Friday, 11 August 2017


This is the 200th Durham at War blog post. To mark it, I decided to have a look through the Durham Light Infantry archive collection, held here at Durham County Record Office, at items that have 200 in their reference number. I have wondered before, what it would be like to look at a sample from a catalogue based on a number. Once I had searched, I had to extract the items that are related to the First World War. This gave me a list of seven potential items to look at:

Ref: D/DLI 2/18/24(200)
Photograph of the coast of Sardinia, taken from on board the SS Ivernia, c.1916

Ref: D/DLI 2/1/18(200)
Photograph, from a magazine, of the grave of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, taken at Agny, France, c.1917

Ref: D/DLI 2/7/18(200)
Photograph of a railway track running by a ruined building in France or Belgium, c.1914 - 1918

Ref: D/DLI 7/63/2(200)
Colour sketch map of a section of the Western Front between Neuville and Vermand, France, c.1917

Ref: D/DLI 7/63/5(200)
Newspaper cutting concerning the death, from pneumonia, of Major Biggs, 5th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 2 December 1916

Ref: D/DLI 7/172/1(200)
Newspaper cutting headlined 'Magnificent Gallantry of our Troops', c.1916

Ref: D/DLI 7/701/2(200)
Newspaper cutting concerning celebrations at the Newcastle Exchange following the end of the war, November 1918

Original grave marker of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (D/DLI 2/1/18(200))
D/DLI 2/1/18(200) Original grave marker of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry
I decided to have a closer look at the photograph of the grave of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, as he died 100 years ago, and served with 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (10 DLI), which connects to our Shiny Tenth project.

Gerald Sewart was born in West Yorkshire in 1893 to the Reverend Anthony Wilkinson Sewart and his wife Margaret. Sadly, Margaret died three days later, likely from complications following the birth. As a vicar, Anthony moved around and at some point found himself in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. Here, he met Constance Annie Ormsby, and the couple married in 1900. A daughter, Mollie, followed in 1903.

By the time war was declared, the family was living at the rectory in Brignall, near Barnard Castle. This part of the small area covered by Durham at War that was Yorkshire at the time, but is now part of County Durham. Gerald was having a successful education, first attending Giggleswick School, then in 1912 being accepted to study maths at Oxford University. He won a form of scholarship called an exhibition. Gerald also made a name for himself in the university’s rowing community. He graduated with a first class in Mathematical Moderations in 1914.
Portrait of Second Lieutenant Gerald Sewart (D/DLI 2/1/18(200))
D/DLI 2/1/18(201) Portrait of Second Lieutenant Gerald Sewart

There was no time for Gerald to enter the workforce, however, he took a temporary commission as a second lieutenant with 10 DLI, commanded by Colonel HHS Morant. The battalion entered France in May 1915 but Sewart was only there a month when a shell exploded close above him, killing a fellow officer. Suffering from shock, he was sent back to England for convalescence. During this time, he became a musketry instructor at the military training camp in Ripon, not too far from his family.

Gerald got back to 10 DLI in France in early 1916, but his service there was once again cut short, and sadly it was also to be his final resting place. On 8 May 1916, the battalion was in reserve at Agny, and Gerald was giving instructions in the use of the Stokes mortar, a simple and fast trench mortar that fired 3.2 inch shells. After firing one round, the Germans retaliated with two of their own. He pushed the lance corporal he was instructing into shelter and safety, but took a direct hit himself.

Strangely, especially given that he was an officer, the official war diary makes no reference to the incident. The entry for 8 May 1916 reads:
‘A very quiet day. Enemy m[achine] g[un] suspected at [location] M 15. B.8.2. This appears to be very strongly built.’

Colonel Morant’s memoirs make no specific reference to these days in reserve, but he does acknowledge in an annotated photograph from 1915 that Second Lieutenant Sewart was killed.
Photograph from Colonel HHS Morant's memoirs showing himself, and Second Lieutenant Sewart (circled), May 1915 (From D/DLI 7/1230/3 ))
From D/DLI 7/1230/3 Photograph from Colonel HHS Morant's memoirs showing himself, and Second Lieutenant Sewart (circled), May 1915

Being a vicar, Reverent Anthony Sewart is frequently mentioned in the local newspaper, the Teesdale Mercury. The archive of this is searchable online. There is an article to say that Reverend Sewart received news of his son’s death, and that a service was held at the church in nearby Rokeby. There is also an article from March 1920, reporting on the unveiling of a war memorial in Brignall cemetery to Gerald Sewart, and four others.
The war memorial at Brignall church, taken by David Rogers, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license
The Teesdale Mercury warrants a close look with regards to the Sewarts and their activities at home during the war period. I found a letter from August 1918 from Constance, Gerald's stepmother, to the editor. In it, she offers her assistance to anyone with a missing or prisoner relative, in the form of writing letters to the correct authorities, even offering to pay the postage costs herself.

So a speculative endeavour based on the number 200 has revealed a story of a young man’s simultaneous bravery and sad end. It has also revealed the beginning of a story about the wartime life of a small village vicarage and the efforts of those left behind to cope with their loss.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Breaker

At the end of June, a story appeared on the ABC News website (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) about a man who found a hessian bag on a rubbish tip in New South Wales. It contained Boer War items, seemingly connected to the Australian folk hero Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant.
Harry 'Breaker' Morant, Australian War Memorial, A05311 (public domain)
Harry 'Breaker' Morant, Australian War Memorial, A05311 (public domain)
I am cataloguing the papers of Colonel Hubert HS Morant who was the commanding officer of 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, during the First World War. This collection was purchased at auction with help from the Friends of the National Libraries, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Trustees of the former DLI. Breaker Morant is a result that always comes up on doing a google search on the family name. I hadn’t noticed anyone closely related called Harry, but the Morant family had many branches, and with this recent news report, I wanted to know if there was any family connection.

