Friday, 29 May 2015

’86 books in 218 days!’

“The imagination is a muscle.  If it is not exercised, it atrophies.” 
– Neil Gaiman

D/DLI 7/773/4 Layout of the library at Stralsund Camp, reprinted from The Library Association Record, vol. XXI, September 1919
D/DLI 7/773/4 Layout of the library at Stralsund Camp, reprinted from The Library Association Record, vol. XXI, September 1919
One of the recent additions to Durham at War is the story of Captain Henry Wilkinson, 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, who wrote a diary of his time as a prisoner of war in 1918.  The camp had a library that had been set up by two fellow prisoners of war, L. Newcombe and J.H.E. Winston. They were both officers in the Yorkshire Regiment and librarians in civilian life.  At the end of Wilkinson’s diary is a list of all the books he read during his imprisonment ’86 books in 218 days!’

One of our Durham at War volunteers has been doing some research into this book list (some were easier to find out about than others) to see what type of thing Henry Wilkinson was reading.  The result is quite the mixture!  That said, the library was not brimming with choice, at least not to begin with.  In a journal article written by Newcombe and Winston they say early on that

‘… many of the books were odd volumes or had pages missing, or if they happened to escape these drawbacks their subject matter was often of a very trashy description that the actual readable material was lamentably small.’

The library was later able to obtain technical and instructional books as well as better quality fiction.  POWs were also able to order their own books. 

The list will be explored in Wilkinson’s order of reading so we begin with the first five books on his list.

A Noble Life, Dinah Maria Mulcock Craik, published 1866, read 15 June 1918.
Charles Montgomerie, an earl who is confined to a wheelchair but seeks to improve the lives of those around him by building schools and churches.  He makes his close friend, Helen, and any children she may have, heir to his property.  On discovering this, a gold-digging relative marries Helen and abuses her.  He dies first however, and their son grows up under the guidance of Earl Montgomerie and learns his compassionate ways.  (Summarised from ). 

The Human Interest: A Study in Incompatibilities, Violet Hunt, published 1899, read 16 June 1918.
A shallow and unhappy wife from Newcastle throws herself at London’s artistic circles and ends in farcical desperation by taking what she thinks is poison. (Summarised from ‘Henry James: A Life in Letters’, Philip Horne’s editorial notes)

Violet Hunt was born in 29 Old Elvet, Durham though moved to London at the age of 3.  She better known for her involvement in literary circles than for her actual writing.

Snow Bound at Eagle’s, Bret Harte, publish date unknown, read 17 June 1918.
Six passengers on a stage are bushwhacked by three road agents as they try to make it through Eagles Pass before the snow closes it for the winter. This holiday story has a romantic angle as well.  (Summarised from various booksellers)

The World Set Free, HG Wells, published 1914, read 18 June 1918.
The book is based on the notion of nuclear weapons of a more destructive sort than the world had yet seen. It first appeared as a serial with a different ending as A Prophetic Trilogy, consisting of three books: A Trap to Catch the Sun, The Last War in the World and The World Set Free.  It begins ‘The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal…’ (summarised from Wikipedia )

Cover of Ship's Company by WW Jacobs, Project Gutenberg
Ship’s Company, WW Jacobs, published 1911, read 18 June 1918.
Ginger, Pete and Sam are a group of sailors whose exploits unfold in a tale narrated by the redoubtable night watchman. (Summarised from an review)

All the books except for Violet Hunt’s The Human Interest can be found on the Project Gutenberg website.  If you have read any of these, or feel inspired to do so let us know and give a review!

Friday, 22 May 2015

For Valour

For Valour image

A new exhibition of Victoria Cross paving stones was launched on Friday 16 May at the DLI Museum. Images from the launch can be seen on the Museum Friends' blog.

The seven paving stones for the men born within the present County Durham are on display along with related items. The exhibition also provides information about the three Durham Light Infantry VC winners who were born outside the county.

The exhibition is free (museum admission applies) and is open Wednesday to Sunday 10.30am - 4.00pm. It is also open on Bank Holidays and Tuesdays during school holidays.

The paving stones are on display in the Museum until they are permanently located in the birthplace of each Victoria Cross recipient, on the 100th anniversary of the action for which the honour was awarded.

