Home Comforts in WWI through the Red Cross

By Judith Phillips

What does the famous novelist Agatha Christie have in common with Elizabeth Lowes and Jane Smurthwaite of Middleton-in-Teesdale or Janet Amelia Dent and Mary Alice Smith from Barnard Castle?  The answer is that they were all involved with the Red Cross during WWI.

Films, TV dramas and novels have shown us Red Cross and other nurses tending wounded soldiers in France, the Middle East and the Balkans.  But the Red Cross also provided hospital care for military personnel in Britain –‘at home’ – particularly for convalescents. During the war The Bowes Museum provided tomatoes from its greenhouses to Red Cross voluntary hospitals in the north-east, only asking for the cost of transport.

Join us at The Bowes Museum for an inter-active session to find out more about the Red Cross and its hospital work.  There will be talk with an opportunity to get your hands on nursing and hospital equipment from the WWI period.  The session on Saturday 27th May starts at 2.30 and costs £3 including light refreshments (free with museum admission and for Friends).  Please email info@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or telephone 01833 690606 to book.

Nursing was obviously a very important part of the work of the Red Cross during the war.  But people were involved in a wide range of support work as well.  We know of women from Teesdale who worked behind-the-scenes, providing clerical support, working as waitresses and housemaids in Red Cross institutions.  We tend to forget the less ‘glamorous’ support work and we’d love to hear from you if you know anything about a relative or person from your community who was involved in any way. 

Local Red Cross Societies were important fundraisers for the national society.  There are many articles in the Teesdale Mercury during the war years, recording a range of events held in towns and villages throughout Teesdale to raise money for the Red Cross locally and nationally.  A search on www.teesdalemercuryarchives.org.uk shows, for example, that in November 1915 Woodland Red Cross Society held a dance and supper with nearly 200 people present and raised over £10 – quite a lot of money in those days.  Some of the money would provide Christmas parcels for three men from the village serving in the Dardanelles (W. Dewhurst and F. Finnigan) and in France (R. Anderson).  Our Roll of Honour shows that Dewhurst and Finnigan were in the Royal Engineers and survived.  Anderson, in the Black Watch, is listed on the Woodland war memorial among those who died.

An unexpected find

By Judith Phillips

I love browsing in second-hand bookshops – there’s always the possibility of finding something interesting.  I was recently spending a happy hour or so doing just that – browsing, not looking for anything in particular when I made a lovely discovery quite by accident – a really serendipitous moment.

‘Princess Mary’s Gift Book’ was printed on the spine of a cream-coloured hardback book.  I don’t know what made me pick it off the shelf but it’s a real find.  On the front cover it clearly states ‘All profits on sale given to the Queen’s “Work for Women” Fund’ which is expanded on the frontispiece to say ‘which is acting in conjunction with The National Relief Fund’. 

The book contains twenty stories, some with an obvious connection the war but several with no clear connection at all.  Some of the authors are perhaps still well-known today, such as J. M. Barrie, A. Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, A.E.W. Mason and Baroness Orczy.  All the stories have illustrations and some coloured reproductions of paintings which seem to have been commissioned specifically for the book.  I’m sure that the sentiments of some of the stories are less acceptable today than they would have been a century ago but they do give us another insight into civilian activities for the war effort, particularly in terms of fund-raising and propaganda.

Clearly more research is needed to put the book in the wider context of relief efforts during the war.  Does anyone know more about the book and/or the various funds?  If you have, please email libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk, telephone 01833 690606 or contact us through the project website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk.

Dates for your diaries

There are a number of events coming up that you might want to note in your diaries.  Further information will be posted in the newsletter and on the WWI Events page on the website; WWI events in the museum will also be publicised on the museum website.

Saturday 27th May 2.30 – interactive event about Red Cross involvement; see the information in this newsletter

Saturday 10th June – 125th anniversary of the museum opening.  We hope to run some visits to the Reading Room for people to find out more about the library and archives work including the WWI project.  If you’d be interested in helping (even just an hour), please let me know: Judith.phillips@thebowesmuseum.org.uk

Wednesday 21st June 1.00 – talk about and launch of WWI book (An Artist at War: the art and letters of Morris and Alice Meredith) at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle; for details see www.litandphil.org.uk

Wednesday 5th July – visit to DLI stores and Research Centre at Spennymoor; see information in this newsletter

Wednesday 5th July – Somme 100 film at The Witham, Barnard Castle – further details to follow soon

Saturday 15th July – Yesterday Belongs to You at Beamish; we’ll have a stall to publicise the WWI project.  If you’d be interested in helping (even just an hour), please let me know: Judith.phillips@thebowesmuseum.org.uk

Saturday 9th September 2.30 – talk about conscientious objectors

Saturday 7th October – intergenerational drop-in day with talks and demonstrations about food during the war and an opportunity to help create an piece of artwork inspired by the war

Saturday 4th November  2.30 – illustrated talk on how the poppy became a symbol of the war, with a photography workshop in the morning.

Book Group review 25 April 2017

By Jane Wilson


‘The Absolutist’ by John Boyne was our first book recommendation, a deceptively simple read that covers such varied themes such as love and friendship, courage, denial of feelings, conscientious objections to war and resolving past life decisions many decades later. Told in the present day as well as flashbacks in his life, Tristan Sadler recounts his life as a soldier in the Great War, his friendship with a fellow soldier and his post war attempts to reconcile his war time experiences.

We returned to a previous book choice, with another group member choosing to recommend ‘In Parenthesis’ by David Jones. We listened to a couple of extracts read from the book, illustrating the unusual poetry/prose/conversational style of this epic poem. His writing was influenced by his time as an infantryman. ‘In Parenthesis’ won Jones the Hawthornden Literary Prize in 1938 as well as accolades from other poets such as T S Eliot and W B Yeats.

In Gary Sheffield’s book ‘The Somme’, he covers the Somme experience from the initial military planning to the experiences of the men on the ground who fought in the months of the battle. Sheffield examines the huge loss of life during the campaign, whether the battles were futile, and the controversy surrounding it. We discussed the role of the Pals Regiments in the Somme, and discussed the quote about Pals Regiments that they were ‘two years in the making, ten minutes in the destroying’.

Our last reading suggestion was ‘Gallipoli- The Dardanelles Disaster in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs’ by Richard van Emden and Stephen Chambers.  Fully illustrated with photographs and maps, the book covers views and opinions of the Dardanelles operations from the perspective of British, Anzac, French and Turkish troops. The authors use eyewitness accounts of the landings and fighting, and the book was of particular interest to one of our group members as she had four great uncles who had served at Gallipoli.

We look forward to the book recommendations at our next meeting and always welcome new members to the WW1 Book Group.