Bombardment’ event at Hartlepool College of Further Education.  It was organised by the partnership between the University of Leeds Legacies of War project and community groups in Hartlepool led by Friends of Stranton Cemetery. 

The day was an excellent example of a community coming together to commemorate what was one of the first significant events of the First World War for the county.

A series of lectures was taking place through the day and as well as ourselves and the North East War Memorials Project, there were all sorts of groups and organisations in attendance:

Hartlepool Museums had brought the West Hartlepool Bombardment Memorial Scrapbook.  Whilst I was looking, there was a gentleman who collected postcards and there were images he had never seen before.

West Hartlepool Bombardment Memorial Scrapbook
West Hartlepool Bombardment Memorial Scrapbook
Community and youth groups displayed the work they have been doing including the Friends of Stranton Cemetery, Friends of Ward Jackson Park, and the Hartlepool Headland Local History Group. 

Work produced by youth groups
Work produced by youth groups
Co-operative Funeralcare had brought a specially made environmentally friendly coffin.  Made from cardboard, it features newspaper reports and photographs of the bombardment as well as the list of names of those killed.
Bombardment coffin and bicycle hearse
Bombardment coffin and bicycle hearse
Folk singer Lol Moran has written an album of songs, ‘Bombarded’, some of which he performed on the day.  There was also a short performance, including a song about Theophilus Jones, by The Young’uns who have been working with local schools. 
Lol Moran performing songs from 'Bombarded'
Lol Moran performing songs from 'Bombarded'
Artworks by Dieter Löchle of Tubingen, twinned with County Durham since 1969, represented the modern friendship of historical enemies.  Theresa Easton worked with Throston Youth Centre and High Tunstall School to produce mail art inspired by trench art.

Dieter Löchle
Dieter Löchle

Theresa Easton
Theresa Easton
Students from the University of Leeds presented Voices of the Bombardment, a selection of extracts from interviews conducted in the 1970s by Dr Peter Liddle with people who lived through the bombardment.  There were also unedited interviews playing in one of the conference rooms.  It was part of the larger Legacies of the War project being carried out by the university.  The students are wishing to find family of the people interviewed in the 1970s listed below, if you can help, please contact hv13aet@leeds.ac.uk or 07449986155:

Matthew William Brown
Born in January 1898 and living in Grasmere Street at the time of the bombardment; at the time of the interview he was living in Kimberley Street.

Frank Forthergill
Born in September 1896 and living in Middleton Road at the time of the bombardment and working in the Blacksmiths at Gray’s  Shipyard; at the time of the interview he was living in Coatham Drive.

Samuel Winkcup
Living in Lister Street at the time of the bombardment and Benson Street at the time of the interview.

Hilda Laverick
At the time of the interview living in York Place

Reverend C. Leslie Craig
Formerly of Chilton, Ferryhill; living in Epsom Downs, Surrey at the time of the interview.

MM Cummings
No information

All the visitors seemed very interested and many had their own stories to tell.  The event carried on into the evening with musical performances including the Hartlepool Male Voice Choir and the Hartlepool Ladies Choir. 

Further events will take place on the 100th anniversary of the bombardment on 16 December with daytime events centred on the Heugh BatteryMuseum and a theatre performance, ‘Homecoming’, performed on the Headland in the evening.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Festive Fridays - Egypt

A group of soldiers of the 18th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, captioned ‘Taken at Port Said’, December 1915 (D/DLI 7/797/2(32))
D/DLI 7/797/2(32) A group of soldiers of the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, captioned ‘Taken at Port Said’, December 1915

In November 1915, the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, had been preparing for France, expecting to embark on 29 November.  However, this order was changed and on 6 December they found themselves leaving for Egypt, arriving in time for Christmas.  This they spent camped at Port Said.  The following extracts are from the diary of 18/944 Private William Roberts.   The description is of a somewhat sunnier and warmer Christmas than the soldiers in Europe would have experienced and very different to Christmas at home in County Durham.  
Dec 24th  I went down to the sea with the bathing parade but did not fancy a dip today.  It is Christmas Eve and from nearly every tent can be heard the singing of carols in a quite peaceful way.  I went to bed early, but got up for a drink of wine from a bottle which Jimmy Sandy had brought in. 
18th Battalion soldiers bathing in Egypt, c.1915 (D/DLI 2/18/24(168))
D/DLI 2/18/24(168) 18th Battalion soldiers bathing in Egypt, c. 1915
Dec 25th  Christmas Day
A bright sun shining from a cloudless sky.  This morning I had a bath by means of scraping a hole in the sand and laying my waterproof sheet in it, then filling up with water, I got a good wash.  11:30 am I went to Holy Communion.   Had a swim in the sea this afternoon.  Went into the town at night, the place was very lively as most of the soldiers had some wine.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Earl's House Industrial School War Memorial

