Book Group Meeting 15/8/17

By Jane Wilson

Our August meeting started with the recommendation of ‘It’s Only Me’ by David Raw, a biography of the Reverend Theodore Hardy, a military chaplain in WW1. The book follows Hardy through childhood, University years, ordination into the Church of England, family and work life, and then primarily his service as a military chaplain. He was renowned for remaining up and close to the soldiers in the regiments he served, and as well as discovering how he supported those in the trenches, the book also details the incidents that earned him a Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and a Victoria Cross. These awards made him the most decorated non-combatant in the First World War.

By coincidence, the second book we talked about was ‘Life After Tragedy – Essays on Faith and the First World War, evoked by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy’ (a contemporary and influencer of Theodore Hardy). The combined essays study WW1 from a theological point of view, and are contributions from people connected with Worcester Cathedral, where Kennedy first preached to the troops. The essays cover topics such as commemoration, war memorials, poetry in war time, social reform and humanitarianism. Each essay also links views on faith in today’s world and societies. A quote from Jay Winter of Yale University in his review of the book states ‘Essential reading for anyone trying to understand the earthquake that was the Great War’.

Africa was our next port of call, with a book suggestion written by Owen Sheers called ‘The Dust Diaries’. Sheers writes about an obscure relative, Arthur Cripps, a poet, Anglican priest and missionary to Southern Rhodesia at the beginning of the 20th century. Cripps is a witness to WW1 fighting in East Africa, and a supporter of the native peoples. In his book, Sheers traces his relatives travels and influence in Africa, whilst looking at contemporary issues facing modern day Zimbabwe.

For a change, our next recommendation was a DVD rather than a book, and was a documentary by Dan Snow, ‘Battle of the Somme’. Taking as its focus the 1917 silent film about the Battle of Ancre and the increasing use of tanks, Snow looks at the history of the Battle of Ancre using the newly restored film to help understand the battle, the film that was made at the time, and the development of capturing live WW1 action at the time.

‘Englanders and Huns; The Culture Clash Which Led to the First World War’ by James Hawes concentrates on the cultural clash between England and Germany, starting in the middle 19th century and leading up to and into the First World War. Hawes looks at how words and pictures can inform ideas and opinions of one population about another, and looks at how cartoons, books, newspapers and magazine articles can create stereotypes of a nation. It provides an alternative way of looking at the beginning of the conflict rather than the more usual political or military view.

Sebastian Barry’s ‘A Long Long Way’ is a novel about WW1, set alongside the political turmoil seen in Ireland at the same time. The central character, Willie Dunne, volunteers to fight as a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the book follows the conflict he experiences in Europe as well as the build up to conflict back home in the Easter Rising in 1916.

‘The Forgotten Soldier’  by Charlie Connelly was an account of a very ordinary London lad who was killed, aged 19, on 4 November 1918 – just a week before the Armistice.  Somehow we all felt that his death, so close to the end of the war, was that much more poignant, even though we couldn’t really explain our reaction.  Edward Connelly was the author’s great-uncle, who was astonished to discover that his father hadn’t even known about his uncle – he hadn’t been mentioned by the family.  Charlie Connelly tried to find out about his great-uncle but actually found it very difficult, so he supplements his account with memories recorded by soldiers in the same battles, same areas, same places.  As his own form of remembrance he walked from London to Edward Connelly’s grave in the New British Cemetery at Harlebeke where a chance encounter gave him an insight into Edward’s last days.

We finished off our meeting with one of our members talking about some recent work she has undertaken for a visitor to a Bowes Museum Open Day. She had been translating from French various pieces of information relating to a Belgian soldier who ended up in England during the war. For a short time, Pierre Louis Vermote was found work in a munitions factory in Birtley, before spending a period of time in Winterton Lunatic Asylum near Sedgefield, dying there in 1918. Our book group would be interested in hearing more about Pierre Vermote from anyone who knows more information – please get in touch at

Our next Book Group meeting will be on Tuesday 19th September at 2.30 and we look forward to welcoming new members.