I didn’t really know the details about Breaker Morant until I started looking into the connection. Harry Harbord ‘Breaker’ Morant began to make a name for himself ‘acquiring a reputation as horse-breaker, drover, steeplechaser, polo player, drinker, womaniser, [and] from 1891 he contributed bush ballads to the Sydney Bulletin as ‘the Breaker’ (Australian Dictionary of Biography). He enlisted in the Australian army and fought in the Boer War. The story (disputed by some) is that he and some other men shot and killed several Boer prisoners, and a German missionary. They were arrested in October 1901, and the trial lasted until January 1902. Breaker Morant and a Lieutenant Handcock were both sentenced to death. On 27 February 1902, they were killed by firing squad. A film was made in 1980 in which Edward Woodward played Breaker.
D/DLI 7/1230/4 Hubert HS Morant, c.1918
D/DLI 7/1230/4 Hubert HS Morant, c.1918 
So, what is the connection between Breaker Morant and the commanding officer of a DLI regiment? Well, there isn’t one, not by blood at least. Breaker claimed to be the son of Admiral Sir Digby Morant, the cousin of HHS Morant. The claim was denied by Admiral Morant, and it was never proven. Breaker is thought to have been born Edwin Henry Murrant in Somerset in 1865, to Edwin and Catherine, and emigrated to Australia in 1883. A recent book, ‘Breaker Morant, the Final Round Up’, by Joe West and Roger Roper, suggests that Breaker adopted Harbord into his name from a newspaper report on the death of Horatio Harbord Morant, HHS Morant’s father (and the Admiral’s uncle). Horatio Morant had served with the 68th Foot Regiment, a predecessor of the Durham Light Infantry, in the Crimean War, and as a senior officer in New Zealand.

Of course, in 2017, we can look up birth entries on Ancestry, and dig around the internet to put a family tree together. If we want to move to another country, checks are in place to make sure we are who we say are. But at the turn of the 20th century, when Edwin Murrant went to Australia, moving to a new country could literally mean starting a new life.

You can read more about Breaker Morant here:

You can watch the report of the recent find, or read a transcript, here:

Friday, 28 July 2017

Heaviside Asides

This week, Jo reflects on the Heaviside commemorations and looks at some of the other people from Craghead and Stanley.

So, the dust has finally settled on the Heaviside commemorations, and we have started talking about the next Victoria Cross events (for George McKean, in April 2018). As with the completion of every large project, there is something of a feeling of come down when everything that you have been working towards for months is at an end. The dust may have settled on our celebrations of an extraordinary man and his deeds but the Durham at War website enables us to preserve not only Michael Heaviside’s history but also the stories of those around him. 

The Stanley News report of the parade for Michael Heaviside provided us with a fantastic basis for recreating the procession a hundred years later and was one of the sources that we used in the schools education sessions:

But it also hints at a number of other stories of the people of Craghead and Stanley, for example here are the words of Henry Greener from that report:
"He (the speaker) stood before them with not unmixed feelings, as they might guess; but one had got to weep with those who wept, and rejoice with those who rejoiced. His had been a time of weeping, and had he yielded to his own personal feelings he might not have been there; but he had set those feelings aside, and was glad of the privilege afforded him, in their name, of extending the most hearty and most cordial of welcomes to a man who had brought such honour to their village (Cheers)."
Harry Greener, Stanley News, 26 April 1917
Harry Greener, Stanley News, 26 April 1917
Just three months before, Mr Greener’s son and namesake, Harry Greener, had been shot and killed in France. His younger son, John William Greener, had just been discharged from the army as being medically unfit in June 1917 after having been shot in the face and gassed. He died in 1919. 
Harry Greener
John William Greener 

Another name that stands out from the newspaper report is that of Anthony Kuhlman:
"The children having sung “Rule Britannia,” Mr A Kuhlman moved a vote of thanks to all who had lent motor cars and assisted in other ways. There were many proud faces round him, and he could say that was the proudest day he had had in Craghead."

The people of Stanley turned out for the Heaviside parade in 2017  (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The people of Stanley turned out for the Heaviside parade in 2017  (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
It is perhaps surprising to learn that Anthony Kuhlman was born in Germany and that he had resigned from Stanley Urban District Council because of “international differences”. In spite of this, he appears to have thrown himself into preparations for the town’s festivities and was struck by the cohesive effect that the parade had:
"That day to him, coming through Stanley, South Moor, and there, had been wonderful. He had never seen a day like it; it was an eye-opener that he never expected. It just required someone to set the ball rolling, and it would gather moss galore and take huge proportions. He never saw such a crowd. The committee were thoroughly and highly satisfied with the response to the efforts they had made. They had done a little good, but their efforts, if not seconded, would have fallen flat. Everyone had pulled together, so making work a pleasure. They could not expect to have many days like that, which was one of work and pleasure."

