My Experience As A Volunteer

While working on the Bowes Museum’s Role of Honour, I got to look into the list of Soldiers from Staindrop who fought in the First World War. In the list there were three names that really stood out to me because of their experience of war and how it made the war seem more real by knowing their stories. These names were Private (51552) Arthur Fawcett , Private (21/521) George Walker and Private (303128) Robert Oliver.

The first name to stand out was Private Arthur Fawcett, of the 7th East Yorkshire Regiment, due to him being the only brother to die in the war out of the three brothers that went. This was important because  it showed the reality of war and how families experienced the  loss their sons, or brothers,  or fathers while other family members still returned, in this case his two brothers. When looking into Arthur Fawcett’s background and his death notice in the Teesdale Mercury of November 13th, 1918 it is clear that he was respected and played an active role in the community, such as playing the organ at the church at Staindrop and upon hearing about Private Fawcett’s death, the Rev. R. W. Young paying a tribute to his life and character in the Congregational Church which shows the impact an individual could have on a community that was positive for everyone.

Private George Walker, of the 10th Durham Light Infantry, was a soldier who died aged 20, which was a reason why his name stood out, even though a lot of soldiers who joined in 1914-1915, were young men eager for some glory or moved by patriotism, and the need to serve their king. In the case of George Walker, he was in the war less than a year and was sorely missed by all who knew him, as he was reported to be a “good & faithful” and the men of his company mourned him. This was not common among the officers to really care, as the soldiers were generally seen as part of the machinery of war, with officers often not getting to know their men very well, and so to come across a Private who would be deeply missed by his company, gave a sense of sadness and reality as it showed the effect he had on other people’s lives and made him again seem more than just a name, but an actual person.

In the case of Private Robert Oliver, of the 905th Mechanical Transport Company of the Royal Army Service Corps, the fact he was on the ill-fated Transylvania which was torpedoed and sunk on May 4, 1917 by the German U-boat U-63 while carrying Allied troops to Egypt with a loss of 412 lives, stood out to me. This is because Private Oliver, after a desperate swim, was picked up by a Japanese Warship. After this, he still served in Palestine for a year, before he later died of burns on the 20th of June 1918. This speaks to me because of his bravery and determination, due to the fact he could have drowned before he was rescued and yet he made the attempt to find another ship, and then instead of returning home on leave or having been invalided out, he continued to serve his country in Palestine. The Royal Army Service Corps did a lot to help the frontlines troops by maintaining supply routes and are the unsung heroes of the war because even though they didn’t fight, they provided means by which the troops could have supplies and so fight in the trenches.

All the names on the Staindrop list and the Museum’s role of honour made me realise how the war made a big impact on small communities. It opened my eyes to the amount of young men that went from one of many townships in the country showing that there was a lost generation of men that went to war and didn’t return, or were psychologically affected by the war so couldn’t pick up with their lives from before the war.

By Kirsty Francis, A Volunteer.