Mugs and Medals

What’s in your attic?

Most of us have cupboards, drawers and boxes full of mementoes and memorabilia that are too precious to ever throw away. The lucky households that have an attic will usually extend their hoarding tendencies and fill attic space to the rafters with items and objects that mean a lot to them.

But how often do we go back through our accumulated ‘stuff’ to truly know what is hidden away. This is what the Bowes Museum is hoping you can do now.

We are looking for commemorative items that were awarded locally to individuals at the end of the First World War. These may have been given in recognition of military service, hard work and support for communities back home, and even to children who were able to celebrate the victory of 1918.

So our basic question is…do you have any objects such as these hidden in your attic?

In August 1919, Mr and Mrs Bell Irving entertained forty children at Rokeby Park. Games were played, teas were served, and each child was given a china mug or cup emblazoned with the arms of the War Allies.

Major J W B Heslop presented one hundred War Memorial Bronze medals to servicemen from Startforth. Money left over from the purchase of the medals was used to buy memorial mugs or cups for each Startforth child.

The November 1919 Parish magazine for the church in Laithkirk reported the gift of a Peace mug to each child. The mugs were described in the magazine by Doris Brown as a reminder of the Great War. They were a Royal Doulton china mug with the names of all the countries who were in the war depicted in a ribbon around the top of the mug. The illustrations on the mug featured ships, guns and planes, and the wording ‘Victory and Peace 1919’ was an element of the design. The Parish magazine reported that any children that had not received their mug should speak to Mr Hollywood at Mickleton School.

China Peace tumblers were also presented in February 1920 to all children under the age of fourteen in Startforth.

Captain Edward Berry, of Wycliffe Hall presented silver mounted walking sticks to local soldiers who had served in the War. The walking sticks were inscribed ‘In Memory of British Victory 1918’.

At a supper in May 1920, returning soldiers from Rokeby were offered a ‘Welcome Home’ supper at the Rokeby Estate. Mr Bell Irving announced that a silver medal would be presented to each soldier.

So throughout the various Teesdale townships in the post war period, many of the commemorative items presented would have been well used and maybe don’t survive today. Other mugs, sticks and medals would have been cherished by their owners and passed down through their families.

So if you think one of your relatives was presented with a local commemorative gift, have a look for it at home. Why not start…in the attic.

First World War China Mementos

By Judith Philips

China Plate

It seems rather strange to me that mementos of the First World War were produced commercially, bought, sold and often kept for decades.  In many ways you’d think people would want to forget the war and its horrors.  But clearly having a souvenir meant a lot to families during the war and in the aftermath.  And I can still remember, as a child, visiting an elderly relative and being given a large book about the war to look at while the adults talked.

As part of the “To Serve King and Country” project, members of the public have loaned various objects connected to the war and Teesdale for us to photograph.  I’ve previously mentioned the embroidered postcards that were so popular on the Western Front as souvenirs.  And I’d recommend coming to Andrew Marriott’s talk on North East Trench Art (15th October at 2.30 in the Museum, £3.00 or free with admission or for Friends) for a fascinating insight into a different kind of souvenir.

Humour and satire played a large part in trench life – you might have seen some of the beautifully-drawn cartoons and caricatures that Les Davison, friend of George Croft, had drawn.  And humour was even available commercially.  Recently someone brought in a china bowl that had sat in a relative’s house for decades.  It has a cartoon printed inside – might have been quite a shock to find that when you picked up the last apple from the bowl!  The caption reads: ‘What time do they feed the sea lions, Alf?’

Another souvenir that has been loaned to the project is a tea plate, decorated with the flags of Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Belgium, with ‘ENTENTE 1914 THE DAY IS OURS!’  And just recently someone brought in a mug marked ‘A SOUVENIR OF THE GREAT WAR A PRESENT FROM GRAINS-O-BECK’.  The mug includes the dates war started, the armistice was declared and peace was signed.  It was clearly meant to commemorate the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended the war in 1919.  There are portraits of Admiral Beatty and General Haig with Britannia on a throne.

If you have any artefacts or stories about Teesdale people or places during the First World War, we’d love to hear from you.  You can email or contact us through the project’s website

The Durham Hymns Review


Durham Cathedral was a fitting place for the première of The Durham Hymns on Saturday 16th July.  The piece has lyrics by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, set to music by composers Jessica Curry and Orlando Gough.  It was performed by the Centenary Choir and Brass Band with Voices of Hope.

