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

Friday, 8 August 2014

To Germany

This week we have another guest post by Jo Vietzke who recently had the opportunity to visit one of Durham's twin towns.


The opportunities for international travel as part of the job are few and far between for the local authority archivist.  Therefore, it is of no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend a First World War commemoration event at Durham’s twin town of Tübingen, Germany.

Statue of Neptune, Tuebingen, taken by Jo Vietzke
Statue of Neptune, Tuebingen market place, taken by Jo Vietzke
British commemorations have focussed on 4th August as the beginning of the war but this date is the start of official British involvement.  However, Britain was a late-comer.  Austro-Hungary declared war with Serbia on 1st August, immediately pulling in Germany and RussiaFrance and Germany declared war on 3rd and Britain joined the diplomatic fray a day later.

Therefore, the memorial day organised by Tübingen town took place on 1st August in front of the tax office.  This was not quite as strange a location as it might sound as the tax offices are housed in what were, 100 years ago, the town’s barracks.  A stage was erected in what was once the parade ground, a place that a century before would have been full of bustle and bravado, and which was now the scene of remembrance and contemplation.

Twelve hours of lectures, music, readings, tours, and films filled the day.  The events ranged from history academics of Tübingen’s university reading papers, to local school kids reporting on their trip to Durham to study the First World War with English and French students.   People came and went according to their interests and the events were well attended.

Jo Vietzke presenting her talk at, taken by Stephan Klingebiel, Culture Deptartment of Tübingen
Jo Vietzke presenting her talk, taken by Stephan Klingebiel, Culture Deptartment of Tübingen
My own slot was scheduled for 7:45pm.  I prepared a series of readings from sources to be found at the Record Office in an attempt to provide a flavour of Durham’s experiences of the military and the home front during the First World War.  While I included a couple of powerful battle descriptions from DLI soldiers’ diaries I also wanted to present a series of sources that might be less obvious and possibly thought provoking in a different way.  I used the oral history of a woman from Horden about working the coke ovens and playing football, until her husband came home.  I also read from the minute book of the Durham Women Quaker’s meeting and an article “From Mesopotamia” from the Bede magazine, amongst others.

Throughout the entire weekend, the other representatives of Tübingen’s twin towns (Perugia, Italy and Aix-en-Provence, France) and I enjoyed the warm and attentive hospitality of the town’s Cultural Office.  It was a pleasure to be part of such a vibrant and friendly cultural exchange.

Monday, 4 August 2014

4 August 1914

Mobilisation telegram received by the officer commanding 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 4 August 1914  (D/DLI 2/6/10(208))
D/DLI 2/6/10(208) Mobilisation telegram received by Lieutenant Colonel HC Watson, commanding 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 4 August 1914 

2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, official war diary (The National Archives, WO 95/1617/1)

Lichfield 6:30pm, Aug 4th

Order to mobilize received.  1st Day mobilization 5 August 1914.
When mobilzation was ordered the Precautionary Period Detachments under Major Mander were in their alloted places i.e.
1. Headquarter Detachment at Sputh Shields under Major Mander, Captain Hare and Lieutenant Yate.   Strength 400 men (of whom 137 were provided by the 1st Battalion Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment).
Less the sub-detachments as follows:
2. Captain Best, Hebburn Dock, 21 men
3. Lieutenant Taylor, Oil Depot, South Shields, 25 men
4. Lieutenant Norton, Frenchmans Battery, South Shields, 25 men
5. Lieutenant Grey-Wilson, Palmers Dock, Jarrow, 20 men

On the night of Aug 4th, immediately after the declaration of war, Major Mander, assisted by Captain Hare and Lieutenant Yate, with 30 men seized a German merchant ship on the Tyne.

Friday, 1 August 2014

New websites and exhibitions

Outbreak 1914, DLI Museum in partnership with the National Army Museum
Outbreak 1914, DLI Museum in partnership with the National Army Museum
As we near the anniversary of the start of the war, there has been a flurry of new websites in the last month or so as well as information being released of events that will be taking place.  Below I have summarised some of local relevance and some national ones that have caught my eye.  The last link is to a press release from January that promises exciting things to keep a look out for in August.

