Dates for your diary

We’re working on a programme of talks and activities for 2017.  It’s not yet finalised but here are two dates for your diary:

Saturday 25th March starting at 2.00 and Saturday 29th April starting at 2.30

On 25th March David Youngson will talk about the work of various Christian organisations during the war, often close to the front line, offering support and help in a wide variety of ways.  David is a retired clergyman who has done extensive work on the work of chaplains.  Then Denise Coss will consider the response and expectations of the Church of England to the war.  Denise will be using the research she undertook for her PhD, and many of you will recall her fascinating talk on war memorials that started the first series of talks.

On 29th April we will welcome Alan Fidler and Marie Caffrey to talk about and demonstrate their current project ‘Dominion Geordies’.  We know that several Teesdale families had connections with the Dominions, so this talk will have a local connection as well as giving a broader picture.

Alison Mounter and Judith Phillips

Book Group Meeting January 18 2017

By Jane Wilson

The new year got off to a great start with a variety of literary choices with World War One as the primary theme.

Our first recommendation was the satirically titled “We Danced All Night” by Martin Pugh. The book takes a thought provoking look at the inter-war years, which have typically been portrayed as a period of depression. The author presents a more balanced view of the social lives of people between the wars, covering areas as diverse as crime and violence, food, medicine, sport and pastimes, property ownership, as well as links with the politics of the time. The distance of time between WW1 and now allows a chance of viewing the inter-war period with a more detailed, and maybe optimistic viewpoint.

We moved on then to David Olusoga’s book, “The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of the Empire”, which outlines the array of races and nations that provided the soldiers fighting in the many theatres of war around the world. The author examines the roles played by colonial troops serving from all across the Empire, drawing on their diary entries and eye witness accounts to show the roles they played, and the racial attitudes towards them.

“Mud, Blood and Poppycock” by Gordon Corrigan was our next reading choice. One edition of the book has on its front cover the enticing statement: ‘this will overturn everything you thought you knew about Britain and the First World War’.  The group member recommending the book talked about how the book will make you question what you have learnt about WW1, was the war fought in vain, and whether in hindsight the war would be allowed to happen again?

We then moved on to a book containing a collection of interviews with WW1 survivors, the author starting his project in 2004 when there were only 21 veterans still alive. Beautifully illustrated with photographs of the interviewees during their periods of service, and also now at ages of often over 100 years old, the veterans talk about their childhoods, WW1 service, family, careers and then how they are spending their final years. Each veteran in Max Arthur’s “Last Post” gives their own view on WW1, their part in it, and how the war marked their take on life – be it a positive stance, or tinged with regret.

Another recommendation this month was “The Face of Battle” by John Keegan, a book that covers the Battle of the Somme, as well as earlier historical battles of Agincourt and Waterloo. Keegan writes from the perspective of the individuals in battle at the immediate point of danger in warfare. He investigates the effects of battle on individuals, the physical conditions they were fighting under, their emotions and behaviour and the willpower to stay and fight, rather than fleeing battle.

“A War in Words” by Svetlana Palmer and Sarah Wallis is a compilation of letters and war diary entries that bring the reader the experiences of a wide variety of WW1 participants from theatres of war all over Europe, Africa and Asia. The updates at the end of the book help us understand the lives of these people once the war was over, and include vignettes of an eclectic group of survivors: a German U-boat captain, a Belgrade doctor, a soldier from Guinea, a Turkish officer, and most extraordinarily, the youngest of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassins, Vaso Cubrilovic. As the book cover states, “Powerful individual stories are interwoven to form an extraordinary narrative that follows the chronology of the war, in words written on the battlefield and on leave, under occupation and under siege – from the Western Front to East Africa, and from the North Sea to the southern Balkans”.

A final book mentioned being read by one of our group was from WW2 experiences, called “No Picnic on Mount Kenya” by Felice Benuzzi. The author was from an Italian mountaineering family and was held as a prisoner of war in Kenya during WW2. He and two fellow POW’s decide to break out of the camp and attempt to climb Mount Kenya with equipment they have put together themselves. Our group member has read part way through the book so we must wait until our next meeting to find out how the three intrepid POW mountaineers fare…so watch this space.

The Reading Group meets again on Tuesday 21 February at 2.30pm – new members always welcome!

Why wear spurs?

By Judith Phillips

Some of you will have seen a recent article in the Teesdale Mercury about my colleague Rosie Bradford and her grandfather’s spurs.  What a pity he wasn’t from Teesdale – I’d have loved to have that story in our project!  Rosie wondered why the spurs were fitted with small tin ‘wheels’.

But, thanks to a lady in Barnard Castle who reads the Mercury, I can add a little to the story of spurs in the First World War.  Her father was in the artillery and she brought in her father’s WWI spurs which are also fitted with small tin discs.  She also brought in a copy of ‘A Saturday Night Soldier’s War 1913-1918’ by Norman Tennant, published in 1983.  Tennant was studying at Bradford School of Art when war broke out and the book is full of his drawings, illustrating his war experience – some of them are really funny, despite the horrors around him.  In 1913 Tennant had joined the local Territorial Army unit – a battery of 5 inch howitzers – so he was called up with the rest of the unit in 1914.  The book title refers to the slightly derogatory nickname for a Territorial Army soldier before the war, but attitudes had changed by the end of the war as the Territorials had been through some of the worst campaigns on the Western Front.

