Friday, 25 November 2016

Larceny of potatoes

In preparation for the Durham at War volunteers’ conference which is happening this weekend, we have been looking for recipes in the newspapers for our First World War Bake Off. This was partly inspired one of the talks we attended at the Voices of the Home Fronts conference at The National Archives back in September, that was bread and the restrictions placed on it.
Members of the Glasgow Battalion, Women's Volunteer Reserve tending to the potatoes grown on their plot, c.1915 © IWM (Q 108002)
Members of the Glasgow Battalion, Women's Volunteer Reserve tending to the potatoes grown on their plot, c.1915 © IWM (Q 108002) IWMNon Commercial Licence  
We have recently had a volunteer going through the Auckland Chronicle for 1917, around the time that food shortages were getting more severe. Despite potatoes initially being used to help pad out bread, by spring, they themselves were becoming scarce as the following newspaper articles recount.

22 March 1917
Potatoes over price
The first prosecution at Stanley
The first case in the district of having sold potatoes in excess of the Potato (Main Crop) Prices Order came before Stanley magistrates on Monday, when Patrick McCarthy, aged 69, was charged with having retailed four stones of the now much prized tubers to Catherine Noble at the rate of 2s per stone, being 3d in excess of the restricted price.

The defendant, who pleaded not guilty, saying that those were seed potatoes, was discharged on payment of costs. 
Mrs Ed. Wilson (62 Maple Street) said she bought potatoes to cook for their dinner. She paid 1s for half a stone. 
PC Graham saw the defendant on 28 February owing to a complaint from Mrs Wilson, and cautioned him that if he continued to sell potatoes at 2s instead of 1s 9d he would be reported. He said that he had paid a big price and wanted to get something out of them. The defendant said that he sold no more potatoes at 2s after being cautioned.

The case was, as already stated, dismissed on the payment of costs (9s), but the Chairman cautioned the defendant not to repeat the offence.

29 March 1917
Remarkable Scene at Stores
Remarkable scenes were witnessed on Saturday morning at the Co-operative Stores, Shildon. The manager had succeeded in securing a quantity of potatoes, and it was decided to apportion them out as long as they lasted at the rate of 4lbs per member. Special arrangements were made to cope with a rush of customers, but so great was the crush that one woman fainted. 
The whole of the potatoes were sold out in an hour and a half, and at least 200 would-be purchasers were turned away unsupplied.

5 April 1917
Attempted Potato Raid
Thomas McBurnie, aged 26, and Clarence McBurnie, aged 24, were each charged with the attempted larceny of potatoes, at West Herrington, on 3 March.

PC Adams said that on the date names about 11:45pm, he visited the potato pits of Mr William McLaren, farmer, Herrington Hill, and observed two men going along the fence side. One had a bag. He said to them, ‘Now the, what is this game?’ and one of them replied, ‘Well, it is a fair cop, we won’t deny it; we were fairly held; we were going to the pits to get some potatoes.’ Both commented to plead not to be summoned, and one said they were ‘hard up’. The place was about 140 yards from the highway. 
The defendants pleaded guilty to the charge, and had nothing to say.
They were each fined 30s.

Friday, 18 November 2016

A Very British Romance, part 5: Making it official

This next instalment of a Very British Romance is only a brief one. Our volunteer, Margaret, picks up the events of November 1916, using documents held in the Foreign Office records at The National Archives in London.

All is quiet for the next couple of months until November, when Angus makes his request, dated 14 November 1916, for Connie to be allowed to visit him in Switzerland as his fiancé.

This application is refused by Lieutenant Colonel HP Picot, Senior Officer, British Interned Switzerland, on the grounds that Angus' understanding of the rules concerning visits from fiancés of officers and men is that a marriage is being contemplated in Switzerland.

Angus states in his follow up request dated 20 November 1916, that 'the question of the date and place of my marriage I must reserve as the course of the war in the next few months influences matters considerably.' He also states that Connie has been refused a Passport but her visit would incur no cost to the Public.
A copy of the letter sent by Angus appealing for Connie to visit Switzerland (The National Archives FO 383/217)
FO 383/217 A copy of the letter sent by Angus appealing for Connie to visit Switzerland (The National Archives)
He encloses a Newspaper cutting from home:
'An engagement is announced between Elliot Angus, Lieutenant Durham Light Infantry, only son of the late SJ Leybourne JP and Mrs Leybourne of Bircholme, Gateshead-on-Tyne, and Constance, only daughter of Philip Kirkup, JP, N Inst. C E, and Mrs Kirkup of Leafield, Birtley, County Durham.'

Angus' courage and persistence is again rewarded as Lieutenant Colonel Picot relents and writes to the secretary at the War Office in London to ask to be advised what action he should take regarding Connie's visit. He goes on to say that, 'I have no objection to Miss Kirkup, the lady immediately concerned, coming out. She seems to be in every way desirable and would be under the care of Lieutenant Leybourne's mother.'

Friday, 11 November 2016

The faces of the men

On the evening of 4 November 2016, Jo and I attended a screening of The Battle of the Somme at the Gala Theatre, with a live soundtrack performed by Durham University Symphony Orchestra. The composer of the score, Laura Rossi, was in attendance and gave a brief introduction.