A commemorative visit

Did you see the article in the Teesdale Mercury (30th August 2017) about a commemorative visit to First World War cemeteries and memorials in northern France and Belgium?  Colin Young, Mike Jones and Mike Bell combined commemorating some of their relatives with visiting the graves and memorials of four of the five Smith brothers of Barnard Castle.  You can read about the Smith brothers in their entries on the project’s Roll of Honour ( and they have featured in stories in June 2015 and September 2016 that you can also find on the project website.

If you’ve made a commemorative trip or have information or a story about Teesdale people in the war, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you. (Email:, tel: 01833 690606 ext. 208 answerphone)

Here’s Colin’s full account of their trip.

Barnard Castle’s Band of Brothers

By Colin Young

We’d planned the trip for some time. Mike Jones of Barnard Castle, Mike Bell of Eggleston, and myself, Colin Young of Darlington, intended to spend 5 days in Belgium and France in April 2017, visiting the Battle of Waterloo site of 1815 and the Somme and Passchendaele battlefields of WW1.

The original plan was to spend a day at Waterloo just south of Brussels, 2 days at Arras (The Somme) in Northern France and 2 days at Ypres (Passchendaele) in Belgium. During the trip, we were going to visit the grave of my great Uncle George who is buried at Ypres, and see the inscription of a relative (John Archibald McIver) of Mike Jones’s wife who is remembered on the Menin Gate at Ypres. His body was never found.

We had all heard the story of the 6 Smith brothers from Barnard Castle. Frederick 21, Robert 22, George Henry 26, Alfred 32 and John William 37 who were all tragically killed in WW1. The sixth brother Wilfred was brought back after an intervention by the townsfolk of Barnard Castle and Queen Mary, a real-life Saving Private Ryan story. It seemed an ideal opportunity, if possible, to combine our planned trip with a visit to see the graves of any of the Smith brothers who might be in the area we were visiting.

We had no idea where the 5 Smith brothers had fought, were killed, were buried or commemorated, so we contacted Judith Phillips at The Bowes Museum.  Judith has been heading a project to document and remember the sacrifices made by the men and woman of Teesdale during WW1. Judith gave us details of the cemeteries and memorials to the brothers, in Belgium and France, and we amended our route to visit 4 of the brothers. The 5th brother, Private Alfred Smith (Durham Light Infantry), was buried at Terlincthun cemetery at Wimille in north east France but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to visit him during our trip.

The amended plan was to visit Private Robert Smith (Durham Light Infantry) who was buried at Dernancourt cemetery in France, Corporal George Henry Smith (Durham Light Infantry) whose name was inscribed on the Thiepval Monument in France (his body was never found), Private Frederick Smith (Durham Light Infantry) whose name is inscribed on the Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium (his body was never found) and Sergeant John William Stout (West Yorks Regiment) whose name is inscribed on the memorial at Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium (his body was never found).

Following a fascinating visit to the site of the Battle of Waterloo we spent our first night in Arras, northern France.

The next morning, we set off in the cold and rain to travel 30 miles south to find the grave of Robert in Dernancourt Cemetery. Robert is buried in a beautifully tended Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery overlooking the gently rolling green fields of the Somme region of Hauts-de-France. We placed a cross and poppy on his grave and made a brass rubbing of the gravestone which is inscribed with the crest of the Durham Light Infantry and the words ‘6/3433 Private R Smith, Durham Light Infantry, 19th September 1916’. We spoke to several of the local groundsmen who are employed by the CWGC to tend the graves. One of them in halting English told us stories of the troops from Australia, New Zealand and UK who had fought in the area. As we left we thanked him for his time and he replied, “No, it us for us to thank your soldiers for what they have done for us”.  Very moving.

We left Dernancourt and headed for the Thiepval Monument a few miles to the north to find George whose name is inscribed there alongside over 72,000 UK and South African soldiers who fought in the area and whose bodies were never found. The scale of the monument is staggering and was built to honour the sacrifices made by French, UK and South African soldiers in the Somme region. To the rear of the monument is a graveyard with equal numbers of 300 French and 300 UK and South African soldiers who endured equal hardships. George was in the Durham Light Infantry and his name is inscribed on an “Addenda” panel on the rear wall of the monument indicating that his name may have been added some time after the main walls were inscribed. We made a brass rubbing of the inscription and placed a cross and poppy alongside it.

On the 3rd day we visited the Vimy Ridge memorial which is dedicated to the Canadian forces who fought and took the ridge from the Germans who had held it for 2 years. The Canadians lost 3500 men in 4 days. We also explored the underground tunnel under Arras used to hide 24,000 Allied troops prior to the battle of Arras. We spoke to a Canadian student who was spending 6 months at Vimy Ridge as an unpaid guide. She said with great conviction, “ None of these monuments you see here or in other parts of The Somme glorify war, they stand to remember the sacrifice of brave young men”.

Late in the afternoon we headed back to Belgium to the town of Ypres (known to the British Tommies as Wipers) for our last night. We watched the ceremony at 8 pm at the Menin Gate where every night the traffic into the town is stopped and the crowds gather to watch the Last Post ceremony and laying of wreaths.

On the final morning, we returned to the Menin Gate and found the inscription to Frederick which reads ‘Smith F 25205’. We took a brass rubbing of the inscription and placed a cross and poppy alongside it.

We found John Archibald McIver’s inscription on the Menin Gate and my Great Uncle George’s grave in the Reservoir cemetery, took brass rubbings and left crosses and poppies.

Finally, we headed for Tyne Cot cemetery which is near Zonnebeke, 5 miles from Ypres, to find John. Tyne Cot is the largest CWGC cemetery in the world and contains the graves of nearly 12,000 soldiers. On the memorial wall to the rear of the cemetery are inscribed the names of 35,000 soldiers whose bodies were never found. The graveyard overlooks the fields of Passchendaele, the scene of terrible carnage during WW1. The sheer size of the graveyard is awe inspiring, the graves seem to go on for ever. We found John’s name inscribed alongside hundreds of his fallen comrades in the West Yorkshire Regiment. John’s inscription reads Stout J. W. (John’s surname was his mother’s maiden name as she was unmarried when he was born, but he is still a Smith brother). As we were unable to visit Alfred at Terlincthun we left a cross and poppy for both John and Alfred alongside John’s inscription as a mark of respect to both brothers. We took a brass rubbing of John’s inscription.

Mission accomplished we headed back to Zeebrugge to catch the overnight ferry to Hull and back home after a thought provoking, emotional and humbling but satisfying trip.

Dates for your diary September – November 2017

We’ve just added listings for our talks, events, and activities from September to November to the website. There’s a varied selection and more information in each of our newsletters, so we hope something piques your interest. You can follow the links in each event’s title for more information.

September 9: Leaving Their Mark: Conscientious Objectors and the Richmond Castle Cell Block

A talk exploring the initial research findings of an English Heritage project looking into the historic graffiti left by Conscientious Objectors held in Richmond Castle.

October 7: A day for all generations

A day of activities for all ages, including crafts and an interactive talk on food during the First World War.

November 4: Poppies: Women, War, Peace

A two part event including a photography workshop and talk by photographer Lee Karen Stow whose exhibition Poppies: Women, War, Peace is currently touring internationally.

Heritage Open Day scheme

As in previous years, we are offering FREE tours to the museum’s Archive and Library Reading Room as part of the Heritage Open Day scheme on Friday 8th September.  This will include a display of work relating to the First World War project.

This is a great opportunity to browse the library shelves (including a growing collection of books relating to the First World War and its aftermath), see the work being done by volunteers for the First World War project and chat to volunteers, and – of course – enjoy the fabulous views from the Reading Room which is in the very top of the museum.

If you can spare some time on Friday 8th September to help manage the Open Day – manning the welcome table, escorting visitors to the Reading room, showing them around the Reading Room – you’ll be very welcome.  Please email and we’ll make the necessary arrangements.

Access to the Reading Room is usually by lift and stairs (55) although it is possible to get to the Reading Room entirely by lift.  Groups of up to 10 people will be escorted to the Reading Room every 30 minutes and visitors can stay as long as they like.

The tours are FREE, as is access to the museum shop and Café Bowes.  If you want to visit the museum galleries, normal admission charges will apply.  For details, see the museum’s website under Visit Us>visitor information.

If you want to book a place on a tour, please telephone 01833 690606 or email  Or you can just turn up at our table in the Entrance Hall on the day.

Battlefield crosses

By Judith Phillips

I was recently sent a link to a BBC News webpage.  The news piece was about a project to identify First World War battlefield crosses.

