A talk in Durham by former Chaplain-General of the British Army

Chaplains and the role of religion have cropped up regularly in the WWI Book group’s meetings and our series of talks, and we have identified at least one Teesdale clergyman who served as an army chaplain during the First World War.  If you are interested in learning more about religion during the war and in its aftermath, read on…

The experience of ministering to soldiers on the front line and discovering the depth (or lack) of religious feeling among the troops affected many chaplains and fed into the Church of England’s response to the situation.  To mark the centenary of the end of the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) and the publication by Anglican army chaplains of a controversial manifesto for post-war church reform, the Venerable Stephen Robbins CB, Honorary Canon of Salisbury Cathedral and a former Chaplain-General of the British Army, asks whether the Church can learn from the recent pastoral experience of army chaplains.  His lecture, ‘Centenary Reflections on The Church in the Furnace: Can the Church of England learn from the British Army?’, will be given on Wednesday 15th November 2017 at 6.30 p.m. in Prior’s hall, Palace Green, Durham (drinks will be served from 6.15 p.m.). 

There is no charge for the event, but please email admin.cas@durham.ac.uk by Friday 10th November to let them know you will attend.

Centenary of a Teesdale victim of Passchendaele

By Judith Phillips

In a previous newsletter, I asked for information about Teesdale men involved in the fighting at the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).  There will have been many Teesdale men who fought in that battle, and many who died, including two of the Smith brothers of Barnard Castle, as described in Colin Young’s account in a previous newsletter of a trip to commemorate them and others.  In response to my request, I was reminded by a relative of another Teesdale man with Cockfield and Staindrop connections.  Here’s the outline story of Gordon Priestley who died almost exactly a hundred years ago.

Gordon was the son of Emmanual and Mary Ann Priestley of Fell Houses, Cockfield.  Gordon joined the Durham Light Infantry and served in the 1st/6th Battalion with the service number 250165.  When he died on 26th October 1917, aged 24, he had advanced to the rank of sergeant.  He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing at Zonnebeke in West Flanders, Belgium. 

That’s the brief outline of his life, military service and death from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website www.cwgc.gov.uk.  But we can find out a little more.

The 1901 census returns list the Priestley family living in Wackerfield.  As well as Gordon (then aged 8), there were his older brothers George, Fred and Andrew – all miners, as was their father Emmanuel.  By 1911 the census returns list the family at Fell Houses, Cockfield.  Gordon, aged 18, was a colliery putter working underground.  None of his older brothers was living with the family but there was a younger brother and two sisters.  Interestingly, Gordon’s birthplace changes from Wackerfield in the 1901 census to Sun Cottages, Staindrop in the 1911 census.

Gordon isn’t recorded in Rachel Wood’s very informative work on the men recorded on Cockfield School Roll of Honour, so he probably went to the Church of England School. 

Church magazines are frequently a valuable source of information about individuals, as well as local war effort activities.  Cockfield was covered by the Staindrop Anglican parish magazine, and Gordon Priestley is mentioned twice during the war.  Described as one of the ‘veterans returning to the front,’ Sergeant Gordon Priestley is mentioned in a short report of a Cockfield “send off” on 16th August 1917.  ‘A number of soldiers on “last leave” [before going to the Front] …… were entertained to supper by the kindness of a number of friends. ……After [the toasts] a Social Evening was thoroughly enjoyed by our soldiers and friends.’  The evening ended with everyone invited to join in singing ‘Will ye no’ come back again’.  That strikes me now as sad and ironic as many of the soldiers there, veterans and soldiers fresh from the Training Camps, wouldn’t come back again.

The parish magazine published in January 1918 reports that Gordon was missing, presumed dead.  ‘Information has been received that he met his death in a gallant endeavour to attack a German Sniper who was picking off our men.  Sergeant Priestley had already won distinction for his splendid courage and energy.’  His body was never found, which is why his name is recorded on the Memorial to the Missing.  His name also appears on the Cockfield Village Green Cross.

I checked Ancestry for Gordon’s military service.  I found a medal card, recording the Victory medal, which also gave two service numbers – 2197 and 250165.  I didn’t find his service papers, so they were probably among the thousands destroyed during the London blitz in the Second World War.

If you look up Gordon Priestley on the project Roll of Honour at www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk, you will see images of his photograph and two embroidered cards Gordon sent back to his family.  One of the cards is addressed to his brother, wishing him a happy birthday.  His family kept the photograph and cards which eventually passed to his great-nephew who lived in Staindrop.

I am grateful to Gordon’s great-niece by marriage who has sent this information.  If you have any story, artefacts or images of Teesdale men caught up in the fighting at Passchendaele or involved in the war in any way, we would be delighted to hear from you.  You can email libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk, post to The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle DL12 8NP, telephone 01883 69060 ext. 208 (answerphone) or leave material for me at Reception in the museum.

Gone: but not forgotten

By Judith Phillips

As we approach Armistice Day (11th November) and Remembrance Sunday (12th November this year), I am reminded that one of the main aims of ‘To Serve King and Country’ – The Bowes Museum’s Commemoration Project is to ensure we don’t forget how the war affected Teesdale.   We want to include in the project’s Roll of Honour all the men and women from Teesdale who served in the armed forces or as nurses or in war industries such as munitions.  Through the family and community historians and volunteers with the project, who have so generously given their time and knowledge, there are over 2000 entries on the online Roll of Honour (www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk) and there is a backlog of names and information to be added. 

So often when we think of the First World War, we think of the Western Front with its trenches and mud.  But there were other theatres of war – in Africa, the Balkans, Italy, Palestine, Mesopotamia and at sea.  We know of some Teesdale men in each of these areas but we’re sure there were more.  Do you know of a family member or someone from your village who served in any of these areas? 

There are still many Teesdale people who were involved in the war that we don’t know about.  So many who came back did not talk about their experiences; so many families found it impossible to overcome their sorrow at the death of a family member that they didn’t talk about them to the younger generations.  So there are still people to be identified, vague stories to be investigated, casual references in letters or church magazines and in newspapers to be followed up.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, I noticed in the Teesdale Mercury a Centenary Memoriam notice for Private Cecil William Sedgewick from Cockfield who served in the Durham Light Infantry; he was killed in action on 4th October 1917.  The photograph shows a young man of 20 who, as the dedication says, is ‘Gone: but not forgotten by the family he never knew’.  His name is included in the project’s Roll of Honour (under Sedgwick as it appears on Cockfield War Memorial) but we didn’t know his date of death or his age and we don’t have a photograph.  I’d love to know if his family have any further information about him that could be included on the Roll of Honour. 

If you have any information you think would help us or if you’d like to know about volunteering with the project, please get in touch by emailing libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or telephoning 01833 690606 ext. 209 (answerphone).

Town ringing to remember fallen serviceman

By Judith Phillips

A recent edition of the Teesdale Mercury included a letter asking for any members of the family of Private Stanley Wilkinson, who died in 1917, to get in touch with Helen Scott Tel: 01833 690169.

For more information, here is Helen Scott’s letter to the Teesdale Mercury:

‘Private Stanley Willis Wilkinson, Service No. 72226, was a member of the Sherwood Foresters, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment.

He was killed in action and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.  He was born in 1898 in Barnard Castle and his date of death was October 24, 1917.

Stanley was the son of Thomas (deceased) and Sarah Wilkinson of Portland Square, King Street, Barnard Castle.  He worked in Mr T W Bainbridge’s office for a short time prior to enlisting at the age of 18.  Stanley had been a bell ringer at St Mary’s Parish Church and had taught one of the Sunday school classes.  He had only been serving with the army for seven months when he died after having been hit by shrapnel.

The current bell ringers in Barnard Castle are planning to ring a quarter peal, lasting approximately 45 minutes, on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 24, 2017, to remember Private Wilkinson.

We would be very pleased to hear from any members of Private Wilkinson’s family and they can contact Helen Scott on 01833 690169.’

Private Wilkinson is recorded on the Roll of Honour on the project website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk.  We would also be interested in any further information about him.

Photography workshop and presentation

Are you interested in doing more with your photographs?  Do you know someone who would benefit from a photography workshop?  Your photographs do not have to be related to the First World War.  Find out more about this photography workshop at the Bowes Museum…

Photographic artist Lee Karen Stow has many years’ experience of using photography creatively.  She will be running a half-day photography workshop for photographers with moderate to advanced level of expertise on Saturday 4th November at The Bowes Museum starting at 10.00.   Lee will share thoughts and tips on how to create and sustain a personal photography project or long-term body of work. Learn how to turn your chosen theme or passion into an individual narrative, expressing what you love about life. She will also look at ways to share your work, to exhibit and ways to get your work seen. The cost for the workshop is £15 and this includes admission to Lee’s afternoon presentation on Poppies: Women, War, Peace.


At 2.30 on Saturday 4th November, Lee will talk about her touring exhibition which remembers women whose lives have been affected by war, from WW1 to conflicts of today, alongside a botanical series of the poppy wildflower in all its colours. Her work is inspired by Moïna Bell Michael and Madame Anna E Guérin who immortalised the Flanders Fields poppy as a symbol of remembrance a century ago. This event is included in the cost of the photography workshop; otherwise it costs £3 to include light refreshments (FREE with museum admission charge/annual pass and for Friends).

You can book for either or both events by emailing info@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or telephoning 01833 690606.