The evening began with A Prelude on George Butterworth, a promising composer killed in 1916 while serving with the Durham Light Infantry, composed by Jonathan Bates, followed by an arrangement by Gough of ‘Steady Durhams Steady’.  Throughout the performance, readings by Charlie Hardwick and Phil Corbitt from poignant original letters, memoirs and official records from and about Durham men and women interspersed and led seamlessly into the singing. 

Duffy has written seven new poems and also gave permission for two other of her poems to be used, one in response to a Wilfred Owen poem (also used).  You could feel how words and phrases in the original records had inspired the new poems which then found different ways of expressing ‘songs of love within the setting of war’, as the programme says.

The programme includes all the words of the poems and information about the readings, beautifully illustrated by Stephen Raw.  A copy of the programme is now in the Reference Library at The Bowes Museum.

This work is a First World War commemoration project from the Northern Regional Brass Band Trust in partnership with Durham County Council.  Further performances are planned in Gateshead, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Ushaw College, supported by a community programme.

It was an inspiring evening, and the large appreciative audience clearly found it very moving.  I hope some of you will be able to experience it in the months to come.

By Judith Phillips

WW1 Book Group Review



Another fascinating selection of books! As 2016 marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, we started with Dr Gary Sheffield’s The Somme.  Sheffield offers an important reassessment, seeing it as a ‘qualified success’ because it relieved the pressure on the French at Verdun, ground down the strength and morale of the German Army and taught the British some valuable lessons.  As I’m writing this, I realise there is a 3-part programme about the Battle of the Somme on BBC2 starting Monday 18th July.

In contrast, The Wipers Times treats the war and the difficulties faced by soldiers with a touch of (very British) black humour.   You might have seen a dramatisation on BBC2 (Monday 11th July) about the newspaper and the men who produced it.  This book is a reprint of all the editions of this newspaper (and its successors) produced by soldiers in the trenches, including while serving on the Somme. 

Two books highlighted the emotional cost of the war.  Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War by Peter Barham deals with the contrasting medical and psychiatric services offered to officers and men as well as changes in public attitudes.  In The Secret Battle: Emotional Survival in the Great War, Michael Roper looks at the importance to men at war of letters and news from family members.

A modern novel, The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear, uses letters to and from a newly-married couple as a main strand in the story.  The wife describes in loving detail the lovely meals she is preparing with her husband in mind, and he writes cheerful letters home from the trenches.  Both are writing lies to protect and support each other.  In On the Black Hill, Bruce Chatwin writes of a farming family torn apart when one twin son is exempted from conscription to work the farm and his twin brother refuses conscription because he is a conscientious objector. 

The final recommendation was The Case of Sergeant Grischa by Arnold Zweig who fought in the German army in France, Hungary and Serbia, and later became a pacifist and Communist.  The novel follows a Russian soldier on the Eastern front, captured by Austro-Hungarian forces, whose ultimate fate is largely decided by internal military politics. 

Our discussions, prompted by these books, ranged over German attitudes to the Somme, difficulties faced by men returning after the war, the importance of humour, and how little we know about ‘the enemy’. It might sound grim but it was fascinating and enlightening.  Why not come along and join us at the next meeting? You can bring along a book if you want, but you don’t have to.

The next meeting will be in Café Bowes in the museum at 2.30 on Monday 8th August.  Please note the change of date.

Asunder Review

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As audience and orchestra alike took their seats for Sunday’s performance of “Asunder” at Sunderland Empire Theatre, it seemed the perfect setting to step back in time, being a music hall of the era.

The performance was commissioned by 14-18NOW as part of their ongoing series of internationally recognised works including visual art and sculpture, theatre, film and performance. This evening’s show brought together a newly composed musical score by Tyneside’s musical luminaries Field Music and Warm Digits, performed live on stage with the Northern Sinfonia creating a deliciously rich soundtrack to accompany the filmic explorations of Esther Johnson.

Johnson’s film showed us a Sunderland of the past through archival footage from both the IWM and BFI – illustrating familiar narratives of the First World War with poignant clips of both the home front including men and women at work, families in their homes and the devastated streets in the aftermath of German zeppelin raids and exerts from the famous The Battle of The Somme documentary created in 1916, showing men at the front line both at rest and during combat. Offering a contrasting narrative of Sunderland today, the archival footage was interspersed with contemporary scenes – highlighting the architecture of the city as well as its lasting industry in terms of boat building, showing the cavernous spaces inside the dry docks.

