Barney Schools students collaborate on WW1 Creative Writing Project


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Students from years 8-11 at Teesdale and Barnard Castle School are currently collaborating on a 3-day creative writing programme. Given the rare chance to be off site in school time, the students over their first 2 days were given the opportunity to delve first-hand into The Bowes Museum’s archives, uncovering papers and letters that illustrated the museum’s roll in the local war effort.

2 students discovered that The Bowes Museum gardeners had been hard at work growing tomatoes to help convalescent soldiers in the local hospitals, and others found that both the Trustees and the Museum Curator Owen Scott had written a very convincing argument to the Government as to why the Museum shouldn’t be used as billets for troops. The fact that there weren’t kitchens or toilets in the building might have done it – that, or the priceless art!

As part of the Centenary Commemorations, The Bowes Museum’s WW1 Project aims to complete the work started by Scott and the Trustees in creating a Roll of Honour that names the men and women that “To Serve King and Country” played their part in the war effort 100 years ago.

These workshops play an essential part in bringing the museum and the project to a wider audience, offering unique ways for students to engage with the history that surrounds them. The end result will see the children writing their own creative response to the facts that they uncover – to be shared later in the year.

Dulce Et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots  
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty pane and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori


In Flanders Field, John McCrae


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Mrs Smith and her six sons

The story of Barnard Castle’s Mrs Margaret Smith and the loss of her five sons in the First World War is a well known story which is worth revisiting.

Many cannot imagine the loss of one child, let alone five. Yet this was the reality with which  Margaret and John Smith were faced when they lost five of their six sons in the war. They received one tragic letter after another, painfully discovering that Robert, George, Frederick, and Alfred Smith and John Stout were all sadly killed between 1916 and 1918.

The father of the five sons, John Smith, who worked as a chimney sweep in Barnard Castle, passed away in 1918. Mrs Smith was left heartbroken, with only one son, Wilfred, known as “Willie”, still alive. Private Smith was serving in the war and suffering the effects of mustard gas poisoning.

It was then that a local vicar’s wife, Mrs Bircham, made a dramatic and heartfelt intervention. After writing to George V’s wife, Queen Mary, requesting intervention in Mrs Smith’s heartbreaking scenario, she received the following response: “The Queen has caused Mr and Mrs Smith’s request concerning their youngest son to be forwarded for the consideration of the War Office authorities.”

The War Office spared Wilfred from serving on the front line and Wilfred came back to Barnard Castle to be reunited with his mother. After receiving nothing but devastating news, Wilfred’s return offered some relief at last to Mrs Smith. Despite suffering chronic chest problems, her surviving son lived on to the age of 72, leaving five children.

Margaret Smith was given the honour of laying the first wreath at the war memorial at the Bowes Museum in 1923.

Army Chaplain Rev George Wilkinson

The latest Teesdale individual whose story the Bowes Museum World War One Commemoration Project is exploring is that of Army chaplain Rev. George Robert Wilkinson.

Having served as Vicar of Ingeton in the Diocese of Durham, Wilkinson applied for chaplaincy work in 1916.Despite being intriguingly described by his interview Taylor Smith as “White face-like Lady Blanche”, Wilkinson was passed medically fit.

It appears that Wilkinson was a well-educated clergyman, 40 years old and married with two children. Thanks to the research of Blake and Youngson, we learn that Wilkinson was fluent in French and could ride a horse. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge, also the college in which John Bowes was educated.

As for his military service, Wilkinson become Temporary Chaplain for the Forces in Egypt.  He was an Army Chaplain 4th Class Lieutenant with the 4th DLI and his record card states that, having refused to stay in Egypt, he was then posted to Salonika in 1918.

After the war, Wilkinson returned to Ingleton and then left for Bamburgh in Northumberland, from 1925-1948. If anyone has any further information on Rev. Wilkinson, particularly his contribution to the war effort, we would love to hear from you. Perhaps there are some pictures, or accounts of his duties during the war which would build a picture of Rev. Wilkinson. If you are able to contribute to the World War One Commemoration Project, please contact: libraryand




Young Voices visit the Library and Archive

On Saturday 13th June, Judith and Rupert who lead The Bowes Museum’s WW1 Project, hosted the Young Voices group in the Library and Archive. They provided the 7 students with an opportunity to learn about the role that the Library and Archive play within the museum itself, focussing specifically on the work of the last 12 months in establishing To Serve King and Country.

After an initial introduction to the library itself, students explored the growing database and digital Roll of Honour, also having the chance to see original artefacts and paper ephemera that they had discovered online. To finish off the session, Rupert led the group in an exploration of 2 poems written during the war – which the students then rehearsed and recorded – as featured below.

Lamplight, by May Cannan


The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke




Belgian Refugees in Teesdale: A Warm Welcome

The Bowes Museum World War One Commemoration Project is discovering the warm welcome given by the people of Teesdale to the Belgian refugees who arrived in Teesdale during World War One.

Funding and hospitality were two areas in which the people of Teesdale were specifically commended by the Belgian visitors, as revealed in The Teesdale Mercury’s 4 November 1914, January 20 1915 and January 12 1916 editions. All can be accessed via

In order to support the arrival of the refugees, the Middleton-in-Teesdale Belgian Refugees’ Committee numbered an impressive 50 members, each of whom pledged to give a shilling a week for 6 months. They also held a whist drive and dance to raise funds.

The Mechanics’ Institute and various churches had collected £30 for the National Relief Fund. However, as the local Belgian Committee was short of money, no further appeal was made and it was then “thought advisable to give them preference” and the Belgians were given the funds.

In 1916, Monsieur Guillemerts, a Belgian refugee who had come to Barnard Castle, left to take work in Coventry. His family stayed behind in Barnard Castle. The War Emergency Committee gave the Belgian £1 for rail fares. Monsieur Guillemerts wrote a “graceful, kind and sympathetic letter” to the Committee, detailing his “great thanks and appreciation” for the generous welcome given to him and his family. He added that he would “never forget the hospitality which he had received” from the people of Barnard Castle.

Stories such as these help us gain a greater understanding of the part the people of Teesdale played in the First World War. If you have any stories about Teesdale in the First World War, or wish to contribute to the World War One project in any way, please contact


Hazel Addison and her sister recall stories of their grandfather John W Errington

Belgian Refugees in Teesdale

Belgian refugeesl

The latest focus of The Bowes Museum World War One Commemoration Project concerns the arrival of some Belgians in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The people of Middleton were praised for their lavish welcome to the “poor, persecuted Belgian refugees”.

The British government was called on by its Belgian counterpart to take 500,000 refugees when the Belgians feared that Antwerp would be overwhelmed by the Germans.

When a family of six such refugees arrived in Teesdale in October 1914, the people of Middleton did everything they could to make the Belgians feel welcome.

According to the the 28 October 1914 edition of the Teesdale Mercury , the town’s silver band was out in force. Two cars had been provided by Teesdale Motor Company to transport them to their new home, a fully furnished cottage in New Dyke, offered by landlord Mark Watson at a “very small rent”.

When the Belgian Brunel family arrived at their new home, they were so pleased that they shed tears of gratitude. The family comprised Mr and Mrs Brunel, their son-in-law and daughter, Mr and Mrs Coopman and children Maria and Angelo Brunel. Angelo was just 6. The family were fishermen and soldiers by trade.

It should be pointed out that it is probable that the people of Middleton would have had little or no previous contact with foreigners, which makes their efforts to welcome the Belgians yet more notable.

So keen were the people of Middleton to support the new Belgian family that they offered numerous gifts to the newcomers. Lord Barnard gave £5 to support them, whilst gifts of food and clothing were numerous. The response to the call to help the Belgians was hailed as “magnificent”.

Other refugee families also came to Barnard Castle, Lartington and other townships during the First World War, with committees of locals raising funds and organising accommodation.  If you have any information about these, or other Teesdale stories related to the First World War, please contact:

Read the contemporary accounts in the Teesdale Mercury Archive:

Teesdale Mercury-30/09/1914: News item: Belgium and the Belgain Refugees

Teesdale Mercury-28/10/1914: News item: Belgian Refugees at Middleton

Teesdale Mercury-04/11/1914: Teesdale War Notes: Committee well supported

Teesdale Mercury-02/12/1914: Upper Dale Notes: Donation from Lord Barnard

Teesdale Mercury-20/01/1915: Upper Dale Notes: Meeting of the Belgian refugees committee

Teesdale Mercury-01/09/1915: Local and Other Notes: Two Belgian refugees find work in Darlington

Teesdale Mercury-30/10/1918: Local and Other Notes: News of the death of eldest child of Belgian Refugees