Virtually every town, city and village in the land has at least one memorial commemorating the First World War.  Many places have their own local cenotaph; a pillar or other structure, often in a park or the village square, which lists those who died fighting “The Great War”.  Lots of churches and chapels contain plaques of names but there are also other sites such as railway stations, post offices and even golf clubs where employees or members are commemorated.  

But what happens when a building with such a plaque is pulled down or renovated?  Scrolling through the North East War Memorials Project’s indexes shows a number of entries for memorials which are highlighted in green with the words “Missing” or “Destroyed” next to them.  Thanks to a lucky coincidence there is now one fewer of these missing memorials.

Earl's House Industrial School war memorial plaque
Earl's House Industrial School war memorial plaque
While at a local history event, a member of the Friends of Durham County Record Office (FODCRO) happened to meet David Hillerby.  Thanks to Mr Hillerby two memorial plaques from County Durham had been saved from a skip.  While it was easy to identify one of the plaques as having come from Winterton Hospital, it took the combined resources of FODCRO and the Record Office to find the source of the other.  Finally, it was pinpointed as having come from Earl’s House Industrial School, near Witton Gilbert.  The site is currently being redeveloped as the Lanchester Road Hospital and so an opportunity arose to rehouse the plaque close to its original location.

On 7th November 2014 the restored plaque was unveiled for a second time.  Representatives from FODCRO, Durham County Record Office, The DLI Association, The Royal British Legion and the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust watched as the “lost” plaque was officially received into its new position along with two interpretive panels created by the Record Office for the NHS trust.   A copy of the panels can be found on the Durham at War website. Photographs of the unveiling can be seen on the Northern Echo's website here.

Friday, 21 November 2014

1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, in India

This week we have a guest post by Steve Shannon on the 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry’s actions in India during the period of the First World War.

The 1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (1 DLI), left the UK in October 1899 for the war in South Africa; moved to India in 1902; and did not return to the UK until early 1920.

In August 1914, there were 52 Regular British Army battalions in India, including the 1 DLI (about 1000 strong) stationed at Nowshera on the North West Frontier of India (now Pakistan).

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, standing by a rifle rack at a camp, taken at Chakdara, India, 1916 (D/DLI 2/1/277(69))
D/DLI 2/1/277(69) Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, DLI, a rifle rack at a camp, Chakdara, India, 1916
These Regular battalions were recalled to the UK once the war began for service on the Western Front and were replaced with Territorial and Garrison battalions from the UK, until only 8 Regular battalions remained in India.  These were the 2nd  King’s (Liverpool Regiment), 2nd Somerset Light Infantry, 1st Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Duke of Wellington (West Riding Regiment), 1st Royal Sussex Regiment, 1st South Lancashire Regiment, 2nd North Staffordshire Regiment and the 1st Durham Light Infantry. These remaining regular battalions were based in garrisons in support of Indian Army units on the North West Frontier.

In August 1914, 1 DLI comprised trained professional soldiers under the command of experienced officers. The battalion did not, however, remain as a stable unit during the war, as there was a steady drain of officers to other DLI battalions fighting on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia. Soldiers with specialist skills, eg signalling, were also sent to the campaigns in Mesopotamia and East Africa, whilst some senior NCOs received commissions and left the battalion.

From April 1915, 1 DLI saw active service on the North West Frontier in a series of operations against the Mohmands (Pashtuns living on both sides of the border with Afghanistan), suffering some casualties.

A soldier of the 1st Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, standing outside a tent at an army camp, captioned ‘Band Chief’, taken in India, 1916 (D/DLI 2/1/277(15))
D/DLI 2/1/277(15) Soldier of the 1st Battalion, DLI, standing in an army camp, India, captioned ‘Band Chief’, 1916
As 1 DLI had been on active service in India from 1915, all eligible soldiers were awarded the same three WW1 campaign medals awarded to those soldiers, who had fought on the Western Front  (1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal).