Anthony Kuhlman

Anthony Redhead Kuhlman (his son)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Brothers in arms

Recently, a member of the public submitted the story of his family’s First World War service to Durham at War. There were four Malia brothers who fought in the war, James, John, Joseph, and Thomas. They all served with the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), except for Thomas who served with the Royal Engineers. The oldest brother, James, had previously served with the DLI during the Boer War. However, John and Joseph are the focus of this blog post. Both were killed during the war, and their names were incorrect on their memorials.

John was serving with 15th Battalion, one of the two DLI battalions in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. John went missing and was declared killed in action. His body was never found, so his name appears on the Thiepval Memorial. However, his papers went through as Melia with an 'e', and this is the name that appeared on the memorial. Until recently. His great-nephew pulled together the evidence he needed, and submitted it to the Commonwealth War Graves commission. In 2005, the change was made.
John Malia's name corrected on the Thiepval Memorial, with thanks to the Malia Family and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
John Malia's name corrected on the Thiepval Memorial, with thanks to the Malia Family and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Joseph’s surname differed even more. He had been living with his aunt since the age of 14, and signed up under her surname of Clark. When James discovered this, he told Joseph that his surname was Malia and he should change it. However, Joseph was killed in action in June 1917, before he had done this. James wrote letters to the army asking that the name be changed. In 1921, they were told that he would still be recorded as Joseph Clark, but with the alias of Malia.

Once again, the great-nephew got together all the evidence for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and in February of this year, Joseph’s headstone was replaced with one now reading ‘JP Malia served as 11769 Private J Clark’.
Joseph's original headstone, showing the name Clark, with thanks to the Malia Family
Joseph's original headstone, showing the name Clark, with thanks to the Malia Family
Joseph's new headstone showing both Malia and Clark, with thanks to the Malia Family
Joseph's new headstone showing both Malia and Clark, with thanks to the Malia Family
You can read more about the Malia brothers on Durham at War:

Friday, 14 July 2017

He ain't heavy...

This week, Jo writes about her involvement in the events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Michael Heaviside returning to Stanley after receiving the Victoria Cross.
The Heaviside VC paving stone and information panel, with wreaths placed after the unveiling (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The Heaviside VC paving stone and information panel, with wreaths placed after the unveiling (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
For the past few weeks my life seems to have been dominated by a man who died in 1939. This may sound a little creepy but, in fact, it has been an uplifting and inspiring experience.

The meetings started in the dim and distant past. My diary shows that the first meeting we had to discuss commemorating Michael Heaviside’s homecoming was in July 2015. Daniel O’Brien of Stanley Area Action Partnership came to the Record Office to talk about recreating the parade that took place on 12 July 1917 to welcome back the town’s returning Victoria Cross winner. We talked to him about the fact there is surviving film of the parade, and the newspaper reports in the Stanley News which go into minute detail of who marched, the route, the bands, and the banners carried.
Michael Heaviside information banner next to Craghead Lodge banner (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Michael Heaviside information banner next to Craghead Lodge banner (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Fast forward almost two years – since the beginning of the year the meetings have come thick and fast. The number of people involved grew and sub-groups split from the main planning meetings that went from monthly, then bi-monthly, and eventually to weekly. However, one of the participants in the meetings did comment on how relaxed all of the meetings were. He attributed this to the swan syndrome; calm on top and paddling like hell underneath. I think it was quite a fair assessment. In fact, Mark Davinson, the County Councillor for Craghead, would often email there and then, announcing five minutes after a decision had been made that it was now all sorted!
Pupils of St Joseph's RC Primary and the Sacriston Lodge banner on Stanley Front Street (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Pupils of St Joseph's RC Primary and the Sacriston Lodge banner on Stanley Front Street (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
For my part, I worked with the education officers of the DLI Collections to put together a series of workshops for primary schools in the area. The idea was to provide some background for the school children so they understood the significance of the day. We targeted the schools that had been along the original route of parade, with the hope that they would join the 2017 parade. It was often difficult to fit the sessions in around timetables, sports days, and other school activities, but it was great fun working with the kids and getting their reaction to their local hero. Watching some of the children that I had worked with talking on the local television news about Michael Heaviside and what he meant to them was an incredibly proud moment for me.
Horse drawn charabanc provided by Beamish (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Horse drawn charabanc provided by Beamish (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Beamish kindly lent some costumes for the children, but even those who weren’t wearing these costumes made an amazing effort to look the part. It has to be said that quite a number of the teachers and (cough) other County Council employees at the event enjoyed the dressing up as much as the kids did! Some of the grown-ups were so reluctant to give their costumes back that they were even seen in their outfits at the evening film showing.
Norman Heaviside in First World War uniform representing his grandfather, Michael (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Norman Heaviside in First World War uniform representing his grandfather, Michael (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The people of Stanley turned out to watch the parade, just like they did 100 years ago (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The people of Stanley turned out to watch the parade, just like they did 100 years ago (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
But the parade was only part of the programme. In the morning, the Lord-Lieutenant of Durham, Sue Snowdon, unveiled the commemorative paving stone and plaque to Michael Heaviside in Craghead. Michael Heaviside lived opposite Bloemfontein School, and there was a suitable site here for the paving stone to be placed. All of the school children were in the playground to watch the ceremony. Once wreaths had been laid, we all crossed over to the school where a wall-plaque to Michael Heaviside has be erected by the Town Council. Bloemfontein also took their pupils to a special after-school club that volunteers from Beamish ran in Craghead Village Hall. The kids could dress in uniforms to do drill, make flags, play period games and swing on the ever-popular shuggy boats.
The plaque unveiled at Bloemfontain School (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The plaque unveiled at Bloemfontain School (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Children enjoy the shuggy boats (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
Children enjoy the shuggy boats (Photo by Durham County Record Office)
The evening finished with a rare showing of the film “The Battle of Arras” with a fascinating live narration from film historian, Alistair Fraser. Before the main feature the audience was treated to a showing of the film of Heaviside’s parade 100 years before, accompanied by a new piece of brass band music.

