Book Group report – November 2018

By Jane Wilson

To coincide with the Museum’s WW1 exhibition “To Serve King and Country”, our next few Book Group meetings are being held as open meetings, so that members of the public can listen in to our discussions and hopefully be inspired to do a little of their own WW1 reading.  The next meeting is on Tuesday 22 January.

Our first recommendation for November was ‘Ring of Steel – Germany and Austria/Hungary at War 1914 – 1918’ by Alexander Watson. He tells the history of WW1 from the perspective of its instigators, and ultimately its losers, a side of the story that has not been commonly reflected in a lot of the book choices we have had in the Book Group so far. Watson investigates why the loss of the war for these once dominant nations led to the instability of the states in that region, and thus the effects on the populations of that area of Europe.

Shifting the literary emphasis to India, our next book was ‘Across the Black Waters’ by Mulk Raj Anand, a pioneer of Indo-English fiction. First published in 1939 and informed by many conversations with Indian WW1 soldiers, the fictional story follows the military life of Lalu, a sepoy (or private) in the Indian Army. From landing in Marseilles in 1914, we hear of Lalu’s experiences as he and his compatriots make their way through France, getting used to many new things – language, culture, countryside, the bitter winter cold, as well as the horrors of trench warfare and inevitably, death. A good read, our Book Group reader at times forgot the book was fiction as it felt such an accurate portrayal of an Indian soldier’s experience in France.

As a change, our next recommendation, rather than being for a book, was a highlight of recently read newspaper and magazine articles.

The first item was about the WW1 experiences of Norman Manley, a Jamaican lawyer and politician who eventually became the first Jamaican Premier after Jamaica gained independence. The article recounted a little of his WW1 experiences in the Royal Field Artillery and how he never truly got over the death of his younger brother, Roy. They had served along side each other and Manly was to comment “I cannot speak how I felt. We were good friends, and I would be lonely for the rest of the war.” This article was of extra interest to the group as two members had lived and worked in Jamaica for many years and had knowledge of the politician.

A second article told the story of another WW1 veteran, Harry Patch, a name well known in Britain as one of the last war veterans to have survived well into old age, dying in 2009 at the age of 111 years. In an extract read out from the article, Harry talks about having a pact with his fellow soldiers about not killing any of the enemy unless they really had to, and about aiming to injure and not kill when firing at the German troops. He described his thoughts on the futility of war, and how his war experiences haunted him for the rest of his life.

Moving back to book selections, we heard next about ‘Passchendaele – The Sacrificial Ground’ by Nigel Steel and Peter Hart. Passchendaele was the 3rd Battle of Ypres and by using accounts of men ranging from privates to majors, the authors cover the conflict in great detail. Starting with the planning and preparation for the battle from both the military and political viewpoint, the authors then brilliantly reflect the horror of the conflict, with first hand accounts painting an accurate portrait for the reader of the sights, smells and sounds that bombarded the troops. The book then goes on to cover the considerable losses of men on both sides, and to consider where blame may have been apportioned for the outcome of the battle and the loss of life.

Our last reading suggestion was John Keegan’s ‘The Face of Battle – A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme’. This is a seminal work that has influenced many books to be written since about the Somme. Keegan’s writing covers the Somme from the point of view of the soldier directly involved on the ground, and their experiences of being directly in the danger zone. Some interesting sections of the book discuss the concept of Pals Brigades, recruitment from public schools for officer training and relationships between officers and their men. More specific chapters look at why armies go to war, different sorts of weapons used, military tactics etc. and compares and contrasts the three battles in the book title. Keegan was a military historian, lecturer and author and has a prolific number of published works to his name, covering a wide range of conflicts and wars.

All underlined titles are available to borrow from the Durham County Council library system.

Knit and crochet

By Judith Phillips

It’s many years since I did any serious knitting and I have to confess that doing crochet has never been one of skills.  But I decided when thinking about the exhibition based on the project that we ought to include knitting and crocheting as so many people on the Home Front used these skills to make ‘comforts’ for those serving at home and abroad.  The Teesdale Mercury is full of reports of groups getting together to knit gloves, mittens, scarves, helmets, socks and other articles to send to local men (and women, sometimes).  And there are frequent quotations from letters of thanks sent from the front.

