Friday, 30 January 2015

A volunteer's experience

P.H.B. Lyon with fellow officer prisoner at Karlsruhe Camp, Germany, [12 June 1918] (D/DLI 7/424/3(8))
D/DLI 7/424/3(8) P.H.B. Lyon with fellow officer prisoner at Karlsruhe Camp, Germany, [12 June 1918]
The blog has used the memoirs of Captain PHB Lyon, 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry several times for interesting content. This particular one, ‘A Diary – Seven Months of Captivity’ [D/DLI 7/424/3] (written up in 1919), about Lyon’s time in a prisoner of war camp in 1918, was used for Ambrosia, thou art become and This is their week of destiny.

One of our volunteers, Sue, has transcribed the diary and has written this piece about the experience:
I found the photographs and souvenirs included in the diary interesting, and I was amazed that they survived and he was able to bring them home after the war. I could almost feel their sense of freedom as war ended and they were allowed to walk freely without guards, in the surrounding countryside and town. There was almost a ‘holiday’ feel to their days out.
As he described the arrival at Leith, I could hear the joyous sound of whistles, bells and ship’s hooters.
I have just completed transcribing the final pages from the diary of Percy Hugh Beverley Lyon MC, a DLI officer in a WW1 prison camp. It completely changed my vision of a PoW camp. Their biggest danger was from boredom, not the Germans . To combat this they set themselves a daily routine, setting up a debating society, theatrical groups, a library etc. Obviously food was a major concern and was mentioned almost every day.

Outside the tin rooms, German orderlies enlarging the lockers, here all parcels were stacked and issued and tins stored, Graudenz, October 1918 (D/DLI 7/424/3(18))
D/DLI 7/424/3(18) Outside the tin rooms, German orderlies enlarging the lockers, here all parcels were stacked and issued and tins stored, Graudenz, October 1918
The following is an extract taken shortly after Captain Lyon arrived at his final camp in Graudenz
[now Grudziądz, Poland]
JUNE 19th I begin to work out a scheme for my day’s work Wednesday and reading, which I mean to follow till classes start. Roughly it runs as follows:- 9.15 to 10, make my bed, sweep and wash up. 10 to 12 or 12.30 work at elementary German or, if inclined at my own writing. (The ‘poem’ has got a certain way, but is just now sticking badly, I am out of my depth.) After ‘lunch’, rest or write till 2 o’clock. Then read till 5, when I change my book. In the evening I generally play bridge or write. As a rough programme it works fairly well. Fortunately Murray has a German grammar, which I share or rather monopolise, as he is not very fit and not inclined for work. The day passes uneventfully, though the unusually good pea soup at lunch is worthy of mention. A few parcels have begun to come in, and great excitement prevails among all who have any hopes of them. At 5 o’clock I change my book for ‘Captains Courageous’, which I enjoy now (having forgotten it) as much as I did 12 years ago.

Friday, 23 January 2015

New stories
This week I thought I would tell you about some of the stories that have been added to Durham at War recently.  The research, this time, has not been put together by DaW HQ staff but our dedicated volunteers and even interested members of the public!   

Firstly we have three men who were conscientious objectors.  They were sent to Richmond Castle where the Non-Combatant Corps was based and were part of a group that became known as the Richmond Sixteen.  From there they were sent to France where they were Court Martialled for disobeying orders.  One of the project volunteers has thrown herself into researching conscientious objectors and provided most of the material that can be found on the following pages:

Norman Gaudie of East Boldon

William Law of Darlington

Herbert Law of Darlington

Herbert and William were brothers.  Our volunteer also noted something on the 1911 census for the family that suggest that they might have inherited their activism from their mother.   The father had added in the “Infirmities” column:

“Wife: Delusional.  Thinks she ought to have a vote”
Detail from the 1911 Census entry for Law Family, Darlington, from
Detail from the 1911 Census entry for Law Family, Darlington, from
We also received a series of profiles of men from Darlington via our email.  An interested member of the public found our site and wondered if we could make use of the research she had put together on the memorial tablet at
St James the Great, Darlington.  We were delighted to be able to host that information!

The page for the war memorial can be found here, then scroll down to ‘related to this story’ for links to the men:

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Mayoress - Durham's Great War Tank

This week we have another guest post by David Butler, former County Archivist.
Wharton Park on the 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map, published 1919, Durham Sheet XXVII.1
Wharton Park on the 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map, published 1919, Durham Sheet XXVII.1
In the summer of 1919 British Government was demobilizing its armed forces and disposing of surplus military equipment.  The City of Durham (with 263 other towns) was offered a tank in recognition of the ‘splendid response of the citizens to the various appeals made … for war loans’ and to commemorate the war.

The ‘battle-stained war relic’, no.2783, arrived at Gilesgate Goods Station on 10 June, after a fortnight’s journey from the ‘devastated battlefield of France’.  However, there is evidence that, although some of the presentation tanks came from France, many were training tanks from Bovington Camp in Dorset.  The tank was ‘one of the original ones’ (in fact it was a Mark IV tank, so not an original),  and was under the command of Captain Farrar MC.  

It was decided that the tank be located in Wharton Park and it was moved to North Road Station, where it was unloaded on 17 June.  Local schools were given a half-holiday and large numbers of children congregated on the slopes overlooking the station, while the great and the good of Durham assembled in the station yard.  Among others, the mayor’s son, was allowed to travel inside the machine as it set off ‘at a slow pace’ (the 27 ton tank had a best speed of 4 mph), preceded by the Earl’s House Industrial School Band, the official party and a group of ex-servicemen - the Comrades of the Great War.  

The journey so far had been accomplished safely, but as the tank was negotiating the narrow entrance to the Park it demolished some railings.  As it ascended the straight roadway it ‘made a slight attack’ on the wall to the left.  The tank was then required to make another acute turn, this time to the left.  In doing this it broke ‘the chains’ (presumably railings) and demolished some timber, before continuing to its final location ‘near to the rifle range’.  From its final south-facing orientation it is probable that this last stage of the journey was made in reverse.  While being manoeuvred onto its final wooden base, two more incidents occurred.  Captain Farrar was not satisfied with its initial positioning and ordered the driver to reverse.  In the process the tank came very close to the edge of the steep drop down to North Road ‘to the alarm of the onlookers’ and it also collided with a telegraph pole.

Sketch by Robert Mauchlen of a 'male' tank, Arras sector, France 1917 (D/DLI 7/920/12(10))
D/DLI 7/920/12(10) Sketch by Robert Mauchlen of a 'male' tank, Arras sector, France 1917
Speeches were made and Captain Farrar spoke first and presented the tank to Durham, on behalf of the National War Savings Association.  He explained that ‘for the last four years he had been engaged in actions, not words’, and therefore they should not expect ‘a speech up to the standard of a member of the House of Commons’.  He explained that no.2783 was a female tank, which carried machine guns and were designed to attack enemy soldiers, while male tanks carried six-pounder guns and were intended to tackle pill boxes and other obstructions.  He implied that no.2783 had first been at Vimy Ridge and Arras in April 1917 (although production of Mark IVs did not begin until May of that year). 

Research shows that Walter Farrar had been in the Heavy Machine Gun Corps (later the Tank Corps) and went to the Western Front in May 1917.  He was awarded the Military Cross in 1918 for destroying an enemy machine gun position and capturing the gun, and for using his tank to span a gap in a damaged bridge to keep the crossing open.

The Mayor commented on the magnificent response of Durham to the war loans, and hoped that the tank would be a memorial to all those who had contributed to the victory.  The Dean said that he did not know why he had been asked to take part in the celebration, unless it was to christen the tank.  Hitherto no.2783 was ‘a nameless child’ and he christened it the Mayoress.  Other members of the official party then made their contributions and the afternoon’s proceedings closed with the singing of the National Anthem.

Not many photos are known to exist of the tank in Wharton Park.  The Newcastle-based daily the Illustrated Chronicle carried four photographs of the day (one of which was printed upside down).  Another two photographs feature in books by Michael Richardson.

Although Mayoress was to remain in the park for the next 17 years, as early as March 1925 its future was under consideration, and it was only on the casting vote of the mayor that it was decided that the tank should remain.  Six years later, in September 1931, the Parks Committee decided to overhaul and re-paint the tank.  However, on 7 October 1936 the City Council resolved that it should be sold and the proceeds allocated to the Children’s Playing Field.  There does not appear to have been any opposition to this, but it has not proved possible to discover how much was raised by the sale.

The heritage Lottery Fund and The Big Lottery last year awarded a grant of £2.45 million to restore Wharton Park.  Work is due to commence February 2015 and more information can be found here:

Friday, 9 January 2015

But it says he was in the DLI…

Yorkshire Regiment brothers: a war memorial puzzle

Over Christmas I visited the First World War exhibition at York Castle Museum.  As part of their displays they had loan of the Yorkshire Law Society war memorial which featured two Pocklington men listed as being 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (6 DLI).  Of course I made a note of their details, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick William Robson and Captain Edward Moore Robson, to look at when I got back to work. 

Yorkshire Regiment Cap Badge © IWM (INS 7212)
Cap Badge of the Yorkshire Regiment
This image was created and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence © IWM (INS 7212)
I began by looking at the Soldiers and Officers Died records for the Durham Light Infantry but couldn’t find either of them.  Looking on Ancestry and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission I found matching names for the 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment.  I did a general internet search and found the website of the Pocklington and District Local History Group who have been researching their local war memorial which also includes Frederick and Edward Robson.  From the information they have found, Frederick and Edward were brothers who did both serve in the 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment.  However, they also say that when Frederick was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel he took command of 6 DLI.  

I checked the war diary for the 6th Battalion and it notes the new command on 11 April 1917.  Frederick is in our Honours and Awards book for the Distinguished Service Order he received in 1916 whilst still serving with the Yorkshires and is also referred to in Harry Moses book ‘The Faithful Sixth’.  It is likely a case of the paperwork not being up to date in all departments which no-one would deny being an impossible task in the circumstances.  I wonder if the listing of both brothers as DLI on the Yorkshire Law Society memorial came from someone knowing that they had served in the same battalion and someone knowing that Frederick had commanded 6 DLI.

Attached to different units

Other clerical errors can be seen in the Soldiers Died record.  There are some 3rd Battalion DLI men who are listed as having died in October and November 1914 despite the fact that the only battalion to have seen action at this time was the 2nd.  One example is Joseph Perrett who is listed as 3 DLI on both the Soldiers Died and Commonwealth War Graves records.  His service records exist on Ancestry and show that he was wounded in France whilst serving with 2 DLI.  
Photograph of officers of 3rd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Lieutenant Griffith-Jones (standing second right) was killed while attached to the 2nd Battalion (D/DLI 2/3/72)
D/DLI 2/3/72 Photograph of officers of 3rd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Lieutenant Griffith-Jones (standing second right) was killed while attached to the 2nd Battalion 
As shown with the Robson brothers, war memorials can contain discrepancies in the regiment served.  They can also have name spelled incorrectly or some researchers find that their ancestor isn’t on a war memorial.  Conversely, it is not always clear what a named man’s connection to the area is.  The reasons are varied and many.  There was no single organisation in charge of war memorials and different ones would have different criteria.  Some got names from the newspapers (that may have reported things inaccurately), others required families to submit names.  There is a very interesting discussion thread on the Great War Forum that can be found here that gives several real examples encountered by researchers.  

The moral of the story is to check all available sources to corroborate what was recorded, and remember that at the time, in difficult circumstances, people were doing their best to get it right.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Festive Fridays - Happy New Year

Soldier 'Barney' McArdle, 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, playing the piano in a trench at Armentières, France, c.1915 (D/DLI 2/7/18(84))
D/DLI 2/7/18(84) Soldier 'Barney' McArdle, 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, playing the piano in a trench at Armentières, France, c.1915
The Durham Advertiser from 15 January 1915 reprints the letter of an unnamed member of the Honourable Artillery Company, sent in by a Durham lady.  Written on New Year’s Day 1915, it recounts the events of Christmas and then goes on to say:

“Last night they had a watch night service at the same place [in a convent near to where they billeted], which was again crowded.  I was awfully glad when I heard they were having it, as I knew you would all be at St. John’s about the same time.  When we came back, J--- and myself drank all your healths in rum.  We are served out with this every night, and I tell you we are very glad to have it in the trenches when one is frozen…

This evening we and some of another regiment are going to have a concert, or more of a sing-song perhaps.  We are getting hold of a piano from somewhere.  Some of the men in our company have very fine voices, and it is a great treat to hear some really good songs again.  We all enjoy these concerts no end, and hey buck us up tremendously.”