In 1919, against a background of growing civil disorder in India, 1 DLI’s soldiers gained a fourth campaign medal, when the battalion served in the Third Afghan War. This war began in May 1919, when an Afghan army crossed the border in to India. 1 DLI (reduced to only 20 officers and 432 men) was sent forward in motor vehicles from Peshawar as part of the 4th Rawalpindi Brigade, but before a planned advance of Jalalabad could begin the Emir of Afghanistan asked for an armistice. Peace was finally signed on 11 August 1919.

With the end of the Third Afghan War, many of 1 DLI’s soldiers were sent back to the UK to be demobilised. Finally in December 1919, the battalion, comprising just 4 officers and 87 soldiers, sailed from Bombay, arriving in Liverpool in February 1920.  It had been almost 21 years since the battalion had left Britain for the Boer War.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

#archiveanimals* My army and other animals

Two young unidentified soldiers and a goat, the mascot of the 9th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, Conway, North Wales, August 1914 (D/DLI 7/805/155)
D/DLI 7/805/155 Two young unidentified soldiers and a goat, the mascot of the 9th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, Conway, North Wales, August 1914
The above photograph of the 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, goat and two soldiers was taken while the territorial battalion was on its annual training camp at Conway.  It was from here that they were recalled to Gateshead when war was declared. 

Once in France and Belgium, soldiers got to know some animals very well.  The transport drivers had their horses but mostly, soldiers had to contend with rats.  In a letter home Second Lieutenant John Gamble referred to them as the Verminshire Regiment. 

Sketch captioned The Tunnellers' Friends, showing a representation of rats and caged birds on a memorial [possibly at Edinburgh, Scotland], n.d. (D/DLI 7/63/3(94))
D/DLI 7/63/3(94) Sketch by Reverend JAG Birch, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, captioned The Tunnellers' Friends, showing a representation of rats and caged birds on a memorial, n.d.

There are sad tales of starving farm animals wandering the countryside after their farm owners have fled, and funny tales of men milking cows under shell fire and chasing a goat to try and milk it.

Captain Robert Mauchlen kept a sketch book during his time with the 9th Battalion.  He produced the following picture captioned ‘Owl hurt in trenches’.

Colour pencil sketch, by Robert Mauchlen, of an owl held on a man's hand, captioned Owl hurt in trenches, October 1915 (D/DLI 7/920/8(15))
D/DLI 7/920/8(15) Colour pencil sketch, by Robert Mauchlen, of an owl held on a man's hand, captioned Owl hurt in trenches, October 1915

On home service, it was a bit easier to keep pets.  4th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, were garrisoned at Seaham Harbour during the war and this photograph shows Private E. Corr with a dog in one hand and a cockatoo in the other!

Private E. Corr, 4th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, with a cockatoo and a dog, c.1917 (D/DLI 7/35/1(30))
D/DLI 7/35/1(30) Private E. Corr, 4th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, with a cockatoo and a dog, c.1917

*This year’s Explore Your Archive campaign runs during the week of 10 November.  As part of the Twitter campaign, on 14 November, look out for the #archiveanimals hashtag.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’

Poppies at the Tower of London, 4 November 2014, V. Oxberry
Tower of London, 3 November 2014, V. Oxberry
As it is the 100th anniversary year of the outbreak of the First World War, a special art installation by Paul Cummins has been put in place at the Tower of London for Remembrance Day.  Since August hand made ceramic poppies have been placed in the moat surrounding the Tower forming the work titled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. 

Poppies at the Tower of London, 3 November 2014, V. Oxberry
Tower of London, 3 November 2014, V. Oxberry
I had the opportunity to visit the installation on 3 November when almost all 888246 poppies had been put in place.  Each one represents a colonial soldier who died as a result of the First World War.  The poppies have been for sale with 10% from each poppy and all net proceeds being shared between six charities – they have all been sold.

Poppies at the Tower of London, 3 November 2014, V. Oxberry
Tower of London, 3 November 2014, V. Oxberry

The video below talks about the idea for the installation and shows how the poppies have been made:


Friday, 7 November 2014

#archiveanimals* George Thompson and the war horses

The following blog post is based on an exhibit that was on display at the Record Office in early 2012. The diary is now being transcribed by volunteers on the Durham at War project. 