Rossi was commissioned to write the score by the Imperial War Museum in 2006, for the 90th anniversary of the Battle and the completion of the digitally remastered film. As part of her research, Rossi visited the Somme battlefields, taking with her the diaries of her Great Uncle who she had known, and discovered had been a stretcher bearer during those opening days of the battle. 

Most of the footage that makes up the film was recorded by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell during the first week of the battle that was to rage for months after. During the autumn of 1916, some 20 million British people saw the film.
Photograph the same as a scene from The Battle of the Somme: Gunners of the Royal Marine Artillery cleaning 15-inch shells near Acheux, July 1916. © IWM (Q 878)
For me, it was the first time seeing it in full, and what I had seen was on a small screen. For me, three things stood out, especially being able to see this restored film on a big screen.

1) Just how big some of the guns were and how many people it took to operate them
2) The faces of the men: Smiling. Determined. Pained. Bandaged. Unseeing.
3) The moments of humanity. The moment a British soldier gives a German prisoner a cigarette and a box of matches. A man having a gunshot wound to his arm patched up. A unit happy to be receiving post in the trenches, immediately followed by shots of bodies on the battlefield. 

It was an emotional evening.

I think I have said before that working on this project, you feel like you get to know some of these men we research, whose diaries and letters are transcribed. Often though, we only have a construct of them in our minds. Seeing the moving images of soldiers, sometimes up close, we see them as the real people they were. And we remember them. 

More about the making of The Battle of the Somme:

More about Laura Rossi's score, including the diaries of her Great Uncle:

Friday, 4 November 2016

Three Wooden Crosses

This week we have another post by Steve Shannon.
Drawing by Captain Robert Mauchlen of soldiers attacking the Butte de Warlencourt (D/DLI 7/920/10(5))
D/DLI 7/920/10(5) Drawing by Captain Robert Mauchlen of soldiers attacking the Butte de Warlencourt
In early 1917, the German Army pulled back from the devastated Somme battlefield to a new trench system fifteen miles to the east, leaving a wasteland of shattered trenches, mud-filled shell holes and ruined villages. Into this wasteland the British Army advanced.

Within a few weeks, three wooden crosses had been erected on a shell-blasted, white chalk hill, in memory of the DLI soldiers of the 6th, 8th, and 9th Battalions, who had died attacking the hill on 5 November 1916. This hill was the Butte de Warlencourt and the three crosses remained on the Butte until autumn 1926. They were then brought home to the North East.
6th Battalion DLI's memorial cross, St Andrew's, South Church, Bishop Auckland, taken by Steve Shannon 2006
6th Battalion, DLI, memorial cross, St Andrew's, South Church, Bishop Auckland, taken by Steve Shannon 2006
The one for 6th Battalion went to St Andrew’s, South Church, Bishop Auckland; the one for 8th Battalion to Chester le Street Parish Church; and the one for 151st Brigade, the largest, to the Regimental Chapel in Durham Cathedral. And there they stayed until 2006. 

In 2006, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, I arranged a small exhibition in the DLI Museum and the centrepiece was to be the three crosses. Contact was made with the relevant authorities early in 2006 and, after some negotiation, the loans were agreed.
8th Battalion DLI's memorial cross, Chester le Street Parish Church, taken by Steve Shannon 2006
8th Battalion, DLI, memorial cross, Chester le Street Parish Church, taken by Steve Shannon 2006
Before arriving with a van on 7 June, I had already recced and photographed the crosses and, whilst the pick-ups at St Andrew’s and the Cathedral were straight forward, the cross at Chester le Street was mounted high on a wall. A ladder, a soft brush to remove cobwebs, WD40, and a good screwdriver were all required. Needless to say I held the bottom of the ladder for one of the Museum’s Visitor Assistants to climb. 

The exhibition The Somme Remembered opened on 10 June 2006, and, as well as the three crosses, featured original letters, photographs, diaries, postcards, trench maps, plus a sketch of the Butte de Warlencourt drawn by Captain Robert Mauchlen in November 1916 (DCRO ref: D/DLI 2/9/1) and a highly-critical report written by Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford VC after the failure of his battalion’s attack on the Butte (DCROref: D/DLI 2/9/37). These items, part of the DLI’s archive, had been specially loaned to the Museum by Durham County Record Office.

But the centrepiece was the three crosses. 
151st Brigade's memorial cross, the Regimental Chapel, Durham Cathedral, taken by Steve Shannon 2006
151st Brigade memorial cross, the Regimental Chapel, Durham Cathedral, taken by Steve Shannon 2006
Currently (until 20 November 2016), all three crosses are back together on display outside the Regimental Chapel in Durham Cathedral to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. 

When you look at the three crosses in the Cathedral, you may wonder why the 6th and 8th Battalions’ crosses are on display but not the 9th Battalion’s. Instead, there is an ornate cross to the memory of the men of the 151st Brigade that was made up of 6, 8 and 9 DLI. 

This is, in fact, 9 DLI’s cross specially made by the battalion on the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford VC. This cross was designed by the architect Captain Robert Mauchlen and constructed by Private Sutton from wood supplied by the Royal Engineers, with lettering by Sergeant Mitchell. 

And, if you look closely, you can still see near the bottom of the wooden plinth supporting this cross '9 D.L.I.' painted in black.
Base of the 151st Brigade memorial cross, taken by Steve Shannon 2006