Outbreak 1914!  Durham Light Infantry Go to War
The DLI Museum has been working  with the National Army Museum to create a new exhibition about the outbreak of war and how the Durham Light Infantry responded.  During the school holidays, the museum is open 10.30am-4.00pm Tuesday to Sunday
Adult £4.00
Adult Concession £3.00
Child (4 - 16 years) £2.00 (under 4 years free)
Family Pass (2 adults and up to 3 children) £10.50
Group bookings by arrangement.

Sunderland in the First World War
Sunderland City Council have launched their First World War website which “aims to show how the First World War left its mark on Sunderland during the period of 1914-19. Within these web pages details can be found of key dates, events and personalities unique to the Wearside area.   It aims to acknowledge and pay tribute to the bravery of the men, women and children whose lives were cut short by this terrible conflict.”
They have also produced an exhibition banner that will be touring the are and is available to view online.

Wor Life 1914-1918
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, in partnership with Sunderland Museums and Heritage, have unveiled the Wor Life project which involves community engagement intiatives and a series of exhibitions including ‘Rivers at War’ which looks at the shipbuilding industry during the war period.

Tees Valley First World War project: Remembering Our War
For information on what’s happening in the Tees Valley area, the Remembering Our War website is now live.

A significant event in Teesside’s First World War history was the bombardment of Hartlepool on 16 December 1914.  As well as Hartlepool, further down the coast Whitby and Scarborough were also targeted.  The Remember Scarborough! project is working with sites in Scarborough and Whitby, as well as Heugh Battery in Hartlepool to commemorate the events of that day. 

Tynemouth World War One Project
Just north of our area, the successful Tynemouth Project has its database online and also has a physical presence on Tynemouth’s Front Street, next to the library.

North East War Memorials Project
NEWMP continue to update their website with new information, particular Every Name a Soldier which aims to provide information about the individuals whose names appear on the war memorials.
It is also worth checking their noticeboard for news and events that are happening in the region.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission now have additional content when you search for a name.  They have opened up their own archive and provide digital images of the records that make up the information provided on the site.  Sometimes there is additional information provided – where graves have been relocated, there is information about the original location.
They also have a new website which provides information about locations of the war and further information on visiting cemeteries.

Replica tank bank at Murton, County Durham, from the Easington People Past and Present project (Murt0249)
Replica tank bank at Murton, County Durham, from the Easington People Past and Present archive (Murt0249)

RBS Remembers 1914-1918
The archives of the Royal Bank of Scotland have created a new website that not only commemorates the men who worked for the thirty historic banks that make up the RBS name today, but looks at the financial aspects of the war, for government, business and individuals.  It also looks at the working life of banks during the war from air raids to the impact of women joining the workforce.  As well as an interesting resource on finance, there are men from County Durham and the Durham Light Infantry featured in their commemorative section that we intend to link to when our website goes live. 

International Committee of the Red Cross
In January 2014, the International Committee of the Red Cross posted the press release linked to below stating outlining the work they had been doing since 2008 on scanning the index cards and lists of First World War prisoners of war.  The piece ends with the statement ‘Once this project has been completed, more efficient research methods can be developed and time will be saved in accessing the information. Thanks to the online application, anyone will be able to search the archives directly on the internet as of August 2014.’  As we reach August, there has been no further information as to an exact date or how the system will work and what, costs are involved.  I have seen just some of the cards in the museum in Geneva, and it has been a massive undertaking – all nationalities, not just British POWs – and as a charity I expect they will need to recoup their costs.  I expect it to be a great resource – the records have not been available since the scanning began and prior to this it was a costly and lengthy process to find out if there was information.   This is one to keep checking back on.
UPDATE: I've been alerted to an article on the ICRC website that says 4 August for the launch of these records.