The Story of Charles Edmondson

While researching at the Durham County Records Office, I came across mention of Charles Edmondson, Head teacher of Whorlton School. During the early weeks of the First World War he was to be found serving with the Expeditionary Forces in Belgium. He wrote weekly letters back to his family in Whorlton, where his father was a church warden. His parents gave permission for extracts from his letters to be published in the monthly Parish Magazine, and here is one of those extracts from 7th November 1914.

“We landed at Rouen, August 20th and left on 22nd for Amiens which we reached at 9pm and on 23rd had orders to proceed to La Cateau, and got there just in time to catch the shells coming over, and proceeded at once with the ammunitions towards Mons, from which place we had to retreat as soon as it was dark: what a sight it was, enough to turn anyone grey. I do not know how many cars we had lost. We reached St Quentin on Tuesday and we stayed there all night. The next day we were sent with four wagons to find and feed a regiment at Guise, but we could not find them. Next morning, we found a Battery of the Royal Field Artillery with only two men left! That day the Battle of St Quentin was fought, and we had to retire to Hain, from which we were ‘shelled out’, and retired during the night.

At Amiens, the Germans dropped on us unawares and we lost over 30 cars, together with two workshops and repair vans, and the column generally was so severely handled that they sent us to the Headquarters at Relun…I think the nearest shave I had was at a place near Hoblis in the forest of Crepy, where we had been ordered to stay the night, and had only rested for quarter of an hour when an order came to start the engines, each man to have his rifle, and to clear out as soon as possible. We had not proceeded more than half a mile when we were furiously attacked, but the drivers kept on going until one of the wagons stuck in the side of the road and we could not get past, so we took cover behind the wheels, and finally beat off our assailants, and reached safety at 4am.

We were at the Battle of Compiegne and the Marne, and at Soissons, and now we are having breakfast in one country and tea in another… It is good of the Vicar to have prayers for us…

We see some lovely scenery and some awful sights on the field. Anyone who has not seen them cannot realise how awful war is nowadays, but all the same I should not like to come back until I have seen it through. We must have got the worst over, for nothing could be worse than the scenes at Mons, at La Cateau and the retreat to Hain”.

Unfortunately, the Records Office do not possess a full set of the Parish magazines, and this extract is the last personal contact that I have been able to trace. How I wish I could have read more about his life, and personal thoughts on the battles he was involved in.

Looking back now in 2016, and knowing how long the war continued, the most poignant aspect for me of his letter is the thought that ‘we must have got the worst over’. How sad to reflect he had no idea of what was still to come.

 

 

Teesdale School’s WW1 Research Project

We recently kicked off a new project with students and staff from Teesdale School, aiming to equip them with the research skills to be able to uncover stories from their home communities across the Teesdale area. One of the significant factors of Teesdale is that it has relatively “static” communities – meaning that the names we find on the War Memorials across the area are the same that appear on the registers in school today. This gives us a great starting point from which to work from, with participants able to not just explore their own family roots – but helping to map those of their classmates too.

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Kicking off the project, we were joined over a Thursday lunchtime by Major Chris Chapman from Catterick Garrison. Chris was able to give a fantastic presentation to the students focussing on the key dates of the First World War, as well as the creation of the Pals Battalions by Lord Kitchener – that were to have such devastating consequences for small communities like those in Teesdale – as in some cases whole villages were wiped out in  single offensive, particularly at the battle of The Somme.IMG_5890

It also provided the students with the opportunity to handle a variety of objects including medals and a decommissioned Lee Enfield rifle, as well as seeing how some military technologies had advanced over the last 100 years – particularly the design (and effectiveness) of helmets! IMG_5909

 

 

Final get together at Bowes

During the last week was our final get together at Bowes museum, before we hand in our final draft pieces of writing so that the new designer can plan her side of things. We presented our current drafts to each other and the staff at Bowes museum. I was impressed by everyone else’s work and the staff seemed keen with the fact that we all seemed to be taking different perspectives on the World War I project. For me, I wanted to approach this project with emotive writing. I want my audience to feel and reflect and imagine themselves in this situation which we could never understand. However, in reflecting, I hope to make my readers more aware of the First World War, and to spark their interest in its history, but to also help them understand that these were real people with very similar lives and thoughts to modern people today. I am not sure if I have achieved what I aim to do yet, however, I hope that the more drafts I produce the more feedback and critical advice I will get. 

During my last visit to the museum, Rupert asked us to pick five objects or locations to base our final pieces of writing on. During that last visit, I only managed to think of two locations and still I have kept those same locations (the woodland walk and the 1700 period rooms). However, since then I decided to write pieces on the Victory Medal, three of the poems I attached to the last blog post, and finally propaganda illustrated through a children’s book. Each of these objects and locations are vastly different, but each ask the reader to imagine themselves as different people during the war, allowing my reader to explore various emotions and experiences which came with the war. 

First reading of draft writings (Exciting Times!)

Today was the first reading of our final pieces for the WW1 Internship Project! 

We had a first reading of our pieces as well as discussing the locations/items that inspired our work and the routes of our trails. I thought that my trail could be sign posted by having each section of the walk being marked with each year of the WW1 (a timeline of the events of the war if you will). Each poem is also named in reference to the inspiration behind the choice of location. As well as this, it was discussed that today I could bring a performance element to my trail by leading people around the trail in character (possibly a WW1 Nurse) whilst either reading my poems aloud or talking about the reasoning behind my choice of trail locations. After this my poems will be in a booklet type document that visitors at the museum are able to read them whilst walking around the trail can read as they walk around. There is also a school visiting on the launch day and so I hope I may be able to lead them around my trail in character if this could be a possibility. 

Here is one of the drafts for the “1914” section of my trail that I presented today (please click to enlarge): 

off to war                                                                                                                                            

I am very excited to also begin to plan my drama workshop that I will have with a local school with a focus on WW1. This is going to be a first for me, I hope it will raise my confidence in leadership as well as teaching my new found knowledge to the students from the school through drama activities. 

WW1 Book Group

The WW1 Book Group will have its second meeting on Friday 17 June at 2.30 in the Café Lounge in the Museum.

Bring a book you’d like to recommend or just come and hear about other people’s choices.

Books that have been recommended for the next meeting:

 

 

“Her Privates We”

By Frederic Manning

 

“The Officers Ward”

By Marc Dugain

 

“Voices from the Great War”

Collection of quotes put together by Peter Vansittart

 

“The Last Great War; British Society and the First World War”

By Adrian Gregory

 

“Blighty; British Society in the Era of the Great War”

By Gerard J DeGroot

Blackberries

In 1918, food rationing was introduced by the British Government and a Committee set up to look at ways to utilise natural resources due to crop failures in the same year.

Rural schools were encouraged to ‘employ their children in the gathering of blackberries during school hours’ for a Government jam making scheme. Local food control committees were appointed to take in all the blackberries collected, with some schools in Britain collecting over 2000 lbs during the weeks they were picking.

It was estimated at the time that the British Forces were consuming 1.5 million pounds of jam a day across the various parts of the world where they were involved in conflict. As well as being a food source, the jam was considered to be valuable for its high vitamin content.

Within Teesdale, the Head Teacher for Lynesack CofE Mixed and Infants School recorded their blackberry picking activities in the School Log Book.

He writes on Wednesday 11th September 1918 that under the ‘Gathering of Blackberries Scheme’, thirty-one of the older children were taken out of school that afternoon to go blackberry gathering. He also records the same children again being taken out of school to pick fruit for two further afternoons the following week.

There is no record of payments in the School Log Book for Lynesack, but in other areas of the country, Head Teachers received cheques from the Government in payment for their blackberry crops, and the money was shared out among the pupils who had harvested the blackberries.

Interestingly, the humble blackberry features in letters home written by Reverend Canon Cyril Lomax, Army Chaplain with the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. Towards the final stages of the Battle of the Somme, he writes on the 7th September 1916 that among the devastation he had witnessed, one simple pleasure came to him in the form of blackberrying.

“The other day the doctor and I went out to gather blackberries to make what our miner cook calls a pudden. It is one of the contrasts of war. Overhead, balloons and planes; the incessant thud and thunder of the evening strafe; and the quiet hedge”

And while two years separated those blackberry collections on the Somme, and in Lynesack, it was still an activity that connected those serving the war effort, be they chaplains or children.