Four soldiers of the 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, including Corporal George Thompson, standing left, and Sergeant 'Twankey' Tweddle, seated right, and horse in a field at Marne, July 1918 (D/DLI 7/700/31)
D/DLI 7/700/31 Four soldiers of the 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, including Corporal George Thompson, standing left, and Sergeant 'Twankey' Tweddle, seated right, and horse in a field at Marne, July 1918
George Thompson of Sunderland was a Private in the 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, when war was declared on 4 August 1914 and in 1928 he wrote a memoir of his experiences for his daughter. 

After the battalion was mobilised, Thompson was selected to be a transport driver which involved the use of horses.  The government began buying horses and Private Thompson received one from a local contractor.  “I still can remember the old drivers saying take care of him he is quiet and a good worker and will go anywhere. Little did they think what was in store for them.  Same about myself.”

This local transport was passed to the second line of the battalion and the first line received new horses.  Each man got their full service equipment and was responsible for two horses.  The drivers were sent for intense training with the Royal Field Artillery, first learning to ride bareback, then with saddles.  

Private George Thompson holding the bridle of a horse pulling a Vaux Brewery cart with two other 7th Battalion soldiers sat on the cart, training as transport drivers, c.1914 (D/DLI 7/700/24)
D/DLI 7/700/24 Private George Thompson holding the bridle of a horse pulling a Vaux Brewery cart with two other 7th Battalion soldiers seated on the cart, training as transport drivers, c.1914

Shortly after training, the 7th Battalion left for France and went straight into the Second Battle of Ypres Within the first few days one driver and horse were killed while on a ration run.  The following are extracts from Thompson's memoir:

“I remember one night when we going up with rations they gave us an order to put on our Gas Masks, and we had to put them on our horses. We had some game on with them.”

“The shell holes I have seen, you could have put a pair of horses and a waggon in easily.”

“…our battalion had two years at Ypres. And when the winter came on, it was awful.  Both for men and horses.  I have many a time wondered how those poor horses stood it so long, I have seen them standing up to their knees with mud for days.”

“I can always say, while I had a pair of horses, in France, I always did my duty to them… One out of the two horses that I took away, from Newcastle was still with our Battalion, when I left them, after the war was over…”

“…there was a skin decease [disease], came out among our horses, and the Officer… ordered about 15 horses, to go down the line and one of those 15 was one that I brought out from England… so instead of sending him away we sent another in his place and we built a stable for him away from all the other horses and looked after him ourselves and in a month we had him working with the other horses again.”

During the war, George Thompson rose to the rank of Sergeant.  He saw some terrible sights of men and horses scattered dead and experienced the sadness of injured horses having to be put down.  However, there were infrequent better times when away from the front.

“We had races on the beach as well.  Oh these were our happy days, I shall never forget them.”

*This year’s Explore Your Archive campaign runs during the week of 10 November.  As part of the Twitter campaign, on 14 November, look out for the #archiveanimals hashtag.

Friday, 31 October 2014

#archiveselfie* George Brabazon Stafford

The Artist, by himself (George Brabazon Stafford) (D/DLI 7/662/2(55))
D/DLI 7/662/2(55) The Artist, by himself [George Brabazon Stafford]
George Brabazon Stafford was born in 1899 and educated at Dover College and Jesus College, Cambridge.  He joined the 3rd City of London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps and in February 1915 was appointed to a temporary Second Lieutenancy with the 16th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

The 16th Battalion was based at Darlington then at Rugely, Staffordshire.  In July 1917 Second Lieutenant Stafford went out to France serving with 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  He was wounded in the knee in March 1918 and continued to serve with the Durham Light Infantry at home with the 3rd Battalion, garrisoned at South Shields

Pencil drawing of the head of an unidentified officer, 'the Judge Advocate', at an unidentified court martial, c.1918 (D/DLI 7/662/3(30))
D/DLI 7/662/3(30) Pencil drawing of the head of an unidentified officer, 'the Judge Advocate', at an unidentified court martial, c.1918

From our collection it seems that Second Lieutenant Stafford was a keen artist.  Many soldiers and officers would pass the time drawing and painting.  We hold a series of drawings from an unidentified court martial, possibly having taken place in 1918.  It is not clear from the style of the drawings whether they were done in an official capacity or not.  They are not caricature as some other drawings are but the fact that Stafford retained them suggests they were not an official record.  Although some identifying information is given, there is nothing provided for the accused, so it has not been possible to find out what this court martial might have been about.

Other drawings are more light-hearted in tone.  As well as the rather fantastic self portrait at the top*, it appears that Second Lieutenant Stafford and his friends played Consequences for a bit of fun. 

