WW1 Book Club – 19th June 2018

By Jane Wilson

One of our group members started off our June meeting by bringing to our attention a newspaper review of a current exhibition at Tate Britain in London. Running until 23rd September 2018, ‘Aftermath – Art in the Wake of World War One’ marks 100 years since the end of the war, looking at how artists responded to the physical and psychological effects of war. More details and images of art on show available at www.tate.org.uk

A chance find on the shelves in the library in Barnard Castle was our first book selection for the afternoon, ‘Kitchener – Hero and Anti-Hero’ by C Brad Faught. Widely known for his iconic image on WW1 recruitment posters, and as Secretary of State for War, this biography takes the reader from Kitchener’s childhood in Ireland and follows his career as a soldier in the Sudan, Egypt, South Africa and India. During his military career, he was a celebrated and sometimes controversial character, and Faught provides enough detail in this biography for the reader to make their own decision about hero, or anti-hero.

‘British Posters of the First World War’ by John Christopher is a beautifully illustrated book, with over 200 images of commercial posters used during WW1, with messages aimed at recruitment into the services, as well as those aimed for the Home Front population. The recruitment posters include those used in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Empire, often featuring iconic characters such as John Bull and St George, or with recruitment slogans aimed at particular groups such as rugby players, factory workers etc. Home front posters feature campaigns for rationing, promotion of war bonds and war loans, volunteering for the Red Cross and even fund raising for animals injured at the Front. The book demonstrates the power of a strong image and clear, precise message in the posters, and how some German and US recruitment posters were influenced by the British designs.

In our past few meetings, ‘Paths of Glory’ by Anthony Clayton has been a popular read and one of our group made a final comment that he felt, after finishing the book, how much the French troops had been squandered by their Army leaders. While the French Military learnt lessons and adapted where necessary, the death and injury statistics exemplified the marked differences when compared to the British Army and its military campaign.

Richard van Emden’s ‘Boy Soldiers of the Great War’ tells the stories of young boys who enlisted to fight for their country during WW1, well aware that they were under age and should not have been fighting abroad. From the youngest boy soldier, believed to be only twelve, Van Emden explores the exploits of many young officers and soldiers, their strong patriotic desire to serve their country, and that often a military life offered better prospects than the life they were leading. The final chapter tries to quantify in various ways the number of under age soldiers that had served during the war and summarises the opportunities and disadvantages for those young serving soldiers.

Our afternoon was completed by the recommendation of a book by G R Griffiths, ‘Women’s Factory Work in WW1’. The book follows the work of a committee set up in 1917 to create a record of women’s contribution to the war effort through their work in factories in 19 selected industries. Each chapter concentrates on the number of women to take jobs in each industry during the war, welfare and safety concerns, acceptance by the incumbent male work force and the effect on female numbers once war was over. Illustrated with many images taken from factories and down the country, women are shown working in industries as diverse as textiles, paper, chemicals, leather, wood and metals, and are shown playing an equal part in keeping those industries working and productive.

All the underlined titles are available from the Durham County Library Service.

Our next Book Group meeting will be on Tuesday 17th July at 2.30pm, and we welcome new readers to come and join us.

The National Memorial Arboretum

By Judith Phillips

Did you read Alison Mounter’s account of her visit to the National Memorial Arboretum in a recent newsletter?  Has it inspired you to add the arboretum to your list of ‘places to go’?  It’s been a long time since I had visited but I recently found myself faced with a long drive home from Reading, so I reckoned the arboretum would make a good stopping place for a couple of hours. 

This was at the very beginning of July and I hadn’t reckoned on its being Armed Forces Weekend!  The place was absolutely heaving – several coaches parked up, lots of families enjoying the hot weather and the children’s activities, entertainment for all ages.  But the arboretum now covers such a large area and has been so carefully laid out that it was surprisingly easy to find some quiet places and sometimes I didn’t meet another visitor for minutes at a time.

I knew I hadn’t given myself a lot of time, so I decided to concentrate on a few memorials while getting a feel of the general atmosphere.  All the volunteers on duty were so helpful despite the fact I really could have answered my own questions by consulting the excellent leaflets, publications and signage.  It was absolutely amazing to realise how many and how varied are the memorials.

I particularly wanted to see the memorial to the men ‘shot at dawn’ as that was completely new to me.  And I have to say, it was a very strange and moving experience.  You wouldn’t really think that a small grove of wooden stakes could have such an effect, but I noticed that everyone who approached it fell silent.  I wandered through the rows of stakes, each with information about the executed man, and you couldn’t help imagining their stories.  They weren’t all youngsters, they came from several different regiments, some died early in the war and others were executed in the final year of hostilities.  If I’m honest, the whole experience left me sad and angry at the same time but it felt it was almost my duty to these men to spend time with the memory and imagining of their lives and deaths. 

After that rather emotional experience I decided to limit my visit this time to finding the DLI memorial as it was quite close by, rather than racing around trying to see as much as possible (which is what I tend to do).  I thought I had found it very quickly but that turned out to be a general memorial to light infantry regiments – I had been a little misled by recognising the DLI cap badge and only realising there were other similar badges when I looked more closely.  But the main DLI memorial is not far away.  I know that many Teesdale men who served in the First World War weren’t in the DLI but this seemed an appropriate memorial to spend time at, remembering the DLI memorial in the grounds of The Bowes Museum.

I had thought the arboretum would be a really long drive from Teesdale.  In the end, it took me just under 3 hours to drive back (via A38/M1/A1M) which was better than I had expected.  It was certainly a memorable visit and I will certainly be revisiting.  For a much fuller (and illustrated) account of a visit, I recommend Alison Mounter’s article in the newsletter sent out on 6th July 2018.  If you have a story to tell about visiting any WWI memorial with a Teesdale connection, we’d love to hear about it.

Votes needed

By Judith Phillips

Several of you will have heard Megan Leyland talk about the exciting project at Richmond Castle Cell Block where conscientious objectors were imprisoned during the First World War.  I was so sorry to have missed her talk at the museum last year as part of the series of talks on WWI-related topics we’ve arranged.  Megan recently emailed:

“I thought I would send an email to share some exciting news about the research I spoke about in my lecture at the Bowes last year.

I am delighted to let you know that our project, Richmond Castle Cell Block, has reached the finals of The National Lottery Awards, competing against six other projects in the Best Heritage Project category. 

The National Lottery Awards are the annual search for the UK’s favourite National Lottery-funded projects, and they aim to celebrate inspirational people and projects doing extraordinary things with National lottery funding all across the UK.  This is fantastic recognition for the project team, our volunteers and the many organisations and individuals who have contributed to and supported the Cell Block. 

We need your vote to help us win!  Please support us by casting your vote on www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards or by tweeting using our unique hashtag #NLARichmondCastle. 

Every vote counts, so we really appreciate your support!

Megan Leyland”

Please follow the link given above to find out about the national lottery Awards and the finalists in the various categories, and then please vote.

A visit to the National Memorial Arboretum

By Alison Mounter

The National Memorial Arboretum started to form as an idea when founder David Childs, supported by the late Group Captain Sir Leonard Cheshire VC OM DSO & 2 bars, DFC, were both concerned about the future of Remembrance.  Following a visit, whilst in the Royal Navy, to the Arlington Cemetary and National Arboretum in Washington DC, USA, he believed that such a concept could be created in the UK.  In 1994, the then Prime Minister,  John Major, gave the project his full backing and when Redland Aggregates (now Lafarge Tarmac) generously donated 82 acres of reclaimed gravel land with a peppercorn rent (now increased to 150 acres), the idea started to become a reality.

With support from the National Forestry Commission, the land was transformed into a peaceful, contemplative, and a living and growing environment for a variety of trees and wildlife.  The National Memorial Arboretum opened to the public on the 16th May 2001.

The main memorial – The Armed Forces Memorial – takes centre stage and now has 16,100 names engraved, starting in 1945, and the last names to be engraved to date are from 2016.  The memorial starts in 1945 as it was agreed that the fallen from WW1 and WW2 are already commemorated in villages, towns and cities around the country.

However, there are various memorials dedicated to World War One, with a moving monument to the Christmas Day truce, depicting two hands clasped.  This can be found in front of the replica trench, which, as you wander through gives a taste of the experiences the soldiers must have had.

 As you move inwards, you find yourself inside the officer’s dug out, with wooden bunks, a desk littered with documents, a Princess Mary tin and a gas rattle.

 As you venture deeper, there is a postbox where letters home would be sent and received, and then you are faced with dreaded climb over the top.

As you turn behind you find the “dump” and a wooden bunk for the soldiers to get some rest in turns, with socks drying in the breeze. A bell, made from an empty shell, rings out eerily as a child passes and grabs the rope. 

You can only imagine the way it would have been, with shell fire booming in the distance, mud up to your ankles, the smell of cigarette smoke, the clatter of the rattle warning of gas.

At the other end of the park, where the sun rises in the east, the “Shot At Dawn” memorial can be found.  As you approach the hairs on the back of your neck prickle as you see your first sight of the white statue, hands tied behind his back, blindfolded and stripped of his buttons, shoulders slightly hunched.  Behind him stand posts with plaques of those soldiers shot at dawn for desertion, cowardice, disobeying an order, casting away arms or sleeping at post.  Many of these soldiers are shown as “age unknown” because they had lied about their age when enlisting.  In front of the young soldier, modelled on Private Herbert Burden of the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot at Ypres in 1915, aged just 17, stand six small trees, representing the firing squad.  The six men would aim for the medallion around the soldiers neck, with none of them knowing who had fired the fatal bullet.

As I moved through the posts, I came across Lance Sergeant Joseph Stones of the Durham Light Infantry who was shot in 1917. 

A small amount of research tells that Stones enlisted in Crook in 1915; he was only 5’2”, weighing 128lbs, but in light of the number of casualties, every man was now being accepted. 

Stones proved to be an exemplary soldier, rising to Corporal and then Lance Sergeant.  In November 1916 the 19th Batallion of the DLI were holding a section of the front line. He was ordered to undertake a raid with Lieutenant Mundy one night and they were ambushed, with Mundy being shot.  Stones ran for his life and was found unarmed by the battle police.  He was tried by a court martial and found guilty of “casting away arms in the presence of the enemy” and subsequently executed at dawn.

Finally, as we left the “Shot at Dawn” memorial, we walked down one of the many avenues to find the Durham Light Infantry memorial.  It shows a soldier with his bugle and engraved on the rear of the monument are Montgomery’s words:  “There may be some regiments as good but I know of none better”.

A truly memorable, thought provoking, informative and inspiring day; I would recommend a visit to everyone.

Data Protection

It has been a very big task to contact everyone on the museum’s various emailing lists to obtain the necessary permission.

If you’re receiving the newsletter, it’s because you have agreed to receive it.  If you know someone who would like to receive the newsletter electronically but isn’t getting one at the moment, please ask them to email info@thebowesmuseum.org.uk to be added to the list. 

The WWI project website was set up years before GDPR and its implications came onto the scene.  At the moment it means that anyone who submits a request through the website to be added to the mailing list has to be contacted to confirm permission.  This is proving rather time-consuming and at present there’s a bit of a backlog.  So, if you hear of anyone who is stuck in the backlog, please pass on our assurances that it will all be sorted out.

Poppies at Carlisle Castle

Some of you may have seen Poppies: Wave or Weeping Window as they have now been on display in various locations.  Weeping Window is currently on display at Carlisle Castle, until 8th July.  The castle was a major recruiting and training base during the First World War, and it’s possible that many Teesdale men passed through it.  Carlisle Castle is now managed by English Heritage and you will find full details about visiting on their website at www.english-heritage.org.uk.

If you visit the display (or have seen it somewhere else), perhaps you’d like to share your thoughts about it with us. This is almost the last chance to see the display in the near future as both elements will be presented to the Imperial War Museum to become part of the permanent holdings at the end of centenary commemorations.  You can find out where the poppies are on display and their future venues on www.1418now.org.uk/commissions/poppies.

Many of the original ceramic poppies were bought by members of the public throughout the world.  If you have a poppy, or know someone who has, there’s a project that would like to map the current whereabouts of the poppies.  You can find more information on www.wherearethepoppiesnow.org.uk.