Friday, 29 April 2016

‘Murton Colliery Soldier Killed In Ireland.’

This week have a blog post by Steve Shannon.

Headline from the Newcastle Journal, 9 May 1916
Headline from the Newcastle Journal, 9 May 1916
Among the graves in the Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin is that of Richard Coxon from Murton, County Durham, who died on Wednesday 26 April 1916. Private Coxon, however, did not die in the trenches of the Western Front, but was killed in action on the streets of Dublin during an armed rising against British rule in Ireland. And he was County Durham’s only loss during the Easter Rising in Dublin that resulted in the deaths of over one hundred British Army soldiers.

Richard Coxon had been born in Murton in 1890, the son of Ralph Coxon, a miner, and his wife Mary. By the time of the 1911 Census, Richard’s parents had both died, but he was still living in the family home in Pilgrim Street with his brothers and sisters, and working underground as a ‘pony putter’ in the local colliery. 

In September 1914, Richard married Elizabeth Trotter in Easington and in late 1915 his daughter, Martha, was born. Richard had by then joined the British Army. Sadly, his service records have not survived but, from the records that have survived, he originally enlisted in Sunderland for the Royal Field Artillery before being transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Why he was transferred from the artillery to an infantry regiment largely composed of Irish Catholics, when he appears to have had no Irish family connections, is, however, a mystery.
Cap badge of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers used under the IWM Non-Commercial Licence, © IWM (INS 7233)
Cap badge of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers used under the IWM Non-Commercial Licence, © IWM (INS 7233)
On 25 April 1915, the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers landed at Cape Hellas as part of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign and over the next few months was involved in very heavy fighting with the Turkish Army. During this fighting, 22164 Private Richard Coxon was wounded and evacuated to hospital. After his recovery, Private Coxon was sent to the British Army’s base at the Curragh in County Kildare for re-training with the 5th (Extra Reserve) Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. And he was there on Easter Monday 24 April 1916, when the Easter Rising began.

As soon as the scale of the fighting in Dublin was grasped by the British military authorities in Ireland, the 5th Battalion was rushed there from the Curragh by special train, arriving just before 4 o’clock in the morning on Tuesday 25 April. The battalion then immediately went into action south of the River Liffey at City Hall and at other nearby buildings held by the Irish rebels. During the fighting the next day, Richard Coxon was killed and his body taken to the Red Cross hospital in Dublin Castle, from where he was later buried at Grangegorman.

Two weeks later, Elizabeth Coxon, then living in North Street, Murton, received news of the death of her husband in Dublin and, shortly afterwards, a brief account was published in the Newcastle Journal of 9 May 1916 under the headline ‘Murton Colliery Soldier Killed In Ireland’.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Shakespeare 1916

“Advance our standards, set upon our foes 
Our ancient word of courage, fair Saint George, 
Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons!” 
Richard III (Act V Scene 3)

Shakespeare on a house wall, Heaton, Newcastle, taken by Andrew Curtis for the Geograph project (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Shakespeare on a house wall, Heaton, Newcastle, taken by Andrew Curtis for the Geograph project (CC BY-SA 2.0)
On 23 April 2016, celebrations are taking place to commemorate the death of Shakespeare 400 years ago on this date in 1616. Shakespeare’s popularity is not a revival. In his own time, and these 400 years since, his works have been performed, read, interpreted, and appreciated. It is surprising how many words and phrases in our everyday language, come from him. 

This popularity meant that in 1916, in the midst of the First World War, the tercentenary of Shakespeare's death was marked, in spite of the circumstances. Many of the events were based around London and Stratford-Upon-Avon (as they are this year, though television and the internet brings them to a much wider audience). According to Balz Engler (1) A committee had been formed declaring 30 April as Shakespeare Day (23 April was Easter Day in 1916) and festivities were mainly in the first week of May – Sunday was for the church, Monday for politics, Tuesday for the arts, and Wednesday for education. The proximity with St George’s Day too would help invigorate patriotism in the English people in the middle of a war that perhaps seemed without end (the horror of the Somme had yet to happen), and soon after conscription had been brought in.

However, Sunderland claimed that it was the 'first provincial town in England to hold celebration gatherings' (Sunderland Echo 2 May 1916). The town put on three days of events for the Shakespeare Tercentenary, beginning on Saturday 29 April with an English Flag Day to raise money for local voluntary hospitals treating sick and wounded soldiers. The events of Saturday and Sunday are described in this extract from the Sunderland Echo of 28 April 1916:
" A celebration of the Shakespeare Tercentenary and St. George’s Day was held at the Palatine Hotel last night. The gathering was largely attended, and proved most interesting and enjoyable …

The Chairman said they were met to celebrate the birth and the tercentenary of the death of the greatest genius ever born in the world. When they considered the early age of 52 at which Shakespeare died and the mass of work which he left behind all they could do was to marvel at his genius, which was universal…

Mr GT Ferguson [headmaster of Bede School, Sunderland] proposed the toast of “The Immortal Memory of Shakespeare”. Mr Ferguson said that Shakespeare was unquestionably the greatest of Englishman. The English race had produced men famous in every department of life but if when making a comparison they considered all the world and all the centuries they soon saw that no other Englishman had ever gained in any important branch of human effort and achievement the unchallenged position of supremacy which Shakespeare holds in literature, which was undoubtedly one of the highest departments of human activity and accomplishment because it was the embodiment and expression of the thought, feeling and knowledge of mankind with regard to all subjects. Shakespeare in literature stood unrivalled according to the judgement of the most competent critics belonging to all nations of the world. Mr Ferguson went on to quote a number of phrases and sentences from Shakespeare which have passed into household words. If they asked why Shakespeare was thus quoted the answer was because of his matchless knowledge of human character, the wonderful depth, truth, and force of his thoughts, his boundless wealth of imagination, fancy and humour, his amazing power of portraying every feeling and every passion, the striking felicity of language, often concise, often musical, always expressive, and circumstances to which his words had been or could be applied. "
It was not just England that marked the tercentenary. Germany had its own celebrations though these were not on the same scale as in England, largely because they had celebrated the 350th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in April 1914, the same year that the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft [German Shakespeare Society] had its 50th anniversary (1). The theatre director and producer Max Reinhardt put on a ‘Shakespeare Cycle’ in 1913/14. In 1916 the cycle was performed again as well as Macbeth. After the outbreak of war Reinhardt was reported in The Times of 30 September 1914 as having said Germany should continue to perform Shakespeare, “We can in no way dissolve the ties which bind us to one of the chief ancestors of our German culture” (2). The Times and other newspapers responded by quoting the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V, in a bid to boost morale and patriotism (2).

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, 
This day shall gentle his condition; 
And gentlemen in England now a-bed 
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, 
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.”
Henry V (Act IV Scene3)

Henry V (Tom Hiddleston), The Hollow Crown series, BBC
Henry V (played by Tom Hiddleston), The Hollow Crown series, BBC
1) ‘Shakespeare in the Trenches’, Balz Engler, Shakespeare Survey 44 (1992)
2) ‘The Renaissance, English Cultural Nationalism, and Modernism, 1860-1920’, Lynne Walhout Hinojosa, Macmillan (2009)

Friday, 15 April 2016

Far from the Western Front

A blog post by Steve Shannon

Not every Durham soldier fought on the Western Front during the First World War. One such soldier was Norman Lobb. Though born in Byker in 1891, Norman grew up in Hartlepool, where his father, Thomas, was a labourer in a local shipyard. When he was about 18 years old, Norman left home to join the Army and in August 1914, when the First World War began, he was serving in India with the 1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. There he had gained a reputation as one of the battalion’s finest athletes.
1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, on parade in India, about 1911 (D/DLI 2/1/275(14))
D/DLI 2/1/275(14) 1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, on parade in India, about 1911
Although 1 DLI remained in India throughout the war, specially trained soldiers were sent to join other units and so in September 1914 Private Lobb, as a qualified signaller, sailed for East Africa. There he joined a force of Indian and British troops preparing to invade German East Africa (modern Tanzania). The invasion in November 1914, however, failed. In heavy fighting at Tanga, Norman Lobb, serving with the 31st Signal Company Royal Engineers, won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery under enemy fire. 

