Friday, 31 July 2015

George Thompson: a Sunderland war horse story

Corporal George Thompson, centre back, and fellow DLI Pioneers on the Marne, France, July 1918 (D/DLI 7/700/31)
D/DLI 7/700/31 Corporal George Thompson, centre back, and fellow DLI Pioneers on the Marne, France, July 1918 
‘We need to admire these men…’
‘I couldn’t wait to get to the end…’

That was the verdict of some of our project volunteers who have helped to transcribe and check a special First World War memoir that has gone online in its entirety for the first time.  The diary can be found on the Durham at War website:

The story of Sergeant George Thompson, the man who loved his horses, was very popular when excerpts were featured on the BBC’s World War One at Home website last year

George enlisted as a territorial soldier in 1910 and saw service right through the war and beyond.  He started to record his wartime experiences as a transport driver with the 7th Battalion Durham Light Infantry in November 1928, ten years after the war had ended, and he dedicated his memoir to his daughter Gracie Evelyn Thompson, who was then aged two.

After George’s death Gracie donated his medals and records to the DLI Museum in Durham and the memoir is now preserved in the regimental archive at County Hall.

Download George’s story and be moved by the humanity of this modest man. Thank you to everyone who has helped to bring this story to life in an easy-to-read format on Durham at War.

If you have any comments, you can add them online.

Friday, 24 July 2015

A princess, great men, and the war

"I have a tale of heroes who sailed away into a distant land, to win themselves renown for ever..."
Charles Kingsley, from the opening to The Argonauts

This run of books, as read by Henry Wilkinson in the prisoner of war camp at Stralsund, include a couple of interesting titles considering his situation. A princess fairytale for one, a book on war written by a German emigrant for another.
The Golden Fleece, drawing from Charles Kinglsey's The Heroes (from Project Gutenberg,
The Golden Fleece, drawing from Charles Kinglsey's The Heroes (from Project Gutenberg,
Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight, Elizabeth Von Arnim, published 1905, read 30 June 1918
From the description and reviews of this book, it is perhaps less of a twee fairy tale than the title suggests, and more a cautionary tale.  Princess Priscilla grows tired of her lavish lifestyle and, after receiving a marriage proposal from a respectable prince, flees the castle with her mentor and her chambermaid.  They settle in a small village to live a simple life, but the culture clash proves too much and they upset the locals.  The simple life proves to be far from it.

The War and America, Hugo Munsterberg, published 1914, read 4 July 1918
This book was written on the verge of the outbreak of the First World War by Hugo Munsterberg who was a pioneer of applied psychology.  Born in Danzig, West Prussia (now Gdansk, Poland), Munsterberg went to teach at Harvard in the 1890s.  During his time he strived to create a good relationship between Germany and America.  The description of the book reads “[He] turns his scientific eye on American culture as it was on the precipice of World War I, which he rightly foresaw as a horrific Great War. With the perspective not only of an educated and insightful social observer but also as a German immigrant with torn loyalties, Munsterberg's commentary serves as a unique viewpoint on a storied period of American history.”  These torn loyalties seem to have leaned more in favour of Germany and some people thought the author to be a German spy, to the point that he received death threats.  The stress of this is thought to have contributed to his death in 1916.

Representative Men, Ralph Waldo Emerson, published 1850, read 8 July 1918
This book sees seven lectures by Emerson published in essay form.  The first looks at the role of ‘great men’ in society with the remaining six each about a man Emerson considered great.  These men were: Plato, Emanuel Swedenborg, Michel de Montaigne, William ShakespeareNapoleon, and Goethe.  

The Heroes, Charles Kingsley, published 1856, read 9 July 1918
A version of the Greek Myths for children focusing on Perseus, The Argonauts, and Theseus.  This was Kingsley’s first foray into writing for children, before publishing one his best known books, The Water Babies, in 1862.

With Essex in Ireland, Emily Lawless, published 1890, read 10 July 1918
A historical novel written by Emily Lawless concerning the 1599 Irish Campaign of Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex.  It is written as though Lawless has edited an original diary kept by Devereux’s secretary, Henry Harvey, but is in fact a work of fiction based on historical facts.With Essex in Ireland being extracts from a diary kept in Ireland during the year 1599 by Mr. Henry Harvey, sometime secretary to Robert Devereux, earl of Essex. This book, "With Essex in Ireland," by Emily Lawless, is a replication of a book originally published before 1890. It has been restored by human beings, page by page, so that you may enjoy it in a form as close toA historical novel wirA

Ivanhoe, Sit Walter Scott, published 1820, read 11 July 1918
Ivanhoe is set in England in 1194 and tells the story of Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a member of one of the few remain Saxon noble families, and at odds with his father as Wilfred supports the Norman king, Richard I.  The book also features Richard’s brother, Prince John, and a character called Locksley who has a band of men.  It is in part from this book that we get our modern day idea of Robin Hood.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Musical appeal

Whilst looking for something in the Durham Advertiser, my eye was inevitably drawn to something else.  In this case, it was an appeal by some men from the 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, for a melodeon (a type of accordion).
Letter requesting a melodeon, Durham Advertiser 23 July 1915
Letter requesting a melodeon, Durham Advertiser 23 July 1915

“An appeal from the 8th  Durhams
To the editor of the Durham County Advertiser.

Dear Sir.  Just a line, if you would kindly oblige us by asking the Durham people if they could spare us an old melodeon.  We are four old 8th Durhams, but attached to the Divisional Cyclist Company, 30th (Northumbrian) Division, British Expeditionary Force, France.  Our names and dwelling places are: Gunner Baty, of Esh Winning; Private H. Hall of Birtley; Private H. Sawyer, of Sacriston; Private T. Jolly, of Easington.  We have an hour or two to spare after coming from the trenches and we would like something to liven us up a bit and make it like being at home.  A few mouth organs would be very acceptable, as we have some good players in our company.  If any of your numerous readers send any of the above, will they kindly state name and address?  We have had it a bit rough since we came out, and we want to try and make things a bit different…” (Durham Advertiser, 23 July 1915)
A melodeon (Image by F. Lamiot, Creative Commons license, 
To us, it might seem like an odd thing to ask for but after having a quick search of the British Newspaper Archive, requests for melodeons were not uncommon. Music was one of the main forms of entertainment as it was cheap and could you create it yourself.

An appeal by Private J. Bolam of the Royal Engineers who was with some Durham Light Infantry and West Yorkshire men was extremely successful.
“Many thanks for inserting in your paper my appeal for a melodeon. I am pleased to say that it has been answered, not by one, but by four of your readers.  I got three melodeons and a concertina, and I gave three away to some of my comrades.”

Friday, 10 July 2015

Mining the records

“The Kitchener’s Army Pit Lads proved themselves to be “born soldiers.”  What a great pity it is impossible to estimate how much the country owes to the miners for the ultimate victory, and the good hearted manner of it.”

Sergeant Charles Moss, 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

Section from the agreement for 9th Bn, DLI to use Redhills Villas (D/DMA 7/1/1)
D/DMA 7/1/1 Section from the agreement for 9th Bn, DLI to use Redhills Villas
Saturday 11 July is the 131st Durham Miners’ Gala.  100 years ago the Gala did not take place because of the war.  In fact, it was halted for the 1915-1918 period of the war.  Large numbers of miners from the Durham coal fields enlisted in the army but many were also needed to keep up coal production – a vital part of the war effort.  This was not an easy balancing act and we want to look at the effects it had, not just on the county’s mining industry but also on the mining communities. 

We are just starting to dip into our various mining records to see what they contain relating to the First World War.  Whilst doing some work on the Durham Miners Association catalogue, one of our members of staff put on their Durham at War volunteer cap to flag up some documents.  One of these is the agreement between the Northern Command of the War Office and the Durham Miners Association to take temporary occupation of the Redhills Villas.  These were just beside the new Miners’ Hall which was opened in October 1915.
Durham Miners' Hall, Redhills (D/Cl 27/277/1858)
D/Cl 27/277/1858 Durham Miners' Hall, Redhills
Durham County Record Office will have a stall in the marquee at this year’s Miners’ Gala and a representative of Durham at War will be there for at least part of the day.  If you have an interesting story about mining in the county during the First World War, come along and tell us about it.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Uncovering the past

Miniature rifle range and drying hut at Cocken Hall training camp (D/DLI 2/18/24(137))
D/DLI 2/18/24(137) Miniature rifle range and drying hut at Cocken Hall training camp
On 26 June Durham County Record Office went on a visit to the No Mans’ Land excavation at the site of Cocken Hall, the first training camp of the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  We supplied photographic evidence and other research materials to support the Heritage Lottery Funded dig. 

There were about 30 participants on site each day (even the Durham at War team got their hands dirty) and a daily blog was produced which can be found here:

A report will be produced and No Mans’ Land are co-hosting the Council for British Archaeology’s Home Front Legacy (North) Day School where they will be holding a seminar on the excavation.  This takes place on 15 August 2015 at Palace Green Library, Durham. Durham at War will also be attending on the day.  The event is free but booking is required, for more information and to register, click here