To say that it has been a busy couple of days is an understatement. Months of planning paid off and I am sure that anyone who was on Front Street in Stanley on Wednesday afternoon will remember the occasion for a long time to come. Hundreds of people lined the streets to commemorate one of their own who saved lives in the midst of war, and that is something worth remembering.

For more on Heaviside:
Stanley News report of the homecoming:

Our volunteer, Jean, has also put up a story about Michael's brother, Thomas, who served with the Canadian Army:

Friday, 7 July 2017

The WAAC and The QMAAC

Group of WAACs off duty seated on a roof wall in their billet at Rouen, 24 July 1917 © IWM (Q 5755). IWM Non-Commercial Licence
The 7th of July 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Army Council Instruction no. 1069 of 1917 which formally established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).

The starting of the Corps had in fact been recommended in January of 1917. In March, a chief controller, Alexandra May ‘Mona’ Chalmers Watson (a Scottish physician), was appointed, and recruitment began.

The National Archives in London hold surviving service records. It says that though the WAAC was a uniformed service, it had no military ranks. It was ‘made up of 'officials' and 'members'. Officials were divided into 'controllers' and 'administrators', members were 'subordinate officials', 'forewomen' and 'workers'. The WAAC was organised in four sections: Cookery, Mechanical, Clerical and Miscellaneous.’ On 9 April 1918, the Corps was renamed the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC), with the Queen consort serving as Commander-in-Chief.
Members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) tending the graves of fallen British soldiers in a cemetery at Abbeville, 9 February, 1918. © IWM (Q 8470). IWM Non-Commercial Licence
Over the course of the First World War, around 57,000 women served with the WAAC or QMAAC, with over 15,000 thought to have served outside Britain. You can search for the service records here:

We have several women on Durham at War who served with the Corps. Kathleen Hooper was not new to a life involving the military services. She was born in India in 1897 while her father was serving there with the British Army. Not a lot of information is known as her service record has not survived. However, we do know that Kathleen joined up in Nottingham, and spent time at the QMAAC hostel in Gateshead. She sadly died of pneumonia shortly before the armistice in November 1918 at Hartlepool. She is commemorated on the Five Sisters Memorial in York Minster.
Members of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps sleeping in the open in Crecy Forest. 7 June 1918. © IWM (Q 11065). IWM Non-Commercial Licence
Elsie Anderson was a local woman, born in Wingate in 1900 to a farming and mining family. The 1911 census shows her living and at school in Trimdon Colliery. In June 1917, she volunteered for the WAAC and was accepted in the September. Elsie spent a short time in London, possibly training, before working as a waitress at Bordon Military Training Camp, from October 1917 to May 1918.

While there, Elsie met Stanley Williams who was attached to the Royal Field Artillery. They married on 8 April 1918 at Headley, near Bordon. Stanley was already 21, but Elsie lied and gave the same age, so that she would not need parental consent. She left the WAAC at the end of May 1918, and not a lot has been found about her life after this time. It is known that she moved to the Isle of Wight, where Stanley was from, and they had a son born in 1919.

You can see more fantastic pictures of the Corps during the First World War on the Imperial War Museum website here:

Friday, 30 June 2017

Michael Heaviside VC Centenary Film Night

There are two film events coming up for the Michael Heaviside VC Centenary. Both events are free but a ticket is required. You can book at: 

Friday, 23 June 2017

An Incredible Coincidence

This week we have a story from Steve Shannon.

One day, whilst rummaging about in a music stool at his home in Bradford, David Wilson, then aged about 7 or 8 years old, found a telegram. It was from the War Office informing Constance Penrice that her husband, Second Lieutenant Gordon Penrice, had been killed in action. As David’s mother was called Constance, he asked her about this telegram and she explained that she had been married twice and that her first husband had been killed in the Great War. David later remembered that his mother had cried when she told him.

Years later, David’s mother came to live with her son in County Durham. After her death in 1986, he found a photograph of Gordon Penrice amongst her papers. In this photo, Gordon is wearing an officer’s uniform with the badges of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI).
Second Lieutenant William Gordon Penrice, 20th Battalion DLI (DCRO D/DLI 7/532/1)
D/DLI 7/532/1 Second Lieutenant William Gordon Penrice, 20th Battalion DLI
In 1993, David wrote to DLI Museum asking for help. In my reply, I was able to tell him that Second Lieutenant Gordon Penrice had been killed in action on 7 June 1917 during the Battle of Messines, whilst serving with the 20th (Wearside) Battalion DLI. Sadly, however, he had no known grave but was commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. I also enclosed photocopies from a Regimental history describing 20 DLI’s role at Messines and suggested where David should go for more information, such as the National Archives, Imperial War Museum, and Commonwealth War Graves Commission. David then began his research in earnest. 

Then, David’s wife found an overlooked – and seemingly unimportant – war pensions form amongst Constance’s papers. Written in Constance’s hand across the top was “2nd Lieut. Gordon Penrice, D.L.I. Buried at Elkhof Farm, Voormezeele – S. of Ypres”. So was Gordon’s grave lost or not? Had his widow known where he had been buried? 

Soon after, I met David in the museum for the first time and we poured over original trench maps, we soon found Eikhof (not “Elkhof”) Farm near Voormezeele. We looked at the 20th Battalion’s original war diary, and discovered that Second Lieutenant Penrice had only joined the battalion on 31 May 1917. He was killed a week later on the first day of the Battle of Messines.
Drawing by Reverend JAG Birch, 5th Battalion DLI, of a map of Messines on 7 June 1917 (D/DLI 7/63/2(196))
D/DLI 7/63/2(196) Drawing by Reverend JAG Birch, 5th Battalion DLI, of a map of Messines on 7 June 1917
We then discussed the lost grave and I suggested that the grave had originally been marked in June 1917 but that the marker had been lost probably in 1918, when there had been more fighting around Eikhof Farm. 

During this meeting, I told David that George Thompson, a veteran of the 20th Battalion DLI [editor’s note: not the transport driver featured in Durham hymns], had been interviewed by the Imperial War Museum and that he still lived in Spennymoor. David ordered a copy of the tapes from the IWM and was amazed when he heard the old soldier remember what he had seen and done on 7 June 1917. 

David met George twice, first in December 1993, and again in February 1994. During these meetings, George, who died in September 1994 aged 97, explained that after the initial attack at Messines, he was with an officer and a few other soldiers, when they came across the body of a DLI officer. They buried the body in a shell hole near Eikhof Farm, removing all identification papers, and marked the grave with a rifle stuck in the ground muzzle side down.

Could this have been Gordon Penrice? George Thompson didn’t know but more research convinced David that it was. David knew that only two DLI officers had died at Messines on 7 June 1917. One had been identified and was buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. So Gordon Penrice must have had been buried at Eikhof Farm. And someone must have told his widow. 

In May 1994, their research finished, David and his wife visited the modern t’Eikenhof farm in Belgium. Somewhere nearby on 7 June 1917 Gordon Penrice had been killed in action and then buried in a shell hole.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Touching Base

This week Jo writes about some of Durham at War's supporting items you might not be so aware of.

E/HB 2/768 Photograph of Bede Territorials (8th DLI) at Scarborough Camp, [1913], most of these men are on the Bede Database
E/HB 2/768 Photograph of Bede Territorials (8th DLI) at Scarborough Camp, [1913], most of these men are on the Bede Database
When the Durham at War website was designed it was envisaged that it would broadly consist of stories about people, places, events and organisations. Attached to the stories are “supporting materials”, which might be the transcripts of documents that our volunteers have been working on, photographs, newspaper articles, books or objects. Of the 600 or so supporting materials that have now been published on the website, a handful have surprised us by not sitting easily within the definition of supporting materials that we applied at the beginning of the project: the databases.

At the time of writing we have five databases on Durham at War (or more properly; they are spreadsheets that we have turned into PDF documents). The first that was published was the “Bede College in the Great War database”.

This is the work of our colleague, David Butler, who trawled through the Bede College archives here at Durham County Record Office, in order to create a list of Bede men who served during the First World War. As well as service details, David has recorded references from the archives to each of the men that he has identified. So, it is now possible to look them up in the administrative records of the College or find mentions of them in the Bede Magazine.

When using the Bede database, please note that in order to get all of the rows of information onto the screen, we have had to reduce the size of the page. You can very easily zoom in by using the plus and minus buttons that appear in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen with Chrome or the same on the bar at the bottom of the screen with Internet Explorer.

The largest database that appears on the site is Peter Hoy’s amazing work on over 4000 service men and women for South Tyneside. His database is so extensive that we had to divide it in to chunks to get it on the website! As well as looking at the usual family history sources (1911 census, BMD indexes) and military documents (medal cards and 'Burnt Documents'), Peter has used local newspaper sources to develop profiles on the individuals he has researched:

D/DLI 7/805/73 Soldiers from 'D' Company, 14th Battalion DLI, c.1916
D/DLI 7/805/73 Soldiers from 'D' Company, 14th Battalion DLI, c.1916 
Colin Alsbury contacted us after we included the story of a man who started out with the Derbyshire Yeomanry and transferred to 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. He very kindly gave us permission to use his research findings, allowing us to shine a light on another aspect of DLI history. We hadn’t realised that quite a number of men transferred from that regiment in October 1916, probably as reorganisation to bump up numbers lost during the Battle of the Somme.

Another small(ish) but perfectly formed database is that created by our own Victoria. She is particularly interested in Prisoners of War both Germans in County Durham and County Durham men in Germany and Switzerland. While researching the prisoner of war camp at Harperley, she found a list of German prisoners who died of Spanish Flu right at the end of the war, in John Ruttley’s book ‘Prisoners in the North’. She used a combination of sources, including the International Red Cross records, to build up a picture of each man:

The most recent database that we have published on the site is the work of Mavis Dixon. She collaborated with historian Cyril Pearce, who has created a national database of conscientious objectors. They shared information about men from Country Durham and the resulting database is now available to search. As well as the usual sources, Mavis undertook archival research in other repositories, most notably the Cumbria Archives Centre in Carlisle. Cumbria Archives hold the Catherine Marshall collection which reflects her involvement in the suffragette and pacifist movements.

The databases on our site are not something that we had necessarily planned for, but they allow us to include a lot of information that we might not have had the time to pursue as full stories. There are a few other databases in the pipeline that we’ll publish in due course. Watch this space!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Transcription errers

This week we have a blog post from our volunteer, Jean, who researches Canadian soldiers.
Not Middle Earth or Westeros
Not Middle Earth or Westeros
Many of you will have transcribed handwritten documents, and know how it can sometimes be impossible to decipher the handwriting. In a document it is usually possible to work out the word from the context, but trying to decipher place names is another matter completely, unless, of course you are familiar with the area.

Spare a thought for those who transcribed the 619,000 plus attestation papers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to prepare them for digitisation, which included of course, the records of the nearly 3,000 men from County Durham who had enlisted. They couldn’t just go to a gazetteer to check on a place name because they weren’t able to decipher it let alone spell it correctly.

It was whilst looking at my list of names and places of birth for our men who joined the CEF that made me consider these problems ... I hadn’t for a start realised that there were so many ways to write Hartlepool. There’s Martlepel , Hurtlepool, Hortiport, Hortlepool, Hartley Hill, Hartleypal, Nortlepool, Hattlepant, Martlopool and more.

In most cases you can tell straight away what the place name should be, but occasionally I have to go back to the original attestation paper to see if I have better luck than the original transcriber in deciphering the writing. Sometimes just a quick look gives the right place and I think how did they get that wrong, but that is so easy for people with local knowledge to say. Occasionally I need to go a bit further and check birth or census records, but in the end most are decipherable.
Examples from the Canadian records
Examples from the Canadian records
Some of my favourites are Leaham Herbert and Scaham Harbon for Seaham Harbour; Noughland Spring and Hootenay Spring for Houghton-le-Spring; Walton Port for Witton Park; that well known Scottish island Splluy Mora for Spennymoor; Westeonfith for West Cornforth, and how they made Daibrighton, Dedenfon and Durlinjlos out of Darlington I am not quite sure. But the two that stick out as unbelievable transcriptions are Wookson On Quebec (Stockton On Tees) and Jecce Ireland (Sunderland).

Try these ones and see if you can work out where our men were born: Loaf Hill; Camdon; Creek; Southsfield; Paocban; Hamituly; Buttley; Taw Haw; Lediefield; Onfield Place; Durshopel Codery; Sammerland and finally Southampton, and I don’t mean the port on the south coast!

Highlight the text below to reveal the answers:
Low Fell; Coundon; Crook; South Shields; Page Bank; Hamsterley; Birtley; Tow Law; Sedgefield; Annfield Plain; Burnhope Colliery; Sunderland; South Hetton.

Friday, 2 June 2017

100 years of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Commonwealth War Graves Commission exhibition at Brookwood Cemetery
Commonwealth War Graves Commission exhibition at Brookwood Cemetery
It is impossible to do a First World War project without encountering the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). I visit the website several times a week, if not day sometimes, I only have to type ‘c’ into the address bar for the site to come up. Whilst the website is an invaluable research tool, it is to say nothing of the physical work that is done in tending to the 1.7 million graves across 154 countries. 

This May has seen the CWGC marking the 100th anniversary of its establishment by Royal Charter (in 1917 it was known as the Imperial War Graves Commission). However, the groundwork actually began some years earlier when Fabian Ware, a commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross, began recording all the graves he and his unit could find. The CWGC website says ‘By 1915, their work was given official recognition by the War office, and incorporated into the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission (

To mark this anniversary, the CWGC have launched an exhibition at their Brookwood Cemetery called ‘For Then | For Now | For Ever’ ( It tells the story of the CWGC from its beginning right through to today, and does not shy away from controversial aspects of its work. When you think of a war cemetery, you probably picture rows of matching white headstones with regimental insignia. However, one of the items on display at the exhibition is a petition with ‘more than 8000 signatures – predominantly from mothers who had lost sons in the Great War – asking the Commission to reconsider the use of a uniform marker in favour of a cross.’ (

The exhibition was opened on 20 May by Brian Blessed OBE. In his speech, Blessed said ‘The CWGC has done an incredible job over the last 100 years and long may it continue. I would urge everyone who can to visit the exhibition, and also their local war graves, find out the stories behind the headstones and commemorate those who ‘gave their tomorrow for our today.’’ (
David Domoney’s design for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
David Domoney’s design for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
To mark the significant horticultural aspect of the Commission’s work (it employs 850 gardeners), they approached David Domoney to help create a garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which was awarded a silver medal. You can read about the development and creation of the garden on the Commonwealth War Graves’ blog:

The exhibition at Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey, is open 10am-4pm, seven days a week until 19 November 2017.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Gawin Wild honoured in the France

This week, John Sheen brings us a follow up piece on Gawin Wild of the Tyneside Irish. All photographs by John Sheen and his wife.
The Liberation Day Ceremony at the village war memorial
The Liberation Day Ceremony at the village war memorial
Those who follow the blog will recall that in December I told the story of Reserve Gendarme David Devigne and his efforts to honour the last resting place of CQMS Gawin Wild of the 3rd Tyneside Irish.

Just over a week ago, my wife and I travelled to the Haut Medoc, the wine growing region north west of Bordeaux, and took part in the ceremony organised by David to coincide with La FĂȘte de la Victoire.

We met at the town hall and it seemed that the whole of the village had turned out. Members of the ‘Liberty Medoc’, a group that keep alive the military traditions of the region were in attendance. Also present were members of Souvenir de Frankton, a group that commemorates Operation Frankton, more popularly known as the Cockleshell Heroes, that canoed down the Gironde into Bordeaux harbour and blew up several merchant ships.

Introductions were made and David had very thoughtfully arranged for a young lady called Charlotte, whose English was impeccable, to translate for us. The whole assembly made their way to the village cemetery where there was a short service at the war memorial to commemorate the Liberation. A trumpeter played Last Post, Reveille and in the French tradition ‘Le Attaque’ after which the village band played the French national anthem.

We then moved to the grave of Gawin Wild and his wife Mathilde. Here four wreaths of poppies were laid and the Mayor laid a huge bunch of flowers. The British national anthem was played over the speakers.
John waiting his turn to lay the wreath. David is reading the story of Gawin Wild to the assembled villagers.
John waiting his turn to lay the wreath. David is reading the story of Gawin Wild to the assembled villagers.
David looks on as John salutes after laying the wreath
David looks on as John salutes after laying the wreath
Gawin’s grave has been painted and a new stone added with a photo and a Tyneside Irish Badge with a suitable inscription.
Gawin Wild's grave, with wreaths and flowers laid
Gawin Wild's grave, with wreaths and flowers laid
As can be seen by the photos the village made a great deal of the fact Gawin Wild is buried in their village and we received an amazing welcome and they were so pleased that someone from Durham had come to take part. Afterwards there was coffee and snacks and a chance to chat (with a lot of help from Charlotte) to many of the people.
Charlotte translates between  John's wife (left) and David's mother (right)

Friday, 19 May 2017

A Very British Romance, part 14: The final chapter

Margaret brings us the last part in her tale of Connie and Angus.

Chateau of Gruyeres, taken by GGDELABAS, reused under Creative Commons license 4.0
Chateau of Gruyeres, taken by GGDELABAS, reused under Creative Commons license 4.0
Two months have passed, it is Sunday morning 20 May 1917, and Connie is still in Switzerland.

She is sitting ready for church but has time to write a few lines home.
'I sent you a postcard from Gruyere yesterday, we had a delightful picnic, it is about 1 ½ hours journey in the train up another valley. It is a beautiful place like an Italian village.'

They saw a Chateau with houses clustered all around, nuns going to church, and the famous Gruyere lace which Connie says is like Nottingham lace but she didn't buy any because it was too expensive. However, she will tell them more of these outings when she gets home.

'I must tell you my plans now. As you would see by one of my letters, I intended coming with a party of [prisoners’] wives leaving here on the 24th [May]. I was given permission by Colonel Picot to travel by the same train but of course had no claim on them, which I quite understood.

However, Mr. Nelson's Father (Mr. Nelson is the one-legged boy) came out about three weeks ago with a ‘party’ to Murren, and intends, if possible, to travel back with them on the 28th (if his papers get through in time). He came up here on Tuesday night with young Nelson (who is down in Montreux now) for our concert, and said he would be very glad to have my company on the return journey. Needless to say I jumped at it, so have written Captain Johnson at Murren to know if I may join them and am awaiting an answer.

Angus and I will leave here next Wednesday, stay one night at Montreux (to have a claw in my ring seen to), then go to Lausanne to the Consul there, then to Berne, and back to Lausanne where I expect we will pick up the wives. But as I have said before please do not get anxious about me, it is a business. Another time I could do it in much less time (if arrangements were not altered as they are every month). With luck I ought to be home about the weekend of the 2nd June.’

Connie says she has seen in The Times ‘Phil’s resignation of his Majority’. This is her brother, Philip, and Angus’ friend, an officer with 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. He was actually only holding the rank of Acting Major, which ended on 10 March 1917, however, two days prior to Connie writing her letter, he had been giving the rank again.

Connie signs off her last letter from Switzerland…
‘Your bairn Connie.
Constance Kirkup.’

Connie is leaving Angus behind, but with luck he may be one of the group of British internees who come home in December 1917. This is as far as we go for now.

Editor’s epilogue:
Hornsea Promenade, 1917, with thanks to East Yorkshire Archives
A massive thank you to Margaret for writing this Very British Romance for us. Angus’ letters from after this time have now been transcribed, but are not yet online. 

He was repatriated in December 1917, and spent some time with 5th (Reserve) Battalion, at a camp in Hornsea, East Yorkshire. It seems this was a camp for officers awaiting a posting. Under the terms of his return from Switzerland, Angus could not be posted to a zone of war. In May 1918, he gets a job in London with a department helping to develop a new gas mask. With another officer, his task is to find a more efficient and comfortable mouthpiece.

Angus and Connie got married on 16 October 1918 at St George’s Church, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. A report appeared the next day in the Newcastle Journal, which included a detailed account of Connie’s outfit:

‘The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of fine ivory crepe de chine, the skirt being stitched in an Arabesque design. The bodice and panels were embroidered in georgette over pink mousseline de soie, edged with ostrich feather ruching with a unique girdle of ivory beads and silk cord. The hat was of white manchon, the only trimming being a superb ostrich feather. A bouquet of white carnations and white heather and a gold pendant were the gifts of the bridegroom.’

The couple went on to have two children. Connie was living at The Mount House, Springwell, Gateshead, when she died on 25 January 1950, and Angus died less than two months later.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

International Nurses' Day

‘With all those members of the [medical] profession there has been associated a mighty army of men and women workers, the rank and file of the RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps], nursing sisters, drivers of motor ambulances, women orderlies, cooks, scullions, organisers of this and of that to benefit the wounded, the members of the two societies – the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John: a hundred others whom one can find no space to mention’ 
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel FS Brereton, ‘The Great War and the RAMC’, 1919 

Today is International Nurses’ Day so we are going to highlight some of the nurses and Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) men on Durham at War. 

Photograph of nurses around a table in a garden, drinking tea, possibly outside a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital (D/DLI 13/2/264)
D/DLI 13/2/264 Photograph of nurses around a table in a garden, drinking tea, possibly outside a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital
Isabella Shearer Walker, who grew up in Jarrow and Sunderland, was a nurse prior to the war, and went on to be the commandant of the 18th Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital at Hebburn, from May 1915 to February 1919. As well as the St John’s War Badge, Isabella was presented with the Royal Red Cross by the King himself, in 1918.

Edith Rowlandson, from Coundon, enrolled as a VAD nurse, a move that took her initially to Leeds, but eventually to Canada. She worked as a nursing sister at East Leeds Military Hospital. In December 1918, a Canadian soldier, Albert Edward Coates (whose family had moved to Leeds), was admitted to the hospital. In March 1919, he and Edith married, and sailed for Canada in August of the same year.

Not all women worked in hospitals in Britain. There were many who went out to France and Flanders, and other theatres of war such as Egypt, not to mention at sea on hospital boats.

Alice Heaton, of Durham, was already working as a private nurse in Paris before the war. During the war, she volunteered to attend to the French Army sick and wounded, until her own health issues necessitated her return to England. In 1918, Alice was awarded the French medal, the Legion d’Honneur for her service.
Watercolour illustration, by Robert Mauchlen, of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier in a hospital, c.1917 (D/DLI 7/920/11(11))
D/DLI 7/920/11(11) Watercolour illustration, by Robert Mauchlen, of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier in a hospital, c.1917
In his book, ‘The Great War and the RAMC’, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel FS Brereton, lauds the nursing services as integral to the work of the RAMC, ‘This has been a women’s war as much as a man’s. Women have laboured… assiduously and have been of equal value in the hundreds of hospitals which have harboured the men wrecked by the action of the enemy.’

The nursing orderlies of the RAMC were men, some with full nursing training, others not. Joseph Norwood, of South Moor, previously served two years as a territorial soldier with 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (DLI), but in October 1915, enlisted with the RAMC in Newcastle. He spent a year training in England before sailing to Greece in October 1916 as part of the Salonika Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately, his year and a half long service comes to a sad end. In May 1918, Joseph appears to have made a suicide attempt, and the following month was reported as dangerously ill with pneumonia and malaria. He died two days later on 13 June 1918.

William Robert Chapman, born in Easington Lane, also had service with both the RAMC and the DLI. At the outbreak of war, he was a theological student in Manchester, but enlisted with the RAMC in Sheffield in September 1916, training to be a theatre nurse. He was sent to 3rd Stationary Hospital at Rouen, France, and was there when the Battle of the Somme began, around 75 miles east. William himself was evacuated to Britain in August 1916, suffering from trench fever, but returned to the front to work in field ambulances on the Somme. He was invited to apply to become an infantry officer, and in May 1917, was commissioned to 15 DLI, with who he served for the remainder of the war, also winning the Military Medal.
William is of special note as the Imperial War Museum conducted an oral history interview with him in 1983, and this can be listened to on their website:

You can read about other aspects of nursing on an earlier blog post

Scarlet Finders is an excellent resource for nursing in the First World War

Friday, 5 May 2017

Behind the scenes

Andy Robertshaw (
Andy Robertshaw (
On Friday 28 April, Staindrop History Group hosted their first event at Scarth Hall, a talk by Andy Robertshaw on his role as military adviser on the film War Horse, followed by a showing of the film. 

Andy’s talk was a most interesting, funny, and revealing insight into film making (I’m the kind of person who watches the ‘making of’ DVD extras). He also explained how, even with a military adviser, a film may not be accurate (artistic licence, filming constraints, audience expectation). 

Durham at War took a display along to the event. Long term followers of the project will know that we have our own war horse story, that of George Thompson of Sunderland. He worked with horses as a transport driver with 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (DLI), throughout the war. After it, he wrote up his experiences for his then two year old daughter, Gracie, who later deposited the memoir in the DLI Collection. Last year, it was used as a source for The Soldier’s Hymn, written by Carol Ann Duffy with music by Jessica Curry, for Durham Hymns. You can read a full transcript of the memoir on Durham at War:
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
Also at the event were the Royal Dragoon Guards Museum, up from York with a variety of weapons on display (they seemed to manoeuvre the long lance/spear through the doors with more ease than I managed our display boards). Bowes Museum were talking to people about their project ‘To Serve King and Country’ and an upcoming talk ‘Home Comforts: The Role of the Red Cross Auxiliary Hospitals’.

Staindrop History Group had their research into local First World War soldiers on display. The group however is not just interested in the First World War, but the social history of Staindrop; etymology of street names; architecture and ageing of the village, the impact of the Industrial Revolution and Railway on Staindrop to name a few areas! You can find out more about the group who organised this wonderful evening, and other upcoming events on their website at: