When the Bugle Calls

By Judith Phillips

We’ve been delighted to work with staff and volunteers at the DLI Research and Storage Centre at Sevenhills throughout the project, and we look forward to collaborating with them again as we prepare for the exhibition later this year that will showcase the project and its findings.  Many of you may already have seen their recent exhibition at Bishop Auckland Town Hall.  It has now moved to Stanhope Durham Dales Centre. 

With the story of the DLI’s band at its heart, the exhibition tells tales of how the British Army and individual soldiers used music to rally their regiments, keeping morale alive in the darkest and most dangerous of times.  Two centuries of military music are represented in the exhibition, including the story of how ‘Abide With Me’ came to be the DLI’s regimental hymn. 

The exhibition is on at Stanhope Durham Dales Centre until 10 June and is open every day from 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.  For more information visit www.durham.gov.uk/dlicollection.

Of course, the exhibition covers the First World War period.  As you would expect, many Teesdale men served in the DLI but we’ve been surprised at how many other regiments are represented on our project database.  We’d be very interested to hear from anyone who knows of a Teesdale family or community member who was involved in the music-making activities of any regiment during the First World War.  It’s an aspect of military life that isn’t often highlighted. 

‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks

By Judith Phillips

This has proved one of the most popular novels published in recent times that involves its main characters in the First World War.  People living in County Durham may already have picked up from the Council newsletter that a stage version is at the Gala Theatre in Durham from 21st to 26th May.  For further information about booking, you can check online at www.galadurham.co.uk.

I reviewed the play when a stage version was on in Darlington some time.  I had read the book and wondered how a stage play could cope with the intertwined stories.  In fact, I was impressed with how the changes of location and time were incorporated into the play with minimal staging and few scene changes.  One of the strengths of the novel and the play is how it gives a lot of time and attention to what happened to the main characters in the years before the war, not just during it.

Although faithful in essence to the book, the play (like the TV serialisation) does not include all the stories and characters in the book, so be prepared for a pared-down but still powerful, play.


By Judith Phillips

Edith Cavell is probably the most famous nurse from the First World War and we learned a lot from Ian McArdle’s stimulating talk a few weeks ago.  When I realised that this is Nurses Week, it seemed a good opportunity to look at nurses on our project database and see what they were doing during the war.  Owen Scott’s original letter about a Roll of Honour which was sent out in 1915 asking for information about people from Teesdale who were serving specifically mentioned nurses.  We tend to think of nurses as only serving in hospitals near the front lines, especially on the Western Front, but British women nursed in Russia, the Balkans, around the Mediterranean and at home.  Many stately homes were transformed into hospitals as were some schools and other institutional buildings, and hospitals were expanded to take in injured and convalescent men.  So I thought I’d check for nurses on the Roll of Honour on our project website (www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk).  There are seven entries so far, and I’m sure there will be others to be added as we continue our searches. 

Edith Annie Bell and Emilie Stephenson both served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and both have Staindrop connections – thanks to the Staindrop WWI Group for sharing the results of their research.  Edith Annie served on HMS Delta in the Dardanelles, Egypt and Turkey, all part of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.  She had to discontinue work on HMS Delta due to chronic seasickness but was decorated by King George V in 1917.  Sadly, Edith’s fiancé died in 1930, shortly after they were engaged.  Emilie too served on hospital ships in the Dardanelles and Egypt and also in the English Channel as men were transported from the Western Front to ‘Blighty’.  After the war she went to Canada and then to New York to continue nursing.  The Staindrop group are still researching to fill in some of the gaps in their lives. 

Another QAIMNS nurse was Lizzie Winpenny from Barnard Castle.  After working in a military hospital in Boulogne, she served in the Mediterranean – in Malta, Salonica and then on the Italian Front.  Like Emilie Stephenson, she continued to nurse after the war, eventually living in Ireland.  Two more Barney women who became nurses are Janet Amelia Dent – such a familiar surname in town – and Hilda Margaret Lang.  In fact, they lived in the same street and probably knew each other.  Hilda served from 1915 to 1919 and was awarded two Scarlet Stripes in recognition.  Janet was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse working in 2nd. General Hospital in Leeds in 1917.

Isabella Helen Milne of Rokeby Park was 21 when she started working at the War Hospital, Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire.  The Red Cross records show she served at least until 1919.  Some of her Bell-Irving relatives were heavily involved in local Red Cross activities.  The Red Cross has put its service record cards online at www.redcross.org.uk.

Just this last week a volunteer inputting information from the Absent Voters Lists for townships ‘over the river’ in Richmond Constituency (but covered by our project) found Ester Mary Atkinson serving in the Military Hospital at Cotherstone.  The new Representation of the People Act had given women over 30 the right to vote in Parliamentary elections.

Last, but not least, a fascinating story of Alice Julia Camilla Sevier who was born in Russia to a family of English extraction.  At the outbreak of war, Alice and her sister Mary joined the Russian Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment.  By October 1917, with Russia in the grip of revolution and having withdrawn from the war, the family decided to leave via Finland.  However, they were captured by the Germans.  On her return to England, Alice gave a detailed account of their treatment as German prisoners to a British investigative commission.  Alice married Roy Helmer and it’s thanks to one of her descendants that we have Alice’s story. 

And what is Alice’s Teesdale connection?  Her paternal uncle was a doctor in Barnard Castle and, on a visit to him, his sister met and married a Barnard Castle solicitor called Hanby Holmes, so Alice and her brothers and sisters frequently came over from St. Petersburg for holidays and to practice their English.  And it was on a visit to Barney that Alice met her future husband (who has an entry on our roll of Honour).  Rather a slight connection, perhaps, but a great story (and one that deserves a fuller treatment!).

If you have any information about nurses from Teesdale during the war, we’d love to hear from you.  Just email libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk and I’ll respond as soon as possible.


By Judith Phillips

As part of the project, we’ve made an effort to look further than the fighting that took place between August 1914 and November 1918.  In our talks programme we covered food in the trenches and at home; we’ve looked at commemoration, music, fashion, propaganda; we’ve considered how widows were treated after the war and our next talk, on Saturday 12th May, will look at how men with facial disfigurements were treated medically and socially.  But what about the ex-servicemen, the survivors, the men who came back?

When people bring us stories and mementos of the First World War that come from their own families, so often we hear that the men didn’t want to talk about their experiences, certainly not to family members.  But they might have been able to share and talk about their war with other men who had gone through the same or similar experiences.  Ex-servicemen’s clubs provided a safe environment where members knew – or at least had some idea – about experiencing war.  Perhaps these clubs also helped members when times were difficult as the economic problems in the 1920s and 1930s began to affect communities and individuals.

One of the volunteer researchers was recently working in Durham County Record Office, checking for First World War records in Barnard Castle.  She came across a reference to the Barnard Castle and District Ex-Servicemen’s Club and Institute Ltd.  We’d love to know more about this.  Was it related to the DLI Club that has recently closed?  Were there other ex-servicemen’s clubs in Teesdale?  Was there a national organisation or was it a local initiative?  How long did these clubs last?  Did they expand to include ex-servicemen from the Second World War and later conflicts? 

There are still so many areas relating to the First World War that we could do with knowing more about.  As on many occasions in the past, I am hoping that among the readers of the newsletter, there’ll be someone who can give us some more information or at least send us in the right direction to do some research. 

Nature in the War

By Judith Phillips

An interesting entry in The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War, edited by Peter Englund, comes from the diary of Florence Farnborough, a young English nurse with the Russian army.  In June 1917, serving on the Voloschyna front, Florence describes the view from a hill overlooking ruined and deserted villages in the valleys below with the enemy trenches clearly visible. ‘There are scarlet patches of poppies in the fields around, marguerites too and a few cornflowers.’  I hadn’t realised that the poppy, when it was used as a symbol after the war, would resonate with more than the Western Front.  Her appreciation of the flowers reminded me of another book group recommendation.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the book group recommendations was ‘Where the Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature and the Great War’ by John Lewis-Stempel.  The author is keen countryman and his book deals with all manner of ‘nature’ (including some of the less nice aspects!) that soldiers had to deal with on the Western Front.  Each chapter ended with a list of soldier-authors (mainly poets) whose work covered the same natural theme of the chapter.  So I was very interested to read about a new exhibition guest-curated by John Lewis-Stempel. 

‘Where Poppies Blow’ is on at the Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, Cumbria.  The exhibition includes works by Edward Thomas and the brothers Paul and John Nash.  The current phase of the exhibition runs until 8th July when some changes will be made and the second phase will run from 11th July to 28th October.  If you have been or go in the next few weeks, we’d love to hear from you.

Would you be interested if we arranged a trip to the exhibition?  Please let me know and we’ll see what we can do.

Welcome back – and apologies

By Judith Phillips

You will have noticed that we haven’t sent out a project newsletter for a few weeks but we’re now up and running again.  Apologies for the break which was largely due to the Easter school holidays which meant I was away (and my time was fully occupied!).  Remember, the newsletter is a great way to publicise any WWI-related event or activity you are organising or that you hear about in your community – just send us the details.  And I’m also very happy to receive any other contributions – a story about one of your relatives, perhaps, or a write-up of your experience researching a person, place, event or theme that relates to WWI, especially in the area covered by the project.  While I was away I came across a couple of interesting connections.

I’m a regular member of the WWI Bookgroup which meets in the museum Café on the third Tuesday of the month – you’d be very welcome if you’d like to drop in.  So, while I was away I took advantage of access to a different library.  Among the books I looked at was The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War, edited by Peter Englund, which I have since recommended in a book group meeting.  Englund uses letters and memoirs of about twenty people caught up in the war – different ages, genders, countries, backgrounds and experiences – to create a chronological view of the war with short explanations to give each entry a context.  I’d like to share two entries in particular. You can find my piece on the second entry here.

In May 1918 an American Army field surgeon called Harvey Cushing attended the funeral in Wimereux of John McCrae, another surgeon, but much more famous as the author of the 1915 poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, one of the most popular poems written during the war.  But it was the entry of a week earlier that really caught my eye.  Cushing mentions visiting a friend in hospital in Lady Ridley’s private hospital in London.  The friend is Micky Bell-Irving who had a leg amputated following an aeroplane accident.  Cushing is very distressed to realise that Micky is so heavily drugged to combat pain that he doesn’t recognise his visitor. 

You’ll find an entry for Michael Bell-Irving on our project Roll of Honour as he appears on a manuscript Roll of Honour for Rokeby.