Outcome of a game of Consequences (D/DLI 7/662/2(105))
D/DLI 7/662/2(105) Outcome of a game of Consequences
After the war, George Stafford went on to found the Kingshott School at Hitchin in 1931, still in existence today, he was headmaster from its inception until his retirement in 1959.  He died in Surrey in 1966.

*This year’s Explore Your Archive campaign runs during the week of 10 November.  As part of the Twitter campaign, on 13 November, look out for the #archiveselfie hashtag.

Friday, 24 October 2014

First World War Education

This week we have a guest post from our Education Archivist, Dawn Layland, talking about the First World War workshops the Record Office offers.

It goes almost without saying that the First World War was a devastating conflict and the numbers of dead are staggering. Yet each one of those men was someone’s son, father or brother. Each one of those men had his own story and it’s these stories that are the focus of our soldier research workshops.


Soldiers resting in a trench in France or Belgium c. 1916 D/DLI 2/8/62(59)
D/DLI 2/8/62(59) Soldiers resting in a trench in France or Belgium c. 1916
I doubt it will surprise anyone that these are currently our most popular workshops. In a nutshell, we find a soldier from the right area, for whom we can find a good range of sources and present these sources to the children who then get a taste of real research as they use them to find out about that individual. Naturally, a lot of work and careful consideration goes into selecting the soldier. We make sure we can find sources about his civilian life (typically using the Census) as well as his military career (usually by means of a surviving and reasonably complete service record). We can then compliment that with sources held at the Record Office, such as absent voters’ lists or DLI records. Then of course, those sources have to be made accessible to the children, perhaps by using a transcript. Given the right sources and the right presentation, children as young as 5 or 6 can investigate a soldier.

We also run sessions for older pupils.  We recently held a workshop for Year 9 students from North Durham Academy, who came as part of the HLF funded South Moor Memorial Project run by Groundwork North East. The soldier they were researching was Thomas Dargue. By all accounts, Thomas was an ordinary soldier. He was a miner from South Moor who enlisted at 19 years old and was killed just over a year later during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. Like so many others, he never rose above the rank of private. None of this, however, stopped him from being interesting to the students. He lived in the same town that they do and, though the area has certainly changed, they felt they could relate to him. They enjoyed finding out about his family and came to see him not just as a name on a memorial, but as a person.

South Moor Memorial Park gates, 2005, John-Paul Stephenson
South Moor Memorial Park gates, 2005, John-Paul Stephenson  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South_Moor_Park,_Co._Durham.jpg
As well as the workshops researching soldiers, we also offer a range of other First World War workshops for schools and other groups. These include a session on Remembrance Cards, with the chance to research a soldier and design a card to commemorate him, and our War Horse workshop, based on the story of George Thompson who worked with horses during the war. We also have more in depth investigation sessions for older students, including: Life on the Home Front; the Bombing of Seaham, 1916 and Germans in County Durham, 1914.

We offer these sessions at a cost of £100 for half a day of workshops. This can include several classes and the price is the same whether the session is delivered here or at school, though workshops delivered at the Record Office can use original records, which for security and preservation reasons we can’t take out of the building. All workshops can be tailored to the class and school in question and we can even build entirely new workshops if required.

More about the workshops can be found here and you can also download leaflets about particular sessions in PDF format http://www.durhamrecordoffice.org.uk/Pages/FirstWorldWarWorkshops.aspx

Friday, 17 October 2014

People Past and Present

Koppers Coke Ovens Easington People Past and Present, hord0293
Koppers Coke Ovens Easington People Past and Present, hord0293
In the mid 1970s, the internationally known artist Stuart Brisley launched a three part project named 'History Within Living Memory'. Six local people were employed to make tape recordings, transcribe them and collect photographs to provide a statement of life in the villages pre-First World War to the present. Unfortunately, the second and third parts of the project were never completed.

When the Development Corporation ceased to exist, the local people, under the direction of John 'Pop' Porter, completed their work under the auspices of the former District of Easington Council, creating what is known today as the People Past and Present Archive

Many of the interviews conducted include tales of the home front during the First World War.  We plan to increase access to this resource by putting these stories on the Durham at War website.  

