Book Group Report, October 2018

By Judith Phillips

 “The Half Shilling Curate” by Sarah Reay was the first reading recommendation for our October meeting. The author’s grandfather was the curate in question, the Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl, who volunteered as an Army Chaplain with the Durham Light Infantry during WW1. Using his own accounts and diary entries, Sarah Reay tells the story of his life, including his attentive and hands-on care of the troops at the Front in France. He is severely injured and sent back to England on the HMHS Anglia, which has the misfortune to be hit by a German mine and sink. Even at this stage, Cowl helped others in distress and after was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry on that day. While not returning to France, he continued as an Army Chaplain and the book then charts the following decades as a Methodist Minister, his family life and the faith that sustained him throughout.

A previous Book Group suggestion inspired this month’s choice for one member, who brought along “The Great War in Portraits” by Paul Moorhouse and Sebastian Faulks. The book contains portraits in many forms – photographs, pencil sketches done in the field, formal portraits as well as before and after images where soldiers had required surgery and facial reconstruction after injury.

A diverse range of artists and genres are represented in the book, the harsh and brutal reality in Otto Dix’s portraits contrasting with softer pencil sketches of a soldier resting in a trench with eyes closed. The book was written to accompany an exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in 2014.

Personal WW1 experience as a Lieutenant in the Norfolk Regiment, and then the Army Claims Commission, influenced Ralph Mottram’s novels “The Spanish Farm Trilogy”. The connection between the three stories is the Spanish Farm, home to the Vanderlynden family, and their relationships with the thousands of soldiers billeted there as they pass to and from the trenches. A slow yet compelling read, the reader gets a sideways look at WW1 through the interaction of the French/Flemish farming community with the British troops stationed so close to the Front. The book won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature in 1924 and was the inspiration for the 1927 silent film ‘Roses of Picardy’.

Heading back to the theme of military chaplains, our next discussion centred on “A Prayer for Gallipoli: The Great War Diaries of Chaplain Kenneth Best”, edited by Gavin Roynon. Best’s first taste of military life came after becoming an Army Chaplain and a posting to Egypt, closely followed by his arrival in Gallipoli in May 1915. He only feels he is truly fulfilling his role by serving up and close with the men in the trenches, giving hands on help wherever he can, and being able to communicate with and relate to men of all ranks and levels. His diary entries show he felt no fear at the time, irrespective of the sheer volume of disease, death and mass burials that his job brought him into contact with. He was awarded a Military Cross in 1918 for his services as a chaplain.

Moving away from the direct action of WW1, Deidre Beddoe’s “Back to Home and Duty” considers the role of women between the two World Wars. While using examples of women from all classes, Beddoe also focuses on the private and public lives as well as women’s work careers. There was a post WW1 expectation that women would return to their domestic duties in the home, and not carry on working. The book highlights women’s struggles against this preconception as well as the politization of their actions, with the acknowledgement that sadly, many women’s lives remained pretty much as they had been before the war.

The last reading selection for the meeting was “Of Arms and The Heroes – The Story of the Birtley Belgians” by John Bygate. Having edited a previous book written about this community of Belgians living and working near Birtley during WW1, and with the help of previously unseen archives, Bygate has written in great detail about the Belgian community of Elisabethville. The various chapters cover the building and running of the munition’s factory, the village built, separated from Birtley, to house over 3000 Belgian workers and their families, and the provision of schools/hospital/churches/shops etc. to cater for this segregated community. Complete with photographs and maps of Elisabethville during the war years, Bygate brings the reader up to date with details of the few reminders of any evidence of the Belgians and their lives in Birtley during WW1

Our November Book Group Meeting, to coincide with the ‘To Serve King and Country’ exhibition running at the Bowes Museum, will take place in the Music Room, next door to the exhibition. So why not call in, pull up a chair and sit and listen for a few minutes as the group make more recommendations for WW1 reading.


