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 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.