Already up is the story of Lizzie Holmes of Horden, the first woman in the village to wear trousers.  As the Durham at War website allows us to use short audio clips, we can put extracts of the original interviews online, along with a transcript.  Follow this link to hear Lizzie Holmes talk about playing football and what happened to her kit when her husband returned home from the war: http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/material/113/ 

Friday, 10 October 2014

British Prisoner of War Camps

Map showing the huts of Stanhope prisoner of war camp, Durham OS sheet 24.SW (1923)
 Durham Ordnance Survey sheet 24.SW showing the huts of Stanhope prisoner of war camp

When thinking about prisoners of war, most people think about British men in German camps but there were in fact at least three camps for enemy combatant prisoners on our doorstep in County Durham.  So far, you can read about two of these on the Durham at War website, Castleside and Stanhope.  At the Record Office we have an auction sale catalogue from 1919 for the surplus hutting and fitments of the camp.  It includes all sorts of things from the actual huts to toilets and ‘death line fencing’. 

The third camp, still to be added, was at Harperley.  John Ruttley produced a book, ‘Prisoners in the North. The Forgotten Deaths at Harperley Camp’, in which he intended to write about the Second World War camp.  He applied for some documents from Switzerland and was surprised to discover they were inspection reports from the First World War.  The prisoners at Harperley seemed to be in good health until the Spanish Flu epidemic hit the camp in November 1918.  27 men died, the majority on, or after, the armistice was declared.  They were buried at St James church, Hamsterley, before being moved to the German cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, in the 1960s. 

We would be interested to know if any combatant prisoners stayed in the area after their release. If you know of any occurrences of this, please let us know at contactdurhamatwar@durham.gov.uk

Friday, 3 October 2014

Michael Heaviside VC


The above video © IWM (IWM 1179), is available courtesy of the Imperial War Museum under their non-commercial licence.
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060000167

Michael Heaviside was born in Gilesgate, in 1880. Whilst still a boy, Michael moved with his family from Durham to Kimblesworth, where his father worked in the colliery as head keeker [inspector] and Michael went to the local Council school. Later, the family moved to Sacriston.

Following the death of his mother, Michael Heaviside joined the Army and served as a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps in South Africa during the Boer War. After he left the Regular Army, he joined the Army Reserve and found work as a miner at Burnhope colliery. About 1913, he began work as a hewer at Oswald Pit and moved with his wife, Elizabeth, to Craghead, near Stanley.

On 7 September 1914, Michael Heaviside re-enlisted in the Army and joined the 15th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and went with his battalion to France in June 1915, and, once again, served as a stretcher bearer.

On 6 May 1917, during the Battle of Arras, Private Michael Heaviside crawled across No-Man’s-Land under heavy rifle and machine gun fire to take water and first aid to a wounded soldier lying in a shell hole. Later that night Michael Heaviside led two other stretcher bearers to the wounded soldier and carried him back to safety. For his bravery, Michael Heaviside was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 12 July 1917, Michael Heaviside returned to a hero’s welcome in Craghead, where he was presented with a gold watch. After the presentation, he told the crowds that he had only done his duty and that he was proud to have brought honour to Durham and to Craghead. A few days later, Private Heaviside travelled by train to London and was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V. There is a newspaper report of this return to Craghead here, read it, then view the video.

After the war, Michael Heaviside returned to work as a miner at Craghead. On 26 April 1939, he died at his home at Bloemfontein Terrace, aged just 58 years, his health damaged by his years underground and his time on the Western Front. His funeral was at St Thomas’s Church, Craghead.

This text was produced by Steve Shannon, a longer version can be found at http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/11172/

If anyone knows who the Stanley Nobblers were, as mentioned in the newspaper article, let us know at contactdurhamatwar@durham.gov.uk



Friday, 19 September 2014

The DLI at Large - WT Wyllie

William Thomas Wyllie, possibly 4th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and the time of the photograph (D/DLI 7/1003/2)
D/DLI 7/1003/2 William Thomas Wyllie, possibly 4th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry at the time of the photograph
This DLI at Large post is inspired by a memorial one of the Durham at War volunteers saw in Portsmouth Cathedral. 

Captain William Thomas Wyllie was born in London in 1882, his family moving to Portsmouth in 1906.  He was the son of William Lionel Wyllie, a renowned marine artist whose 42 foot painting of the Battle of Trafalgar still hangs in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.  Educated at Eastbourne and Clifton, he later spent some time working at Elswick Shipyard, Tyne and Wear, and served as a bombardier in the Elswick Battery.