Unfortunately Norman Lobb’s service record has not survived, so it is not known if he remained in East Africa or returned to India after 1914. His name, however, next appears in 1916 as one of the casualties of the disastrous British invasion of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to defend oil fields, considered vital for the Royal Navy, from the Turkish Army. In late 1914, Basra had quickly fallen to an Indian and British invasion force, but then the over-confident invaders moved inland towards Baghdad. Halted by the Turks south of the city, the invasion force, badly led, ill-equipped and weakened by malaria, cholera, and dysentery, retreated to Kut al Amara to wait for help from Basra. But that help never arrived and on 29 April 1916, after almost 150 days of siege, the 13,000 starving and diseased soldiers trapped in Kut surrendered to the Turkish Army. A few days earlier on 18 April, Norman Lobb, serving with the 12th Divisional Signal Company, had died of disease: just one of 31,000 British and Indian soldiers, who died in Mesopotamia in battle or from disease during the First World War and who today are almost completely forgotten.
Sketch map of Mesopotamia, showing Kut and the British and Turkish positions in 1916, made by Revered JAG Birch (D/DLI 7/63/2(215))
D/DLI 7/63/2(215) Sketch map of Mesopotamia, showing Kut and the British and Turkish positions in 1916, made by Revered JAG Birch
Just over a year after Norman died, on Sunday 17 June 1917, over 60,000 people packed in to St James’ Park in Newcastle to watch a presentation of medals by King George V. Near the end of the ceremony, the King presented medals to a small group of relatives of soldiers who had died. One of these relatives was Thomas Lobb. After Thomas received his son’s Distinguished Conduct Medal both the King and Queen Mary spoke to him about Norman. Sadly what was said was not reported the next day in the Newcastle Journal.

Friday, 8 April 2016

What's in a name?

Quite a lot when you're looking for someone.

Back in October of 2015, I was pulling together the story of Harperley prisoner of war camp and the 27 men who died there of Spanish flu in November 1918. You can read the story on the Durham at War website where there is also a database of the information I gathered on the men.

In the 1960s, the majority of bodies of German men who had died around the UK during the war were removed and reinterred at Cannock Chase Military Cemetery. When looking at Eduard Kaula, I couldn’t find him on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website, even though I had found the other 26 men.

I had found him on the German casualty lists 1914-1917, available on Ancestry
and I had found in the International Committee of the Red Cross Prisoner of War Agency records.
Record no. A40279
Through piecing together information based on the other locations on the other men and then clarified in the parish records of St James church, Hamsterley (where the men were originally buried), I found Kaula was listed as Hadla. The following images show how the name morphed from a fuzzy Kaula, to Haula, then to Hadla. On soft paper and using a typewriter, a capital K can become H, and a U become D.
DCRO ref: EP/Ham 28/30
DCRO ref: EP/Ham 28/30
DCRO ref: EP/Ham 28/44/
DCRO ref: EP/Ham 28/44/
DCRO ref: EP/Ham 82/4
Some of the sources from the parish records are actually correspondence from the Imperial War Graves Commission (that became the CWGC). I submitted copies of these sources and more, to the CWGC. They have accepted this evidence and have now updated their records. 
Screenshot from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Screenshot from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Friday, 1 April 2016

Looking back

This week we have a blog post written by Candela Camiño López, a postgraduate who spent three months with us, mainly on the Durham at War project.

I finished my placement in Durham County Record Office (DCRO) just before Christmas, but it took me a while to sit down and start writing this. My three months in Durham meant a lot to me, so I needed some time to gather my thoughts about everything I learnt and lived there.
View of Durham Cathedral (D/CL 27/277/1489)
D/CL 27/277/1489 View of Durham Cathedral, Clayport Library reference 507C, Durham Record No. DR 03422 
My arrival in Durham was a bit unexpected for me. I was finishing my masters last July when I found out I got a grant to do a placement abroad. As a history student who always liked researching, I thought the perfect experience for me would be in an archive, where I could learn about the profession and improve my knowledge of that environment. After looking at different places online, I sent some emails and received a very quick response from DCRO. I did not hesitate for a minute and said yes. For a medievalist like me, the view of Durham cathedral and the story of the city were more than enough to make that decision. And it turned out to be a very good decision.