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


Programme of events and activities

The exhibition “To Serve King and Country”: Exploring the role of Teesdale in the First World War is now up and running at the museum until 3rd March 2019. In conjunction with the exhibition, we have a programme of events and activities.

The WWI Bookgroup meets on the third Tuesday of the month. So we plan to meet on Tuesday 20th November, Tuesday 18th December, Tuesday 15th January and Tuesday 19th February. For these four meetings, we’ll meet near the exhibition. We usually each bring one or two WWI-related book to introduce to rest of the group – but you don’t have to bring a book – just come along and join us for some lively discussion. Everyone is welcome.

On alternate Thursdays, at 2.15, a project volunteer will lead a short gallery talk in the exhibition space, giving an overview of the exhibition and highlighting a few stories or objects of their choice. The talk lasts no more than 30 minutes and there’s an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the exhibition. The talks are free with admission passes and to Friends. The next gallery talk will be on Thursday 29th November.

A Knit and Natter group will be in the Picture Galleries on alternate Thursdays, again starting at 2.15 and going on until 4.00. As well as knitting (or crocheting) flowers to go onto the WWI-inspired community artwork hanging in the Entrance Hall, the group will be knitting blankets, hats and mitts to send to charities who support war victims and ex-service personnel. Wool, needles and patterns are provided – and there are experienced knitters on hand to help you. Even if you can only mange a few rows when you drop in or perhaps you’ve never tried, you’ll be very welcome. The sessions are free with admission passes and to Friends. The next meeting will be on Thursday 22nd November.

In the New Year, some of the project volunteers will give short presentations on people and events they have researched. We are also planning to have an event to mark the end of the project in March 2019 – again, details will be put onto the museum’s website as soon as possible. For further details, keep an eye on the Events page of the museum’s website, and information will circulated in future e-newsletters.

First World War exhibition

By Judith Phillips

Our First World War exhibition is now up and running at the museum until 3rd March 2019.  We had the official opening on Saturday 20th October when about eighty people attended the morning event.  It was rather an emotional time as the exhibition represented the culmination of many hours of work, not just in the exhibition preparation but during the project itself.

Sir Mark Wrightson, Chair of the Museum Trustees, opened the event by brandishing a 1918 trench periscope that belonged in his family – a rather classier example than the one currently on display but both very effective and necessary in trench warfare.  Jane Whittaker, Head of Collections at the museum, gave a brief overview of the project and thanked the various institutions, charities and other groups who have supported the project and the exhibition.  She then introduced the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham who formally opened the event after a brief speech. 

I was very pleased to have an opportunity to thank my colleagues in the Exhibition, Conservation and Education teams and Rupert Philbrick who worked as Community Co-ordinator for the first half of the project.  But mainly I wanted to thank people from the community who have so generously shared their stories and allowed us to borrow material for the exhibition, as well as the project volunteers who so far have put in more than 3000 hours in research and inputting.

It was great to see so many volunteers and supporters of the project at the exhibition opening.  I am sorry I wasn’t able to speak to everyone but be assured that you were very much appreciated.

I had the privilege of taking Barnard Castle Mayor, Sandra Moorhouse, around the exhibition.  Sandra has been a great supporter of the project since its beginning.  She was accompanied by her grandson who had just flown in from Abu Dhabi but he wanted to see the exhibition as he is studying the First World War at school.

It was so moving when we went through to the exhibition.  Some people saw their fathers’ photographs and medals, others saw souvenirs from fathers and grandfathers; another was delighted to see a diary kept by a family member; others saw socks and caps they had knitted to WWI patterns. 

The rolling Roll of Honour lists all the names on the database and will be added to, in due course.  Over 2500 names take about 50 minutes to scroll past.  A world map from 1914 has been used to show how men and women with Teesdale connections were involved in fighting and nursing hundreds and thousands of miles from home.

It has always been important that modern generations have an opportunity to reflect on the war.  So knitted and crocheted poppies, marguerites and cornflowers are being stuck onto a large canvas painting of a field in Flanders or France, a selection of poems and prose by primary school pupils, secondary school and university students and young men in HMYOI (Deerbolt) can be seen, and visitors are encouraged to leave a note of their thoughts.

A programme of events around the exhibition is being arranged and details are on the museum website.

I do hope you will have an opportunity to visit the exhibition and I look forward to your comments (we’ve already had a couple of good suggestions).

“They shall not grow old”

By Judith Phillips

Very familiar words, but somehow given a different meaning in Peter Jackson’s film which was premiered recently.  If you haven’t had a chance to see the film, it is certainly worth viewing.

I went to see it in Darlington for the live screening of the premiere.  There was so much interest, we had to be moved to a larger auditorium!  I have noticed that the film is still on elsewhere and I understand it will be screened on BBC TV in early November.

The film was commissioned by 14-18 NOW which has been behind a whole range of cultural responses to the First World War during its centenary.  Jackson has taken hours of original film held at the Imperial War Museum and selected images and passages of film to represent the soldier’s experience on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918.  He has slowed the films down to show people moving at a natural pace – not the rather jerky speeded-up version we’ve been used to seeing.  Some conversations have been voiced where lip-reading gave the original (possibly toned down in a few places?).  Voices from the BBC’s interviews with survivors in the 1960s and 1970s were the only commentary.

Most controversially he has coloured many the films, although the early films about recruitment and training are left in black and white.  It’s only when troops move overseas that the colour kicks in.  So we see blue skies and brown mud, chestnut horses, men in khaki or grey or blue uniforms.  For me, the greatest impact of the colour was when wounded or dead animals and men were shown – the blood was so obvious, and somehow horrible injuries were clearer, no longer indistinguishable from the muddy background.  In some ways, the men became so much closer in colour, and I still don’t know whether that made more or less impact on me.  What I did notice was what dreadful teeth so many of the ordinary soldiers had – again, so much more obvious in colour.

In the Q&A session that followed the premiere, Jackson himself pointed out the limitation of the film in only showing the Western Front – he could make several films, he said, from the film available showing different theatres of war.  There were some fleeting shots of Chinese labourers and troops from India and other parts of the empire, an area that wasn’t really explored.  And, if I were picky, I would have liked a more obvious chronology – which shots were the Battle of the Somme, which related to 1917 etc.  But, overall, definitely worth seeing, in my opinion.  I’d love to hear from you when you’ve had a chance to see it.

They shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson has produced a film based on original first World War film footage held by the Imperial War Museum and audio archives at the BBC which will be shown ONLY on Tuesday 16th October.  The nearest venues for Teesdale are Vue in Darlington and the Station in Richmond (check their websites for further details).  The film has been remastered, coloured and given a sound background.  We would be interested to hear your reactions to the film if you manage to see it or even your feelings about such a film being made – there has already been some lively discussion for and against the project.

Our WWI exhibition is fast approaching

By Judith Phillips

“To Serve King and Country” – Exploring the role of Teesdale in WWI opens to the public at 1.00 on Saturday 20th October and runs until Sunday 3rd March 2019.  As you can imagine, the week before the exhibition opens is very busy but it’s been a great privilege to be so closely involved in all aspects of the planning and preparation.

Putting on an exhibition based on the project has always been part of the project.  It’s an opportunity to highlight the results of research over more than four years by volunteers.  More than 150 people have contributed information, stories, memorabilia, time and research skills to the project – more than 3000 hours so far (and we’re not finished yet!).

Over the years more than 2000 names have been added to the initial Roll of Honour and, in many cases, we’ve been able to contribute an immense amount of additional information about men and women from Teesdale who served during the war or were otherwise involved in war work.  In the exhibition we’ve only been able to highlight a few stories but all the names on the Roll of Honour will be on display and visitors will be able to access the full digital version on iPads in the exhibition space.  Selecting people for the exhibition has been a very hard task – there are so many fascinating stories relating to people with a connection to Teesdale.

One of the surprising outcomes of the research has been the realisation that Teesdale people were really involved in or connected to places worldwide.  We talk about ‘World War 1’ but for most people the images we have in our minds belong to the muddy trenches of Flanders on the Western Front.  But we have found Teesdale men and women in Russia, the Middle East, Africa and roaming the seas in the Royal Navy; we have found Teesdale men who emigrated to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States who fought in the war.

And it’s not just the men and women on the front line who were involved the war.  Every casualty meant sadness for a family.  Government campaigns and local initiatives raised funds, entertained convalescents, controlled foodstuffs and provided ‘comforts’ for the troops.  Even children’s toys reflected the war.  Different methods of remembrance and post-war difficulties remind us of the longer-term effects of the war.  Throughout the project local communities have been involved, and modern responses from school and university students and young men in HMYOI (Deerbolt) will be on display alongside a community artwork which will be populated with poppies, marguerites and cornflowers during the exhibition run.

We don’t generally think of embroidery as having any connection to the war but it was often used as a therapeutic exercise for men recovering from wounds or illness and local sales of work, as fund-raising events, included embroidered items.  Men in France frequently sent home beautifully embroidered postcards and these provided employment and income for women in France.  We are very pleased to be able to include material from the Embroiderers’ Guild exhibition Calm during the Storm in our exhibition.  We are very grateful, too, for the loan of DLI material and local memorabilia. 

A programme of events and activities in conjunction with the exhibition is being prepared (details on the website).  Please come and join us for knitting, gallery talks, book group and drop-in handling sessions from the DLI. 

Book Group Report – September 2018

By Jane Wilson

Fiction or based on fact, true author or pseudonym – the puzzle that our first book choice posed. The answer is that ‘Not So Quiet…’ by Helen Zenna Smith is published as a novel, where in reality the true author was Evadne Price and the book based on the real-life diaries and personal accounts of the WW1 experiences of Winifred Young, a volunteer ambulance driver at the Front.

An excellent read, the book gives an insight into life as a female ambulance driver, the harsh conditions they worked under and the poor treatment they received as volunteers from more senior staff. At times the book reads as though set at an Enid Blyton boarding school, the group of volunteers sharing humorous jokes, food packages from home, their dislike of the superintendent in charge of them and the nicknames they give her. However, the author cleverly manages to keep this light touch at the same time as exploring themes such as injury and death, societies view of those serving, a women’s place in WW1, pacifism and how WW1 could and did change people’s lives forever.

An in-depth afterword explores these themes further and gives more detail for the reader to consider.

‘Conscripts – Forgotten Men of the Great War’ by Ilana R Bet-El, as with many book group choices, uses diaries, letters and personal accounts of those who were forced to serve in WW1 after conscription was introduced into the British Army in 1916. Our book group member felt the book highlighted the experiences of and the respect deserved by those who were conscripted into the Army as opposed to the often-studied praise of those who were volunteers. The author follows subjects through enlistment, training, time spent fighting as well as their return home. With over 2.5 million men serving during WW1, their enforced transformations from civilians to soldiers are well documented.

Having previously recommended ‘Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain, another book was suggested as an ideal accompaniment to read alongside. By writer Mark Bostridge, ‘Vera Brittain and The First World War: The Story of Testament of Youth’, the book tells of her role in the Voluntary Aid Detachment during WW1, nursing soldiers in London, Malta and France. While covering the effect the war had on Vera personally, and her conscious decision in later life to support pacifism, Bostridge also includes chapters on the making of the film ‘Testament of Youth’ in 2014, as well as previous film and TV adaptations. Interviews given by the films actors and producers are included, as well as those from Vera Brittain’s family, including her daughter, Shirley Williams.

Switching from the British viewpoint of WW1, the next reading suggestion was ‘Storm of Steel’ by Ernst Junger. Originally published privately in 1920, it is the memoir of Junger’s time serving on the Western Front. Alongside his German comrades, he fought in battles at the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Cambrai, and was also part of the Spring German Offensive in March 1918. Suffering many wounds during his time in service, and receiving various medals for his actions, Junger manages to recreate in his memoir the absolute horror and sickening sights that he faced during his four years in the Army. His writing emphasises the dependency each German soldier had on his colleagues for survival and helps us to understand that no soldier deserved what they experienced, irrespective of on whose side they were fighting.

Our next publication originates from a collaboration involving the Workers Educational Association in the North-East. Newly published and entitled ‘Turbulent Times 1914 – 1918’, it is a wide selection of writings, poems, illustrations, photographs and cartoons pulled together in ‘The Highway’, the regular magazine of the WEA. Subjects covered include those such as women and engineering during the war, the horror and impact of shell shock and conscientious objectors. More pertinent to the North East, there are also articles about the former Winterton mental health asylum at Sedgefield, the creation of the village of Elizabethville near Birtley to house Belgian refugees post-war, and an article about the army chaplain Reverend Herbert Cowl, the ‘Half Shilling Curate’.

Our afternoon ended with a book from Patricia Fara, ‘A Lab of One’s Own; Science and Suffrage in the First World War’. The main themes brought out in the book are the role of women during WW1, their involvement in suffrage campaigns around that time, and women’s roles in science at the point in history. All the group agreed that we could not name many key women scientists of the WW1 era, yet Fara gives us many scientists to learn of. Some are involved in key war work such as germ warfare, explosives or medical treatments, and their stories are told against the backdrop of the war, as well as exploring how class/education/money and gender impacted on their careers. Fara shows how the brief window of opportunity provided by the war gave women the ability to make major career advances in science, paving the way for women scientists to come in the decades after them.

We always look forward to welcoming any new-comers to our Book Group and the next meeting is on Tuesday 16th October at 2.30pm.

All titles underlined are available to borrow through the County Durham Library service.

John Warwick DCM

By June Parkin

“I only did what any of our chaps would have done.” This was the modest reply from a 1914 local hero when he was lauded for retrieving wounded comrades from the line of fire.

John Warwick was born in Barnard Castle in 1885. In the 1911 Census he is boarding, along with his wife Ada, at 38 The Bank and his occupation is given as Flax Dresser. He was a talented footballer and played for West Auckland in the 1911 ‘World Cup’. At the beginning of 1914 the couple moved to Darlington and John worked as a labourer at the Cleveland Bridge Company.

He had first joined the army as a regular soldier in 1902, serving with the 4th Battalion DLI  in‘F’ Company until 1906. He re-enlisted on September 8th1914 and was assigned as Private No. 8757 with 2nd Battalion DLI. In France he was quickly involved in the Battle of the Aisne. The advance northwards from the Marne was halted as the Germans dug in along the heights above the River Aisne. British attacks were repelled and with both sides digging in, this was the beginning of trench warfare.

In a letter to a Barney friend, (quoted in ‘The Teesdale Mercury’ of October 7th1914) Pte. Warwick explains that on Sunday September 20th, he was entrenched 80 yards from the German line, when at 6 in the evening, Major Robb gave the order to charge the enemy. When Lieutenant Twist was wounded, Warwick and Pte. Howson, also of Darlington, brought him out of the firing line. Warwick then volunteered to bring in wounded Pte. Maughan. When they discovered that Major Robb was missing, John Warwick reports that he “crawled on my stomach, taking cover behind the dead, until I found him, shot through the chest. I waited until our artillery started up and with the help of a comrade called Nevison, half-carried and half-dragged the Major through a rain of bullets to within 15 yards of our own trench”. It was at this point that Warwick was wounded in the back. His letter was written from a military hospital in Manchester.

Lieutenant Twist and Pte. Maughan survived, but Nevison and Major Robb did not. Pte. Warwick was recommended to be awarded the Victoria Cross, but in the event, received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation says, ‘For gallant conduct on 20thSeptember, 1914, at Troyon, valley of the Aisne, when he voluntarily assisted in the rescue of a wounded Officer under heavy fire.’

John Warwick recovered from his wound and his medal record shows that he was re-assigned as Pte. 45968 in the West Yorkshire Regiment and received a clasp to his DCM in 1920, which may be for long service or a further act of bravery.

In later years Warwick worked at Glaxo. He died in 1956.


UPDATE: When this article was published in the Teesdale mercury recently, with a photograph of John Warwick, I asked if anyone could explain why he was wearing a slouch hat, which to me was reminiscent of the Australian hats worn in the first World War.

As always, a reader was kind enough to get in touch and suggest that John Warwick DCM might be the same John Warwick who had fought in the Zulu war in 1906.  A recent conversation with a DLI volunteer seemed to strengthen this idea, as apparently a DLI militia group served in the Boer War and wore slouch hats during that period.  Please let us know if you have any further ideas on this.

Judith Phillips (email:

War and Peace in a Festival of Flowers

By Judith Phillips

Hutton Magna is marking the 140th anniversary of St Mary’s church with a Festival of Flowers on the theme of War and Peace running from 28th to 30th September.

The weekend’s programme:

  • Friday 28th September at 7.00pm – Preview and opening by Robin Russell. After over 30 years as a serving soldier Mr Russell leads battlefield tours including the First World War and is also engaged in adult education.  Tickets for this event cost £5, including wine and nibbles
  • Saturday 29th September from 11.00am to 5.00pm Entry to the Festival and programme £3. Tea and Cake available in the Village Hall.
  • Sunday 30th September at 10.30am – Service of Holy Communion conducted by The Right Reverend Doctor Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon
  • Sunday 30th September from 11.30am to 4.00pm Entry to the Festival and programme £3. Tea and Cake available in the Village Hall.

In 2014 Hutton Magna hosted an exhibition about the men whose names appear on the village war memorial.  This information was then shared with the Museum’s project, and we are very grateful for this generous gesture.

In the Pink

World War One Stories from the Gaunless Valley

By Judith Phillips

The Evenwood, Ramshaw and District History Society and the Gaunless Valley History Trust have commissioned a film entitled ‘In the Pink’ produced by Crackin’ Toast to tell stories of local men and their families during the war.  The title comes from a letter written to his parents by Private Thomas Henry Dunn who died in December 1916.

A huge amount of research has been done by members of the groups about the 244 local men who did not return from the war and their families.  The film is their tribute.  It will be shown:

  • Thursday 27th September Evenwood Parish Hall at 7.30pm
  • Friday 28th September Evenwood Parish Hall at 7.30pm
  • Tuesday 16th October Ramshaw Primary School at 4.30pm
  • Thursday 18th October Etherley Methodist Church at 7.00pm
  • Wednesday 24th October Evenwood WMC at 7.30pm
  • Friday 26th October Butterknowle Village Hall at 7.00pm
  • Tuesday 30th October Toft Hill Primary School 6.00pm
  • Thursday 1st November Cockfield Primary School at 6.00pm
  • Thursday 8th November Butterknowle Primary School at 6.00pm
  • Sunday 11th November West Auckland Memorial Hall at 1.00pm
  • Wednesday 14th November Cornerstone Christian Centre Evenwood at 7.00pm
  • Thursday 15th November Evenwood C of E Primary School at 5.00pm
  • Friday 23rd November Hamsterley Village Hall at 7.00pm

Screenings are FREE and on a first come first served basis.  A small donation to help towards expenses in hiring equipment and venues will be asked at each screening.

A keepsake DVD of the film with an accompanying 100-page softback book will be available to buy at the end of each screening, priced at £5.00.

Members of the groups have been generous in sharing the results of their research with the Museum’s project.