The White-Feathered Soul, by Maddy Forsyth

Upon the hill,
Frost bitten and grey
Lie the saints who eagerly
Heard their country call.
The bugles of war sounded in their ears,
Amidst the hollers of loved one’s cheers,
Who thought they’d fall so soon, but yet the tide
Still washes over them with lasting pride.

Upon the mantelpiece of an old beggar’s home,
Lies the dust smothered memory
Of a white-feathered soul.
They never speak of him nor fondly think,
Of the burden who caused their reputation to sink,
For the man who solemnly refused to fight
Was yet the villain who vanquished all sense of “right”.

Little they knew of his strong belief,
That raged through his being like wildfire.
Little they knew of his faith, like hope,
That latched itself onto each tiny cell,
And grew more powerful with each passing day.
Oblivious to this “cancer” that would lead him astray,
They placed their trust in their only son
And yet he retreated at the mention of a gun.

He spoke of a peace,
Laced with reverence and respect,
Of a world that could one day
Put aside its differences and unite.
No more war nor endless talk of death,
But a lasting harmony that required no final breath,
The hope that someday the fighting would cease
For yet to come was this impossible peace.

Alone, so alone,
Cast off and despised,
His family’s hearts forever printed with shame.
They tied him up with chains of enmity,
Upon him they rose and cursed and beat,
And jeered like animals at his feet,
But he was above the ostentation,
As yet he himself would shake the nation.

But inside his head
Vast chasms of darkness swirled and roared,
His personal battle still to be won.
This private conflict full of doubt and despair
Was the war from which he didn’t dare
To flee from precious peace disturbed,
Yet steadfast faith remained unperturbed.

Far from coward,
This “white-feathered” soul was braver, still,
Than any young jingoist with head in cloud.
For what was valour if not the endeavour
To stand out from a crowd, faltering never,
And express your belief however strange,
Though yet cynics your views attempt to change.

And stars in their eyes
Like glistening jewels
Fall, burst, flicker in the twilight
The stars, like so many before,
A sign of hope for the ever-darkening world,
Who appear like angels with wing unfurled.
Who continue regardless to promote peace on Earth
So that yet we, in turn, may rejoice in our mirth.

Upon the hill,
Frost bitten and grey
Lie the saints who eagerly
Heard their country call.
Their country was the suffering globe,
Clothed in hatred; a fitting robe
For such a careless waste of life
Yet peaceful stars may end the strife.

 

Finishing the Workshops

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After 3 days of hard work, students from both Barnard Castle and Teesdale School came to the end of their time here at The Bowes Museum.

Having been given the opportunity to dive into the Museum’s own archive, as well as using the online database here on the project website, each student has begun to craft their own creative response to the discoveries they have made. It was a unique opportunity for students to step away from the history books and start to uncover aspects of the First World War that they perhaps hadn’t heard of before.

Esia Forsyth chose to look at the experience of the Belgian Refugees, many of whom came to Teesdale (of which you can read more about here). Her discoveries in the Teesdale Mercury of articles relating to locals preparations for the arrival of the refugees led her to learn more about their plight.

Other students learnt about conscientious objectors, the process of conscription, the lives of men from named on the Roll of Honour and on the memorials here in the Bowes Museum grounds. There were some that uncovered information in regards to the role that both The Bowes Museum and their own school (then called The North Eastern County School) played in supporting both the local and national war effort.

In bringing the workshops to a close, many students were wanting to know if it was possible to continue using the library and archive space here at the museum throughout the summer holidays – which we of course were delighted to say “Yes!” to – and now as such these students are forming another new group of volunteers, helping to continue the project’s research whilst also completing their pieces of creative writing.

 

Houses Rich and Statues Grand, by Esia Forsyth

Arm in arm,
Hand in hand,
Slowly moving up the sand.
A fearful glance
With darting eyes
A quick prayer made to the skies.

16,000 in one day,
Such a heavy price to pay.
England, what a noble land!
Of houses rich and statues grand.

The people that are standing there,
Know what England has to share
For they too, are from a land
With houses rich and statues grand.
They’re from Belgium,
A country with such culture rare,
Before the Germans stripped it bare.
Their homelands scattered wide and far,
Leaving many a painful scar
Upon a multitude of men,
Their families never seen again.

England let them stay,
Until that fateful day
That war came to an end,
And then no further help would lend.
That noble land,
With statues grand
Wouldn’t give another helping hand.

Back to Belgium that was no more.
They left them on a lonely shore,
Forcing them to clear the rubble
That reminded them of all their troubles.

England returned to their lives,
And hugged their mums, then kissed their wives.
They thought not of little Belgian lands,
That had lost its houses and statues grand.

Lights Out by Edward Thomas

I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

Many a road and track
That, since the dawn’s first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.

Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter and leave, alone,
I know not how.

The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.

My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack? “
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide.

Corporal Herbert Dixon of Evenwood

Corporal Herbert Dixon is commemorated at the Evenwood War Memorial. He married Rose Oldfield of Evenwood and lived in Shirley Terrace, Evenwood, with their two sons named Tom and Cresswell.