In January 1902 Wyllie was commissioned to the 4th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  In 1910 he was employed with the West African Frontier Force before returning to England at the declaration of war.  Wyllie helped to raise the 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and became Colonel Hubert Morant’s Adjutant.  In May 1916 he became a Brigade Major and lost his life on the Somme 19 July 1916.  

Memorial to WT Wyllie, Durham Light Infantry, Portsmouth Cathedral, courtesy of Memorial and Monuments in Portsmouth
Captain Wyllie's memorial in Portsmouth Cathedral is quite remarkable.  It is a bronze relief, measuring over 190cm by 50cm, of [Wyllie] at rest with the DLI insignia by his feet.  It bears the inscription:

"In loving memory of the second son of William Lionel and Marion Amy Wyllie. William Thomas Wyllie 2nd Durham Light Infantry killed in action at Montauban on the 19th July 1916 whilst acting as Brigade Major and buried in Mametz Cemetery.  He leaves a widow and three children."

Many thanks to Tim Backhouse of the Memorials and Monuments in Portsmouth project for permission to use the photograph.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Durham at War launched!



The Durham at War website is now live.  Go to www.durhamatwar.org.uk and have a look. 

Of course, it is a work in progress, it is the beginning of a web of stories that will develop and grow over the next four years.  I believe you will be able to lose an afternoon to it as your eye catches something else interesting and before you know it, you will be somewhere far different from your starting point.  A colleague said that it is very representative of the way research actually works.

We had a successful launch event on Wednesday 10 September with an extremely entertaining keynote speech by television presenter John Grundy.

Member of staff showing the website
Member of staff showing the website
We will also have a stall on the 13 and 14 September at the Durham Light Infantry Reunion and First World War Commemoration Weekend.


Friday, 29 August 2014

The County Council and the Great War

The War Memorial at County Hall, Durham
The War Memorial at County Hall, Durham
This week we have another guest post by David Butler, former County Archivist.

For over 30 years I walked past the War Memorial in the Durham Room at County Hall without giving it a second glance.  However, about two years ago I happened to look at it and realised that the anniversary of the Great War was coming up.  I suggested to Liz Bregazzi, the County Archivist, that it might be useful to investigate the names on the memorial, so that we would have some information when the inevitable questions started arising.

I began to look at the 122 Great War names using the ‘usual suspects’ – the Commonwealth War Graves database, Soldiers Died… etc. and it became clear that there were a number of teachers recorded.  This led me to look at the minutes of the Education Committee for the period of the War, and I discovered that these were a very valuable source of information.  Not only did the minutes record the deaths of teachers (as Education Committee employees) but they also recorded the permissions given to teachers (and other Education Committee employees – clerks, attendance officers) to join-up, and when those same employees returned to work, either when invalided out of the forces during the War, or as part of the general demobilisation in 1918-1920.  Although the bulk of the names on the memorial are teachers, 110 out of 122 (a reflection of how small a work-force the County Council employed in 1914, if you exclude teachers), there are also members of the Health, Surveyor’s, Clerk’s and Accountant’s Departments.  When the memorial was unveiled in 1921 it was reported that 823 teachers had joined-up and 311 other members of staff, a total of 1134.

War Memorial at Shire Hall, the previous County Council headquarters (CC/X 110c)
CC/X 110c War Memorial at Shire Hall, the previous County Council headquarters
At this stage I was only concerned with the men who had died and whose names are on the memorial (although, inevitably, there are at least eleven names missing).  As part of the Record Office run-up to the anniversary we decided to produce a monthly mini-biography of one of the men and this will continue.  A transcript of the information on the memorial, the story of the construction of the memorial, originally in Shire Hall and other details can be found here, including the monthly biographies.  For these I used a range of different sources including local newspapers, other County Council records, school log books and the Durham Light Infantry records.

By the time I had undertaken the basic research into the 122 men on the memorial the Record Office was preparing for the bid to the HLF which resulted in the money being made available for this project, and I thought that as a contribution to the project it would be interesting to look at the other 1012 County Council employees who joined-up.  This involved extending the memorial database, and I am currently up to 1133 names, and I am only partly through the Education Department sources - clearly the 1134 figure given in 1921 was incorrect.  Watch this space!

Friday, 22 August 2014

The DLI at Large - JF Cronin

Headstone of Second Lieutenant JF Cronin, Vevey St Martins cemetery, taken August 2013
Headstone of Second Lieutenant JF Cronin, Vevey St Martin's cemetery, taken by Victoria Oxberry, August 2013
The DLI at Large will be a sporadic series of posts of interesting references and stories of the Durham Light Infantry seen beyond the county.  The first post concerns my investigations into a soldier who piqued my interest. 

I have friends in Switzerland that I visit each year and I discovered that the nearby town of Vevey has the only Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the country.  I also discovered that it is the resting place of Second Lieutenant JF Cronin, 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  

Despite being a neutral country, Switzerland played a large role during the First World War.  The headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross were (and still are) in Geneva.  On 21 August 1914 set up the International Prisoners of War Agency dealing with the lists of men taken prisoner, on both sides, as well as being the agency dealing with all the post to and from prisoners.  Switzerland also had a number of locations (hospitals and hotels) where, from 1916, wounded and sick prisoners of war in other countries could be transferred to for treatment.  I assumed that this is what had happened to Second Lieutenant Cronin.

Postcard of the English Hotel at Leysin, Switzerland, from the collection Private Kenneth Robertson, [1916-1917] (D/DLI 7/579/5)
D/DLI 7/579/5 Postcard of the English Hotel at Leysin, Switzerland, from the collection Private Kenneth Robertson, [1916-1917]
While visiting The National Archives earlier this year, I had a look at a file that exists for Second Lieutenant Cronin (TNA ref: WO 339/28146).  John Francis Cronin was born in Battersea around 1888 and joined the 15th (Territorial Forces) Battalion, London Regiment, in 1911, and was commissioned to the 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry in April 1914.  His working life seems to have been with the Admiralty in a civilian capacity, but at the outbreak of war, he requested to stay with the Admiralty.  The request was turned down and he joined his battalion. 

Letters of late 1916 indicate that Cronin had developed tuberculosis caused by active service, having enjoyed good health until spending three months in France.  The implication of one letter is that men had gone out with the illness and due to the way it was passed on, exacerbated by the living conditions, that they were infecting other soldiers. 

Second Lieutenant Cronin spent time in Pinewood Sanatorium, Wokingham, where ‘he did not make good progress’ and doctors strongly recommended ‘a change in climate’.  I was surprised to learn that men were able to be sent to Switzerland for treatment from their home countries.  In December 1916 Cronin arrived at Arosa, Switzerland, first staying at a hotel.  He was later moved to the newly opened Sanatorium Altein in arrangement with the British Red Cross.  It was expected that he would make a full recovery.  An extension of his stay was granted but on 10 March 1917, Joseph Francis Cronin died in hospital at nearby Chur. 

The records now available on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website show that Second Lieutenant Cronin was initially buried in a British plot at Chur Catholic Cemetery.  The CWGC concentrated the Swiss graves to Vevey St Martin's church and Cronin was moved to his final resting place in November 1923.  
The view from the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Vevey St Martins church, Switzerland, taken by Victoria Oxberry, August 2013
The view from the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Vevey St Martin's church, Switzerland, taken by Victoria Oxberry, August 2013

Friday, 15 August 2014

Durham at War

Poppy saved by Lance Corporal John Harkess (D/X 1899)
D/X 1899 Poppy saved by Lance Corporal John Harkess
You will see that our blog has had a minor makeover to tie in with the design of the Durham at War website which goes live on Wednesday 10 September. The poppy logo takes its shape from one of the poppies (above) that used to feature in the blog header, and the centre of the logo represents the area that will be covered by the interactive mapping on the new website, a combination of the present day and historic County Durham.

The project website is really taking shape and over the next week we will be carrying out user testing in the Manchester office of our website developers, Reading Room Ltd.  The Durham at War website will launch in two phases. The main website including the historic mapping goes live on 10 September. Additional features will be added at the end of October 2014, including an advanced search across the entire website, and the facility to log in to the website from home. When you log in you will be able to submit new stories or additional pieces of information and comment on the existing website content.

There will be an event in the Durham Room at County Hall to mark the website launch on Wednesday 10 September. This is open to the public from 4pm to 8pm. Visitors will be able to come and try the website out, talk to project staff about how they can get involved and see other First World War community projects from the region.  The Record Office will be closed to the public this day, opening on Thursday 11 September instead.

On Friday 12 September the Record Office is taking part in the Heritage Open Days with a focus on the Durham at War project.

We will also have a stand in the marquee at Palace Green for the Durham Light Infantry World War One Centenary Weekend 13 and 14 September.  This weekend also sees the unveiling of the Durham Light Infantry statue in Durham Market Place.

World war One Commemoration Weekend flyer