As narrators to the performance, the audience had the instantly recognizable voice of Kate Adie and Alun Armstrong to guide us through the potted history of Sunderland’s Great War – eschewing exerts from the Sunderland Chronicle and other local press. Playing to the locals – football took a central feature revealing the story of Conscientious Objector Norman Gaudie, one of the famous “Richmond Sixteen” (whose graffiti can still be seen on the walls of Richmond Castle where they were kept awaiting trial).

Perhaps more surprisingly was the revelation of the Blyth Spartan Ladies Football Team who maintained a dominion on the football league throughout the war years – with star player Bella Raey scoring 133 goals in one season. Though with all the progress that was seemingly made for women’s rights – it was a shock to hear that the FA banned women’s football after the war.

In summary, the performance provided a unique insight into Sunderland’s local war stories, the melding of sight and sound bringing a heightened sense of emotion to each new aspect uncovered. I would hope that there will be the chance of future performances or showing around the region.

By Rupert Philbrick

Reflections on John Kirkpatrick’s ‘Tunes from the Trenches’


John Kirkpatrick, a Radio 2 Folk Awards Musician of the Year, appeared at The Witham in Barnard Castle on Friday 8th July.  And what an entertaining evening it turned out to be!  John told me he had accumulated so many songs from both the First and Second World Wars that it seemed right to put them together in a show (and on disc). 

Working with a button accordion and a couple of anglo concertinas (and a variety of headgear including his father’s Royal Navy cap from the Second World War), he covered an incredible range of songs, interspersed with occasional monologues and readings – I particularly loved a piece about the Army order allowing men not to grow moustaches during the First World War. 

There were well-known songs such as ‘A Long Way to Tipperary’, ‘Good bye-ee’, ‘The Siegfried Line’, ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’, ‘Wish Me Luck’ (several of them were sung in both world wars and the audience readily joined in the choruses).  John also sang several soldiers’ versions of these and other songs – very funny and usually quite rude!  The tongue-twister ‘Sister Susie Sewing Shirts’, especially with a verse sung by her young brother with a lisp, was amazing.  Did you know that many of the First World War songs were devised as marching tunes because the regimental bands didn’t immediately go to war?

But many of the songs were less well-known and a revelation.  I had never come across the songs about rationing and food control or about the American Colonel (who can’t relax with the local women because of his rank) or the possible benefits of the blackout to young lovers.   The American song aimed at keeping the country neutral and out of the conflict in Europe was very touching, although John pointed out that it became unacceptable to sing it once the US was involved. Several songs were based on the foot-soldier’s generally unfavourable view of military hierarchy and the drudgery of military life (including one by Ewan McColl). 

Lloyd George’s restrictions on drinking hours during the First World War (still largely with us) and the production of the weaker ‘government ale’ came in for some stick from soldiers, as did Tickler’s plum and apple jam which turned up in more than one song.  The ingenuity of soldiers in taking well-known tunes and setting new words to them, as well as adapting the words of familiar songs, was brilliant, especially when you really got to hear the words and appreciate the cleverness of the adaptations.

John had spent the afternoon working with Cream Tees, a band of young musicians from Teesdale, and joined them to sing ‘Goodbye–ee‘ which they had only learned that day.   The youngsters played and sang music they had been learning as part of the M@HoT (Music at the Heart of Teesdale) First World War project ‘Always Remembered’ .  Several of these multi-talented young people also performed an intricate and colourful longsword dance as part of Teesdale Longsword team.  The audience thoroughly enjoyed their contribution at the beginning of the evening.

Throughout the evening the audience responded to the range of John’s songs and stories – funny, rude, clever, sad – and John’s encore ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ was a fitting end to a very enjoyable evening.

Judith Phillips


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A request for help…

Penny Wang is currently a second-year student at Newcastle University and in need of some help with her summer research project (supported by Newcastle University’s Vacation Scholarship Scheme) on women, diaspora, and leisure in the Northeast during the First World War.

Penny is looking at three diasporic communities: Belgian, Italian, and Chinese.  She has found a good amount of information on the Belgians already, but would greatly appreciate any leads on any of these communities.  

If anyone feels they can contribute to Penny’s research, or offer help in any way, please contact her directly at: