Town ringing to remember fallen serviceman

By Judith Phillips

A recent edition of the Teesdale Mercury included a letter asking for any members of the family of Private Stanley Wilkinson, who died in 1917, to get in touch with Helen Scott Tel: 01833 690169.

For more information, here is Helen Scott’s letter to the Teesdale Mercury:

‘Private Stanley Willis Wilkinson, Service No. 72226, was a member of the Sherwood Foresters, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment.

He was killed in action and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.  He was born in 1898 in Barnard Castle and his date of death was October 24, 1917.

Stanley was the son of Thomas (deceased) and Sarah Wilkinson of Portland Square, King Street, Barnard Castle.  He worked in Mr T W Bainbridge’s office for a short time prior to enlisting at the age of 18.  Stanley had been a bell ringer at St Mary’s Parish Church and had taught one of the Sunday school classes.  He had only been serving with the army for seven months when he died after having been hit by shrapnel.

The current bell ringers in Barnard Castle are planning to ring a quarter peal, lasting approximately 45 minutes, on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 24, 2017, to remember Private Wilkinson.

We would be very pleased to hear from any members of Private Wilkinson’s family and they can contact Helen Scott on 01833 690169.’

Private Wilkinson is recorded on the Roll of Honour on the project website  We would also be interested in any further information about him.

Photography workshop and presentation

Are you interested in doing more with your photographs?  Do you know someone who would benefit from a photography workshop?  Your photographs do not have to be related to the First World War.  Find out more about this photography workshop at the Bowes Museum…

Photographic artist Lee Karen Stow has many years’ experience of using photography creatively.  She will be running a half-day photography workshop for photographers with moderate to advanced level of expertise on Saturday 4th November at The Bowes Museum starting at 10.00.   Lee will share thoughts and tips on how to create and sustain a personal photography project or long-term body of work. Learn how to turn your chosen theme or passion into an individual narrative, expressing what you love about life. She will also look at ways to share your work, to exhibit and ways to get your work seen. The cost for the workshop is £15 and this includes admission to Lee’s afternoon presentation on Poppies: Women, War, Peace.


At 2.30 on Saturday 4th November, Lee will talk about her touring exhibition which remembers women whose lives have been affected by war, from WW1 to conflicts of today, alongside a botanical series of the poppy wildflower in all its colours. Her work is inspired by Moïna Bell Michael and Madame Anna E Guérin who immortalised the Flanders Fields poppy as a symbol of remembrance a century ago. This event is included in the cost of the photography workshop; otherwise it costs £3 to include light refreshments (FREE with museum admission charge/annual pass and for Friends).

You can book for either or both events by emailing or telephoning 01833 690606.

The Battle of Arras film

Many of you will have been to a screening of The Battle of the Somme film last year or earlier this year.  Did you know there was also a film made of The Battle of Arras in 1917?  Here’s your chance to see the film.

The Battle of Arras is the last of the three ‘great battle pictures’ produced by British cameramen in the Great War. It has always languished in the shadow of its much better known cousins The Battle of the Somme and The Battle of the Ancre and did not achieve remotely the same commercial success. However, it is a fascinating view of the British Army of 1917, an organisation that was learning from the ordeal of the previous year and at Arras dealt the enemy a blow from which they struggled to recover. This is a rare opportunity to see an important film that has been largely forgotten. The showing will be accompanied by an historical introduction and commentary by Alastair Fraser of Durham University Library, co-author of Ghosts on the Somme: filming the battle

The screening will take place in the Learning Centre at Palace Green Library, Durham at 16.00 on Tuesday 31st October, and is open to all.

The event is free but please register with Alastair Fraser on

WWI bookgroup meeting Tuesday 19th September 2017

By Judith Phillips

We started off with a report on the talk by Megan Leyland earlier in September on the project at Richmond Castle based on conscientious objectors (you can find the report here).  It made a good introduction to Telling Tales about Men: Conceptions of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service during World War One by Lois Bibbings.  This gives a balanced revisionist view of attitudes to conscientious objectors, including their experiences after the war.  The range of work that objectors would undertake was varied and depended on their religious, moral, philosophical objection to war in general and this war in particular.

Following on a theme we’ve addressed before, God and the British Soldier by Michael Snape argues that the importance of religion during the war, and afterwards, has been underestimated.  Actual church attendance and profession of faith were certainly not universal but most soldiers had some religious background that fed into a general religious sensibility.  Indeed, the war experience for some was a trigger to questioning and reaffirming faith.  By contrast, A Chaplain at Gallipoli: The Great War Diaries of Kenneth Best (edited by Gavin Roynon) recorded a gradual loss of personal faith that led Best to leave the ministry after the war.  Nevertheless, he maintained religious norms as far as possible for the soldiers he worked with because he recognised how comforting many of the men found them.

We then looked at selections of personal testimonies held by the Imperial War Museum – a fantastic source for learning about the day-to-day reality of war service.  Voices of the First World War is a DVD that, interestingly, includes contributions by women and Germans.  Lost Voices of the Royal Navy by Max Arthur covers the period 1914-1945.  Many of the entries relate to the Battle of Jutland but what also comes over is the harsh discipline in the navy, the huge losses when a ship sank, the different parts of the world covered by the navy, and its post-war involvement in the Russian campaign supporting opposition to the Communist government. 

1914: the Men who went to War by Malcolm Brown uses war diaries and other records at the IWM to look at the run-up to the outbreak of war and the first five months of the war.  Complaints about the poor training facilities and the food are very noticeable.  The Guns of August by Barbara W Tuchman was first published in 1962 and has been recently reissued.  It deals with the build-up to the war, starting from the funeral of Edward VII in 1911, in a world where the royal families of Europe were very much inter-related.

100 Days to victory: how the Great War was Won by Saul David selected 100 days from 1914 to 1918, again using the words of people involved at the time.  It includes references to events that do not always attract attention now such as the Palestinian and Mesopotamian campaigns.

The only fiction book was A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, an account of the war experience of a young Dubliner from a staunchly-loyal Catholic family whose attitudes and feelings are affected by experiencing the Easter Rising while on leave in Dublin in 1916. 

We finished with an unexpected aspect of life in the trenches.  One of the group who couldn’t come to the meeting had sent in an article that highlighted how soldiers grew flowers and vegetables in the trenches.  The article had been prompted by a book published last year – Where Poppies Grow by John Lewis-Stempel.  In it the author brings together accounts and images of soldiers creating gardens ‘for beauty’ and also for practical reasons – men and animals consumed a lot of vegetables.  What astonished me was learning that there were soldier-gardeners from France to Mesopotamia, and even in a POW camp in Germany. 

As always the books we had brought led to lively discussion and probably more questions raised than answered.  Our next meeting is on Tuesday 17th October at 2.30 in the Café Lounge in the museum – you’re very welcome to join us.

Canary – at The Witham

By Evie Brenkley for The Witham

Fun in the Oven Theatre Company presented Canary at The Witham on Wednesday 13 September 2017. Our reviewer 
Evie Brenkley (aged 14) reviews…

With bright yellow faces and dark blue overalls, the highly talented actresses of ‘Canary’ certainly caught one’s eye, and the play was equally striking. Darkly comedic and fabulous, the play was based on the ‘Canary Girls’ – brave women called upon during WW1 in a desperate time of need. When desperate for soldiers, Britain had raided all of its factories for men – and had no-one doing important jobs such as making the weaponry and explosives needed to fight. Once domestic slaves, the girls were now the key to pulling through and winning the war, making munitions and for the front line. Although it gave them illnesses, including yellow skin due to the toxic poisoning, many women enjoyed their new job as it gave them independence and a chance to live their life as their own. The play really gave us an in-depth detail of their lives and the entire thing was really fascinating. If you ever get the chance to go and see it – do, it is very enlightening and well worth watching.

The first part of the play is a sort of advert for the Canary Girls, with a narrator giving the girls life as they go about their daily tasks. This all changes, however, when an air raid strikes and the girls are left alone – just the three of them. When the actresses really discover themselves, we watch some heart-wrenching material whilst connecting to them on an emotional level. The entire play is very well choreographed and put together, constantly hilarious. The script was well written too and really emphasised showing us the women’s lives and also how they were being treated. The majority of it was still applicable to today’s society, making the play really thought-provoking at so many stages.

When the end of the air raid, and then the war was announced, everybody was given a short break, before the audience was allowed back into the theatre for a Q&A session with the actresses and their director. This was very interesting and allowed us all to gain a deeper understanding of the play. They all told us that they had such good fun producing the play, and improvising in rehearsals to discover their characters. They are still working on the final play, to make the whole thing really exciting so that “no one ever leaves the room.”

The audience loved it too, and it struck the teenagers there in particular. One of them told me they “thought the subject matter was very interesting and the physical way it was portrayed was excellent”. Another said, “the lighting flowed very clearly, and it came together well with the sound and the acting”. Certainly, the overriding consensus from all was that the play was incredibly enjoyable.

‘Canary’ has an excellent mix of fact and fiction, funny and heartbreaking; and the contrast between happy and sad is excellently portrayed. It is very well put together, with wonderful character development and the plot line is almost faultless, with every concept flowing together nicely. Considering this is still a work in progress, I can’t wait to see it develop and flourish in the future. 

1917-2017 Durham Western Front Association Centenary Conference

On 14 October the Durham Western Front Association will be holding its 1917-2017 Centenary Conference and Exhibition.  We’ll have a stand there and you’ll have the chance to hear a great line-up of guest speakers.

This year’s topics include the Nivelle Offensive, the Battle of Cambrai and the German U-boat campaign.  As it’s the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), that will also be examined. 

For full information and booking details, see