Book Group June 2017

By Jane Wilson, volunteer

Despite our June book group meeting being at half its usual strength, we still managed to pass a pleasant two hours discussing the various reading recommendations brought along.
Our first suggestion was a work of fiction by the popular author, Michael Morpurgo, who while well known for his books for children, also manages to create stories based on real life that interest both adults as well as a younger audience. ‘Private Peaceful’ follows the story of two brothers, Charlie and Tommo, who live in rural England and spend most of their WW1 service together. They have a close brotherly bond, and during the war, look out for each other, especially when confronted by the strict, officious, even malicious treatment from their Sergeant. The book covers themes including family ties, disobeying orders from a superior and the harsh military consequences of this.

Moving on from the bond between siblings, our next recommendation was ‘The Love of an Unknown Soldier; Love Letters Found in a Trench’. The book was first published in 1918, and was believed to be a set of love letters written by an unknown soldier to his unknown sweetheart, an American nursing on the Western Front during the war. The letters had been found hidden away in the dugout of an abandoned gun position by a soldier, who then passed them on to John Lane, a publisher with Bodley Head. The letters highlighted the deep love felt by the soldier for the unknown woman, never posted, but declaring his deep love for her and his despair at not having told her how he felt.

Our next reading suggestion was not a book, but a series of diaries/reports/first-hand accounts of WW1 that are published on-line at
The available accounts range from a young British wireless operator going over the top at the Battle of Arras, to a description of reconnaissance missions in Kite Balloons, overseeing the lay of the land prior to battle. Accounts come from people of various nationalities, of battles and conflicts in theatre of war all round the world, and include reports from serving personnel as well as Prisoners of War, medical staff, landowners, and even foreign ambassadors to Britain. Each account is a personal viewpoint of a specific role carried out during the conflict, and some of the contrasting views of the same conflict provoke thoughts and the possibility of further reading around the subjects.

We ended by looking at Max Arthur’s book, ‘Lost Voices of the Royal Navy’, a volume which covers interwar and WW2 periods as well as the First World War. First-hand accounts of WW1 provide the main content of the book, including events documented by low ranking midshipmen all the way up to ships captains and high ranking naval military. Highlighting how far around the world the Royal Navy were deployed (from Scapa Flow to South America), the stories include those from men serving on naval battleships, submarines and give a rich account of the lives of men serving on both Upper and Lower Decks.

Come and join us at our next meeting on Tuesday 18th July at 2.30 to find out about more interesting WW1 reads.

Visit to the DLI Stores and Research Centre

Wednesday 5th July
By coach or under your own steam?

We have arranged coach transport from Barnard Castle, leaving the Museum at 9.45 and returning to the Museum about 1.15.  Several people have asked if it is possible to pick up the coach on its way or make their own way to the venue.  Please get in touch with us if you would like to talk about these options.  We’ll do our best to accommodate requests but we need to know how many people would like to join us – numbers are limited to 30.

This is a great opportunity to visit the stores for a behind-the-scenes tour, have a session handling objects and join in sessions looking at how the objects and stories behind them can be used.

The cost of the visit including transport is £7.50.  We would still have to charge £2.50 if you make your own way.

You can contact either Judith Phillips on or Alison Mounter on or leave a voicemail message on 01833 690606 ext. 208.

Red Cross Society locally and nationally – and appeal for help

By Judith Phillips 

Last Saturday we had a fascinating presentation about the work of the Red Cross during the First World War.  Anne Wall and Eileen Brereton were both nurses and, about ten years ago, became interested in a Red Cross hospital in North Yorkshire.   From that, their research has reached out far and wide.  Today I think they have enough material to start their own Red Cross hospital!  We had a chance to try the bandage-winder, inspect sphagnum moss used for dressing wounds, read recipes for wartime food, remember (well, some of us did) some of the now old-fashioned medicines, and admire the knitting skills that produced everything from eye-bandages to socks to pan-holders to balaclava helmets with earflaps (very handing when using a telephone).

Anne and Eileen put it all in context.  Most of the ‘home’ hospitals were for convalescent troops which meant they covered a wide range of conditions.  There were separate hospitals for officers and men.  Each hospital had two trained nurses allocated to them as well as the services of a local doctor, and then there was a large number of support staff – cooks, orderlies, drivers, porters, clerks etc.  We tend to think of the Red Cross being entirely female but Anne and Eileen pointed out that men were needed to help with the heavy work, especially handling patients.

Looking after convalescent troops meant more than treating their medical conditions.  Wounded soldiers and sailors weren’t necessarily sent to a hospital near their family, so they probably didn’t get many visits from family and friends.  Men were taken out on trips, often to houses and village halls that provided them with food and entertainment.  For some men, it was their first experience of the countryside, especially if they came from industrial cities. 

The photographs Anne and Eileen have used on their pop-up banners were an immediate way of appreciating the range of work done.  And I was very pleased to find in their book of reports from local hospitals some names that have already cropped up in research for Teesdale – Mrs Bell-Irving from Rokeby Park, for example.  Clearly, we have an area of overlap with Anne and Eileen’s work, as several Teesdale townships were in North Yorkshire, so there’s more work to be done.

After the talk, two people reminded me that the Red Cross nationally is digitising and putting online record cards from the First World War period.  We have already found cards for some Teesdale women we know worked for the Red Cross and I’d be delighted if anyone would be willing to help us do more.  This is work you can do at home if you have access to the Internet.  Just drop me an email if you’d like to know more.


Can you spare an hour and join the fun?

On Saturday 10th June the Bowes Museum celebrates the 125th anniversary of its official opening.  As part of the events to mark the occasion, we are offering visitors the opportunity to come to the Library and Archives Reading Room.  We’ll have displays about the work we do, including the First World War Commemoration Project.  If you could spare some time to help out – just an hour would be great – please let me know.  We need people to ‘meet and greet’ visitors in the entrance hall, bring them up to the Reading Room and talk to visitors about the project – not necessarily the same person doing all three roles!  Training will be given and there will be other volunteers around to help.

This is a great chance to raise awareness about the project and to meet other volunteers – perhaps find out about parts of the project new to you.

I’m on leave until Monday 5th June but I will check my emails in the meantime.

Judith Phillips (

Home Comforts in WWI through the Red Cross

By Judith Phillips

What does the famous novelist Agatha Christie have in common with Elizabeth Lowes and Jane Smurthwaite of Middleton-in-Teesdale or Janet Amelia Dent and Mary Alice Smith from Barnard Castle?  The answer is that they were all involved with the Red Cross during WWI.

Films, TV dramas and novels have shown us Red Cross and other nurses tending wounded soldiers in France, the Middle East and the Balkans.  But the Red Cross also provided hospital care for military personnel in Britain –‘at home’ – particularly for convalescents. During the war The Bowes Museum provided tomatoes from its greenhouses to Red Cross voluntary hospitals in the north-east, only asking for the cost of transport.

Join us at The Bowes Museum for an inter-active session to find out more about the Red Cross and its hospital work.  There will be talk with an opportunity to get your hands on nursing and hospital equipment from the WWI period.  The session on Saturday 27th May starts at 2.30 and costs £3 including light refreshments (free with museum admission and for Friends).  Please email or telephone 01833 690606 to book.

Nursing was obviously a very important part of the work of the Red Cross during the war.  But people were involved in a wide range of support work as well.  We know of women from Teesdale who worked behind-the-scenes, providing clerical support, working as waitresses and housemaids in Red Cross institutions.  We tend to forget the less ‘glamorous’ support work and we’d love to hear from you if you know anything about a relative or person from your community who was involved in any way. 

Local Red Cross Societies were important fundraisers for the national society.  There are many articles in the Teesdale Mercury during the war years, recording a range of events held in towns and villages throughout Teesdale to raise money for the Red Cross locally and nationally.  A search on shows, for example, that in November 1915 Woodland Red Cross Society held a dance and supper with nearly 200 people present and raised over £10 – quite a lot of money in those days.  Some of the money would provide Christmas parcels for three men from the village serving in the Dardanelles (W. Dewhurst and F. Finnigan) and in France (R. Anderson).  Our Roll of Honour shows that Dewhurst and Finnigan were in the Royal Engineers and survived.  Anderson, in the Black Watch, is listed on the Woodland war memorial among those who died.