‘Knitting for Tommy’ includes several patterns for garments and I was really lucky to find knitters happy to knit socks, gloves and helmets on four needles – it brought back memories of my grandmother teaching me how to turn a heel – so we have several knitted articles in the exhibition.  The Knit and Natter group who meet regularly in the museum agreed to help out with knitting various coloured flowers to add to the community artwork ‘Behind the Trenches’ currently on display in the museum entrance area.  On Thursdays 17 and 31 January, 14 and 28 February they will be meeting in the middle Picture Gallery from about 2.15 to knit, crochet and natter, much as people did a hundred years ago.  And now they’re creating blankets that will go to charities helping ex-service personnel and families affected by 21st century wars.

Have you some time to spare?  And perhaps some odd balls of yarn lying around?  How about making a few blanket squares?  I’ve had a couple of long journeys and several very quiet evenings over the Christmas and New Year break, and I’ve been amazed at what I’ve managed to make – and I’m not a speedy knitter!  I’ve used a basic pattern and then made up variations; you have a free hand in what pattern and variations you use.

Blanket square pattern

Use 3.25mm (No. 10) or 4mm (No. 8) needles and double knitting yarn

Cast on 22 stitches

1st row: Knit 1, purl 1 to end

2nd row: Purl 1, knit 1 to end

Repeat these two rows twice

7th row: knit, 1 purl 1, knit 1 purl 1, knit 16, knit 1 purl 1, knit 1, purl 1

8th row: purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 16, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1

Repeat these two rows 8 times

25th row: knit 1, purl 1 to end

26th row: purl 1, knit 1 to end

Repeat these two rows twice

Cast off.

Any colour, any pattern welcome! 

As I said, I’m no crocheter, but I’ll happily accept any large or small squares you can make.  Perhaps you have a pattern I could put into another newsletter? 

You can leave squares at Reception in the museum for me.  Or you post them to me at the museum.

After the Armistice

By June Parkin

For many people in Teesdale the armistice was not an end to their worries and their suffering. Armed forces personnel were only gradually demobilised. Some were prisoners of war who returned home in poor health.

Moreover, the population had to cope with an influenza epidemic, mistakenly called Spanish ‘flu.

In Teesdale , as early as July, cases began to be reported. In October there were 12 deaths in Startforth and by November the numbers had increased. In December the epidemic was described as ‘alarming’. Social meetings were cancelled and the North East County School ended the term early because of the large number of cases among boys and staff.

On February 26 1919 the ‘Teesdale Mercury’ deaths column carried two sad reports in its Roll of Honour.

Private Sidney Carter 75440 of the 6th Battalion DLI, who had been a prisoner in Germany, had died age 19 in St.George’s Hospital, Waterloo, London. He was the fourth son of Thomas and Mary Hannah Carter of Cross Lanes. His older brother, Alfred Victor, served with the Royal Engineers and survived the war. Sidney Ralph Carter’s grave is in Rokeby St Mary Churchyard and has the inscription ‘PEACE PERFECT PEACE’.

The other death was Thomas Wilfred Wearmouth, eldest son of Joseph and Margaret Wearmouth of Hanging Shaw, Forest-in-Teesdale. Wilfred, as he was known, had enlisted in October 1917 and was Private 20328 in the 6th Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment. Sent to the Western Front on March 10 1918 during the German spring offensive, he fought at Amiens, Albert and Cambrai. He was wounded, underwent an operation at Le Havre and was then transferred to the Tayside Auxiliary Hospital in Perthshire. He made good progress and it was expected that he would soon be discharged. However, he contracted influenza on February 13 and died of pneumonia on February 18, aged 28. His grave is in Forest churchyard with the inscription ‘ONE OF THE BEST’. He is commemorated in the Church of St. James the Less, Langdon Beck and on the Forest-in-Teesdale Primary School Triptych.

Peace on earth

By Judith Phillips

“Peace on earth”: singing those words during the Christmas season in 1918 must have meant so much to families in Teesdale.  The armistice that brought an end to fighting in Europe (and gradually in other parts of the world) had been agreed only just over six weeks earlier, signalling the end of a war that had been going on for four and a half years. 

More than 2,000 men with Teesdale connections had fought in British or colonial and dominion forces; several hundred would never return, and many who survived were often damaged physically or psychologically. At Christmas 1918 you can imagine that families were hoping their loved ones who were still in the forces or engaged in other war work would soon be returning safe and sound.  Unfortunately for some, that never happened.  The so-called Spanish ‘flu epidemic killed millions throughout the world, and Teesdale suffered losses at home and abroad.  Prisoners of war took months to return and some men were still in the armed forces until 1921.

The wartime Christmases were different each year, and yet in many ways so alike.  With the war only a few months old in 1914, people could still hope for a quick end to the fighting, even if ‘It will be over by Christmas’ was never a likely military option.  The Victoria Hall in Barnard Castle hosted a Christmas treat for over 300 wives and children of soldiers with a visit by Santa Claus and a gift for everyone.  The town also arranged an evening of food and entertainment – a concert and a picture show – for the 17th DLI, billeted in Barnard Castle. Gifts were sent to every Teesdale man in the 6th DLI as well as to men from Barnard Castle serving with other regiments.

A short note in the Mercury (6 January 1915) notes that two sons of the Reverend Lightfoot, the Primitive Methodists minister, were at home for Christmas 1914.  Hugh was a driver with the 1st West Lancashire Regiment and Harold was a wireless telegraphist with the 5th Dragoons.  I looked up both men in the Roll of Honour we’re researching (www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk) and I was delighted to discover that both survived the war.  Christmas 1918 must have been a happy one in the Lightfoot household.

By Christmas 1915 there had been heavy losses in battles and it was clear that the war wasn’t going to end quickly.  In the run-up to Christmas men from the 20th DLI provided an entertainment for the townspeople to raise funds to send ‘comfort parcels’ to men at the front.  In the current exhibition at The Bowes Museum – “For King and Country”: Exploring the Role of Teesdale in the First World War – you can see instructions for packing up a comfort parcel and modern versions of the food and clothing that was sent out.  A special benefit night to raise funds for Christmas parcels was held in late November 1916 – a year marked by the huge losses at the Battles of Jutland and the Somme.  And that year, the Mercury tells us, there was to be no Christmas leave for home soldiers – that must have been such a disappointment to the men and their families.

Early in 1917 the Mercury reported that Driver J. Kavanagh of the Motor Transport was at home in Startforth on leave from France and he sent his thanks to the War Emergency Committee for the Christmas parcel he had received.  Of course, I wanted to check him on our Roll of Honour.  I found three possible candidates: JT Kavanagh of Bridge End, John Thomas Kavanagh and James William Kavanagh, both of Startforth.  Clearly I needed to do a bit more research.  Trawling through Ancestry I found a medal card and attestation papers for John Thomas Kavanagh in the Army Service Corps who enlisted in February 1915; he gave his father’s name as Joseph and the address as Bridge End, Barnard Castle.  There is often a blurring of the boundaries between the bridge end of Barnard castle and Startforth – quite confusing!  The census returns for 1911 show the Kavanagh family living at 33 The Bank, Barnard Castle: Joseph is head of the household and John Thomas is the eldest son (the James William listed in the family is too young to be the men on the Roll of Honour).  As far as I can tell, John Thomas survived the war – another fortunate family.

November and December 1917 again saw various local fundraising efforts – usually concerts – for Christmas parcels and/or money to send to Teesdale soldiers serving abroad.  By Christmas 1918 fundraising efforts hadn’t stopped, with gifts still sent abroad. (I was rather intrigued to see a notice in the Mercury mentioning that women munitions workers – now no longer needed – were acting as postal workers).

But let’s end on a more cheerful seasonal note.  Throughout the war men had sent home embroidered postcards with a variety of designs – there are several examples on display in the WWI exhibition mentioned earlier.  These postcards were a source of income to French women, many of whom had been displaced by war, and I am sure they were treasured at home.  Fred Nevison from Barnard Castle sent this lovely Christmas card home to his sister Winnie, incorporating the British and French flags with the traditional holly and mistletoe.  Fred came back to Barnard Castle where he became a successful businessman and a Trustee of The Bowes Museum. 

If you have any information about Teesdale men and women involved in or affected by the First World War, we’d love to hear from you.  You can email libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or drop a line to The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle DL12 8NP.