By Jane Wilson

WW1 Project Workshops

We ran two free workshops last week at the museum.  The first one, in the morning, looked at using online finding aids to identify records that might be useful for the project and where to find them.  Under the guidance of Jane Wilson, one of the project’s volunteers, we had hands-on sessions using the online catalogues for Durham Record Office and The National Archives.  Both produced good results – even introducing us to potentially-useful records we hadn’t known existed!

The afternoon session concentrated on doing family history-style research which can add so much more information about the men and women identified on the Roll of Honour on the project’s website (www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk).  Sometimes all we have is a surname, initials and the location of a war memorial, or a name mentioned in the Teesdale Mercury.  Experienced family history researchers Ann Hughes, Carol Hutchinson and June Parkin helped us through various online sources to military and civil records, including some only available through Ancestry (which we hope will be available in the near future for project volunteers to use in the museum).  We were able to add information to the several database entries on the Roll of Honour, as well as seeing how to use a range of online sources.

We plan to repeat the workshops in early August (date to be confirmed) when they will be open to current and potential volunteers.  By having hands-on sessions, aided by experienced volunteers, we hope to encourage people to see how they can enhance the Roll of Honour entries, investigate the stories behind some of the Teesdale men and women who served in the First World War, and gain skills and confidence in doing family history research.

 If you are interested in helping the project in any way, please email us at libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or use the contact facility on the project website (see above).  We’d also love to hear from you if you have any information or memorabilia about Teesdale and its people during the First World War.

Judith Phillips, Research Advisor to the project

The Battle of Jutland

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Last week saw centenary commemorations of the Battle of Jutland (31st May – 1st June 1916).  This sea battle, fought in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark, was a very important battle.  It was a material victory for the German High Seas fleet because they had fewer losses (2551 men) than the British (6094).  However, it was a strategic victory for the British Grand Fleet which maintained its blockade of German ports and control of the North Sea. 

Given that Teesdale is quite a long way from the sea, it is interesting to see that several Teesdale men served in the Royal Navy during the First World War as volunteers or regulars before conscription largely removed any choice of service.  Research by volunteers with The Bowes Museum’s First World War Commemorative Project is finding Teesdale men serving in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy.  We’d love to hear from anyone who has information or memorabilia about Teesdale’s connection with the navies during the war.

Kevin Richardson’s book ‘Evenwood Remembers’ records three men from Evenwood who lost their lives at the Battle of Jutland. 

  • Tyneside Z/4043 Able Seaman John Wren was lost at sea 31 May 1916 when aboard HMS Black Prince and is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial. He was 23 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.
  • J/43920 Ordinary Seaman William Carrick was killed in action 1 June 1916 serving aboard HMS Ardent and is buried at Farsund Cemetery, Norway. He is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial, the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood and the Memorial Plaque in the Workmen’s Club.
  • J/43919 Ordinary Seaman Andrew Lynas was killed in action 1 June 1916 serving aboard HMS Ardent. He was lost at sea and is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.   He was 20 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial, the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood and the Memorial Plaque in the Workmen’s Club.

A memorial service for the three men lost at the Battle of Jutland, and for Private J.H. Raine who was killed in France, was held at St Paul’s Church, Evenwood on 11th June, 1916.

Kevin also records that another Evenwood man, William Purdy, aboard H.M.S. Maidstone, was involved in the battle but, as his ship was in the main fleet, its involvement was mainly in the pursuit after the battle.

Kevin and his team are transferring information about men from St. Helen’s Auckland, West Auckland, Etherley/Toft Hill, Evenwood, Cockfield, Butterknowle, Copley and Woodland to a website  https://thefallenservicemenofsouthwestcountydurham.com.

If you have any information or memorabilia about Teesdale men and women who served in the armed forces or as nurses, or who were affected by the war, we’d love to hear from you.  You can contact us through the project website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk, by emailing libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk, by post to The Bowes Museum or by telephoning 01833 690606 ext. 208 (answerphone).