Friday, 26 June 2015

Steaming ahead

6th Battlion, Durham Light Infantry, taken by Captain PHB Lyon (D/DLI 7/424/2(28))
D/DLI 7/424/2(28) 6th Battlion, Durham Light Infantry, taken by Captain PHB Lyon, April 1915
This photo is captioned by PHB Lyon ‘En route to France’ and shows a number of 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry men standing in front of a steam locomotive.  It is likely that the photograph we have was taken in Gateshead or Newcastle as troops readied to board. One of our Durham at War volunteers has found a website where you can type in an engine number and find out more about it.  No.1029 was built by the North British Locomotive Company of Glasgow for the North Eastern Railway who used it from May 1908.  Its number changed in 1946 when the company became the London and North Eastern Railway, and again when British Rail was formed.  It was withdrawn from service is 1966 and scrapped in 1967. 

We have an abundance of railway history in the north and there are various projects looking at this specifically for the First World War.  The Head of Steam museum in Darlington has produced a searchable database of the 8000+ men of the North Eastern Railway who enlisted during the war.  Most entries should include name, date of birth, regiment, and peace time job.  It can be searched here:

Sketch of soldiers on an ambulance train by Reverend JAG Birch, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, c.1916 (D/DLI 7/63/2(131))
D/DLI 7/63/2(131) Sketch of soldiers on an ambulance train by Reverend JAG Birch, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, c.1916
Down at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York, they are in the research and development phase of an exhibition that will open on 7 July 2016.  It will centre around a recreated carriage of a First World War ambulance train.  The museum has chosen this date as it will be 100 years on from the busiest  day for the ambulance trains, just after the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.

The NRM also have a blog which has First World War entries including one on the creation of the ambulance carriage
There is another about ladies who set up facilities for the provision of tea for troops passing through York Station at all times of day as the station café closed at 5:30pm.  The blog post, found here, says that the canteen served 4.5 million men.  

Rob Langham has written a book, published in 2013 by Fonthill, called The North Eastern Railway in the First World War.  It uses the company’s magazine as one its key sources of information, and includes the Hartlepool bombardment and damage to railway property and workers who were killed, as well as women taking on certain jobs, including as police.  It also discusses the work done by the company towards the war effort including provision of locomotives abroad.  

Friday, 19 June 2015

Tragedy or Comedy?

“Actors are so fortunate. They can choose whether they will appear in tragedy or in comedy, whether they will suffer or make merry, laugh or shed tears. But in real life it is different.” – Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime
Tragedy and Comedy masks
Tragedy and Comedy

This week’s set of books read by Henry Wilkinson whilst in the POW camp at Stralsund are a varied lot, from historical to racy yet tragic romance by way of Oscar Wilde. 

Under the Red Robe, Stanley J Weyman, published 1894, read 25 June 1918
A historical romance novel set during the 17th Century rise of Cardinal Richelieu.  It covers the events in which Richelieu’s enemies mistakenly thought they had convinced King Louis XIII to dismiss him from power (known as the Day of Dupes).  It was made into a silent film in 1923, and remade in 1937.  (Summarised from Wikipedia)

Half a Hero, Anthony Hope, published 1893, read 26 June 1918
It has proven difficult to find anything specifically about the plot of this book.  It is written by the same author as The Prisoner of Zenda.  An Amazon review mentions that it features the same sort of damaged hero as Hope’s other books. 

In 1918, Anthony Hope was knighted for his contribution to propaganda during the First World War.

De Profundis, Oscar Wilde, written 1897, read 26 June 1918
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde, published 1897, read 27 June 1918
Written across January and March 1897, De Profundis [out of the depths] is a 50000 word letter from Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas.  Douglas was Oscar Wilde's lover and the letter was written while Wilde was in prison for gross indecency because of their relationship.  The letter covers the time they were together and Wilde’s time in prison with reflection on his own life and work.  It goes on to talk about other’s work and has a great focus on Christ and religion.  Wilde was not allowed to send the letter whilst still a prisoner but was able to take it with him upon his release.  He went to France and there wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.  It tells of the execution that occurred during his incarceration, of a 30 year old trooper with the Royal Horse Guards who had been convicted of killing his wife.  (Summarised from Wikipedia and the originals found on Project Gutenberg)

Cover of the Penguin Little Black Classics edition of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (2015)
Cover of the Penguin Little Black Classics edition of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (2015)
Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Oscar Wilde, published 1887 (literary magazine), 1891 (as a book with other short stories), read 28 June 1918
I have recently read this one myself.  I had already bought Penguin’s 80th anniversary Little Black Classics edition when I realised it was on Wilkinson’s list, so I bumped it to the top of my list.  It tells the story of Lord Arthur Savile, a high society man whose mind is cast into turmoil after an encounter with a chiromantist (palm reader) at a party.  Savile is told that he is destined to commit a murder.  After recovering from the initial shock, instead of endeavouring to lead a good and virtuous life as one might expect, Savile decides to take a more practical approach.  Soon to be married, Lord Savile resolves to get the murder out of the way so that he can live the rest of his life without wondering when it will happen.  The rest of the story recounts his attempt to do so.

Three Weeks, Elinor Glyn, published 1907, read 29 June 1918
A change of genre from the previous reads, Three Weeks was scandalous in its release.  It sees a young English nobleman, Paul Verdayne, sent to France, then Switzerland, after he is caught with the parson’s daughter.  He enters into a three week physical affair with someone referred to only as ‘The Lady’.  Verdayne returns to England upset after The Lady leaves.  He endeavours to uncover her identity and finds out that she has given birth to their son.  He also discovers that she is the Queen of a Russian dependency and her husband, the King, is abusive towards her.  Before he can see her again, she has been killed by her husband.  The book continues as Verdayne decides to try and meet his son.  (Summarised from Wikipiedia)

The book was made into a film in 1914, and again in 1924, the latter being directed by the same person as the 1923 film of Under the Red Robe.

Friday, 12 June 2015

A refuge

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”

W. Somerset Maugham

Those words would have rung true for Henry Wilkinson in the prisoner of war camp at Stralsund.

Silas finds a child, from George Eliot's Silas Marner, image published by The Jenson Society, NY ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Silas finds a child, from George Eliot's Silas Marner, image published by The Jenson Society, NY ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The following are the next seven books on Wilkinson's reading list.  Whilst I had only heard of one of the books, with George Eliot and Mark Twain, there seems to be an increase in the quality of reading available.  

The Devil and the Deep Sea, Rhoda Broughton, published 1910, read 19 June 1918
The story of Miss Susan Field who falls for a man whom she had discovered to be a liar and a swindler.  The story focuses on the chance meeting of two people at a Riviera hotel and the slow growth of feelings between them.  It also features another three characters in Mrs. Pattison, her son, and his fiancée Miss Jessica Bodger.  (Summarised from a review in The Bookman, December 1910,
Rhoda Broughton was the niece of the Irish gothic writer Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu. 

Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, published 1894, read 19 June 1918
In Missouri, Roxy is a slave who fears for her life and that of her infant son.  She also has the charge of her master’s son who is about the same age.  As her son is very light skinned, she swaps the boys so that her son will grow up with privilege and freedom.  After the boys have grown up, the book takes a turn after a murder is committed.  There is an investigation and court room drama in which the swapped identities are revealed.  The book is said to be funny and through this denounces racial prejudice and slavery.  (Summarised from Good Reads and Wikipedia

The Pit, Frank Norris, published 1903, read 20 June 1918
A story of love and speculation in turn of the century Chicago.  Laura Dearborn has three suitors and after a period of time eventually decides to marry Curtis Jadwin.  They are happy for a few years until Jadwin begins speculating on wheat stock in the Pit at the Chicago Board of Trade.  (Summarised from Wikipedia

The book was made into a film in 1917.

The Card, Arnold Bennett, published 1911, read 21 June 1918
This novel tells the the life of Edward Henry Machin, known as Denry, and the ventures that repeatedly earn him the reputation of being a ‘card’ (as in character). (

During the First World War, Arnold Bennett was appointed the Director of Propaganda for France at the British Government’s Ministry of Information.  In 1952, The Card was made into a film starring Alec Guinness and Petula Clark

Title page for the Tauchnitz edition of Percival Keene, it is possible that his was the version read by Wilkinson, image from Google books
Title page for the Tauchnitz edition of Percival Keene, it is possible that his was the version read by Wilkinson, image from Google books
Percival Keene, Captain Frederick Marryat, published 1842, read 23 June 1918
Percival Keene grows up with his mother and aunt whilst his father is at sea.  A prankster who nearly burns down his school, Percival is offered a position on the HMS Calliope by Captain Delmar who is close to the family.  At this point, Percival learns of scandalous circumstance surrounding his birth.  His time with the Navy is the making of him, especially the time spent as a kidnapped cabin boy of a group of pirates.  (Summarised from

Frederick Marryat is also known for his developing a system of maritime signalling.

The Motor Maniacs, Lloyd Osbourne, published 1906, read 23 June 1918
This is a book of little stories on exchanges founded on the mania for motorcars. Motorists will feel a certain pleasure in seeing the language of sentiment translated into the language of petrol. The book is full of humour and energy.  (Summarised from The Spectator, October 1906

At 12 years old, Lloyd Osbourne became the stepson of Robert Louis Stevenson, the family travelled together.  Between 1889 and 1894 Osbourne and Stevenson collaborated on three books.

Silas Marner, George Eliot, published 1861, read 24 June 1918
Silas Marner is a weaver living in a small community in a big city.  When he is (falsely) accused of of theft from the church, he leaves the area and settles near the village of Raveloe.  He only works to save his money but it is stolen by the younger son of the town’s leading land owner.  The son disappears.  His older brother has a secret and estranged wife because of her opium use.  She makes her way to the village but dies from the cold, her young daughter finding her way into Silas’ house.  Silas decided to look after her naming her Eppie.  The girl’s true father helps out financially but does not admit to his relationship with the girl.  The story continues with Silas’ newfound purpose in life of raising Eppie.  (Summarised from

All these books are available on Project Gutenberg.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Word of the month

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
- Albert Einstein
'The Alchemist' by William Fettes Douglas, 1855, Victoria & Albert Museum, no. 67-1873
'The Alchemist' by William Fettes Douglas, 1855, Victoria & Albert Museum, no. 67-1873    
When we tell people that we are archivists, we often get “that look”.  A sort of quizzical “huh?”   Separately, we have both had a couple of taxi drivers think we have said ‘alchemists’, strangely only taxi drivers have asked this.  If we could turn base metals into gold, we probably wouldn't be getting a taxi (Victoria would have a driver).  One person even asked Jo if it were possible to make a living as an anarchist!

One of the greatest perks of being an archivist is that you never stop learning new things.  We are truly Jacks of All Trades.  One day you might have to read up on the organisational structure of charities and the next find out about First World War battles.

This is certainly the case with Durham at War.  As any of you who have done some transcribing for the project will know, 100 years ago people wrote quite differently.  Grammatically, sentences seem to meander with clause tacked on to clause; commas and semi-colons proliferate in a way seldom seen today.  Not to mention random capitalisation at the start of words.  Another difference is the vocabulary used.  This has led to the Durham at War Office instituting a “Word of the Month”.

From a phrase book for English soldiers (D/DLI 2/6/10/260)
D/DLI 2/6/10/260 From a phrase book for English soldiers
Moo-tard:  Moutarde, French for mustard
This was found in a card issued to soldiers with French words and their phonetic spellings.  We just loved the thought of your average Tommy using this!

Fossick:  Rummage; search
A current favourite of Jo’s, who has used it in an email to a volunteer recently!  Very useful as an archivist: “I’ll just go and fossick through that box, see if I can find it.”  Found in the diary of Wilson Pease, one of the Darlington Quaker families.

Hooroosh:  Wild; hurried; excited state
From the context we came across it in, it sounds more like something to do with persuading horses to travel in the desired direction. Found in a letter by Colonel Hubert Morant dated 15 December 1918, “Just before jumping it someone hoorooshed them away & they galloped wildly round back to the where they had come from…”
A quick internet search shows that it was used much more recently, May 2012, in an editorial on the Financial Times website concerning the practice of estate agents, “A gritty race ensued, with the gaggle of thirtysomethings hoorooshing down a narrow staircase and tearing back to the estate agency.”

Deuce!:  [in this context] Devil
Victoria likes the gentlemanly quality of this curse.  Very satisfying exclamation that won’t get you into trouble, even if your Gran is listening.  Found in the prisoner of war diary of Captain Henry Wilkinson, (the focus of last week's blog) “I had a deuce of a time in the cookhouse, sweating away.”

Ostrobogulous:  Slightly risqué; bizarre; unusual
Ok, to be honest this isn't one that we found in a First World War document.  We were looking up synonyms for strange/weird and this was too good not to include!  We still haven’t quite managed to use it in a sentence, though! 

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
- Mahatma Gandhi