You can find out more about these 10 men on the Durham at War website.

County Durham

Outside County Durham

Friday, 15 May 2015

Quakers of Darlington

Jane Wilson, one of our Durham at War volunteers, has written the following blog post on the research and transcribing she has been doing.

The quest for peace during the First World War was uppermost in the minds of many people, amongst them the Quaker community within Britain. Over the past few weeks I have come to learn more about the Quakers in Darlington as part of my project to transcribe the minute books from the Quaker Meetings. Covering the years of WWI, they have opened up to me the structure and organisation of a group of people which, while acknowledging the suffering and hardship brought about by the conflict, still tirelessly campaigned for the promotion of peace.

Many local family names have cropped up among those mentioned in the minute books, all of them taking part in various roles within the Darlington Local Meeting. Those of us familiar with Darlington history will recognise surnames such as Pease and Backhouse, but other names appearing regularly include Hodgkin, Clark, McDermid, Mounsey, Sibson and Steel.

The Darlington Meeting made commitments over the years in reaching out to its own members, and those of other church congregations, by arranging lectures, talks, and services to promote Peace rather than conflict. They also encouraged groups to meet and discuss topics such as disarmament, peace promotion, and conscientious objectors.
Darlington Friends Meeting House, used with kind permission
Darlington Friends Meeting House; used with kind permission of the Darlington Friends
They did however acknowledge the need of communities in Britain and Europe who had suffered greatly as a result of the war and took collections and made donations to many varied charities and funds. Some of those supported include the Armenian Relief Fund, Balkan War Victims Fund, Red Cross, Prince of Wales War Relief Fund, Russian Famine Fund and the Emergency Committee for Assistance of Germans, Austrians and Hungarians. They were willing to spread their assistance on a wide geographic basis.

As well as offering financial aid to various organisations, they helped on a local level including offering rooms to the Red Cross for accommodating wounded soldiers.

Some of those mentioned in the minute books volunteered for the Friends Ambulance Unit and the Quaker website at shows record cards for local people who served as part of the unit. Harold Clark, Robert Inniswood Handley, Maurice Sibson, J Parker Steel and Mary Pease are five people so far who I have traced as belonging to the Friends Ambulance Unit, serving both at home and abroad. Their record cards are available through the website, complete with personal details, service history and photographs. The record cards helped me put faces to names, and I now feel a stronger connection to these people – almost as if I knew them personally.

The Darlington Meeting would gather at very regular intervals, as well as sending four representatives each month to the larger Area Meetings. These took place at a variety of Meeting Houses and the Darlington representatives would be expected to travel as far as Cotherstone, Stockton, Bishop Auckland, and Middlesbrough.

When transcribing the minute books I have been struck by how organised, yet complicated the structure of the Quakers was. There were committees  for everything and decisions would be made only after consultation with yet another committee. I did wonder if I was doing the organisation a disservice by being too fixated about their committees until I had to transcribe the following note from the Joint Preparative Meeting on 16th September 1917:
'Note 7 – The Standing Committee Committees Revision Committee is postponed'
Definitely one committee too many in my opinion!

It is interesting to read on the Quaker website today that 'Our national Quaker structures are quite complex' and that 'there are lots of groups and committees'. So not a lot has changed.

There are still more entries in the minute book to transcribe and I am looking forward to following more of the familiar names I have met, reading about more committees and also finding out more about some of the individuals named as I feel very close to this early 20th Century Quaker community without actually being a member.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

100 years since the sinking of RMS Lusitania

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland.  There are several commemoration events taking place including those at Cobh, Ireland where many victims were buried, and Liverpool, the home port of the ship. 

Lusitania Memorial, Cobh, Ireland.  Taken by Jim Collins for, used under the Creative Commons share alike license
Lusitania Memorial, Cobh, Ireland.  Taken by Jim Collins for, used under the Creative Commons share alike license
Last year, Jo wrote two blog posts about the impact of this event in County Durham, these can be read here:

Since then she has found the following newspaper report of the burial of an engineer on the Lusitania who was originally from the Sedgefield area.

"Auckland and County Chronicle
20 May 1915
Interment of a Lusitania Victim

The interment took place on Saturday at Kirkdale Cemetery, Aintree, of Engineer W. A. Anderson [William Affleck Anderson], second son of Mr W Anderson, of Winterton, Ferryhill, and clerk of the works at Sedgefield Asylum, who was drowned with the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine off the Irish Coast. Deceased was a very popular personage in the Sedgefield district, and the tragic circumstances of his death provoked the deepest sympathy amongst all his friends. He had been engaged with the Cunard Company for over eight years, a greater part of which was spent on the mammoth liners Lusitania and Mauretania. He was held in highest esteem by the officers of both liners.

The body of the deceased was recovered at Queenstown and conveyed to Liverpool for interment, the officiating clergy being Rev McMusky. The service was deeply impressive and many were moved to tears as the remains of so gallant a life – hurled to such an untimely end as the result of a deed which has set all Europe on fire with indignation – were laid to their last resting place.

The under-bearers were Lieut Engineer C Rennie, Lieut Engineer F M Curror, Engineer H McFarlane, Engineer A Hedderly, Engineer H W Botting and Engineer J Morrison, late colleagues of the deceased connected with the Cunard Company.
The chief mourners were Mrs Anderson (widow), Mr Jack Anderson and Mr Ernie Anderson (brothers), Miss J Telford and Mrs J Telford (sisters-in-law), Trooper Telford, N H Y.

Also present were Mr A L Booth, Mr Paton, Mr Harris of the Cunard Co (Liverpool), Mr J C Oliver (Durham), Mr C Cuthbert (Liverpool), Mr and Mrs Popplewell (Monkseaton), Mr Button (Liverpool) etc."

There is further information about William Anderson in the People’s Stories section of the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s website:

Information about commemoration events can be found here:

Composer Frank Bridge wrote a piece of music prompted by the disaster - Lament (for Catherine, aged 9 "Lusitania" 1915):

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Five Sisters - Durham women on the memorial

The Five Sisters window, York Minster [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The Five Sisters window, York Minster [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Another post from Jo:

Once you are immersed in a research topic it can seem like it keeps popping up everywhere, sometimes right under your nose!  Victoria, officially the “Collections Access Officer” for Durham at War, and unofficially my office-mate and partner in Cumbercats (see 13 Feb 2015 blog post), is from York.  However, it came as a surprise to her that a building in the city, so familiar, houses an international First World War memorial.

During the First World War York Minster removed its stained glass from its glorious Gothic windows to safeguard them from zeppelin raids.  The oldest window in the Minster, the Five Sisters Window (about 1260), needed extensive repair which would take a decade to complete.  When the Minster replaced the window in 1925, Mrs Blakeway Little of York used the opportunity to propose a rededication of the Five Sisters to the women who died during the First World War in the service of the Empire.

As well as the restoration of the windows a number of panels were installed with doors that can be opened to reveal the names of the women and the organisation with which they served.  Over 1,500 names of women who died during and immediately after the war are commemorated on these panels. 

Thanks to York Minster we are working with them and our volunteers to try and dig up further information that might lead us to identifying any with a County Durham connection.  This is not an easy task as the women are only listed with their name and service organisation.  Where the women were a member of an organisation linked to the armed services, such as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, a search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site can often turn up enough details to start fleshing out their stories.  However, those that aren’t recorded by the CWGC are more tricky and the most difficult of all are the munitions workers.  

“Women war workers..." by Unknown. The Imperial War Museum via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 30, 2015 Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive, Q 27866
“Women war workers..." by Unknown. The Imperial War Museum via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 30, 2015 Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive, Q 27866
There are 238 women munitions works are listed on the memorial and two have been tracked down to County Durham, so far.  The story of Annie Bell has been on Durham at War for some time but the list of women from York Minster led to me finding the other: Maria Christina Scratcher.  By trawling through the British Newspaper Archive I managed to find a report of her tragic death, aged 17, while working near Willington.  I then used the local newspapers we hold on microfilm to find a report of her inquest.  You can read Maria Scratcher's story here:
You can also read about Annie Bell here:

If you are interested in helping us to uncover the stories of the women on the Five Sisters Memorial please do get in touch:

For an information fact sheet about the windows at York Minster:

York Minster’s Home Page:

Article from the British Nursing Times about the scheme to rededicate the Five Sisters Window: