Friday, 31 March 2017

Like a thunderclap

This week, Jo gives us a rundown of some anniversaries taking place in 2017.
Arras Town Hall, May 1917, © IWM (Q 2047), IWM Non-Commercial Licence
Arras Town Hall, May 1917, © IWM (Q 2047), IWM Non-Commercial Licence 
At the end of last year the Durham at War team sat down to think about what we would focus on for 2017. After a year of big anniversaries such as the Somme and the Battle of Jutland, it seemed as if this year might be a little quieter. Not so! The Battles of Arras and Passchendaele are on our list and volunteers have already been working away at adding pages to the website of DLI men who are commemorated on the Arras Memorial. The Battle of Arras was also where Michael Heaviside won his Victoria Cross, and plans are afoot to mark the centenary of his homecoming parade in Stanley and Craghead. More details to follow… 

As well as the conflict on the battlefield, we thought that on the local level food shortages which then led to rationing in 1918 would probably be an interesting area to research. We have uncovered a number of newspaper articles and Brancepeth History and Archives Group have kindly lent us the display that they created for their exhibition at Brancepeth Castle.

One of the international events that we flagged for attention was the Russian Revolution. To be honest, it seemed like a big ask to find anything directly related to the Russian Revolution in County Durham. We thought it likely that there would be a few newspaper reports (which we have found) but we were surprised and delighted to find a first-hand account of the Russian Revolution in our archival collections!
Military personnel and civilians reading news-sheets issued by the Duma after the Tsar's abdication, © IWM (Q 69405), IWM Non-Commercial Licence
Military personnel and civilians reading news-sheets issued by the Duma after the Tsar's abdication, © IWM (Q 69405), IWM Non-Commercial Licence
Amongst the papers of Cuthbert Headlam (former MP for Barnard Castle) we found a letter and travel diary from Cuthbert's cousin, John Headlam. The travel diary (DCRO D/He 299) details John's impressions of being in Russia during the March Revolution, literally at the time of his writing. We can tell this because he starts out by describing Russian customs and colour; just the sort of thing you might expect from a tourist travelogue, including the best way to eat Blinis (filled with whipped cream, caviar, optional smoked salmon and ladled with melted butter, washed down with vodka).

Part of the way through, Headlam's tone suddenly changes:
I have been very careful to avoid any reference at all to political events in anything I have written. As an official visitor, received alike by the Emperor and the leaders of the different parties, and with no political functions, it seemed to me only right to avoid any expression of opinion, and especially anything that might compromise those Russians who had given me their views on the state of affairs and the probable trend of events. Now that is over, one can speak freely.

Although touring the eastern front during the takeover of power by the Provisional Government, John Headlam returned to Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) soon after the Revolution and abdication of the Tsar, all of which he discusses in the first part of his travel diary. 

One saw, too, amid all the glitter of the streets, the long queues of people waiting patiently in the bitter cold for the opening of the baker’s shops. Hunger is the handmaid to Revolution, and it was whispered to us that the Guard Cavalry Division had been ordered to Petrograd from the Front, and it had refused to come, the officers openly declaring that they would not act against the people. When an Emperor cannot count on the allegiance of the officers of his own guard, the end is likely to be near…And then one day, like a thunderclap came the news of the dissolution.

In the second part he talks about conditions in the capital and the funeral procession of those killed in the revolt, an event which much impressed him with its dignity. 

There were many bands with the processions, generally playing Chopin’s “Funeral March”, and in the intervals there was a great deal of the beautiful Russian singing, sometimes the women, sometimes the men – revolutionary songs and the regular funeral hymns. There was no disorder anywhere, no straggling or least sign of horseplay either in the procession or in the crowds looking on, though the whole population were in the streets.

Event page on the Russian Revolution:
Travel diary of Sir John Headlam:
Durham Chronicle report on February Revolution:
Shields Daily News Report on February Revolution:

Imperial War Museum collection:
Imperial War Museum photographs of the March Revolution taken by Sir John Headlam:
National Portrait Gallery, photographic portrait of Sir John Headlam:

Friday, 24 March 2017

A Very British Romance, part 13: It would make Birtley open her eyes

More from Connie's time in Switzerland, written by Margaret.
Stamps from one of Connie's postcards home, The Leybourne Famil
Stamps from one of Connie's postcards home, The Leybourne Family
Connie is still in Switzerland, writing to her mother on 14 March she notes, 'letters come from home, much quicker than mine do to you.' Connie is sending more photographs but she is not happy with the quality of the last batch. She blames the developing, and has found another chemist, 'which promises better' and is cheaper. 'One of the negatives was an attempt at a "time" exposure and was the very deuce'.

'Great news! Phil [one of Connie’s brothers] a major, I must just have missed his name as I look at every Times Gazette, either for his or Angus's name.' Angus never received the mining books [Connie’s other brother] Ernest sent, he only received a copy of the Coal Mines Act.

That Sunday had been a strange new experience. They had to have their meals upstairs in their salon, and had to ask various officers in to relieve the pressure in the public salon, while downstairs in the dining room, the partition was taken down, a wonderful stage erected, and chairs and forms of all descriptions brought. It is a kind of Annual village fete. 'We went down to the concert in the evening which was quite good acting, but the atmosphere!!' They went off to bed before the end about midnight, but evidently the fun was only just beginning.

The chairs and long trestle tables where the villagers had been fed were cleared away, 'and then they commenced dancing or jigging, and this went until 5 o’clock the next morning. The servants all looked rather washed out the next morning with our breakfast.' The fete is usually a three day affair, but Madame Haldi, the proprietor, said as she had internees she could only let them have the chalet for one night, 'and quite enough I should imagine', thinks Connie.

A postscript is added to this letter:
'Mrs Leybourne wants me to say they cannot do without me now which of course is tommy rot.'

Connie and her mother’s letters cross in the post, on the 17th, Connie receives a letter written on 12 March, a few days before she wrote her last. 'My dearest Mother, your letter of the 12th arrived tonight, I got a bit of a shock when I saw Dad's writing on the envelope, and more when I read the contents.' Her mother had a fall while in Newcastle and Connie is worried. She rushed straight up to the telegraph office to wire Ernest, and this letter she is sending express and must be off by 7:00pm that night. 'Please send me an answer by express also, as you know how anxious I am. When will Mrs Middleton be available? Why not get her as soon as ever she is at liberty, to help in any way. I am so glad the maids are going on well, and also that Minnie was with you when you fell… Write and say if you want me to come home at once and I'll start to make enquiries and preparations.'

Connie is anxious to get her letter sent off; her closing lines fill a whole page, but she has important news, 'We have just heard yesterday that there is every likelihood of a number of the prisoners being sent home, but nothing definite is known yet.'

Three days later on 20 March, Connie is writing again to her mother, she has not yet received a reply to the wire she has sent to Ernest; she is not fretting because she knows it takes five or six days for a telegram to come from England. She asks if they are getting all her letters, she has written twice a week since going out.

Meanwhile, in preparation, Connie has written a cheque out for her hotel bill, which she has asked Madame Haldi to give her weekly; she doesn't like it when it gets big. It generally comes to between 60 and 70 francs per week, 'which is very reasonable'. She has written another cheque for £10.00 because she has 'a horror of running short'. Endeavouring to keep accounts, Connie is putting them down every night, 'but they don't always square which is strange for me isn't it?'

It is snowing a blizzard now but on Saturday she and Angus had a tete-a-tete tea on the veranda, and she was able to sit there until after 5 o'clock, quite warm.
Postcard of a lady in a blue Pierrot costume, The Graphics Fairy
Postcard of a lady in a blue Pierrot costume, The Graphics Fairy

The concert being put on by Connie and her crowd is to be held on 22nd March, Connie writes an excited, detailed account of the final dress rehearsal:

‘The costumes are Pierrot, white with blue sateen spots all over, black net ruffles and the men black skullcap affairs on their heads. Muriel and I wear white skirts to our knees, with very bouncy petticoats, plenty of them, which I have borrowed from Mrs Reynolds, Captain Reynolds’ wife. A white lawn blouse borrowed from Muriel and various other unmentionable articles also borrowed. We also have large ruffles and blue tulle round our head, black shoes and stockings. The stage has a frame of black and blue, the front curtains are black with large blue queries on, all the hangings of the stage are yellow muslin, the back in strips, so that we can put our heads through anywhere. The lighting is great!

Red, green, and white, foot, side, and top lights, with a wonderful arrangement of a tank of water under the stage to damp the lights down, so that we are able to gradually blend red into green or white. Angus has done all the electricity part, we haven't been able to get a word out of him for the past fortnight, now that it is all right, and the red lights really go on when the red switch is turned etc. he isn't quite so absent minded.

We also have a spotlight it is a magic lantern belonging to one of the officers for shewing his photographs, which he is doing in the interval. The spotlight makes me blink, but when once I get used to it, it is much easier to sing, as it is impossible to see anyone. One of the officers, a lieutenant Brown [from Chicago] sits in a little box, partly under the stage and works the lights. I wish you could all see it; it would make Birtley open her eyes. I will enclose a programme after the concert. I told you did I not, that we were giving it for the interned men in Rossiniere, free. The interned men get absurdly little pay, and it is only the ones with a little private money that can afford to buy tea in an afternoon or have tripe suppers at the YMCA Hut, no tea is provided here.'

Lieutenant Colonel Picot mentions that tea is unobtainable in Switzerland. Lord Northcliffe sends out 750lb of tea a month free for the men in hospital. That’s the same as 27 gold bars, but the tea was probably more valuable to the men.

Before signing off, Connie adds:
'We heard last night all the internees in Suisse were going to be sent home, but I won't build on it. Certainly there seems a likelihood of some of them being returned, we are waiting anxiously.'

Friday, 17 March 2017

Roland Bradford: Victoria Cross Commemoration

The Victoria Cross commemorative paving stone, Witton Park memorial garden, photo by Gill Parkes
The Victoria Cross commemorative paving stone, Witton Park memorial garden, photo by Gill Parkes
Saturday 11 March 2017 saw the unveiling of the Roland Bradford Victoria Cross commemorative stone at Witton Park. The stones are part of a national initiative organised by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

You can read the story of Roland Bradford here:

On 1 October 1916, during an attack on the German trenches at Eaucourt l’Abbaye, Bradford, commanding 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, took control of a second battalion, 6 DLI, after its commanding officer had been wounded. He was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for his leadership and bravery during the attack under heavy fire. 
Information panel about the Bradford VC winners, photo by Gill Parkes
Information panel about the Bradford VC winners, photo by Gill Parkes
The Roland Bradford stone was installed this spring, to coincide with the opening of Witton Park's memorial garden. The memorial garden is a tribute to two exceptional brothers, as Roland was not the only member of his family to win the VC. On 23 April 1918, his brother George, serving with the Royal Navy, was killed in action for which he was posthumously awarded the VC. Two other brothers, James and Thomas, also served in the First World War. Out of the four, only Thomas survived.
Statue in Witton Park memorial garden, by Ray Lonsdale, photo by Gill Parkes
Statue in Witton Park memorial garden, by Ray Lonsdale, photo by Gill Parkes
At 10:30am, a service was held, and Roland Bradford’s VC stone was unveiled, and wreaths were placed around it. You can see in the photograph at the top that there is a space for George’s stone to be placed alongside it in 2018. A statue by Ray Lonsdale, who created the 'Tommy' statue at Seaham, was also unveiled. It shows a soldier returning home, being greeted by a civilian; the football represents the sporting heritage of Witton Park.
Victoria Cross exhibition banners on display in St Paul's church, photo by Gill Parkes
Victoria Cross exhibition banners on display in St Paul's church, photo by Gill Parkes
In the afternoon, there was a performance of the play ‘The Fighting Bradfords’, and a showing of Wessington U3A’s film, the Wear at War. The Methodist Chapel had items from the DLI Collection, and a rolling presentation about the village during the First World War. St Paul’s church had the Victoria Cross banners for Roland and George Bradford, produced by Durham County Record Office.

The weather held up for the outdoor events, and the day was well attended and enjoyed by all.

Between now and the commemoration of George Bradford’s VC in 2018, Durham County Record Office will be helping the Witton Park community research the names on their war memorial in a project organised by Groundwork and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. An open evening is being held at Witton Park Village Hall on Wednesday 22 March, at 6pm. For further information, contact:

Friday, 10 March 2017

A Very British Romance, part 12: Treatments

More from Connie by Margaret...
St Peter's Anglicn Church, Chateau D'Oex, by Andi G (public)
St Peter's Anglicn Church, Chateau D'Oex, by Andi G (public)
‘March 9. 1917. 12.30am, in bed’ Connie is replying to a letter she has received from her mother with all its home news, 'which is very very welcome. Angus chaffs me, when I am quiet, that I am homesick, I often think of you both.'

Miss Selby spent a day with them, she was doing exquisite crochet work, but Connie has been busy too, preparing for a concert. 'Lately we have had no time for anything but making our stage hangings. The sewing machine which we borrowed from Madame Haldi has gone wrong, so we are having everything to do by hand.' Angus is spending his time between the joiner's shop and the electric wires... rigging up footlights, and a spotlight with different colours. 'It is going to be a great show, I assure you. I will send a programme later on.'

I hope she kept the programme, and the cushion with the Durham Light Infantry crest, along with that first little silver cup.

The concert is planned for a fortnight's time and they are practising hard every night after dinner from 9pm to 11pm. Then they make a cup of tea in their salon, on the electric ring.

The previous day they were all asked to an organ dedication and recital, at the Reverend Lampen's (Anglican) church (Miss Selby's uncle). Afterwards, there was a reception at the Hotel Rosa in Chateau d'Oex. They accepted but it was an awful day and never stopped snowing, which Connie found very annoying as they were hoping that, as the snow had about gone off the south slopes, it would let them play tennis soon.

That afternoon Connie donned skis again and went off to the other side of the valley to try her luck with Captain Jackson and Muriel, Ningh Singh (the Indian Officer), and little Bernard, Captain Reynold's son. Connie wrote earlier that she was told after the event that little Bernard had upset his tea in the excitement of Connie's arrival, and his mother chastised him and banished him to his room; there had been a mad scramble to re-lay the table before she arrived.

They left Angus at the local joiner's shop with ‘umpteen’ plans. 'I enjoyed myself immensely, tumbled all over the show, but the snow was very soft on top, the worst of it was it stuck to one's breeks, (I had a skirt on but it is usually round one's neck), but I had two pairs on and my boots are top hole.'

We can all sympathise with Connie; snow does stick in big clumps to woolly mittens, so the clumps on two pairs of breeks must have been very hard to shake off.

Connie goes on to refer to trouble that she has mentioned previously at the local hospital, the Soldanelle. 'Not a Nurse allowed in the place only men orderlies, and not one of them trained men, like the orderlies in the RVI [Newcastle] and yet these men do the dressings. There have been a great many complaints about the place and I believe influential people are working quietly, but there was a bust up between the officers there and the Swiss doctor this week, it is too long a story to tell… but the result is that Mr Shannon, whom I mentioned we had visited in a previous letter, defied all the rules, and although he got leave to go to Montreux from the Authorities before he left Chateau d'Oex it was cancelled, he didn't care, and drove in a sleigh to Rossiniere so that they would not catch him getting into the train at the station, he took the train to Montreux from here. It was a mad thing to do, but he is a hot headed Irishman and also I believe his nerves were strung up to such a pitch he didn't know quite what the consequences would be likely to be. We are all now waiting to hear, I do hope it is nothing drastic such as being sent back to Germany. He was going to Montreux to get other advice about his leg, the wound is still unhealed.'
Hotel Soldanelle, Chateau D’Oex, being used as a hospital for internees, from the commemoration website of St. Peter's church, Château d'Oex
Hotel Soldanelle, Chateau D’Oex, being used as a hospital for internees, from the commemoration website of St. Peter's church, Château d'Oex

The trouble the men are experiencing with the Swiss Doctor in Chateau d'Oex is being investigated by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Philip Picot and his findings are detailed in his report. The Soldanelle was not initially set up to perform operations; a local emergency operation prompted an operating theatre to be set up and funded by the British Legation of the Red Cross Organisation. It was called the 'Kitchener Theatre.' The Swiss doctors had been instructed to delay operating for a few weeks until the new regime of food and fresh air etc. had had a beneficial effect. The British were naturally impatient to begin their treatment, they felt the delay was due to neglect and consequently lost faith in the Swiss doctor.

However, operations performed too soon on French internees had resulted in fatalities caused by 'recrudescent purulent outbreaks'. Lieutenant Colonel Picot requested that a highly regarded British doctor should be sent out from home to investigate and report his findings. Colonel Robert Jones, Military Inspector of Orthopaedics in Edinburgh arrived to evaluate the medical arrangements. He was favourably impressed with the treatment the men were receiving, and he and Picot were able to reassure the men. However, Picot did have a quiet word with Colonel Hauser to suggest that perhaps the rules were being applied at Soldanelle with a little too much rigour, considering the ordeal the men had been through and the ragged state of their nerves. Their condition was far worse than the Swiss Army patients the doctors were used to treating and therefore the same rigid rules should not be applied.

Picot points out that the Swiss doctors thought the statistics were a good measure of the efficacy of their methods; out of a total of 2000 British internees treated there were only 14 fatalities and they were mainly caused by tuberculosis, pneumonia or accidents. The marked improvement in the condition of the first contingent of Internees when paraded with the new arrivals was also used as a measure of the efficacy of their treatment by the Swiss doctors.

Connie has to stop writing and go to sleep, as it is one o'clock. 'Heaps of love and kisses to Dad and you. Today has been a meatless day, I always feel more stodged on these days, we seem to get so much of "filling" stuffs.'

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Royal Flying Corps

This week we have a post from our volunteer Fiona.
Statue of Roland Garros at Saint-Denis, on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, photograph by Thierry Caro, public domain
Statue of Roland Garros at Saint-Denis, on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, photograph by Thierry Caro, public domain 
The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War was a tale of great danger but also of great developments in aviation. When it began, the RFC was smaller than the German airforce, with not many planes or airmen. When recruitment began, large numbers of public schoolboys joined up, not wanting to miss out on the ‘adventure’ they felt war would bring. 

The first planes were made from canvas and wood with no guns. Developments were being made all the time by both the Allies and the Germans, and competition between the different countries to continuously build better planes was intense. History tells of a French fighter, Roland Garros. He had adapted previous technology on his plane to allow him to shoot guns forward in the direction of travel through the propellers. This was a huge development in aerial combat and led to Garros bringing down many enemy planes within a few weeks. However engine failure brought him down behind enemy lines and he was not able to destroy his plane in time. Roland himself was treated with great civility by the enemy but it was not long before the Germans were making planes fitted with his new technology. 
An unidentified airman, from the collection of Second Lieutenant Arthur Giles, 5th Bn, Durham Light Infantry (D/DLI 7/880/1(61))
D/DLI 7/880/1(61) An unidentified airman, from the collection of Second Lieutenant Arthur Giles, 5th Bn, Durham Light Infantry  
Even before reaching the front line, pilots faced many dangers during training. It is an incredible but sobering fact that over half of the total deaths of airmen during the First World War occurred during training. This was due to the newness of the technology, the materials the planes were built of and a lack of experience and knowledge, even of the instructors themselves. 

Life in the RFC offered a very different existence to the trench warfare some had previously seen, with dinners served to the airmen complete with wine, and beds with clean sheets each night. However, it was fraught with danger with a pilot's average life expectancy measured in weeks. Airmen faced danger from enemy aircraft but also from ground based anti-aircraft guns, which were nicknamed ‘Archie’. Unlike the German airmen, the British were not issued with parachutes. It is frequently said that the reason behind this was the high value of the planes. It was felt that if a parachute was available, airmen would be less likely to try at all costs to safely land damaged aircraft, leading to them being lost. 

The RFC was not simply involved in aerial combats. It also had vital roles in reconnaissance such as monitoring enemy troop movements, a job previously done by cavalry. Airmen also carried out bombing missions, destroying targets such as railway stations. Aerial photography also developed greatly during the war years. Better cameras were made and new ways found to develop and understand the information collected.
Aerial photograph of trenches near the River Scarpe, France, 3 April 1917 (D/DLI 2/6/155)
D/DLI 2/6/155 Aerial photograph of trenches near the River Scarpe, France, 3 April 1917
It is easy to focus on the pilots themselves and forget the thousands of other men, just as vital, who kept the planes functioning. Men from a whole host of trades were needed to keep the engines working efficiently as well as keep the framework of the planes intact. It is a reminder of the basic nature of the planes used that men were required to mend holes on the planes’ canvas structures. 

Many have heard the term ‘flying ace’. Within the RFC, a flying ace was someone who had more than five aerial victories, shooting down enemy planes during combat. Unlike German aces who were well known, even featuring on postcards, the RFC did not publicise their aces. It meant that men who had achieved so much, including Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock - who many argue was the greatest fighter pilot during the First World War - were generally not known amongst the British public till after the war. 
The never-ending and frequent loss of their comrades, as well as the horrific deaths they witnessed, would have left a great toll on those airmen who survived the war. Many went on to develop what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and were never able to ‘reconnect’ with their old lives. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed on 1 April 1918, when the RFC merged with the Royal Naval Air Service. After the war, many airmen continued to serve in the RAF, with some incredibly flying planes again in the Second World War. 

Fiona has researched the stories of some of these men, and you can find them on the Durham at War website, here are links to a few:
Alick Todd
William Jones

You can read about volunteer David Donkin's research into the Royal Naval Air Service here: