Journey’s End

By Jane Wilson and Judith Phillips

During the WW1 Book Group meeting in July 2017, one of the reading recommendations was ‘Journey’s End’, a play written in 1928 by Robert Sherriff and based around his experiences as an officer in the First World War.  Teesdale residents may remember an excellent production by The Castle Players a few years ago.

A popular stage play which has been adapted for film and television over the decades, this fifth film adaptation was released in the UK on 2nd February to generally positive reviews. ‘Journey’s End’ documents the experiences in Spring 1918 of a group of six officers gathered in a dugout near Aisne. Over a four-day period, they and their men wait in the trenches for the signal to go over the top and face their almost certain death.

Hopefully, the film will be able to portray the themes touched on by the original play: the naivety of young soldiers, cowardice, feigning illness to return home, the class system within the trenches and the lack of understanding and support mechanisms to help with obvious mental health issues.

The film cast includes, among others, Paul Bettany, Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones, Robert Glenister, Tom Sturridge and Steven Graham. As the original stage play first offered an opportunity for a young Laurence Olivier to play Captain Stanhope, this illustrious group of actors follow in famous footsteps in bringing to life Robert Sherriff’s play with the release of ‘Journey’s End’ in February.

R.C. Sherriff (1896-1975) was a prolific writer of plays, film scripts and books.  Apart from ‘Journey’s End’, he is perhaps best known as one of the screenwriters for the adaptation of ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ (another film with a WWI background) and ‘The Dam Busters’.   You can find out more about him (apart from the Wikipedia article, of course) at www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk.

1918 – Food Rationing comes to Teesdale

By June Parkin

On the 6th February 1918, `The Mercury’ reported that George Bell, a Staindrop farmer, had appeared at the Police Court in Barnard Castle, charged by the local Rural Food Committee Inspector with selling butter “at a figure beyond the maximum price laid down by the Food Controller.”

The war had placed the supply of food under tremendous pressure. In 1914 Britain produced only 40% of its needs and the German U-boat campaign severely restricted imports. Home production fell because men and horses were taken by the army. Women, boys, older men and prisoners of war were put to work on the land and greater mechanisation was introduced. Everyone was encouraged to grow food and Allotment Associations were founded in Barnard Castle, Startforth, Cotherstone and other villages.

Shortages resulted in rising prices, hence the need for government control all aspects of the food chain, including price controls. George Bell had sold 10½ lbs. of butter to Staindrop grocer, Mr. Jackson, at 2s.4d. per lb. who then sold it on at his usual profit of 2d. per lb. This was 1d. more than the legal wholesale and retail prices. George Bell pleaded that there was no intention to defraud, there was confusion over different prices in each district and that he had recently spent £140 buying 3 cows to increase production (implying greater contribution to the war effort). Nevertheless, he was found guilty and fined £1.

It was essential to reduce the consumption of precious resources needed for the war effort. A National War Savings Committee was set up with local branches to encourage the economical use of fuel and food. Slogans such as “Save or Starve” were used, people were encouraged to have meatless days, give up sugar and recipes were devised that used less flour. Patriotic duty required restraint from all classes. `The Times’ reported in February 1917 that Eton schoolboys were to be limited to the advised rations of bread meat and sugar.

By the end of 1917 discontent was rising. In London there were long queues at provision shops in the poorer districts, although there is no evidence from ‘The Mercury’ that such shortages were prevalent in  rural areas. In January 1918 there were demonstrations and disorderliness in many cities.

It was obvious that voluntary restraint was not enough. Some towns had already introduced rationing schemes and it was inevitable that fairness required a nation-wide rationing programme.

 

‘The Mercury’ 13th February 1918.

First to be rationed was sugar in January 1918 and by the end of April meat, butter, cheese and margarine were added to the list (2lb of meat, ½ lb sugar and ½ lb total fats per person per week). Ration books were issued and families had to register with local shops. Supplementary cards went to heavy workers such as miners and farm labourers, also adolescents and women who could make a case for extra needs. Mrs Bell-Irving sent rabbits to Barnard Castle which were distributed to worthy recipients by the clergy. The Rural Food Committee Inspector reported that a soldier’s wife in Cockfield was unable to get enough milk for her 12 children and a priority scheme was adopted to supply milk to invalids and children under 5, “subject to the consent of the Food Controller”.

As a result of these measures, although there was a degree of scarcity, Britain was never faced with food shortages on the same scale as Germany, where in the winter of 1917-1918, over 500,000 German civilians died of starvation.

Edith Cavell – a Quiet Heroine of the Great War

By Judith Phillips

I was in London recently and found myself near Trafalgar Square, walking towards Leicester Square.  I suddenly realised I was passing the memorial to Edith Cavell.  I must have walked past this impressive monument many times but this time I stopped and had a really good look at it as Edith Cavell will be the topic of the next talk in our series on WWI-related subjects. 

 

Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was executed by the German military authorities in Belgium after she was convicted of helping British and Allied combatants escape from Belgium during the war.  The execution of this British nurse was condemned at the time and Edith was commemorated in many ways and places during and after the war.  Edith laid down her life while caring for many others, including Germans, but the memory of her sacrifice is gradually fading away.  ‘She deserves better and this talk seeks to help us to remember her life and achievements’, says our speaker, Ian McArdle, who was Deputy Director of the Language Centre at the University of Newcastle before retirement.  Join him for a fascinating talk about, in his own words, ‘a woman whom I admire.

The talk will be on Saturday 17th March 2018, starting at 2.30p.m.  Light refreshments will be available from 2.15 and are included in the £3 charge (free for Friends of the Bowes Museum, for annual pass holders and anyone paying the museum admission charge on the day).  To book, ring 01833 690606 or email info@thebowesmuseum.org.uk (please book even if you do not have to pay as this helps with catering arrangements).

Facial disfigurement in the war

By Judith Phillips

We know that thousands of men suffered horrific injuries during the First World War.  The medical profession as a whole had not previously met with such a huge number of disfigurements and disabilities, and coping stretched their resources and knowledge.  We know that the war prompted advances in several aspects of medical care, often in dreadful conditions in the war zones, but also when men returned to Britain.

Joining us at 2.30 on Saturday 12th May, we have a speaker who will deal with some aspects of this topic.  Eilis Boyle is undertaking research for a PhD at Leeds University. She specialise in how men with facial disfigurements were treated during and after the war.  Not only did men have to deal with the physical side of injury and surgical repair, they also often faced social and economic difficulties.  Even the medical advances in surgical reconstruction and plastic surgery couldn’t restore faces and men were often left with incomplete faces that were unacceptable to the general public.  This often led to social isolation and many men were unable to find work, especially in the difficult times that followed the war.

And not only the men themselves had problems.  For members of their families, it must have been very difficult too.  How did parents, wives, children react?  We are so used to using the face as our main way of recognising someone and, in these cases, not only did the reconstructed face not resemble the original, in many cases it may also have be repulsive.

The Jonathan Yeo exhibition ‘Skin Deep’ will be showing at the museum between 10 March and 17 June.  Yeo explores the processes involved in cosmetic surgery, what it tells us about an individual’s self-image, perceived cultural ideals of beauty and the psychology behind an endless search for perfection.  It will provide a counter-point to Eilis’ talk.  This is a difficult topic to war injuries but that should not mean we avoid it.  It is still very relevant to us today.

Calling WWI military historians

By Judith Phillips

I’ve been constantly amazed at the range and depth of knowledge about all aspects of WWI military history that some people have, and also their generosity about sharing it.  I have to admit it’s not my strong point, so I’m even more grateful for any hep in this area.  The project website here includes the Roll of Honour database.  If you check any entry (a Smith will do!), you’ll see that there is a field for Battles and Campaigns.  At the moment, most entries will be blank.  There are two ways in which you can help us.

Can you help us identify the battles/campaigns a soldier (or sailor) would have been involved with if we have his unit and date of service (often this is the date of death)?  I believe that war diaries might be a useful source and lots of these are now available on line – you probably know the details far better than I do.  You can probably do a lot of this research at home and send us the results if you live at a distance or find it difficult to come into the museum.  But don’t forget that we have access to Ancestry’s range of online records at the museum.

And printed works about the war will also be useful.  In the Reference Library in the museum, there are some publications about the DLI’s WWI service, and I have no doubt there are lots of other useful publications.  We don’t have unit and dates information for all the entries on the Roll of Honour database but, where we do have them, it would be good to be able to add additional information.

The other way to help would be to write a short description of the battles and campaigns we can identify as ones where Teesdale people were involved.  The Roll of Honour database setup means that a link is made between a named battle/campaign in a roll of Honour entry to a brief description.  And, at the moment, we only have a few battle descriptions that were added at the very beginning of the project as demonstration entries.  So we would really like more.  I know it won’t necessarily be easy to write a short description – you probably know everything there is to know – but a general overview is what’s needed, plus perhaps suggestions of publications and websites that anyone interested in knowing more could access.

If you’ve got any ideas, suggestions or offers of help about this, I’d love to hear from you (Judith.phillips@thebowesmuseum.org.uk).

Not south of the Tees

The North East War Memorials Project (NEWMP) has been one of our project supporters from the initial application for funding.  NEWMP was also generous in letting us have names from war memorials in our project area to add to the Roll of Honour database.  NEWMP recently applied unsuccessfully for HLF funding to extend their activities to cover those areas south of the River Tees that have a strong connection with their original project area.  But NEWMP is determined to get on with this addition to their project and we will help them as far as possible.

In some ways, it was discussion the museum’s WWI project that alerted NEWMP to the close connections that existed across the River Tees, although the river was seen as a boundary.  The museum project area is based on the 44 townships that made up Teesdale Poor Law Union in 1914, and many of these were over the river in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Through the generosity of local historians and other members of the public, we have a lot of information about people from places like Startforth, Bowes, Boldron, Hutton Magna, Barningham, Holwick (Laithkirk Chapel).   For some churches, chapels and communities, we also have images of memorial plaques, crosses, Roll of Honour boards and remembrance books.  So we can offer NEWMP some help in getting started ‘south of the Tees’.

If you have any images or information that you think would be useful, please let us know (if you haven’t already been in touch) and contact NEWMP – check their website for information (www.newmp.org.uk).