Graves dug near battlefields were usually marked with a wooden cross giving brief details of the dead soldier.  But the flow of military offensives and retreats, particularly on the Western Front, meant that in many cases graves were destroyed by new action or had to re-dug in safer areas.  The wooden battlefield crosses were eventually replaced by the stone headstones we are all familiar with in the large-scale cemeteries and memorials we associate with the aftermath of fighting on the Western Front. In many cases the battlefield cross was returned to the soldier’s family but, of course, over the years many have perished or been forgotten. 

In conjunction with the University of Kent, volunteer researchers are investigating and recording the survival of battlefield crosses.  The BBC News piece gives many examples and illustrations of the work, and you can find out more on the project website

If you came to Andrew Marriott’s fascinating talk on trench art last year, you will remember his mentioning the three crosses set up on the Butte of Warlencourt to commemorate soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry who were killed in action there.  The crosses are now housed in Durham Cathedral, St Andrew’s Bishop Auckland and St Cuthbert’s Chester-le-Street.

The Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission was (and still is) responsible for maintaining war graves and their website has been a very great help in the research for our WWI project.  The story of the commission’s creation is fascinatingly told in ‘Empires of the Dead: how one man’s vision led to the creation of WWI’s war graves’ by David Crane.

Victoria Crosses

By Judith Phillips

Last month a memorial stone was laid in County Durham honouring one of the men from the county who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.  In all there are seven memorial stones.  You can find more information on the website for the Durham at War project at the Durham Record Office – a search under ‘commemorative paving stone’ will bring up several results.

When I read about the Victoria Cross commemorative paving stone project for County Durham, I wondered if any Teesdale men would be included.  At the very beginning of the project, Frank Smith of Barnard Castle very generously allowed me to copy the folder of work he had done identifying men from Teesdale who died during the war.  This copy is available for reference in the Museum’s Reading Room.  From the information he gathered, Frank produced a list of Teesdale men who had received the Victoria Cross and the Military Medal during the First World War. 

Four men awarded the Victoria Cross appear in Frank’s list but none seems to have been eligible for inclusion in the County Durham commemorative project.  Their Teesdale connection was ‘over the river’ in what was then Yorkshire (but in the Teesdale Poor Law Union) or their association was rather tenuous.

Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorhouse of Rokeby of the Royal Flying Corps died on 27th April 1915, aged 27, and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.  Born William Moorhouse in 1887, he added Rhodes to his surname in accordance with his grandfather’s will.  In 1912 he married Linda Beatrice Morrit of Rokeby Hall and their son was only a few months old when Rhodes-Moorhouse died.  His citation said he displayed conspicuous courage by flying low over the railway station at Kortrijk in Belgium which he bombed but was then caught in enemy fire.  Although badly wounded, he brought his damaged aircraft back but died the following day.

Arthur Henderson, a Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was also awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously after he was killed in action in April 1917, aged 23. His father Arthur Henderson was the Labour Member of Parliament for Barnard Castle.

Lieutenant Commander George Nicholson-Bradford of the Royal Navy, an old boy of Barnard Castle School, was awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘great gallantry’ before he was killed in a raid on Zeebrugge in 1918.

Lieutenant William Bisset, also of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, won the Victoria Cross in October 1918.  Before he joined up, he had worked for the Black Prince Motor Company in Barnard Castle.  Unlike the other recipients listed here, he survived the war, dying in 1971.

I am grateful to Frank Smith for put his research at the disposal of the project.

The Third Battle of Ypres – Passchendaele

By Judith Phillips

Last week saw the official commemoration of the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres which is perhaps more often referred to as Passchendaele.  It has come to signify another long-lasting battle of attrition involving terrible loss of life amid dreadful conditions. 

The weather we have been experiencing recently – so much rain in late July and early August – serve as a reminder that summer does not necessarily mean warm, dry days.  Certainly summer rain badly affected the men on the Western Front involved in the summer battles of 1917, as the earth turned to mud.  It is clear from the work project volunteers are doing to identify dates of death for men recorded on war memorials throughout Teesdale that there were a significant number of deaths in 1917.  Local men were involved in the fighting around Passchendaele, especially as the fighting in 1917 involved men who had been conscripted into the army under the new regulations that came into force in 1916.

Do you have relatives from Teesdale who fought at Passchendaele?  If you have, we’d like to hear about their experiences.  As always, it is more difficult to find about the men who survived, so any information is helpful.

Book group July 2017

By Jane Wilson

July’s meeting started with the result of some detective work carried out into one of the books recommended in a previous meeting. ‘The Love of An Unknown Soldier’ was a compilation of letters written from a unknown soldier to his unknown sweetheart, and the book certainly tugged on the emotions of those of us at the meeting. Using a variety of on-line sources to try and find out more about this book, and the unidentified couple, we discovered to our surprise and disappointment that the book was a hoax, and had been written by an author called Coningsby Dawson. He was an Englishman who eventually served with the Canadian Field Artillery on the Somme. It is not clear why the publishers perpetuated the theory of the unknown couple, but for whatever reasons, this unauthentic book continued to be published, and bought by readers who like us, found it a fascinating read. An intriguing thought, that our small book group had been so taken by a work of fiction that we believed to be true, set off a conversation about ‘can you believe everything you read?’

The first recommendation for July was the play ‘Journey’s End’ by R C Sherriff. Based on personal experiences as an Officer in WW1, he writes of a small group of officers living in a dugout near the trenches at the Front, and the play follows them through the four days prior to an attack on the German trench opposite. Themes explored include the naivety of young soldiers, cowardice, feigning illness to return home, the class system, support mechanisms to help with obvious mental health issues in the trenches. A simply written, yet moving piece of drama, it made a refreshing change to read a play rather than a novel or factual book. Having already been made as a TV programme and a film, a new film is due out in the Autumn that is based around the ‘Journey’s End’ play.

Our next group member brought along three books that all have as their connection the role of horses during WW1. Two were books from Michael Morpurgo, the first being his now famous story ‘War Horse’, following the battles of WW1 through the eyes of Joey, the farm horse purchased by the Army to serve in France. We also talked about Morpurgo’s sequel, ‘The Farm Boy’ which follows the relationship between a grandfather and his grandson, in which the older man tells stories of the war, and of Joey the War Horse and his original owner, Albert.

Tying in with these two fictional books was the third book choice, ‘Warrior, The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse’ by General Jack Seely. General Jack Seely, also known as Lord Mottistone, was a politician and British Army General and famously led one of the last ever cavalry charges in the war at the Battle of Moreuil Wood. His writing told of the exploits of his horse during the war, and there are beautiful illustrations from Alfred Munnings all through the book.

The Fateful Year: England 1914 by Mark Bostridge was brought up for discussion next and it follows life in Britain during 1914 in chronological order, taking English political and social history for much of its themes. Bostridge gives the background to campaigns around suffragism and Irish home rule, the worry over invasion and German spies, school children striking in support of teachers and many other 1914 stories. He gives great insight to all these home events that are happening, as the cover of the book says, in ‘a year that began in peace and ended in war’.

Lots of wonderful photographs and illustrations of posters and leaflets add context and understanding to the book ‘Home Front 1914 – 1918, How Britain Survived the Great War’ by Ian Beckett. Reminding us of the great part played in WW1 by those still back in England, the chapters in the book take us through men and women at work, women working the land, nursing, food production, rationing, munitions production, firewatch duties and many other facets of life that kept the Home Front going during the war years.

We listened lastly to the impact that WW1 had on the very youngest soldiers, covered by Charlie Connelly in his book ‘The Forgotten Soldier’. Not knowing much about his great Uncle Edward’s military service, and his death a week before the Armistice, the author sets out on a pilgrimage by walking from his relative’s birthplace in London to his grave in a small military cemetery in Western Belgium. The book not only recounts the story of his relative’s war life, but also that of similar young men who joined the forces, served in the war, and never came home to carry on with their young lives.

Yet again, a meeting with a diverse and interesting selection of books to consider, offering us all the chance to follow up on some books that we otherwise might never have come across. If you would like the chance to have reading selections offered to you, or you have choices of your own to recommend, come and join us at our next meeting, we’ll be gathering at the Bowes Museum reception on 15th August 2017 at 2.25pm.