Thursday, 27 March 2014

What they left behind - the role of archaeology

Keys to the Past homepage

This week we have another guest post, this time on the role of archaeology in the project, written by the Historic Environment Record Officer, Nick Boldrini:

Not to be left out of the centenary commemorations, Durham County Council Archaeology team wanted to get into the act. Site research was started in the summer of 2013 by a project volunteer from Durham University, then as part of the HLF funded project, it was possible to take on a Temporary Assistant Historic Environment Record Officer, to do an audit of World War I records.  

The Historic Environment record (HER) is the County Council's system for recording archaeological sites and remains, to aid management of them through the planning application process, by farmers and other landowners, and also to help interested researchers.

Ben Dyson was appointed to the post, and for 4 months he had the task of researching records on sites through the County, and adding or updating our records.

Ben had the opportunity to look into various different aspects of the war and its impact on County Durham, such as the use of buildings as Volunteer Aid Detachment Hospitals, the creation of airfields and Prisoner of War camps, and the expansion of military camps and facilities, such as rifle ranges. Although this was a wide remit, there was only a limited amount of information easily available, and this work was quickly finished. There is still potential here, though, for further research by volunteers.

The main chunk of work was the addition of records about War memorials. This involved cross referencing our records to those of the North East War memorials Project and the United Kingdom National Inventory of War Memorials, as well as locating them on maps when often the descriptions were a bit vague. Not all could be located, and there is an opportunity for volunteers to help us try and track some of these down.

The HER and Archaeology Team's interest is also slightly different to the other projects mentioned, as we are more interested in the memorial as monuments, rather than in transcribing the lists of names on them. What Ben’s work highlighted, is the variety of memorials that exist. There are the most recognisable, traditional “Cenotaph”types, but also statues, crosses, clock towers, memorial buildings, all as free standing structures, as well as plaques, paintings and organs, for example, within other buildings. It also revealed the memorial dedicated in St JamesChurch, Hunstanworth which commemorates the fact that all those who served from the village returned safely. Known as a Thankful Village, there are only 51 of these villages in the entire United Kingdom.

By having this information in the HER, we can try and manage these memorials during changes in towns and villages, to ensure that the promise that “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”, the phrase found on so many war memorials, is honoured.

Most of the work Ben did is accessible through the online version of the HER, Keys to the Past: or click on the image at the top.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Doing their bit - part 3

This week we have a guest post written by Marleen, Curatorial Assistant at the DLI Museum:

Preserving the Durhams:
Volunteering at the DLI Museum

Wrapping guns, mounting uniforms and cleaning medals: these are all day-to-day tasks for the volunteers at the DLI Museum.  A year ago we started a volunteer project which is still running successfully today. At the moment we have over thirty volunteers working with our collections.

Cataloguing uniforms at the DLI Museum
Cataloguing uniforms
Some of our volunteers come to us for work experience, others because they want to find something interesting to do after retirement. Most of them are involved in an inventory of the entire collection. This means that they catalogue all the objects, including measurements and condition checking. After an object is fully catalogued, it is then labelled, photographed and repacked.

Another important aspect of our volunteer programme is metal cleaning. We have a very large medal collection and many other metal and silver items, which all tarnish over time. Some of our volunteers are trained by a metal conservator to clean these objects to a museum standard. Not only does this look better on display, it also helps in preserving them.

Metal cleaning at the DLI Museum
Metal cleaning
At the end of the collections’ inventory we will know exactly what objects we have, the state they are in and where they are. Of course this has been done in the past, but over the years people have used different systems and formats. The inventory is bringing all of these systems together, so it will be much easier to use the collection for research and exhibitions in the future.

So far we have audited over 3,500 objects, something which would have never been possible without our volunteers.

Mounting a tunic on a mannequin to be photographed at the DLI Museum
Mounting a tunic on a mannequin to be photographed

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Doing their bit - part 2

'Mining operations, Armentieres 1915', from the 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Officer's Mess album (D/DLI 2/7/18(116))
D/DLI 2/7/18(116) 'Mining operations, Armentieres 1915', from the 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Officer's Mess album
This is the second of our posts about the experience of volunteers on our project.  This piece has been written by Kate:

I first started volunteering on the Durham WW1 project back in September 2013 and have done so since in person and online, which has been extremely convenient.

The staff were so warm and welcoming and had no pre-conditions on how much they wanted you to do as they said it was totally up to the individual. This was great because it allowed me to ease into the work. The variety of work they have provided has been very interesting and I have done transcription, indexing and research using both original and online material.
The history of Durham is rich and diverse and having had the opportunity to delve deeper into it with this WW1 community project has brought me closer to the heritage of this city.

One of things Kate did whilst staying abroad was a survey of some our collections using the online catalogue.  This was to see if there could potentially be First World War related material in collections other than the Durham Light Infantry, such as our mining collections.  This project is an opportunity for the interrogation of collections beyond their initial focus.  On returning to the UK, Kate was able to follow up this survey by going through some of the records she had identified.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Doing their bit - part 1

Image of a Northern General Transport Company bus, thought to be carrying First World War volunteers at Birtley in 1915 (D/CL 27/277/30)
D/CL 27/277/30 Image of a Northern General Transport Company bus, thought to be carrying First World War volunteers at Birtley in 1915
The First World War in County Durham has had a great response to its call for volunteers.  We took on our first set in August 2013, and this month we are holding our second series of induction sessions.  The majority of our volunteers are from the County Durham area, however, the fact that people can participate from home allows those who have connections to the county but live elsewhere to still be involved.

For the next few posts, you’ll be hearing about what some of our volunteers have been up to.  This piece has been written by Sue:

I recently retired as a teacher and having time on my hands I became a volunteer with Durham Record Office WW1 work and my first job was really to use my computer skills. I had to index the casualties of the DLI in WW1.
I was converting word documents to excel and was fascinated when I read surnames and recognised the place where they had lived or enlisted.
I had little knowledge of WW1 or the DLI and it inspired me to take a visit to the museum. Embarrassing to think I live in County Durham and had never been to the museum before.
My present task is to transcribe a diary written by a soldier and this has created a ‘bonding exercise’ in the house.
Brian dictates the pages and I do the typing. We source the place names mentioned in the diary as the battle front changes. It develops our understanding of the tragic events of the area, some of the villages he mentioned being totally wiped out.
Thoroughly enjoyed my new found hobby and would recommend it to anyone. 

Sue has been transcribing the diary from a scan that has been printed out.  The diary is one of several written by Private William Roberts, 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (D/DLI 7/577/1-5).  The diaries begin in December 1915, and continue to a few days before he died of wounds in June 1917.