I started the placement at the beginning of October and I knew part of my work would be for the Durham at War Project, but I could not imagine that it would be most of it. At the end, I spent more than a month and a half working on it. For the rest of my time there I transcribed and translated different materials, some of them for the project too, and I was trained in different archival tasks such as cataloguing, activities that I also enjoyed. 

My work for the project consisted of researching stories using a range of online resources, writing those stories and uploading them to the Durham at War website. I remember the first days when I discovered tools such as Ancestry and Find My Past. ‘Why do we not have things like these in Spain?’ I kept thinking. 

One of the things I immediately liked about the project was the perspective it was from: bringing alive the stories of those involved in the war, but also the way of living during that time, the events people had to go through… and all focusing on County Durham, so people related to this area could have all this information easily available. The project meant that everybody could learn about this past, look for their relatives and also participate and contribute with their own memories and stories. 

I remember some of the first people I wrote about, they were men born in County Durham who served in the Australian or the Canadian army; I particularly liked these stories because behind their military service there was also the story of their emigration. 
Charles Ward, from the John Sheen collection
Charles Ward, from the John Sheen collection
Soon after that, I started to work with John Sheen’s collection: photos and stories I had to research, write, and upload to the website. I worked with this collection for a long time, finding all kinds of stories of many different men and families, stories that touched me and made me think, and that actually ended up being part of me. As I said one day about them: “I dream about these men”. And, in fact, I still remember some of them, even their names: Charles ‘Wardy’ Ward, Ralph Cherry, the three Clark brothers who were killed in action, the pictures of the DLI in Cologne, the sport days of the 20th Battalion… And here I would like to thank John, first of all for his kind words about my work, but especially for collecting these stories and making sure they are kept alive. 

But, as I soon discovered, John was not the only person who was interested in the project. Volunteers who wanted to participate came to the office frequently, they wanted to help and were happy to research, transcribe, revise stories… Along with them, I met other people from different associations who were working on projects about the First World War as well, but also many people just interested in knowing more about this time, even some of them looking for their relatives. That so many people wanted to learn more about their history made me very happy, but also surprised me a bit. 

In my previous time living in England I had already realised the different relationship that exists here with history compared to Spain. I remember being surprised by all the memorials, always full of poppies, which are in every single city and small town. Of course, I know Spain was not involved in any world war, and remembering a civil war is never easy, but even so I feel we are a step behind appreciating and respecting our history, which leads to a low interest and engagement with our past.

In this sense, I kept remembering the search room of the local archives I used to visit back in my home town, where normally it was just me in the room, often me and my dad, and sometimes one or two more people. In the search room of Durham Record Office there were always so many people looking for things, reading, consulting records, researching on Ancestry…
The searchroom at Durham County Record Office
The searchroom at Durham County Record Office
Meeting all these people interested in history made me think one more time about how important it is that everybody knows about their past and especially that they engage with it. And all of these people, with their particular interests, researching for the project or for their own personal purpose, were contributing to making history by gathering together part of that past. 

Because of this, I would like to congratulate everybody who is part of Durham at War, including all the volunteers, for their work. And, of course, everybody in Durham Record Office for the time I spent with them: thanks for making me feel comfortable from the first moment, for your help, for your support, and for your fantastic work every day.

I know I do not work on the project anymore, and this is probably my last contribution to it, but I hope after what I wrote you understand why this experience meant so much to me. Now, I frequently find myself thinking about all of these ideas, but also reading everything I see about First World War, telling everybody who wants to listen (and even if they don’t) some stories I remember, and I even stop by the memorials and plaques to read the names!

And this is it, how a history student specialised in the Middle Ages ended up reading British censuses from the 19th and 20th centuries. A bit of a change, you might think. In fact, it was. It was a good and interesting change that gave me the opportunity to bring history to people, improve my research and palaeography skills, my historical knowledge about the First World War and especially enriched the most human side of the historian I am trying to be.