Tennant gives an amusing account of all the equipment he had to get on a recalcitrant horse – rolled greatcoat, blanket, nosebag with horse’s feed, hay net, mess tin, missile bucket containing signalling flags, plus ‘sundry odds and ends’ – and he points out that all the equipment prevented the right leg from being thrown smartly over the saddle in mounting.  Just after this, Tennant describes the results of what he describes as ‘a certain amount of unofficial attention’ to the ‘walking out dress’ as the second khaki uniform was called.  Among the changes ‘…the swan necked spurs [were] fitted with tin discs in the rowels to give a jingle when the heel met the ground in walking.’  So, you would be able to hear the artillery officers as they approached along the hard surface of a road or pavement.  I suspect that probably didn’t happen very often in the mud of the Western Front.

Incidentally, the spurs were marked ‘CROSS’.  Does anyone know what that indicates?  Was it the name of a firm of spurs-makers?  If you have any further information about spurs or any other aspect of the war, especially relating to Teesdale people, I’d love to hear from you.


WWI Book group

Just a quick reminder that the next meeting of the WWI Book group will be on Tuesday 17th January in the Museum’s Café Lounge from 2.30 p.m.  Please feel free to bring along a book you’d like introduce but don’t feel you have to come with a book.  You’ll be very welcome to join us for a drink and lively discussion! 

As you’ll have seen from the Book group reports, poetry plays a large part in the literature of the First World War, and we certainly hope to explore that further in the Book group and also in our programme of talks and workshops in 2017 and beyond.   There are several fascinating websites around poetry and the First World War.  Have you tried The First World War Poetry Digital Archive at  There’s a wealth of material about many war poets associated with the war including several who have turned up in our Book group discussions including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Vera Brittain and Edward Thomas.  Another fascinating site is which has an extensive ‘First World War Poetry Showcase’ featuring several non-British poets as well many less well known British poets including some modern responses to the war.  I am sure there are many other websites on this topic – perhaps you could email me suggestions or your particular favourite poet or poem?

Judith Phillips (

Grounds for Appeal: World War 1 Appeal Tribunal Papers 1916-1918

By Judith Phillips

The Military Service Act of 1916 introduced conscription to Britain for men aged from 18 – 41.  Conscription affected many men and their families in our area.  However, men could appeal against their conscription through the tribunal system.  They could be granted a temporary exemption and, in particular circumstances, a permanent exemption from military service.  Most of the tribunal records were destroyed after the First World War, but some records have survived, including the North Riding Appeal Tribunal papers.  These are currently being catalogued by volunteers taking part in the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Grounds for Appeal project at the North Yorkshire County Record Office at Northallerton. 

Several townships in the Teesdale Poor Law Union were in North Yorkshire and these places are covered by the Museum’s First World War Commemoration Project.  So far we have only come across information about exemptions in newspaper reports of the tribunals, and we know the tribunal papers for County Durham no longer exist.  I’ve already been in touch with Ruth Rising who is running the project, and it will be very helpful to our project to be able to access their findings. 

Ruth Rising (North Yorkshire County Record Office), Karyn Burnham (author and volunteer) and Joanne Aston (volunteer) will talk about the tribunal system and the insights case papers give into the effect of conscription on the people of the North Riding of Yorkshire between 1916 and 1918.

This talk is part of a series of lunchtime talks at North Yorkshire County Record Office, Malpas Road, Northallerton DL7 8TB, organised by the Record Office in conjunction with Northallerton and District Local History Society.  The talk will be held on Friday January 27 and begins at 12.30, lasting about 45 minutes which will be followed by discussion.  The entry fee of £2 includes light refreshments and advance booking is not necessary.

David Lloyd George, wartime minister and Prime Minister

By Judith Phillips

David Lloyd George (1863-1945) as a wartime minister and Prime Minister was the focus of a recent TV programme (Tuesday 10th January on BBC4 at 9.00 p.m.).   If you didn’t see it, you should still be able to find it on BBCiplayer.

The presenter Dan Snow is descended from Lloyd George’s daughter, so he had a particular interest in the Lloyd George story.  The ‘shell crisis’ of 1915 led to Lloyd George being appointed Minister for Munitions and he galvanised industrial businesses into converting their factories to war-work, particularly for producing shells.  This was clearly in the mind of Francis Carruthers Gould when he designed a Toby jug representing Lloyd George, one in a series of eleven jugs depicting military and political celebrities of the war.  Gould was a caricaturist and political cartoonist, and you can see this in the jugs.  Lloyd George, for example, is shown holding a shell marked ‘shell Out’.  All eleven jugs are in a small display near the Cafe in the Museum.

The programme included quite a lot of film footage, showing Lloyd George during the First World War.  I thought it was very interesting to see how he and the military commanders reacted together, as Dan Snow pointed out he and the military were frequently at odds. 

Lloyd George was, and still is, a controversial figure both for his politics and for his private life, and no doubt there will be more programmes about him over the course of the next couple of years, looking at his wartime activities and the influence he brought to bear on the peace negotiations that led to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.