Corporal Dixon supported the war effort by going to France as part of the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment in October 1914.  He died after being hit by sniper fire in October 1915, one of many casualties at Bellewaarde Ridge and Hooge.

As one can imagine, the news hit the people of Evenwood hard. The Parish Magazine of November 1915 gravely reported the death:

“Worst of all…is the case of Herbert Dixon, son-in-law of Mrs Oldfield of Shirley Terrace..Herbert, who used to be employed by Mr Handley and afterward by the Colliery Co. as a painter.. was killed on October 4th.”

Captain Edward D’Arcy Birnie wrote a heartfelt letter to Herbert Dixon’s wife, informing her of his death and explaining that Herbert Dixon was well-liked and respected by his fellow soldiers:

“Dear Mrs Dixon, it is with deep regret that I have to inform you of your husband’s death while on duty in the trenches. …On behalf of the members of 5th Company, I tender their deepest sympathy in the great loss you have sustained, which is ours as well, as he was respected by all he came into contact with and was always careful in his duties…”

With thanks to Kevin Richardson, who wrote the book “Evenwood Remembers”.

Teesdale’s Florence Nightingale

The adventures of a heroic Teesdale nurse is the latest story to grab the attention of the Bowes Museum’s World War 1 Commemoration Project.

Lizzie Winpenny, Teesdale’s very own Florence Nightingale, was from Barnard Castle, where her parents, Mr and Mrs Albert Winpenny, of HorseMarket, owned a tailors/clothiers, Winpenny and Sons.

She volunteered for service in the First World War in the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and was attached to Queen Victoria’s Imperial and Military Nursing Service.

She served in Belgium, France, Italy, Malta and Salonika. In 1919, she was appointed Sister at Stockton and Thornaby Hospital.

She was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal during World War I, and went on to serve in the Second World War. She then emigrated to Ireland in 1952.

Rupert Philbrick, who is heading up the Commemoration Project, is looking for anyone who can help to build a fuller picture of Lizzie and her family. He would like to hear from anyone with pictures of Lizzie, stories of her time of service as a nurse during World War 1 or details of her death. Rupert can be contacted at rupert.philbrick@thebowesmusuem.org.uk

The World War 1 Commemoration Project can be viewed online at www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk

Your Country Needs You…to collect fruit stones and nut shells!

As part of the Museum’s World War 1 project, a group of volunteers have been visiting the Durham County Records Office and researching a range of documents concerning the impact of the war on the Barnard Castle and Teesdale area.

My first item to research was less a document, more a weighty leather bound tome containing minutes of the Barnard Castle Urban Council meetings (ref. UD/BC/12). Whilst many entries were connected with the daily administration of the area and made no references to the war, there were records that linked to the impact of the war on the lives of Barnard Castle people.

And an entry from 25th July 1918 caught my eye. It was noted that a circular had been read to the Council from the Local Government Board, requesting the collection of fruit stones and nut shells for urgent war purposes.

And that was all the entry said. But I was intrigued to know more, so I set to work to discover why fruit stones and nut shells were so urgently required.

The use of toxic gases during WW1 brought suffering to many thousands of people, causing asphyxiation, convulsions, blindness, panic and a slow death. Soldiers were taught in training that just four breaths of toxic gas could be enough to kill them.

Gas masks with charcoal filters were distributed to combat the effects of the gas. And towards the very end of the war, it was realised that a more effective filter could be made from the charcoal that came from burning fruit stones and nutshells. Of great value for the charcoal they produced were stones from peaches, apricots, cherries, plums and dates, alongside shells from Brazil nuts and walnuts.

The first port of call for help in collecting was jam factories, followed by hotels, restaurants and canteens. And then a national campaign was initiated to encourage the population to collect fruit stones and nut shells to help the war effort.

People were asked to dry out the stones in a warm oven, or in the sun, and it was even suggested that Stone and Shell Collection Clubs could be formed. Boy Scout groups were drafted in to help with the collections, and even visited Buckingham Palace as part of the collecting drive.

Interestingly, similar campaigns were introduced across the world. America encouraged schools to take part in fruit stone and nut shell collection competitions. During the autumn of 1918, The Red Cross and the Boy Scout Movement in America helped in a campaign which saw the collection of over 100 railroad cars full of stones and shells, enough to produce charcoal for 500,000 gas masks.

Even in Germany, the requirement for gas masks for troops sparked a collection campaign amongst German school children. Posters urged parents to “Save fruit pits and either send them to school with your children or bring them to the next collection place”.

So, whether allies or enemies, countries around the world were collecting fruit stones and nut shells at a furious pace. Ironically, peace followed on very quickly from these collection campaigns and it is likely that very few of the gas masks with improved filters made it to the battlefields before the Armistice was signed.

But it still showed a determination from the populations of various countries to be involved in the war effort, and to play their part.

By Jane Wilson, volunteer