Friday, 30 October 2015

County Hall War Memorial - Richard Corker

This week have another post by David Butler with an update on one of the men who appears on the Durham County Hall war memorial.

Richard Robson Corker at Bede College (E/HB 2/693)
E/HB 2/693 Richard Robson Corker at Bede College 
Richard Robson Corker (1892-1916)

Two years ago I was writing mini-biographies of some of the men commemorated on the County Council war memorial in the Durham Room at County Hall. One of those men was Richard Robson Corker. He had been born on 14 July 1892 at Beamish, and in 1911 was an 18-year old student teacher at Bede College, Durham, living out of college as a lodger on Gilesgate, Durham.

Richard had previously attended the Pupil Teacher Centre at Consett Technical Institute, and at the same time worked as a student teacher at Waterhouses Mixed Council School. He began his formal training at Bede College in September 1910. After completing his training in July 1912, he was appointed as a certificated teacher at Waterhouses Mixed School.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (the ‘Durham Pals’). 18 DLI was involved in the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, and Richard Corker was badly wounded by shell fire. His is recorded as having died of wounds on 1 July and is buried in Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, France.  Richard is reported to have been recommended for a decoration ‘for steadiness, and reliability under fire, and devotion to duty at all times, both as an able instructor, and as a leader in trenches’, but nothing came of this. 

In 2013, when I was writing the notes on Richard my next step was to look for the school log book to see what it said about him, but I noted that ‘unfortunately the log book for Waterhouses School has not survived; consequently we have no knowledge of Richard’s career at the school’. However there is good news: the Waterhouses School log book has now re-appeared and has been donated to the Record Office (reference D/X 2041/1). 

We now know that Richard Corker began as a student teacher at Waterhouses on 13 September 1909. In mid-April 1910 he was absent for four days taking the second part of his Preliminary Certificate examination. As part of his training he visited Neville’s Cross School on 26 April and Belmont CE School on 3 June. On 24 June George Sutcliffe, the head teacher of Waterhouses, noted that Richard had passed his Preliminary Certificate with a distinction in history. 

Although he ceased employment at Waterhouses on 31 July 1910 to train at Bede College, on 23 September, George Sutcliffe noted that Richard had spent five weeks of his vacation in the school and ‘has been of valuable assistance’. This follows a note that a new unqualified assistant teacher ‘has proved so far almost wholly unable to undertake any effective teaching’, and we are left wondering whether there is a connection between the two comments. 
Waterhouses County Junior Mixed and Infant School, 1970s (D/Ph 125/216 )
D/Ph 125/216 Waterhouses County Junior Mixed and Infant School, 1970s
Following Richard’s period at Bede College he was appointed as a certificated assistant (CA) at Waterhouses school to begin on 19 August 1912, at an annual salary of £95. On 2 September 1912 he was absent having been summoned to attend as a witness at a court martial at Newcastle Barracks. His name does not then appear in the log book until 25 September 1914 when it was noted that he went on War Service.

On 21 July 1916, John Wylam, who had become head teacher in 1913, made the following entry in the log book:
Richard Corker, C.A. who joined the army in Sept. 1914 and was made sergeant, has been killed in action in France on July 1st 1916 in the beginning of the great offensive. A letter has been received by his father from his Captain and a fellow Sergeant, speaking most highly of him for his bravery, his cheerfulness, and the regard for him by the men in his platoon and regiment. His loss is deeply deplored by the teachers and children. He was an excellent teacher and had a promising career in front of him. 
Even though records may appear to have been lost, there is always the possibility that they may be found. It is owing to the goodwill of those who find such records, and present them to the Record Office, that they can be made available for research, and I hope that others who come across similar items are encouraged by this story to contact the Record Office. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

A word from another one of our volunteers: Name, rank and number...

Canadian flag 1828-1921
Canadian Red Ensign 1868-1921 Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
This week, Durham at War volunteer, Jean Longstaff, writes about the research she has been doing.

Name, rank and number...

...and date of birth, that’s what you get when you agree to take on some research about Durham born men who served in the Commonwealth forces, in my case the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).  Jo did offer me Australia, but for some reason Canada seemed more appealing.

On retirement I had been wanting to volunteer for something that wasn’t going to tie me down to doing so many hours a week  on set days, but something to occupy me  when I wanted to do it and for how long I wanted to spend on it.  What I wasn’t expecting was something so addictive, that this was all I did for three weeks!  You sit down to fill in an odd half an hour before lunch and suddenly it's tea time.  Luckily my husband was away so it didn’t matter that meals were at odd times and housework wasn’t getting done.

Censuses (my Latin always makes me think that should be censii) can tell you so much, but in some cases 10 years is a long gap in the history of a family.  One of the first soldiers I researched was living in four rooms with his parents, grandmother and nine siblings all under 12.  Ten years later at the same address there were only his parents and five children, had they left home or died?  Two brothers were listed as aged 15 on the census, were they twins or was poor mother struggling with two pregnancies in the same year?  On checking which quarter of the year they were born in, on birth Marriages and Deaths, it would appear to be the latter.  The United States censuses give you even more information, just about everything but their shoe size.
Map of Canada in 1914 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage)
Map of Canada in 1914 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Aug-2014
Most of the first batch of men I researched were called John, Robert or Henry and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be easier if they had more unusual first names’.  How wrong was I?  Marmaduke presented even more difficulty in tracing records.  Thinking about it, there are only so many ways you can transcribe John and Robert, you can always try Bob, but if the transcriber can’t make head nor tail of Marmaduke, it could be listed as anything.   Then there are those who were christened William, moved to Canada as William C. and moved on to the US as Charles.  The “ability to think outside the box” to use a modern phrase is a must if you want to fill in the blanks.  I’ve only been stuck once and that really annoys me.

Then there’s the service records.  You have to learn a whole new language to understand them as they are all written in abbreviations; to me CCS was the name of the group who recorded the theme to Top of the Pops but now it’s a Casualty Clearing Station.

Perhaps the most interesting bits are the reports of the medicals carried out after the men have enlisted, some are most thorough in their descriptions, others not so.  “Fair, freckle faced, red hair”, (you know this soldier is sure to be nicknamed Ginger), then there is the much more abrupt “flat-footed”.   One medical officer passed as fit a man who had polio as a boy and had a withered leg with the comment “right leg shorter than the left”, whilst another medical man obviously went over soldiers with a fine toothcomb to be able to pass the comment “tiny scar on inside of left heel”.

I’ve now bored all my friends with stories of the local men who served in the CEF, but hopefully made them aware of the Durham at War website, and I could still spend all day every day pouring over relevant records, but reality strikes, husband returns home, other things must get done and we must stop fighting over whose turn it is to use the computer! 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Event at Bowburn

You may have heard on the news at the start of the week about the centenary of the death of the nurse Edith Cavell.  During the early months of the First World War, she used her role as a nurse to save the lives of men on both sides of the fighting.  However, she also helped Allied soldiers escape from the area of Belgium that was occupied by the Germans.  For this, the Germans found her guilty of treason and she was executed on 12 October 1915.  

Edith Cavell appears on the 1920 Bowburn miner's banner and on Friday 16 October, they are holding a commemoration event, with a talk on the life of Cavell.  You can also find out more about the men of Bowburn who fought in the war, and the Durham at War team will be on hand to talk about the project and give advice on WWI family history.

Bowburn memorial event 16 October 2015

Friday, 9 October 2015

Food for thought

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
 - Philip Pullman

Whilst good nourishment might not have been easy to come by in a prisoner of war camp, at least Henry Wilkinson had access to books, even if they weren't the well known works. In this set of books read in July and August of 1918 there are several lesser known stories by popular authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle.  It is not say that these books do not have merit, but it is hard to think that even with the limited range available, a book titled 'Yeast' would be considered of interest if it were not written by Charles Kingsley.

Petticoat Government, Baroness Orczy, published 1910, ready 19 July 1918
Written by the same author as the Scarlet Pimpernel books, Petticoat Government is a story in three parts, The Girl, The Statesman, and The Woman, concerning the French aristocracy and the Madame du Pompadour’s influence over Louis XV of France.

During the First World War, Baroness ‘Emmuska’ Orczy set up the Women of England’s Active Service League, which had 20000 members.  Katie Adie’s book ‘Fighting on the Home Front’ says these women had to pledge “not to be seen in the company of a man ‘who had not answered his country’s call’…” 

A Short History of Our Own Time, J McCarthy, published 1879-1890, read 21 July 1918
This is a history in five volumes subtitled ‘From the accession of Queen Victoria to the general election of 1880’.  It is not indicated whether Wilkinson had access to all five volumes of the book given that the library did not always have a full complement of books in multiple parts. However, the next entry in the book list is dated nine days later as opposed to the usual one or two, so maybe Wilkinson did have access to the majority, if not all, of the volumes.  The book seems to be more often referred to without the ‘short’ in the title.  It is not clear if there is a difference or not.

The Score, Lucas Malet, published 1909, read 30 July 1918
There are two stories in this book.  The first tells of a successful actress who cares so much for the best interests of her friend and lover that she sacrifices her own marriage and love.  The second story takes place at an Italian convent and looks at the psychology of evil.  (Summarised from the Internet Archive)

Lucas Malet is the pseudonym of Mary St Leger Kingsley, the daughter of Charles Kingsley. 

The Captain of the Pole Star, Arthur Conan Doyle, published 1890, read 2 August 1918
This book has a series of short stories including the title one, in which the crew of a ship hunting for treasure in the north pole begin to doubt the sanity of their captain after they hear a one sided conversation coming from his quarters.  It also contains ‘J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement’ which is the story of the Marie Celeste.  It popularised the mystery to the point that many commonly held ideas are actually Conan Doyle’s fictional embellishments. 

Arthur Conan Doyle was a popular author in the libraries of prisoner of war camps.  In July 2014, I posted about PHB Lyon reading the Sherlock Holmes story ‘His Last Bow’.

A Fountain Sealed, Walter Besant, published 1897, read 8 August 1918
One of many fictional books written by the novelist and historian Walter Besant, this is a work of historical fiction about the supposed mistress of King George III in the 1700s. 

Hunted Down, Charles Dickens, published 1859, read 12 August 1918
This is a short detective story thought to have been inspired by the alleged poisoner Thomas Wainewright (who also inspired many other writers including Oscar Wilde).  It was published at a time when the London Metropolitan Police was well established and the public had an appetite for crime stories.

Yeast, Charles Kingsley, published 1848 (Fraser’s Magazine), 1851 (book), read 15 August 1918
The second book by Charles Kingsley that Wilkinson read, the Victorian Web describes the novel as telling  “the fate of Lancelot Smith, a wealthy young man, who changes his religious and social views under the influence of Tregarva, a philosophical game-keeper, who acquaints Smith with the social, economic and moral conditions of the rural poor.”

Friday, 2 October 2015

A date for the diary

Events for the unveiling of the first Victoria Cross paving stone in the county have been finalised.

You can read about Thomas Kenny on the Durham at War website

You can download an A3 version of the poster, to share with anyone you think might be interested