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The Gaunless Valley is that area along the River Gaunless running east to west from Fielden Bridge near Tindale Crescent, though St. Helen’s, West Auckland, Evenwood and Ramshaw, up to Toft Hill, Etherley and Morley, down to Lands, Esperley Lane and Cockfield, then past the Fell and over to Butterknowle, Copley and Woodland on the higher land to the west.  In 1911, it had a population of about 19,000.

In 1914, there were about 4,700 pitmen working throughout the district. Life revolved around the pit.  Social life, time permitting, was varied– men liked a pint, pubs were everywhere, working-men’s clubs flourished; a few would have been teetotal and associated with the chapel or church; there would be band practice, as every village had its band, and of course sport – there were many football teams and every village had its own team. Life for the womenfolk was based around the home and the shifts of the pit.  Some younger lasses worked in service and left home but had to send money back to their parents to help out. The Co-op was well established in the main villages, although there were a good number of shops throughout the area.

Population Figures: 1911 census


Parish Male Female Total
Auckland St Helen 799 823 1,622
Evenwood & Barony 2,572 2,415 4,987
Lynesack & Softley 1,404 1,302 2,706
West Auckland 2,256 2,215 4,471
Cockfield* 1,420 1,252 2,672
Woodland* 343 314 657
Wackerfield* 65 67 132
Total 8,859 8,388 17,247

Notes and references:

Auckland R.D. except those marked *Barnard Castle R.D.

Evenwood & Barony Parish includes much of Toft Hill and Etherley.

Kelly’s Directory 1914 gives the 1911 population of Etherley as 1,812 + 17,247 = 19,059.

Coal Mining Employment: 1914


Colliery (locality) Under


Above Ground Total
St Helens 508 188 696
West Auckland 494 93 587
Randolph (Evenwood) 782 257 1,039
Railey Fell/West Tees(Ramshaw) 204 46 250
New Morley

(East of Butterknowle)

32 7 39
Gordon House (Cockfield) 689 147 836
Low Butterknowle (Low Lands) 23 3 26
Crake Scar (East of Woodland) 32 16 48

(Cowley& Woodland)

384 110 494

(West of Cockfield)

39 3 42
White House

(West of Woodland)

Quarry Drift (Butterknowle) 17 1 18
New Copley Colliery

(West of Cockfield)

243 49 292

(West of Toft Hill)

125 40 165
West Carterthorne Colliery

(West of Toft Hill)

62 16 78
Butterknowle/Marsfield 19 3 22
Black Horse (Wackerfield) 45 4 49
Old North End (Cockfield) 4 2 6
Total 3702 (79%) 985(21%) 4687

Source: Durham Mining Museum


 28th JUNE 1914

Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year old student and Serbian nationalist, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.  The implications were far reaching and soon every city, town, village and hamlet in Britain would be affected.

Why was this significant?  Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire various ethnic groups, including the Slavonic, Christian and Muslim peoples throughout the Balkan region, sought self-determination.  The Austro-Hungarians extended their control to encompass the Balkans and although there was some form of local government for the various regions there was a burning desire for independence.  Nationalism was a force throughout the Balkans. Russia saw herself as the protector of the Slavonic peoples, of which there were many groups including the Serbs.  Russia did not deter any unrest in the Balkan region.

After the Archduke was assassinated, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  Russia mobilized her troops.  Since Germany and Austria-Hungary were allies, Germany pledged to come to the aid of Austria-Hungary should Russia attack.  Mobilization of troops was interpreted as an aggressive act.

Anticipating that France would come to the aid of Russia, Germany mobilized her troops in readiness to attack France.  Germany’s military strategy was the “Schlieffen Plan”, devised over a number of years but finally coming to prominence under the “Great Memorandum” of December 1905.  The German High Command considered Russia and France as the major threats to Germany in mainland Europe.  It was deemed necessary to deal with France first then concentrate on Russia.  France had a line of major fortifications along her border with Germany.  It was part of the Plan to bypass these fortifications altogether and attack to the north, sweeping through Belgium and northern France to capture the French capital Paris – all within 42 days.  Victory completed in the west, Germany would then turn its attention to the east and inflict a crushing defeat on Russia.

The neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed jointly by Britain, France and Prussia by the Treaty of London in 1839.  Prussia was then a separate country but by 1914 was the driving force behind the new state of Germany. Germany invaded Belgium and broke the London Treaty.  Great Britain felt obligated to act in defence of Belgium and in support of France and therefore declared war on Germany.

The main players were:


  1. On the side of the Central Powers were Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy was originally part of this group but took no part in the initial actions.  In May 1915 Italy “changed sides” when she thought she had more to gain in terms of territory to the north and east by attacking Austria-Hungary.  Turkey and then Bulgaria decided to ally themselves with the Central Powers.


  1. On the side of the Allies were France, Russia and Great Britain. They enjoyed an understanding of mutual support should there be an attack by Germany and/or Austria-Hungary.  Belgium, by virtue of resisting German aggression, was automatically part of the Allied powers.  Serbia, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Greece and the USA joined the Allies over the course of the war.


1st August 1914: Germany declared war on Russia.

2nd August: Belgium refused the German ultimatum demanding permission for her troops to cross through Belgium.

3rd/4th August: Germany invaded Belgium and France.

4th August: Britain declared war on Germany.

12th August: Britain declared war on Austria- Hungary.

2nd September:  Serbia and Russia declared war on Turkey.

5th September:  France and Britain declared war on Turkey.

14th October: Bulgaria declared war on Serbia.

May 1915: Italy joined the war against Austria-Hungary.

August 1915: Italy joined the war against Germany and Turkey.

October 1915: Italy joined the war against Bulgaria. Britain declared war on Bulgaria in October 1915, as did France and Russia.

March 1916: Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on Portugal, a long-standing British ally.

August 1916: Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies.

June 1917: Greece entered the war on the side of the Allies.

April 1917: The USA joined the war on the side of the Allies after declaring war on Germany; the first troops arrived in France on 26 June 1917 and their first major battle wasn’t until May 1918, but when they arrived in overwhelming numbers throughout the summer of 1918, Germany sought peace.

11th November 1918: The Armistice is signed at Compiegne, France.

28th June 1919: The end of the Great War: The Treaty of Versailles.

19th July 1919: Peace Day.

There were 30 countries involved in the Great War to a greater or lesser degree – Austria-Hungary and parts of her Empire, Belgium and her Empire, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, France and her Empire, Germany and her Empire, Great Britain and her Empire, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Siam, Turkey and the USA.  Uruguay and Peru severed relations with Germany.


Historically, Britain did not possess a large land-based army, instead relying on protection of her interests overseas and the Empire on a swift response from the Royal Navy.  The strength of the Army of 1914 was as follows:

All Ranks

Regular Army                          247,432

Army Reserve                          145,347

Special Reserve                          63,933

Territorial Force                       268,777

Territorial Force Reserve             2,082

Militia & Volunteers                    5,943

National Reserve                      215,451

Total                                         948,965

 Whilst all forces of the British Army numbered almost one million men, the total strength of the Regular Army numbered only about 250,000 men.  In reality, excluding the Regular Army, the greater proportion of the others were overage, unfit and only partially trained.

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which went to the defence of France and Belgium consisted of 1 Cavalry Division and 6 Infantry Divisions, approximately 120,000 men and 10,000 horses.

By way of comparison, France had 823,000 men in service and by the end of August they were reinforced by another 2,870,000 reservists.  France could field 62 divisions, Germany 87 and Russia 114.  Even Belgium had a larger army than Britain.  The 7 British Divisions made little strategic difference. Britain needed more soldiers and quickly.


 Parliament sanctioned an increase of some 500,000 men as demanded by Secretary of State for War, Lord Horatio Kitchener. (plate 1) The country underwent a massive wave of enthusiasm and patriotism and the response was overwhelming.

  • 11thAugust 1914: the “Your King and Country need you.” A call to arms” campaign called for 100,000 men to enlist and this figure was achieved within 2 weeks.  These volunteers formed 6 new Divisions of Kitchener’s Army (K1 – 9th to 14th Divisions).
  • 28thAugust 1914: Kitchener asked for another 100,000 men. They volunteered and formed an additional 6 Divisions (K2 – 15th to 20th Divisions).
  • A further 100,000 volunteers made up another 6 Divisions (K3 – 21st to 26th Divisions).

For the overwhelming majority, the call of King and country was too strong.  By the end of September over 750,000 men had enlisted and by January 1915, one million.  The government demand for men continued unabated.  This new army is often referred to as Kitchener’s Army, and those recruited formed complete battalions under existing British Army Regiments.

These Battalions were named thus:

xxth (Service) Battalion, the Regiment’s name

 A suitable example is:

20th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

In theory, a recruit was initially sent to his regimental depot where he would receive his kit and be given an introduction to army discipline and training before being sent to the main training camps to join his battalion.  In practice, no regiment had enough equipment or the manpower to train the flood of recruits.

Old uniforms and emergency blue uniforms (Kitchener Blue) were issued.  There was a lack of officers to train them and there was a shortage of weapons.  There were no artillery pieces left in Britain.  Not until early 1915 were problems overcome.

In 1914, the total available number of men of military age was 5,500,000, with around 500,000 more reaching the age each year.  By late September 2,250,000 men had enlisted.  1,500,000 men were in reserved occupations such as coal mining, iron and steel production, railways and munitions.  Recruiters discovered that almost 2 in every 5 volunteers were entirely unsuitable for military service due to poor health.

The increase of manpower to the army saw the rapid expansion of many of its parts.  A good example of this would be the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). At the outset of war, the RAMC had a combined strength (Regular & Territorial) of just under 20,000 officers and men, but by the war’s end 144,000 men had served in its ranks, almost twice the size of the current Regular Army.


When war was declared, the part time soldiers of the regionally based Territorial Force were ordered to report to their local drill hall. (plate 2).  In our case, the men of the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, reported  to the Bishop Auckland hall.  At this time, they were required for the defence of Great Britain with no obligation to serve overseas.

Because of the urgent need to increase the strength of the army, recruitment meetings took place all over the country.  The county gentry and local MPs, who often had very different political views, shared the same platforms to persuade men to join up.

The professional soldiers of the British Regular Army were assembled in Great Britain as battalions were gathered from across the Empire.  His Majesty’s forces, the BEF, were sent with all due haste to protect Belgium and France. By 7th August, units crossed the English Channel and began to arrive in France and Belgium to try to halt German advances.

A series of bloody battles broke out along the border of France and Germany and in southern Belgium.  Lasting for 38 days, between 7th August until 13th September, it became known as the Battle of the Frontiers. 22nd August – 27,000 French soldiers were killed in a single day as they attacked the German lines, east of Paris.

The Battle of the Marne, 5th – 10th September, resulted in a victory for the French, supported by the BEF.  This forced the German Army to abandon its push on Paris and retreat to the north east.

The “Race to the Sea”, as it became known, was fought during the months of October and November.  This was mobile warfare with a series of engagements taking place through north east France to the western coast of Belgium but on 15th October, the first fortified trench systems along the German western front were dug.

19th October – the First Battle of Ypres began, fought around the medieval Belgian market in which British forces made a valiant stand.  Heavy losses were suffered by both sides.  British losses were reported as over 7,900 soldiers killed, 29,000 wounded and over 17,800 missing, that is 54,700 out of a total force of 110,000.  German losses were recorded as 134,000.

Regular soldiers with the British Army who hailed from the Gaunless Valley were few in number.  There are 3 men commemorated on local war memorials and 1 commemoration in St. Helen’s church, 2 of whom were cavalrymen serving with the 9th and 12th Lancers, and 2 who were infantrymen serving with the Coldstream Guards and the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards). They were:

  • 4595 Private Sydney Teasdale, was the first local man to be killed. His father had the distinction of being the Butterknowle Band Master.  Sydney worked as a miner before joining up and the family lived at 18 Coronation Terrace, Cockfield.  He enlisted at Sunderland, 12th February 1913, joining the 9th (Queen’s Royal) Lancers as a musician, a cornet player. Sydney was killed on 29th September 1914, together with 1 officer and 18 other ranks, when the Germans shelled their billets at Longueval.  He was 22 years old and is buried alongside his comrades at Longueval Community Cemetery in the Department of the Somme, France.
  • Lieutenant John (Jack) Eden was a professional soldier serving with the 12th (Prince of Wales Royal) Lancers. He was the oldest son of Sir William and Lady Sybil Eden and heir to the Baronetcy of West Auckland.  The family lived at Windlestone Hall near Rushyford. After attending Eton College, he went to Sandhurst, was gazetted Second Lieutenant in January 1909 and promoted to Lieutenant in May 1914.  Jack had served in India and South Africa. The 12th Lancers landed in France on 15th August and were involved in an action on 28th August at Moy when they charged the German lines. In recognition of this event, the Regiment commissioned a painting by George Wright, and the action is still remembered today, known as “Moy/Mons Day”. (plate 3). Lieutenant J. Eden was killed in action 17th October 1914 while out on a scouting patrol.  He was 26 years old.  He is buried at Larch Wood (Railway Crossing) Cemetery, near Ypres.
  • 5899 Lance Corporal John Caile, 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, was killed in action on 21st October 1914. He was about 30 years old, married and before enlisting worked as a miner in the Toft Hill area. At the outbreak of war, the battalion was stationed at Chelsea Barracks, London. It was mobilized and landed at Le Havre, France 20th/21stAugust 1914.  The battalion was involved in a number of actions during the early weeks of the war then, on 21st October, the 4th Guards Brigade, with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Coldstream Guards leading, attacked high ground covering Langemarck.  In spite of fierce German opposition, the position was taken and held until the battalion was relieved two days later.  During this action, Lance Corporal John Caile was killed.  He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial which commemorates over 54,000 officers and men who have no known graves.
  • 7979 Private John Bell, 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire (Alexandra, Princess of Wales Own) Regiment, was killed in action 29th October 1914. He was 30 years old and prior to enlisting worked as a farm labourer. At the outbreak of war, the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment was stationed in Guernsey and it left for France 5th October 1914.  The battalion was involved in actions to the south of Ypres, one of which at the Menin crossroads at Nieuwe Kruiseecke is immortalised by a painting commissioned by the Regiment. (plate 4). Having been overseas for just over three weeks, Private John Bell was dead.  He has no known grave and like John Caile, he is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

Following the actions of October 1914, both sides “dug-in” and a continuous front line of trench fortifications stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss border.  This became known as “The Western Front” and remained essentially unchanged for the rest of the war. The BEF had been decimated during these early battles.  There was a severe shortage of troops to defend the line.  Reinforcements from the Empire came to the aid of the Mother Country, notably the Indian Army, and troops were sent from the Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland.


At the outbreak of war, military nurses serving in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) numbered under 300, with a reserve of 200.  There were another 600 civilian nurses to call upon.  Totally insufficient.

The British Red Cross and the Order of St. John formed the Joint War Committee and pooled their resources in order to provide the military with medical support services under the protection of the Red Cross emblem.  County branches of the Red Cross had their own volunteers called Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD’s).  In August 1914 there were 9000 VAD’s.  Their ranks were to be increased greatly, aided by the recruiting skills of many “gently-bred young ladies.”  In total, about 90,000 volunteers worked at home and abroad, eagerly doing their bit for King, country and their loved ones, caring for sick and wounded soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The VADs (men and women) carried out a range of tasks such as organisation of auxiliary hospitals, convalescent homes, rest stations, nursing, transport duties and work parties. There were about 3000 auxiliary hospitals throughout the UK, 28 in County Durham, one of which was the 17th Durham Volunteer Aid Hospital, The Red House, Etherley, Bishop Auckland. The Red House was provided by the Stobart family, an influential family who had developed a number of local collieries.

The VA Hospital, Etherley, was associated with the Sunderland War Hospital and operated between 18th March 1915 and 15th April 1919.  It had capacity for 81 patients.  Mrs. Jessica Octavia Stobart was appointed Commandant and over the duration oversaw 9 administration and 97 household appointments (37 domestic and 60 hospital orderlies).  With regard to medical matters, 5 local doctors and 1 chemist could be called upon.  Nursing duties were carried out by 41 full-time nurses, and part-time assistance from a bank of 157 VAD nursing members. (plate 5).


  • Commandant: Jessica Octavia Stobart, wife of William Ryder Stobart of H. Stobart Coal and Co., was appointed Commandant of the VA Hospital between 18th March 1915 and 15th April 1919.  She was in charge of all matters concerning the hospital except for the medical and nursing services.
  • Quartermaster, responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of articles in the provision store: Dorothy Frances Russell (nee Stobart), Jessica’s oldest daughter, held this position until 30th September 1917.  Miss Doris Eunice Fleming took over until July 1918, then Miss Alice Gertrude Headlam until 15th April 1919.
  • Honourary Treasurer: Mr. Edward Stobart occupied this position from 18th March 1915 to 15th April 1919. Edward was William Ryder Stobart’s half-brother.
  • Accountant: Miss Helen Marguerite Tait held this position for the duration, filling in as chauffeuse as required. Miss Katherine Bickmore was assistant accountant between May and July 1918. Katherine’s mother, Ethel Bickmore (nee Stobart) was a relative of William Ryder Stobart.
  • Secretary: Miss Maud Carter was employed between 5th November 1916 and 1st February 1919.
  • Chauffeuse: Miss M. Richardson (2nd July 1916 to 5th January 1917) and Miss Gertrude Dawson (3rd January 1917 to 15th February 1919) filled this position.
  • William Ryder Stobart and his half-brother, Captain (Retired) Henry Francis Stobart who in 1911 lived at Red House, offered their services as required.


 Local doctors did much voluntary work in these hospitals.  In 1917, the War Office decided to make payments to them for their services.  Five local doctors made themselves available:

  • Dr George C. Caldwell from Crook,
  • Dr Arthur C.H. McCullagh and Dr Thomas A. McCullagh from Bishop Auckland,
  • Dr J. Meikle from Heighington,
  • Dr William Patulla from Spennymoor.

The Chemist/Dispenser was Joseph W. Clemitson from Crook.

A matron directed nursing staff; we are not 100% certain who held this position. Professional nurses and local VAD members who were trained in first aid and home nursing took up positions at the VA Hospitals.  The whole-time positions usually were designated at some rank – staff nurse, sister, nurse or nursing member.  There were several local whole-time nurses employed for much of the hospital’s existence:

  • Miss Mary N. Hopwood; 5th April1915 to 15th April 1919, from Etherley.
  • Miss Dora Prest: 10th Oct 1915 to 15th Apr 1919, Heighington.
  • Effie Robinson: 4th Oct 1915 to 11th May 1918, Stockton-on-Tees.
  • Miss Joan T. Stephens: 28th Sep 1915 to 4th Feb 1919, Croft.
  • Eileen Walker: 1st May 1915 to 31st Dec 1918, Etherley.
  • Miss Gertrude Young: 28th Oct 15 to 15 Apr 1919, Roddymoor.
  • Mrs Alma Grant: 18th Mar 1915 to 30th Dec 1917, Low Etherley.

Many of the professional nurses came from all across the country but the part-time positions were all filled by local VAD nursing members.


 There were whole-time female domestic positions associated with the everyday running of the hospital, such as cooks, laundry maids, stores and pantry maids, general service maids.  These were usually paid jobs.  Over the duration, there were 37 female staff employed, 4 of whom were part time and 1, possibly 2, unpaid.

Volunteer male orderlies were also engaged – 58 men over the duration, plus 1 described as “handy man” and 1 described as “transport of orderlies”.  The “handy man” was Mr. Isaac Elland from Etherley, who was employed from 18th March 1915 to 14th April 1919.

Mr. Amos Clark from Three Lane Ends, Escomb, was engaged between 18th March 1915 and 15th January 1917 and he was described as “transport of orderlies”.  All of the men resided in the local area.

It appears that there was a nucleus of whole-time nurses on site and a bank of nursing members who could be called upon as and when required.  Virtually all the female domestic staff were whole-time, in paid employment.  With regard to the orderlies, there seems to have been a bank of volunteers who were called upon as and when needed.

As snapshots, the following details illustrate the workforce employed at various dates. At 1st December 1915 there were 9 whole-time nurses and a bank of 103 part-time nursing members available.  For domestic duties, there were only 3 permanent members and 1 part-time member of staff and a bank of 47 male orderlies. By 11th November 1918, there were 19 whole-time nurses and a bank of 8 part-time nursing members.  For domestic duties there were 12 whole-time staff and 8 orderlies.

In terms of access, Etherley was still somewhat remote.  There were no motor bus services at that time and people made use of horses and carts and bicycles.  They had to walk most local journeys.  The Weardale Branch railway line, which went from Bishop Auckland westwards to Wearhead, offered a passenger service and there was a station at Witton Park (called Etherley) but this was some 2 miles from Red House, Etherley.  Towns such as Tow Law and Crook were linked into Bishop Auckland and Witton Park by rail.  Amos Clark from Escomb was engaged on transport duties and it is presumed that his major function was ferrying the orderlies and nurses to and from the railway station at Witton Park.  In addition, Mrs. Stobart employed 3 ladies (Miss Helen Tait, Miss Gertrude Dawson and Miss M. Richardson) as “a chauffeuse”.  It is therefore assumed that a Stobart family motor vehicle would be available to pick up the more important employees or visitors.  A motor vehicle driven by a young lady travelling along the roads of south west Durham would be a rare sight.


 No records have been researched which relate to the number of patients or their injuries.  The hospital had a capacity for 81 patients and an undated group photograph shows 54 patients and 15 nurses.  This may represent the average intake of patients and nursing staff required to look after them.

Details for the following 3 soldiers are known:

  • Private Robert Mothershaw, 6th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, died of wounds 17th September 1916, aged 31, and is buried in St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Etherley. Robert was originally from Willenhall, Staffordshire. He enlisted 24th August 1914, entered France 29th July 1915 and suffered a gun-shot wound (GSW) to the neck, 14th July 1916.  He was treated at No. 34 Casualty Clearing Station and No. 3 General Hospital.  On 24th July 1916 he was taken to the UK.  After treatment, he was sent to Etherley VA Hospital for convalescence but sadly, he died suffering from “septic pneumonia” resulting from shrapnel wounds received in action.  His death certificate confirms that Mary E. Laidler was present at his death.   Sister Laidler served as a whole-time nurse at the hospital from 1915 to January 1917.
  •  Private Philip Gill, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. The Etherley school log for February 1917 reports that former pupil, Philip Gill, was a patient at the VA Hospital.  Philip would have been 18 or 19 years old, the son of Emma Brunskill who lived at High Etherley, and previously worked as a coal miner.  He was a territorial soldier serving with 6/DLI, later transferred to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.  Having been wounded on the Somme, 26th September 1916, following treatment he was sent to Etherley VA Hospital for recuperation.  His wounds must have been particularly serious as he was honourably discharged from the army, 6th July 1917.  Philip was the half-brother (having the same mother) of 3429 Private Frederick Brunskill, 1/6 DLI who was killed in action 5th November, 1916 and is buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, France.
  • Private George Gillham, 2nd Battalion London Regiment, enlisted 15th February 1915, entered France 9th April 1916 and his battalion took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. Private Gillham suffered a GSW to the right shoulder and was evacuated to the UK, being treated at the Beaufort Hospital, Bristol.  After recuperation, he was sent back to France in January 1918, joining 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment.  Private Gillham was wounded for a second time – GSW to the left thigh, 29th March 1918.  The next day, part of his leg was amputated at a Casualty Clearing Station.  He was then transferred to No.6 General Hospital, Rouen, where the upper third of his leg was removed.  He was taken to the UK, to Sunderland War Hospital and on the 26th April 1918 a secondary amputation was found necessary.  He was left with a 5” stump.  Private Gillham was sent to Etherley VA Hospital for convalescence.  In January 1919, he was considered ready for an artificial limb.  In February 1919, he was discharged from the Army.  He stayed in the area and made a new life for himself and his family.


 All social and charitable occasions were directed towards the service of the war.  Residents and children from the neighbouring villages of Evenwood, Ramshaw, Cockfield and further afield at Middleton-in-Teesdale and Cotherstone provided aid, comforts and entertainment for the wounded of the Etherley VA Hospital.


 Many VAD organisers were honoured by the King.  Mrs. J.O. Stobart was awarded an OBE in the Birthday Honours List, June 1918.

Mrs. D.F. Russell, Miss M.N. Hopwood, Miss J. Stephens and Mrs. E. Walker received the St. John’s Ambulance War Service Badge.

VAD nursing members were awarded a war service medal from their County organisation.


 Nine VADs are known to have served overseas at some stage of the war.  They are:

  • Lily Brine from Bishop Auckland, who served as a ward maid.
  • Elizabeth Harrison from Wooley Colliery, who was a nursing member.
  • Edith Howitt from Sunderland, who served as a cook.
  • Margaret Nicholson, who was a VAD general service member.
  • Elsie Pratt, White Lea House, Crook, was a VAD nursing member.
  • Dorothy Helena Pulleine, White House, Gainford, served as a cook.
  • Greta Scott, Broomhill, Longhill, Morpeth, who served as a cook.
  • Christine Tait, Etherley, served as a VAD nursing member.
  • Jessie McLennan from Stanhope served as a VAD nursing member.

Further information on Christine Tait and Jessie McLennan is given below:

Christine Jean Tait was born about 1890 at Witton Park, the oldest daughter of James and Helen Tait. James was a colliery clerk working for the Stobart Coal Co.  The family were relatively well off, since the 1901 census records them having a cook and a housemaid.
By 1915 the family lived at “The Fields”, Etherley.

Christine’s younger sister, Helen, was also employed at the Etherley VA Hospital, as an “accountant and chauffeuse”. Christine worked as a whole-time nursing member from 18th March 1915 to 15th March 1916.  She went to France to serve as a VAD nurse at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples, France, between March 1916 and January 1919. This hospital was the largest voluntary hospital serving the BEF during the First World War.

As a Base Hospital, its patients came from the Casualty Clearing Stations.  It provided treatment, surgical support and some degree of convalescence to patients before they were evacuated to hospitals in the UK or returned to their units. During the course of the conflict, the hospital was expanded several times.  When it opened in September 1915 it contained 525 beds, and by spring 1918 the hospital was able to accommodate 744 patients. Christine will have witnessed the full horror of war. During her time there, casualties from all the major battles in which the British Army fought would have been taken to Étaples for treatment.

The hospital itself was not immune from attack. On the night of 19th May 1918 the hospital was hit by a bomb, killing 5 members of staff, and on 31st May a second bomb hit the hospital, resulting in 11 deaths and 60 casualties. This second attack left no department undamaged and rendered the hospital incapable of continuing. The decision was taken to move what remained up the French coast to Trouville, where it operated from October 1918 to 1st February 1919.

Christine married William Haig.  The following announcement appeared in the Yorkshire Post, 7th April 1922:

The marriage arranged between Dr William Haig DSO, Galvelmore, Creiff, and Miss Christine Tait, The Fields, Etherley, Bishop Auckland, will take place quietly at the Parish Church, Etherley, on Tuesday April 25th, at 2pm. No invitations are being issued but friends will be welcome at the church. 

 Jessie McLennan was born in Inverness, Scotland.  By 1911, she lived at Croft Cottage Stanhope, with her husband, Frederick Paterson and her younger sister Mary.  Frederick worked as a dental technician.   Jessie was engaged as a nursing member at Etherley V.A. Hospital between 25th May 1915 and 13th June 1915.  Her VAD card records that Jessie went to work at the 4th Northern General Hospital in Lincoln, spending just over a year there before being transferred to the 59th General Hospital in St Omer, France.  She worked at other hospitals – the 59th General Hospital at Rouen, 24th General Hospital at Étaples and the 3rd Stationary Hospital at Rouen.  Jessie was demobilized on 24th March 1919. According to her entry on the medal index rolls, she was a VAD attached to the Territorial Force Nursing Service, rather than the more usual Red Cross or St John’s services.


 Staff at Etherley VA Hospital suffered their own family heartbreak during the war:

  • Second Lieutenant John Geoffrey Stobart, Rifle Brigade, was killed in action 15th March 1915. He was the half-brother to William Ryder Stobart.  This tragic news reached the Stobart family as they commenced their duties with the VA Hospital. A wing was dedicated to his memory.  The Bishop of Durham conducted the service.
  • George Caile from Toft Hill was engaged as an orderly between October 1916 and September 1917. His brother, Lance Corporal John Caile, 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, was killed in action 21stOctober 1914. (mentioned previously).
  • Alfred E. Gaskin from Toft Hill, was engaged as an orderly between March 1915 and May 1916. He was to serve in the RAMC overseas.  His brother, Private Fred Gaskin, 7/Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in action 1st July 1916. (see pages 24 –27).
  • Amos Clarke from Escomb, was engaged between March 1915 and January 1917 with special responsibility for the transport of orderlies. His son, Private John Clarke, 1/6 DLI, died of wounds 27th March 1918. (see page 58).
  • Miss Clara Summerson from Cockfield was engaged between 8th October 1916 and 10th April 1918, and her sister Alice was engaged between 18th January 1917 and 15th April 1919, as VAD nursing members.

Their older brother, Second Lieutenant Herbert W. Summerson, 9th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, died of wounds 5th June 1918.   The Summersons were a prominent business family, having mining and quarrying interests and were heavily involved in the Cockfield Nursing Association.



There was a severe shortage of troops to defend the line.  Reinforcements from the Empire, notably volunteers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), arrived in good numbers during the spring of 1915 to defend the Ypres salient.  The Australians and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, together known as the ANZAC’s, were extensively used in the Gallipoli Campaign from April to December 1915. The South African Overseas Expeditionary Force and the Rhodesians were engaged in various battles in 1916.

The Territorials were asked to fight overseas and almost to a man they volunteered.  The 1/6th DLI, together with 1/7th, 1/8th and 1/9th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry, formed the 151st (Durham) Brigade of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, which moved to France from the 16th April 1915.  The last units arrived at Steenvoorde, west of Ypres in Belgium, 22nd April. On this day the Germans used gas for the first time in the attack on Ypres and the 50th Division was moved up into the area.  24th April, the 50th Division was shelled for the first time and was thenceforth involved in numerous actions on the Western Front.  This German offensive was to be known as the Battle of St. Julien (24th April – 4th May 1915) and was part of the Second Battle of Ypres.

 The first of Kitchener’s New Army embarked for the Western Front and in May 1915 the 10th (Service) Battalion DLI (10/DLI) landed at Boulogne.  10/DLI came under the orders of the 43rd Brigade, 14th (Light) Division and was posted to the Ypres area, soon to be known as the Ypres Salient.

And so, the various elements of the British Army were all involved in the war – the remnants of the BEF, the Territorial Force, volunteers from the Empire and Dominion Forces and, of course, the New Army.

1915 brought the first major set-piece battles to the Western Front at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert, Ypres (always Ypres!) and Loos.  And then there was the Gallipoli campaign.


 The campaign on the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli was fought by Commonwealth and French forces in an attempt to force Turkey out of the war.  It was intended to open a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea and increase Russia’s effectiveness on the eastern front, thereby relieving the deadlock on the Western Front.

25th/26th April:  The Allies landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  The 29th Division at Cape Helles in the south and the Australian and New Zealand Corps north of Gaba Tepe on the west coast, an area soon to be known as ANZAC Bay.  At Helles, the 29th Division landed troops at “S”, “V”, “W”, “X” and “Y” Beaches, 5 small coves at or near the southern end of the peninsula.  The landing at “Y” Beach was carried out by the 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Plymouth Battalion of the Royal Naval Division (RND) but these troops were forced to re-embark the following day.  Under very severe fire, the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers landed on “W” Beach and cut their way through the wire entanglements and trenches to the edge of the cliff.  The beach later became known as Lancashire Landing.

6th August:  further landings were made at Suvla Bay, just north of ANZAC Bay and the climax of the campaign came in early August when simultaneous assaults were launched on all 3 fronts.  However, the difficult terrain and stiff Turkish resistance soon led to the stalemate of trench warfare.  From the end of August, no further serious action was fought and the lines remained unchanged.

The peninsula was successfully evacuated in December and early January 1916.

Three local men were lost at Gallipoli:

  •  Z/2000 Able Seaman Harry Readman, Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was killed in action 6th June 1915. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.  He was 20 years old.
  • 16381 Private Robert Bagley, 6th Battalion (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own) Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in action 7th August 1915. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.  He was about 29 years old.
  • 5115(S) Sapper Richard C. Yole, Royal Marines Divisional Engineers, Royal Naval Division, was killed in action 10th December 1915 and is buried at Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Cape Helles. He was 28 years old.


 The Battle of Loos formed a part of the wider Artois-Loos Offensive conducted by the French and British in autumn 1915, sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Artois.  The Artois campaigns comprised the major allied offensive on the Western Front during 1915.  Along with the attack against Loos by the British, French troops launched offensives at Champagne (the Second Battle of Champagne) and at Vimy Ridge near Arras. The strategy involved:

  • A four-day artillery bombardment of the German positions,
  • Full scale infantry attack in the area between Loos and the La Bassee Canal,
  • Diversionary attacks to the north at Bois Grenier and Pietre,
  • Once the German positions fell, reserves aided by cavalry, would pass through the gap and attack the German second line.

250,000 shells were fired, including 140 tons of chlorine gas discharged from more than 5,000 cylinders. 75,000 British infantry made the initial attack. Along the length of the front advancing masses of troops emerging from the smokescreen were met with devastating machine gun fire.

Losses were appalling and the worst yet suffered by the BEF – there would be 8,500 dead by the end of the first day. The delay in bringing up the reserves was a critical failure as the Germans were able to pour in their reserves and counter-attack the following day.  Thus, any realistic chance of success had been lost on the first day.

The Battle of Loos witnessed some significant “firsts”:

  • the first “Big Push.”
  • the first blooding of Kitchener’s New Army.
  • the first use of poison gas by the British army.

It had been a costly failure and consequently Field-Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, resigned 10th December 1915.  General Sir Douglas Haig was appointed as his successor.  Little operational analysis was carried out and, regrettably, many lessons of the failure at Loos were not learned.  Many mistakes were repeated with uncanny similarity on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Three Gaunless Valley men were lost at the Battle of Loos, all of whom were volunteers and served with 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (15/DLI). They have no known grave and are commemorated on the Loos Memorial.  They are:

  • 14554 Private William Brown, 15/DLI, was killed in action 25th September 1915. He was 20 years old and commemorated on the West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Institute.
  • 20286 Private F. Thompson, 15/DLI, was killed in action 25th September 1915. He was 25 years old and commemorated on the Butterknowle War Memorial and the memorial plaque in St. John the Evangelist Church, Lynesack.
  • 14525 Serjeant Edgar Towers, 15/DLI, was killed in action 25th September 1915. He was 22 years old and commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

The battlefield was astride the Northern France coalfield and industrial scenery, with pithead gear, pit heaps and pit village’s commonplace to the combatants.


 The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army, to relieve the hard-pressed French troops at Verdun to the south.

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.

The first day, 1st July, was preceded by a week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack.  At 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning, the British infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches.  The British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the Battle of the Somme has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure.  The statistics were horrific:

  • In just 60 minutes, probably half of the 66,000 British soldiers who had attacked were already casualties, 30,000 infantrymen killed or wounded.
  • Losses suffered by German troops were about 6000, about a tenth of those of the British. For example, the German 180th Regiment lost only 180 men out of 3,000, while the British 4th Division which attacked it lost 5,121 out of 12,000.
  • The 1st Newfoundland Battalion lost 91% of its men within 40 minutes.
  • Out of 900 men of the “Leeds Pals”, the 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, only 17 answered the roll-call that night.
  • The “Accrington Pals” 11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment lost 234 killed, of whom 131 have no known grave, and 360 wounded, leaving only 135 survivors.
  • 4 battalions of the Tyneside Irish were destroyed before they even reached the British front line.

The bombardment, though the largest in British military history to that date, failed.  One shell in three was a dud.

The following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1st – 13thJuly
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14th – 17thJuly
  • Delville Wood: 15th July – 13th September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15th July – 3rd September
  • Guillemont: 23rd July – 3rd September
  • Ginchy: 9th September
  • Courcelette: 15th – 22nd September
  • Morval: 25th – 28th September
  • Thiepval: 25th – 28th September
  • Le Transloy: 1st – 18th October
  • Ancre Heights: 1st October – 11th November
  • Ancre: 13th – 18th November

Adverse weather conditions, the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow, turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring an end to Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, won at enormous cost.  British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

On that first day, 1st July 1916, 6 men from the Gaunless Valley were killed:

  • 27/83 Private Robert Bayles, 27th (4th Tyneside Irish) Northumberland Fusiliers, from West Auckland.
  • 16/323 Private Percy Hood, 16/Northumberland Fusiliers, from Cockfield.
  • 19771 Private Fred Gaskin, 7/Yorkshire Regiment, from Etherley.
  • 18866 Private Thomas Watson, 7/ Yorkshire Regiment from West Auckland.
  • 24542 Private Thomas Goldsbrough, 15/DLI from St. Helens.
  • 17453 Lance Corporal Morris Sewell Armstrong (also known as Morris Sewell) 15/DLI, from Butterknowle.

8308 Private William Wilson, 75th Machine Gun Company, from West Auckland died of wounds 4th July 1916.

Others lost during the Somme offensive, the 7th phase, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette [15th – 22nd September 1916] on the 16th September, included:

  • 24492 Private George Meads, 15/DLI, from West Auckland.
  • 45641 Private Frederick Tazey, 15/DLI, from Toft Hill.
  • 30569 Private J.G. Gargett, 2/DLI, from Butterknowle.
  • 32166 Private Thomas A. Alderson, 10/DLI, from Low Etherley Farm.
  • 32120 Private John Charles Graves, 10/DLI, from Low Butterknowle Farm.

Two other DLI soldiers were killed in this battle:

  • 3166 Private Thomas William Dunn, 1/6 DLI, from St. Helens was killed in action 17th,September 1916.
  • 26954 Corporal Thomas Pratt, 14/DLI, also from St. Helens, was killed in action 18th,September 1916.

The 8th phase, the Battle of Le Transloy, commenced 1st October 1916.  The village of Eaucourt L’Abbaye was captured and the attack is notable for the award of the VC to Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford.  Five men serving with 6/DLI were killed in action that day:

  • 4106 Private J. Holliday from Cockfield.
  • 3666 Private J.C Lee from Cockfield.
  • 4463 Lance Corporal C.E. Lowther from Butterknowle.
  • 3974 Private R.W. Wallace from Cockfield.
  • 3101 Private Richard R.W. Baker from Fylands Bridge.

Another 4 DLI Territorials were killed in action 5th November, during the impossible assault on the Butte de Warlencourt.  They were:

  • 3429 Private Frederick Brunskill,1/6 DLI, from High Etherley.
  • 3472 Corporal George Thomas Cox, 1/6 DLI, from Evenwood.
  • 2211 Corporal Ralph Hebdon,1/6 DLI, from Fylands Bridge.
  • 3124 Private Robert Wilson,1/6 DLI, from West Auckland.

7421 Private Charles Russell, 1/9 DLI, died of wounds 3 days later, 8th November 1916 and is buried at Douchy-les-Ayette British Cemetery.

The 50th Division lost nearly 1000 men, killed, wounded and missing during the futile action.

19th November 1916: the offensive was officially brought to a halt.  The furthest line of advance, at Les Boeufs, lay only 7 miles forward of the front line attacked 1 July.  The Germans may have lost over 600,000 killed and wounded, the Allies certainly lost over 600,000 (French casualties 194,451 and British losses about 440,000).

In all, 39 men from the Gaunless Valley died during this campaign, 21 have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, including Privates R. Bayles, T. Goldsbrough, Lance Corporal M.S. Armstrong, W. Eales, T.A. Alderson, J.G. Gargett, J.C. Graves, G. Meads, F. Tazey, T.W. Dunn, Corpl. T. Pratt, W. Teasdale (9/YR), G. Bolton (10/KOYLI), W.E. Earl, Lance Corporal C.E. Lowther, R.W. Wallace, R.W. Baker, J.W. Patton, Corporal G.T. Cox, R. Wilson and Able Seaman J. Hepple (RND).

After 141 days of fighting both sides were exhausted after suffering heavy losses, which were also felt by the families back home.  If you were to walk from the start point on 1st July to the final positions taken by the British it would roughly equate to over 63,000 men per mile, or 36 men per yard, or 12 men per foot, and in its simplest terms 1 man was lost for every inch gained, so if you visit the Somme battlefields tread carefully.


From December 1914 onwards, Zeppelins crossed the North Sea to hit targets in northern England. The official history states that such attacks caused considerable disruption to industrial output and interrupted vital war work as trains were stopped and blast furnaces were dowsed.  During 1916, 13 weeks of Zeppelin alarms caused a loss of 390,000 tons of pig iron which represented about 1/6th of total annual output.  Such raids forced the diversion of considerable resources to the defence of the country and possibly as important, there was a detrimental effect on public morale.

This situation was not overlooked by Evenwood’s vicar, Rev. George Jennings Collis.  In the Parish magazine, he commented:

 “The Zeppelin peril it seems is with us.  Not only here, where we are not so very far from the coast but even in towns right in the centre of the country the strictest lighting precautions are being taken.  Heavy fines are being imposed upon those who by carelessness or any cause expose themselves and their neighbours to danger by exhibiting too much artificial light.  The Zeppelins, being so far purely night raiders, are dependent upon such lights for their guidance in their cowardly attacks….This dastardly unseen foe of the night which from the safe distance up above the clouds seeks to murder men, women and children in their beds is something we English people hardly ever thought possible in civilised races…And then we read of the German people praising and applauding these things and also the almost equally cowardly work of the submarines which torpedo passenger ships and leave their occupants to drown; when we think of the spies and agents who while they receive the hospitality and friendship of our communities are all the while plotting in darkness to destroy us.”

 On the night of 5th & 6thApril 1916, the war came to communities of south west Durham when there was indiscriminate bombing of Ramshaw, Evenwood and Eldon by the German Naval Airship L16.


On Wednesday 5th April 1916, the German Naval Airship L16, under the command of Oberleutnantzur See Werner Peterson, left its base at Nordholz in north west Germany heading for northern England.  (plate 6).  The mission was a night attack on Leeds.  Peterson intended to cross the English coast over Scarborough then cruise westwards to bomb Leeds.

At about 23.30, L16 crossed the English coast to the north of Hartlepool and headed inland towards the coal mining area around Bishop Auckland.  Probably deceived by the fiery glow of the many pit heaps and smoke from the numerous coke works and collieries, believing that he was over Leeds, at about midnight 22 bombs were dropped over targets below.

It is stated that 15 miners’ cottages were wrecked, another 70 damaged in the Evenwood area and Ramshaw School suffered damage when 13 high-explosive and 9 incendiary bombs were dropped.  Casualties were light, only one man and a child were injured. (plate 7).

The airship turned for home, dropping another 27 bombs on the Eldon area, to the east of Bishop Auckland where there was another concentration of collieries and coke works at Auckland Park and Eldon.  Eldon Lane School, buildings in Gibson Street at Close House, the Co-op, the Friends’ Meeting House and several other houses were damaged.  Tragically, one child, 9-year old Robert Moyle, was killed when his home, 21 Halls Row, Eldon, was hit by an incendiary bomb.

Peterson headed for the coast and at about 1.15am flew over Seaham Harbour.  He escaped the attention of 5 defence sorties.  Aircraft were despatched from Cramlington, Beverley and Scarborough but failed to spot the L16.Destroyers from the Tyne and the Humber, drawing a blank in their search for the Zeppelin.

Tragically, Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot, 22-year old Captain J. Nichol crashed his plane into a house and was killed outright.  He was the son of Dr F.E. Nichol, of Margate, Kent.  Captain Nichol is buried in Margate Cemetery alongside his brother Edward who also died on active service.  The inquest into Captain Nichol’s death and his burial were reported locally.

Back in Evenwood and Ramshaw, local tales inform us that many spent subsequent nights sheltering in “Snecker’s Drift”, a small coal drift located near the road bridge over the River Gaunless.  It was reported that many children spent the night in the open air in the fields and most were absent from school the following day.

Ramshaw School was closed for 2 weeks for repair works but when it opened not all the windows had been replaced.  The weather was extremely cold and only 50% of the children were present. The registers of Cockfield National School, Evenwood School, Evenwood Infants, Etherley, West Auckland Girls and Infants, St. Helens Junior Mixed. St. Helens British, Eldon Lane and Auckland Park School mention the raid in some detail.

Rev. Collis wrote:

 “This last has indeed been an eventful month and one which many of us will long remember.  One has to be very careful what one puts in print about Zeppelin raids but at least we all know the locality of one of these ruffianly monsters which visited the North Eastern County region on the night of the 5th and the early morning of 6th ult.  We know all about it, where it went and what it did.  One little boy killed in bed by an incendiary bomb was the sole satisfaction that these miserable night warriors achieved as the result of at least 40 attempts upon a purely civilian population, mostly in bed at the time.  It is true that they did a certain amount of material damage but not much considering the immense power of the explosives used.  One would hardly think it possible that such a rain of destruction could do so little harm.  Great gaping holes in the land, broken windows, roofs partially unslated, doors and in some case furniture damaged was really a small price to pay as the result of such a visitation…But the prevailing feeling is one of thankfulness.”

 7th April

A War Office statement appeared in “The Times” which confirmed an attack by 3 Zeppelins.  The first dropped 5 bombs and there were no casualties, the second dropped no bombs and the third dropped several bombs causing only slight material damage.  It was reported that 24 explosive bombs and 24 incendiary bombs had been dropped, causing injury to 2 men, 1 woman and 5 children.  One child had been killed.

 8th April

“The Times” reported that the inquest on the child had been held in the village inn and:

“The verdict was returned that the child was killed by an incendiary bomb dropped from an enemy aircraft.”

9th April

 Robert Moyle’s funeral was held at St. Mark’s church, Eldon.  He was buried in the churchyard.  The dead boy’s father, William Moyle, who had been serving with the DLI in France, returned home for the funeral.

An official German communiqué appeared in “The Times” via Reuters Agency and stated:

“Naval Airships on the night of April 5 destroyed large ironworks near Whitby and extensive buildings with blast furnaces after previously pelting with explosive bombs and placing out of action a battery north of Hull. Furthermore, factories at Leeds and the environs and a number of railway stations in the industrial district were attacked.  Very good effects were observed.  The airships were heavily bombarded.  All landed undamaged.”

Letters home from servicemen mentioned the raid.

Some weeks later Margaret Lynas, living at Church View, Evenwood, received a letter from her brother, Ordinary Seaman Andrew Lynas, aboard HMS Ardent, in which he referred to the Zeppelin raid:

“It is old news about the Zepps visiting you for we knew a week before I got your letter as we got a letter from Purdy.  It is not too bad when there’s no one injured but I never thought they would have found Evenwood.  Well you will realize what the war is like now but I would have liked to see you run up the fields. 

Rev. Collis remained vigilant, offering advice to his parishioners:

“The lighting regulations are now so strict and it is almost impossible to prevent a considerable amount of illumination escaping from our windows…we do not desire to give the Zeppelins more assistance than we need if they should unfortunately happen to find their way into our neighbourhood…neither do we wish to be fined by the public authorities for infringing their necessary precautions.”

And then:

“We are all patriots now-a-days I trust.  Let it be seen that we do not mean to be inconvenienced more than need be by the Zeppelin menace.  We shall be glad to resume the old conditions when the time comes.”

 In January 1917, referring to a raid on Hartlepool, he wrote:

“Verily we are living in historic times!  Of things which have recently passed perhaps the most exciting to us here was the burning Zeppelin which fell off our coast plainly seen by very many of us on the night of the 4th ult.  That was a wonderful night and the story of it will be told and retold and listened to with interest for very many years to come.”

Even years later the Zeppelin raid on Evenwood was still recounted, as this note from Alan Widdas confirms.  Then an 11-year old, Alan, the son of Percy Widdas, manager of Gordon House colliery, was returning home from boarding school to be met by his younger brother, Walter:

“I remember Walter coming to Cockfield Station to meet me coming home after my first term at school and saying:

‘You don’t know who’s been, the Germans!’ 

Poor lad, he was only 7 and really had the wind up him. And mother, who was a pessimist, thought we were going to get beat.  The Zeppelin went up the railway line as a guide then shut his engines off up about Bowes [Close], came back and bombed Evenwood heaps.  He was aiming at the coke ovens but hit the slag heaps which were on fire.”

 L16 airship was wrecked 19th October 1917 when landing at Nordholz.  It made a total of 132 flights of which 16 were raids, many of the flights were under the command of Oberleutnantzur See Peterson before he was killed 23rd September 1916 when his Zeppelin L32 was shot down over Purfleet, Essex.

Werner Peterson is buried in Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery, Staffordshire, which was established in 1959.  It contains 2,143 war dead from the Great War and includes the crews of 4 Zeppelins shot down over England.  Their remains were brought from their original burial places at Potters Bar, Great Burstead and Therberton.

In view of the mounting losses, Germany turned to other technologies, particularly the development of the Gotha, a large plane specifically designed for bombing to replace the airships. The naval airship division was slowly relegated to the status of reconnaissance arm of the fleet.  The threat of the Zeppelin was over.

A total of 84 Zeppelins were built during the war.  Over 60 were lost, roughly evenly divided between accident and enemy action.  51 raids were undertaken in which 5,806 bombs were dropped, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358.  It has been argued that the raids were effective far beyond material damage in diverting 12 fighter squadrons and over 10,000 personnel to man the air defences, and hampered wartime materiel production.


A Memorial Service was held at St. Paul’s church, Evenwood, on Sunday 11th June 1916.  It was conducted by Reverend G.J. Collis and commemorated the lives of Lord Kitchener, who had been lost at sea, and the 4 Evenwood men who had recently been killed. The four were Private J.H. Raine of 13/DLI and 3 young sailors lost at sea during the Battle of Jutland. Able Seaman J.W. Wren served aboard HMS Black Prince, Ordinary Seamen W. Carrick and A. Lynas both served aboard HMS Ardent.

Rev. Collis:

“An intimation had come to Evenwood to the effect that one of our young men John Henry Raine of 13th DLI had been killed in action in France…Our hearts and sympathies are with the friends and relatives of those who were undoubtedly so much beloved amongst us as these young heroes were.  John Henry Raine in addition to a mother and father, brothers and sister, has also a young wife and 2 small children to mourn his loss.”

24781 Private John Henry Raine, 13th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, was killed in action on 24th May 1916 and is buried at Bois-de-Noulette British Cemetery, Aix Noulette, France.  He was 28 years old, married to “Sally” (nee Dunn) with 2 children, 5-year old Rachel Annie and 3-year old Rhoda.  They lived at Osborne Terrace, Evenwood.  John worked at Randolph Colliery as a coal miner (hewer). John Raine is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial, the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, and the Memorial Plaque in Evenwood WMC. (plate 8).


 Naval rivalry between Britain and Germany had played a major factor in the build-up to the Great War.  Both powers increased their navies.  When the conflict began, the opposing admirals expected that the naval war would be settled by a massive clash between the 2 fleets of battleships, but in reality fear of losing their ships meant that both fleets stayed in port for the first 2 years.  Even when the great battle did come, 31st May and 1st June 1916, it was indecisive.

The British Navy lost 6,097 sailors and in terms of ships, 3 battle cruisers, 3 armoured cruisers including HMS Black Prince, 8 destroyers, including HMS Ardent.   German losses were far fewer – 2,551 men and 1 battle cruiser, 1 armoured cruiser, 4 light cruisers and 5 destroyers.

A journalist described the Battle of Jutland as:

 “an assault on the jailer, followed by a return to jail.”

Ultimately, the failure of the German U-Boat campaign to prevent goods arriving by sea to Britain, and the inability to break the British blockade of goods arriving by sea to Germany, led to food shortages and eventually mass starvation in Germany.  Inactivity of German sailors led to disorder, beginning in August 1917 and leading to a full-scale mutiny by November 1918. In the long term, victory belonged to Britain and the Allies.

In this action, Evenwood lost 3 of her sons:

  • Z/4043 Able Seaman John Wren, HMS Black Prince.
  • J/43920 Ordinary Seaman William Carrick, HMS Ardent.
  • J/43919 Ordinary Seaman Andrew Lynas, HMS Ardent.

Z/4043 Able Seaman John William Wren was 23 years old and single when he was lost at sea 1st June 1916.  He had lived with his parents at Copeland Row; their only son, he’d worked as a coal miner at Randolph Colliery.  He enlisted 27th March 1915 and was shore based until 30th June 1915 when he joined HMS Black Prince.

Rev Collis:

“Then I have had a letter from J. W. Wren of HMS Black Prince.  He tells me that the Navy is a grand life but that it is tiresome waiting so long for the German Fleet coming out.  “All my sailor pals are in good heart” he says “and we are all ready to chance our lives for our country.  We get plenty of sport here, football, boxing, jumping, roller skating and dancing every Saturday night.  The Chaplain has lantern lectures for us and they are very good and we also have concerts.  We have a band on board and everything possible is done to keep us in good health and spirits.  I cannot tell you where we are or what we are doing but we are all wanting a bat at the German Fleet.”

 HMS Black Prince was part of the 1st Cruiser Squadron and HMS Ardent was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla along with another 18 destroyers.  Both ships took part in the night battle 31st May/1st June.    HMS Black Prince arrived just after midnight to be greeted by 4 German battleships.  She was blasted at close range, causing her to explode and sink.  All 857 hands were lost.  (plate 9).

 Rev. Collis:

John William Wren was…a lovable lad.  He was on the cruiser “Black Prince” which put up an historic fight against great odds at the beginning of the battle.  She also went down at last with, I believe, all her gallant crew.  We always saw John William in church when he got a few days leave.  A real fine lad he was.  He wrote us a letter once you will perhaps remember which duly appeared in this page.

 They were all fine lads, clean and wholesome in their lives and good to look at and we shall be ever so much poorer without them although happy in their memory.

We have no photo of John Wren but we have a ribbon from HMS Black Prince which was in the possession of the late Colin Priestley from Cockfield, along with WW1 souvenirs of his uncle, Gordon Priestley.  250165 Serjeant Gordon Priestley, 1/6 DLI was killed in action 26th October 1917.  It begs the question whether John Wren and Gordon Priestley knew each other.  Did John leave Gordon his ribbon as a memento?

Able Seaman John Wren is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

Rev. Collis:

“William Carrick and Andrew Lynas went down with the torpedo boat “Ardent”.  The exploits of this little vessel in the big battle were in accordance with the very highest traditions of the British Navy.  She and her wonderful crew will never be forgotten in the pages of history.  She is said to have sunk a huge German warship many times her own size and was in the thick of the fight until she disappeared literally knocked to pieces.  The two lads named here were with us only a week or so before the battle looking hearty and well.

 William Carrick was for some time a member of our Parish Church choir and a very useful and popular member too.

Andrew Lynas I remember chiefly as a bright and very promising lad at school.  He was one of the mainstays of that exceedingly smart little football team in which Mr. Bouch used to take such an interest and which distinguished itself so greatly in the schools’ competition some few years ago.  I believe he was captain.  At any rate he was a clean smart and thoroughly sportsmanlike young member and we shall miss him sorely.

 J/43920 Ordinary Seaman William Carrick was 22 years old and single when he was lost at sea 1st June 1916.  He had lived with his parents Joseph and Elizabeth, 6 brothers and 6 sisters at South View, Evenwood, and worked as a coal miner at Randolph Colliery.  William enlisted 7th September 1915 with his friends Andrew Lynas and William Purdy and undertook training at HMS Victory until joining HMS Ardent, 24th November 1915. During the battle, HMS Ardent was in the vicinity of HMS Black Prince and found herself in the glare of enemy searchlights.  She fired her torpedoes and guns but was hit by salvos from any one of 4 German battleships.  She sunk at 12.19 am.  All hands were lost except Lieutenant Commander Arthur Marsden and 1 other, Able Seaman John Biddle from Spennymoor.

Later in the year, in October, William Carrick’s body was found off the coast of Norway.  Ordinary Seaman William Carrick is buried at Farsund Cemetery, Norway, along with 1 identified sailor from HMS Fortune, 2 Royal Marines from HMS Tipperary and another 5 unidentified seamen.  He is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial, the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood, and the memorial in the Workmen’s Club. (plate 10).

J/43919 Ordinary Seaman Andrew Lynas was 20 years old and single when he was lost at sea aboard HMS Ardent, 1st June 1916.  He had lived with his parents James and Annie, his older sister Margaret and stepbrother George Milburn Proud, at Church View and worked as a coal miner at Randolph Colliery.  Ordinary Seaman Andrew Lynas is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, the Evenwood War Memorial, the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood, and the Memorial Plaque in the Workmen’s Club.  A new housing development near Andrew’s family home, completed in recent years, is named Lynas Place in his honour.

An interesting letter was received by Rev. Collis which was published in the Evenwood Parish magazine.  It came from Arthur Dunn of HMS Birkenhead:

“Everybody who took part in the battle feels very certain that the whole of the German losses have not been published yet and when they are it will be a surprise to you all.  When it began we had 4 battleships, 6 battle cruisers and 12 light cruisers which for nearly 3 hours fought the whole German fleet, we being included.  How our ships got through it would be hard to say, for we were in the thick of it most of the time.  We were with the “Invincible” which exploded just before the end.  We had a narrow escape as a great number of shells fell between us just clear of both ships.  I don’t suppose any good news will have been heard of my 3 friends, seeing that their ships were sunk.  The only thing that we are sore about is that we did not meet them earlier in the day.  It was just beginning to turn dark when our main fleet arrived and as usual the Germans turned tail and ran.  I shall never forget the brilliant flashes and the crashing of guns caused by our ships firing salvos or broadsides.  One peculiar scene was the thousands of fishes floating on the water.  They were of all kinds and sizes.  I think they must have been stunned by the turmoil in the sea caused by the falling shells.  I cannot explain what it was like in a letter so the main facts will have to wait the telling until I see you all again.  I shall never forget it and feel thankful that I got through safely.”

 There was another loss close to home.  Sir William and Lady Sybil Eden, lost their youngest son, 16-year old William Nicolas Eden.

Midshipman William Nicholas Eden, was lost at sea 31st May 1916 when HMS Indefatigable was sunk.  Only 2 of her 1,019-crew survived.  For 3 days nothing was known of Nicholas Eden until William House, the family’s butler, called personally at the Admiralty for information.  The official enquiry form was submitted at the entrance by House, with the words, “What news please?”  The form was returned, marked on the back, “Regret to state this officer is killed in action.”  Formal telegrams and letters followed including one from the King.  Lady Eden was distraught at the news.

 Midshipman W.N. Eden is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, the Kirk Merrington War Memorial and on an Eden family memorial in the vestry of St. Helen’s Church, St. Helen Auckland. This memorial reads:

  “In memory of William Nicholas Eden fourth son of Sir William Eden 7th Baronet of West Auckland and of Sybil Lady Eden born March 14th 1900.  Served as Midshipman Royal Navy from Jan 1916 on board H.M.S. Indefatigable.  Killed in action at the Battle of Jutland May 31st 1916 and went down with his ship in the North Sea.  Aged 16 years and 78 days.”

The Kirk Merrington war memorial was unveiled 23rd July 1921 by Sir Timothy Eden Bart., Windlestone Hall.  It contains the names of 28 men of the Parish who fell in the Great War, including J. Eden and W.N. Eden, Sir Timothy’s brothers.

 The effects of the war were striking home.  June was a bad month for the British, with disappointing news from Jutland.  British naval power received a devastating shock.  Lord Kitchener was dead – lost at sea.  The French were taking a hammering at Verdun.

 Chapter 8: ST. HELEN’S COLLIERY INSITUTE FC 1909 – 10

While West Auckland Football Club was conquering Europe in 1909 and 1911, their story well known throughout the North East and the football world, other football teams enjoyed less triumphant seasons.  One such local team was St. Helens Colliery Institute F.C. There are 16 characters photographed in the St. Helen’s Colliery Institute football team of 1909-10.  (plate 11). The team seems to have been:

  1. Goalkeeper: Billy Craggs 
  2. Right Back: Tommy Hindmarch
  3. Left Back: Bob Newton
  4. Right Half: Ernie Gray 
  5. Centre Half: Wylam Blenkin (Captain)
  6. Left Half: Harry Brown
  7. Outside Right: Harry Steele 
  8. Inside Right: Percy Little 
  9. Centre Forward: Tommy Shotton
  10. Inside Left: Percy Oates
  11. Outside Left: Tot Bagley

 These are the team positions and numbers of the day when they played in the 2 – 3 – 5 system, before substitutes, when you were allowed to tackle and it was an affront to your manhood to be injured.  There was no diving in those days.  If you hit the deck, there was a reason for it.

Trainer: George Jobling.

Committee: Jack Welsh, Moses Chapman, Freddie and Jack Scott.

There was a wide age range.  In 1909 – 10, Jack Scott was the oldest at 21.  The captain, Wylam Blenkin (born 21st June 1890) would have been about 19 or 20.  Percy Little (born 19th September 1899) would have been a mere 10 or 11-year old.  There is a newspaper photograph dated 6th July 1916 which is unmistakably him.  Percy Little was obviously quite a big lad for his age. Harry Steele, seated next to him, looks even younger but in fact was 4 years older.  Percy Little must have been a decent player or else he wouldn’t have got his place.

 What happened to the Lads?

 The service details for all the lads have not been traced.  Details of 9 men on the team photograph are given below.  3 of the players were killed in action:

51928 Fitter Thomas John Hindmarch, “B” Bty. 50th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, was killed in action 25th July 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  He was 22 years old and is commemorated locally on the War Memorial in St. Andrew’s churchyard, South Church, Bishop Auckland.  When the team photo was taken, Tommy would have been 14 or 15 years old and lived at St. Helens.   By 1911, he worked as an apprentice engineer at the colliery.  At some point later, his family moved to 5 Clarence Street, Bishop Auckland.

270040 Private Wylam Blenkin, 12/DLI, was killed in action 19th October 1917 and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium, the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages and the West Auckland War Memorial.  He was 27 years old, married to Mary since 1912, and father of 2 children, Freda and Bobby. Wylam would have been 19 or 20 years old when the team photo was taken.  He looks as though he was the centre half or centre forward and may have been the team captain.  In 1911, Wylam lived with his older sister, her husband and family at 8 Louisa Terrace and worked as a coal miner (putter). He was a member of his local Territorial Force, 6/DLI, but was posted to 12/DLI. He was killed when trenches at Railway Dugouts were shelled during the Third Battle of Ypres, (commonly known as Passchendaele).  Wylam’s wife Mary had earlier in the war lost her older brother, 27-year-old Private Thomas William Dunn, 6/DLI, who was killed in action 17th September 1916. In May 1916, she lost her brother-in-law, Private Harry Raine, who had married her sister Sally.

81297 Private Percy Little, 15/DLI, was killed in action 27th May 1918 and is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial, France, and the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages. He was 18 years old, the son of William and Margaret Little.  In 1911, his family lived at the Square, St. Helens, and he was still at school.  By 1917, the family had moved to 10 Oakley Street, West Auckland. Percy joined up aged 16, but once the authorities realised that he was underage, he was released from the Army after serving 91 days! He enlisted for a second time, 20th September 1917, the day after his 18th birthday, by which time he’d been working as a coal miner.  After a period for training, Percy was posted to 15/DLI.  By 2nd April 1918, he was in France as the German Spring Offensive was in full swing and ferocity.  He was reported as “Missing” sometime between 27th and 29th May 1918.  Between 27th May and the end of the month, 2 officers and 126 other ranks serving with 15/DLI were either killed in action or died of their wounds.  Many were taken by the Germans as prisoners of war.  Percy’s family must have hoped that their 18 year old son was a POW.  But it was not to be, on 27thAugust 1918 the conclusion was reached that:

“Death presumed by the War Office on the lapse of time as having occurred on or since 27 May 1918”

Percy Little has no known grave and is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial, France.

It is clear that Percy lived his life playing and working with older lads and when it came to war, it is likely that he felt that he had to join up with his mates.  He did so, was found out to be underage, was discharged from the Army, but when he became of age, he volunteered immediately and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

95828 Private Thomas “Tot” Bagley, 3/DLI, was born about 1894 at West Auckland and would have been 15/16 when the team photo was taken.  By 1911, Thomas and his brothers Robert and Sylvester lived with their eldest brother John, his wife and their family at 5 Station Road, West Auckland.  Thomas worked as a coal miner.  Tot Bagley served 3 years 84 days as a private in 3/DLI.  He didn’t serve abroad.  He lost 2 brothers:

  • 16381 Private Robert Bagley, 6/Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in action at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.
  • 157781 Sapper William Bagley, 177th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers, was killed in action near Ypres, Belgium.

Details of 5 other men are given below:

  • Jack Welch (1893-1972) served with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) attached to the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, for over 4 years. He entered France 5th June 1915 and would have seen plenty of action.
  • Freddie Scott (1889-1965) served 2 years 4 months in the Royal Field Artillery.
  • Percy Oates (1894-1975) was a motor driver with the Army Service Corps and served from 1st October 1915 to the end of the War. He later moved to Chilton.
  •  George Jobling (1892-1967) had initially served with the 4th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers before moving to the Tank Corps. He served a total of 2 years 328 days, 14 months of that  in the field with 50th Division on the Western Front.
  • Moses Chapman (1892-1969) was posted to 22/DLI sometime after 31st December 1915 and served throughout the war. He had been best man for the aforementioned Wylam Blenkin. In 1919 he married Wylam’s widow, Mary Blenkin.  They had 2 children, Elizabeth and Frederick, who were brought up with Wylam’s two children.


 The formal opening took place Saturday 12th November 1921.  4 cottages built near the Colliery Institute, St. Helen Auckland, constitute the local war memorial.  They were erected at a cost of £4,200 by Messrs. Pease & Partners, owners of the colliery, and by subscriptions of the men employed there.

Mr. F. Chapman, Secretary of the Institute, presided and stated that the men employed at the colliery had subscribed no less than £2,600 for the benefit of the wives of soldiers, both during the war and since, and were continuing the fund for the benefit of the widows and children.

Mrs. R.A. Pease, Richmond, and Mr. M.H. Kellett, Chilton, formerly manager of the colliery, declared the respective pairs of houses open. Memorial tablets on the front of each pair bear the names of the fallen and were unveiled by Mr. J.E. Brown–Humes.

Mr. James Robson, President of the Durham Miners’ Association, also spoke to the gathering. Frederick Chapman was the older brother of Moses Chapman mentioned above.


There had been some notable successful military actions by the Allies during 1917, these included:

  • April: the seizure of Vimy Ridge during the first phase of the Battle of Arras;
  • June: the recapture of Messines Ridge following the explosion of 19 huge mines under the German trenches;
  • November: the first day breakthrough of the tanks at Cambrai – a triumph so dramatic and astonishing that it had been hailed in Britain by the ringing of church bells.

Yet in each case, after initial success progress had been minimal. The work of the tunnellers was significant in the Vimy Ridge and Messines offensives. Undermining enemy positions has long been a military tactic and one which was soon put into operation on the Western Front by both sides.

The formation of the new Royal Engineers’ Tunnelling Companies began during the winter of 1914/15.  It was treated as an urgent priority by the War Office.  Miners declared surplus to the war effort at home were encouraged to join up. Once at the front, after a very short period of military training they were rushed to the areas where their expertise was most needed.

An incentive was the higher rate of pay.  Face-men received 6 shillings a day, a mate 2 shillings and tuppence.  Both rates were significantly higher than an average infantryman, whose daily pay was 1 shilling and threepence.

A tour of duty in the tunnels was normally 4 days in and 4 days out but as time went by, due to the increasing number of casualties and the demands of the task in hand, tours were increased to 6 in and 2 out. The men were also given more days leave than their infantry colleagues, for example the aim for officers was a fortnight every 3 months.

By July 1916, there were a total of 32 tunnelling companies operating along the British Front:

  • 25 British
  • 3 Australian
  • 3 Canadian
  • 1 New Zealand

In June 1916, there were up to 24,000 men continuously employed in underground tunnelling operations. Four of our local men were killed whilst serving with Tunnelling Companies.  They were:

  • Sapper George Henry Waters, 256th TC, from Copley.
  • Sapper William Hull Bagley, 177th TC, from St. Helens.
  • Sapper George William Nelson, 171st TC, from West Auckland.
  • Sapper John Milburn, 177th TC, from Evenwood.

Angus Campbell, Evenwood’s doctor, served with the RAMC, attached to the 171st Tunnelling Company as its medical officer. 

158540 Sapper G.H. Waters, 265th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers (RE) was killed in action 14th September 1916 and is buried in Maroeuil British Cemetery, France.  He was 26 years old and is commemorated on the Copley War Memorial and the memorial plaque in St. John the Evangelist Church, Lynesack. George Henry Waters was born 1890, and by 1911 the Waters family lived at the Post Office, Copley.  George, then 21 years old, was employed as a coal miner.  In 1913, he married Mary Fletcher. He enlisted at Bishop Auckland, entered France in early 1916 and served in the Vimy sector from July 1916 until his death in September 1916. (plate 12).

That year was the most active of the underground war.  The British exploded a total of 750 mines along its front, the Germans 696. The preparation for the assault on Vimy Ridge was planned months in advance and the tunnelling companies created extensive underground networks and fortifications involving 12 subways up to 1,300 yards long, excavated to a depth of 33 feet, and used to connect reserve lines to front lines, permitting soldiers to advance unseen.  This involved infrastructure such as concealed narrow-gauge railways, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition stores, mortar and machine gun posts, communication centres etc.

The German tunnellers were also at work and every effort was made to destroy each other’s creations. The usual violence of warfare meant that each side regularly launched artillery bombardments, mortar fire and aerial torpedoes to disrupt tunnelling work.  It is within this context that Sapper G.H. Waters worked and laid down his life, since he was a victim of such an attack. Lieutenant Stafford Hill, adjutant to the company, provided an explanation of the circumstances surrounding his death in a letter sent to George’s wife:

 “Dear Madam

I am very sorry to have to return you your letter addressed to your late husband together with the book by Ruskin on Political Economy. It may be some small consolation to you to know that your husband did not suffer, he was struck by an aerial torpedo and killed instantly one other man being slightly wounded.Your husband was a general favourite with his brother soldiers and appreciated by his officers.Wishing that the knowledge that he died whilst serving his country, bravely doing his duty in the gigantic struggle against an unscrupulous enemy, may help to assuage the poignancy of your grief.

 Believe me I remain

 Yours faithfully

 Stafford Hill Lt. RE

Adjt 256 (T) Coy RE”


  “I do not know whether or not we shall change history tomorrow but we shall certainly alter geography.”

 Major-General Charles Hartington,  Chief of Staff of the British Second Army

 The Battle of Messines took place in June 1917 and the main feature was the success of mine warfare.  Twenty-five mines totalling 1,149,450 lbs. (522,500 kg) were laid.   One was lost to German counter mining, one abandoned due to tunnel collapse and four at the southern end of the Ridge (Birdcage Sector) were not employed for tactical reasons.  Nineteen mines totalling 937,450 lbs. (426,110 kg) were fired.  The largest single charge was the St Eloi mine at 96,500 lbs. (43,600 kg). One of the 4 Birdcage mines exploded in a thunderstorm in July 1955.  Five fully charged mines containing 166,000 lbs. (75,500 kg) remain today.

 157781 Sapper William Bagley, 177th Tunnelling Company, RE, died 4th July 1917. He was about 24 years old, married with at least 1 child.  He is buried at New Irish Farm Cemetery, near Ypres, and is commemorated on the War Memorials at St. Helen’s Memorial Cottages and West Auckland. William Bagley was born about 1883 at Willington, Co. Durham.  In 1910, he married Jessie Longstaff and by 1911 they lived at 6 Maude Terrace, St. Helens with 7 month old son, Sylvester.  William worked as a coal miner (hewer).  Being a miner, he was recruited specifically to work on the preparation of tunnels for the Battle of Messines.

The 177th Tunnelling Company was heavily involved.  Work began in July 1915 and by the end of May 1917, all was ready for the big day.  At zero hour, 7th June 1917, 19 mines with a total of over 900,000 lbs (probably need to put kg weight here for consistency) of explosive were fired along the 10 kilometre front, all within 30 seconds of each other.  The explosions were clearly heard in London and registered on a seismograph in Switzerland. The attack had been planned to coincide with daybreak so that attacking troops would not be moving forward in darkness.  Over 100 infantry battalions from 10 divisions were waiting to move forward.

The German defences were totally shattered, with several thousand troops obliterated by the explosions.  One of the most strongly fortified positions on the Western Front was taken within an hour or so, with few casualties to the attacking Divisions. Messines was regarded as a major success, even though early gains were not capitalised upon and later German counterattacks regained much lost ground.

Sadly, about 3 weeks later Sapper William Bagley died.

175834 Sapper George William Nelson, 171st Tunnelling Company, RE, was killed in action 29th April 1918 and is buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No.3, Belgium.  He was 27 years old and is commemorated on the West Auckland War Memorial.  By 1911 the Nelson family lived at Ayers Yard, West Auckland, and George was employed as a miner (putter).

Initially, George Nelson was posted to the Durham Light Infantry.  Sometime later he was transferred to the 171st Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. This company was largely made up of sewer men (known as clay kickers), Durham and Welsh miners.  The Durham men had a good reputation, as Lieutenant Frayling remarked:

“I soon formed the opinion that in a difficult situation underground one Geordie from Durham was worth two of any other kind.  The Durham miner had had a hard upbringing in narrow wet seams.”

Two eyewitness accounts of the detonation of the Messines mines are given by Lieutenant B. Frayling and Private Laister. Lieutenant Frayling remarked:

 “I had the very good fortune to see the whole of the mines go up that night on the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge…The first thing we knew was a terrific tremor of the ground.  It was quite fantastic…It was a sheet of flame…It went up as high as St. Paul’s…It was white incandescent light…The biggest bit of a German I found afterwards was one foot in a boot.”

 Private J.R. Laister commented:

“I’d never seen anything like it.  Arms, legs, trees, bricks coming down all over the place.  I don’t remember the noise from it…But there was this damn great flame – white it was…I can’t really describe it…it was like a mountain standing in the sky…I thought, “I wonder how many poor buggers have gone up with that lot.”

102256 Sapper John Thomas Milburn, 177th Tunnelling Company RE, died on 31st March 1916 and is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery in France. John was brought up in Evenwood and was one of the first to enlist into the Army, being sent to the Royal Engineers as a Tunneller. After serving 299 days overseas he died aged 44, leaving behind his wife with five children to raise. John is commemorated on the Shildon War Memorial.


 The Battle of Passchendaele followed Messines and this offensive continued throughout the months of August, September, October, into November.  In the preparatory bombardment 4,283,550 shells, weighing 107,000 tons, were hurled on to the reclaimed bog-land of Ypres and in the opinion of the official historian:

“The British Army…by its own bombardment and barrages created in front of itself its own obstacle”.

It started to rain on 1st August and the battle continued unabated during the late summer and autumn through the wettest months on record. It was finally abandoned when the incredibly wet weather was considered to be too bad for war.  The drainage system had been destroyed, the rain saturated the ground and as a result, mud became the symbol of the Passchendaele offensive.

“Behind us lay rainy weeks…We never get dry…The rifles are caked, the uniforms caked, everything is fluid and dissolved, the earth, one dripping, soaked, oily mass in which lie yellow pools with red spiral streams of blood and into which the dead, the wounded and survivors slowly sink down…Our hands are earth, our bodies clay and our eyes pools of rain.  We do not know whether we still live.” [E.M. Remarque]

“Men of the next battalion were found in mud up to the armpits and their fate was not spoken of: those who found them could not get them out.  The whole zone was a corpse and the mud itself mortified.” [E. Blunden]

Eighteen men from the Gaunless Valley were killed during the 156-day period of the battle including:

  • 131539 Sapper Herbert Wardle, 234th Field Company Royal Engineers, was killed in action 31st July 1917 and is buried at New Irish Farm, Ypres, Belgium. He was 20 years old, single and a coal miner and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial.  Herbert was awarded the Military Medal for bravery.  In appreciation, his neighbours and friends from his home village of Lands prepared an “Illuminated Address” for his next visit home. Sadly, he was killed before he could go on leave.  A new commemorative scroll was presented to his family in his honour. (plate 13).
  • 71150 Private John Joseph Hope, 43rd Machine Gun Company MGC (Inf), was killed in action on 24th August 1917 and is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery. He was 38 years old, married and had five children. He is commemorated on Cockfield War Memorial. (plate 14).

Twelve soldiers have no known grave and are commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial along with 35,000 officers and men.  One of whom is:

250165 Serjeant Gordon Priestley, 6/DLI, who was killed in action on 26th October 1917, commemorated locally on the Cockfield war memorial.

A letter to Miss Amelia Gooding refers to Sergeant Gordon Priestley and is reproduced below:

France 18.11.17

Dear Friend, 

I received your letter yesterday & am pleased to hear you are keeping in good heart.  There is still a possible chance of Gordon being safe so you must look on the bright side as I am doing till some definite news is heard of him. The person you speak of in your letter who wrote & told you that Gordon was wounded is in my company & I know him very well.  I am sorry to say he has not seen Gordon since I last saw him which was the night of 24th October.  I have not the slightest hesitation in saying he would write in that manner to keep up your spirit.  But what he told you is all wrong.

 I have spoken to every man who went into action with your dear one & as far as I can gather he was not seen after the morning of the 25th. A German sniper who was picking off our wounded men was observed by Sgt. Priestley who at once engaged him in a duel.

It was a brave act to do in the face of the enemy & that was the last time he was seen by any of his men. There is still a possible chance he may be alright so you must keep your heart & hope to hear from him soon.

 Yours sincerely

Sgt. H. Henderson

 Having taken the Passchendaele Ridge the British were left with little natural shelter, since the artillery from both sides had flattened and flooded the whole area.  Protection was required from German artillery bombardment and in January 1918 the Allied High Command moved 25,000 specialist tunnellers and 50,000 attached infantrymen to the Ypres Salient to construct subterranean structures.

200 dugouts at a depth of 30m (about 100 ft.), which could accommodate up to 2,000 men, were constructed.  In March 1918 more people lived underground in the Ypres area than reside in the town today.  171st Tunnelling Company worked on these dugouts.  2 examples of its work are:

  1. Zonnebeke Church: in March 1918 a deep dugout in the centre of Zonnebeke, located directly beneath the ruined church, was constructed. Knowledge of this dugout was lost until an archaeological excavation of the Augustine Abbey took place in the grounds of the church in recent times.
  2. Vampire Dugout, located near Polygon Wood: it was a Brigade HQ for up to 50 men.  It became operational from early April 1918, but after only a few days the dugout was lost when the Germans swept through the area during the Battle of the Lys, 9th – 29th


 As the Germans advanced into Allied territory, Royal Engineers manned the defences coming under heavy machine gun and trench mortar fire.  During the mayhem, and possibly during a rearguard engagement, Sapper George Nelson and 3 other ranks serving with his company were killed on 29th April 1918.  The 4 men are buried next to each other in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No.3.  Sapper George Nelson’s mother provided his epitaph:

Gone But Not Forgotten

Till We Meet Again

From Your Loving Mother

 Captain Angus Campbell, RAMC, attached to the 171st Tunnelling Company, RE.  Angus Campbell was born about 1877 at Colonsay, Argyllshire, Scotland. He attended medical college in Glasgow and by 1911 was working as a medical practitioner in Evenwood, having previously worked at Billy Row near Crook.  In 1911, he married Edith Croll at Berwick.  He and Edith had 2 children, Angus born 1917 and Kathleen born 1919.

Dr Campbell enlisted about June 1915 as a temporary lieutenant, later promoted to Captain and attached to 171st Tunnelling as their Medical Officer (MO). He was mentioned in dispatches 15th April 1917 and awarded the Military Cross in January 1918.  In May 1919 he was welcomed home and later presented with an engraved wristwatch by the Evenwood Heroes Committee. His daughter, the late Mrs. Kathleen Macmillan, told me that when asked why he was awarded the Military Cross, Dr Campbell replied that he had no idea, he did no more than anyone else (or words to that effect).


 The great German attack has begun.  God be with us all and especially with our dear lads who are straining every nerve and sinew to resist it.                                                                                                                                                                   Rev. Collis

After the disappointments of 1917, the Allies entered 1918 knowing that a German offensive would come.  A peace treaty had been signed between Germany and Russia meaning that a million battle-hardened German soldiers would be transferred from the Russian Front to the Western Front.  The Allies would be heavily outnumbered. The attack would happen before the Americans could arrive in force.


 There was no surprise about the when and where, the surprise was its weight, scale and power.  After a 5-hour artillery barrage of such intensity the ground began to boil, 63 German Divisions (about 750,000 men) attacked 26 British Divisions (about 300,000 men), representing the greatest onslaught yet to be launched in the history of the world.

Over the next 40 days, the German High Command oversaw a series of separate offensives along the 60 mile front, involving 122 German Divisions repeatedly assaulting 58 British Divisions.  British casualties reached about 317,000 men, about ¼ of the whole number of British troops under Haig’s command.  German losses were even higher at about 336,000.

12th April:  The great crisis for the British Army, and Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued his “Backs to the Wall” order of the day.  Miraculously, the men held their positions and the Germans did not break through to the Channel ports.  The enemy forces were exhausted.

2 local men were killed during this action:

  • 53369 Private Sydney Baines, 15th/17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in action on 12th April having served just 13 days in France. He was 19 years old, lived at Brantwood Terrace, Tindale Crescent, and is commemorated on St Helen’s Colliery Memorial.
  • 28030 Lance Corporal Thomas Gibson, 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards, was killed in action 13th April, one of 119 of his battalion to fall in two days of fighting. He was 24 years old and is commemorated on the West Auckland Memorial Hall Roll of Honour.

Sidney Baines and Thomas Gibson have no known grave and are commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.

There was a relative lull in the fighting until 15th July, when the Germans launched one final desperate offensive.  It ended in failure.  German losses had now reached 688,000 men.  The great effort had been made but had not succeeded; the German army had effectively defeated itself.


 The German military supremo Ludendorff claimed that the 8th August was the black day for the German Army, and the date when he knew that the war could not be won.  The Allies launched their retribution, punching a 15 mile gap through enemy lines, inflicting 30,000 losses, 5 times the Allied casualties.  16,500 German troops surrendered.

This final phase of the war is usually described as “The 100 days to Victory” and was the bloodiest period of the war.  British casualties numbered about 380,000, the Germans lost even more.  During this period, the British, together with its Dominion forces, captured 186,000 German prisoners, the French captured 120,000, the Americans (who had now entered the fray) 43,000, and the Belgians 14,000. The morale of the bulk of the German troops was broken, although some hard liners fought on to the bitter end.

Throughout the 4 years of war, casualties on both sides averaged 7,250, including 2,250 dead, every day.  During the last day of the war, 11th November 1918, between the signing of the Armistice and it coming into effect, the 6 hours of hostilities cost almost 11,000 casualties including 2,737 deaths, more than the average daily rate.

 Over the whole conflict, the Gaunless Valley lost a total of 244 men, the annual number increased as the war progressed – 83 died in 1918, 20 more than in 1917.  Until 1918, the tiny village of Woodland had suffered “only” 2 losses:

  • S/1053 Private Ralph Anderson, 1/Royal Highlanders (the Black Watch), was killed in action 13th October at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
  • 13924 Private Ernest Lowes, 3/Dorsetshire Regiment, who drowned 12th June 1915 during a training exercise.

But 1918 brought 6 deaths:

  • 20883 Private Thomas Newton, 15/DLI, killed in action 21st March 1918 aged 21.
  • 39150 Private Percival Stephenson, 12/DLI, killed in action 28th March 1918 aged 22.
  • 91960 Private Thomas Stephenson, 15/DLI, (Percy’s older brother), died of wounds 31st May 1918 aged 24.
  • 38960 Private John Hepple, 9/Yorkshire Regiment, died of wounds 5th October 1918 aged 35. A shopkeeper, he was the father of 4 children.
  • 95403 Private Thomas Morton, 2/DLI, died of wounds 24th October 1918. He was 21 years old and had only served in France for 25 days.
  • 36880 Private John Gill, 7/East Yorkshire Regiment, died of wounds on the 3rd December at Trent Bridge Military Hospital, Nottingham, having been wounded 4th November 1918. He was 20 years old and is buried in Hamsterley cemetery.

Elsewhere, the men of the DLI fought and died valiantly.  As the 50th (Northumbrian) Division faced the full might of the German offensive and was effectively destroyed, 9 local men were killed.  Missing, later to be presumed dead, with no known grave and commemorated on either the Pozieres, Ploegsteert or Soissons Memorials are:

  • 250467 Private W. Lamb, 1/6 DLI, from Cockfield.
  • 277236 Private T. Edgar Wood, 1/7 DLI, from Cockfield.
  • 250296 Private G. Stevens, 1/6 DLI, from Cockfield.
  • 36723 Private D. Baister, 1/5 DLI, from Etherley.
  • 250523 Serjeant T. W. Simpson MM, 1/6 DLI, from Evenwood.
  • 250440 Private O. Rushford MM, 1/6 DLI, from Morley.
  • 251186 Lance Corporal T. Smith, 1/6 DLI, from St. Helens.
  • 250264 Serjeant J. Field, 1/6 DLI, from West Auckland.

30238 Lance Corporal J. Clarke, 1/6 DLI, from Etherley died of wounds 27th March 1918 and is buried to the south of Amiens.

Other local men in DLI Service Battalions, all missing and later to be presumed dead, with no known grave and commemorated on either the Pozieres or Soissons Memorials are:

  • 15348 Private “Jonty” Bainbridge, 11/DLI, from Morley.
  • 202883 Private Thomas Newton, 15/DLI, from Woodland.
  • 59421 Private J. J. Jackson, 22/DLI, from West Auckland.
  • 14564 Corporal Thomas G. Reed, 19/DLI, from Etherley.
  • Percy Little 15/DLI, from St. Helens. (see page 43).

Buried in battlefield graves are:

  • 73017 Private John Ellerker 15/DLI, from Evenwood.
  • Second Lieutenant T.W. Applegarth, 11/DLI, from Evenwood.
  • 221725 Private Victor Christon, 22/DLI, from Cockfield.
  • 24544 Private Jonas Million, 15/DLI, from West Auckland.
  • 91960 Private Thomas Stephenson, 15/DLI, from Woodland.
  • 20167 Private Thomas Alderson, 19/DLI, from Butterknowle.

Elsewhere in Europe, “sideshows” took place.  Two other areas were war zones:

  • Salonika in northern Greece.
  • Vittorio Veneto, Italy.

Four men from the Gaunless Valley were lost in these conflicts:

  • 5767 Private W. Armstrong, 1/Leinster Regiment, killed in action 29th May 1917, buried at Struma Military Cemetery, Salonika, from West Auckland.
  • 134901 Gunner J. W. Ellerton, Royal Field Artillery, died 28th October 1917 and is buried at Sarigol Military Cemetery, Kriston, Salonika, from Cockfield.
  • 388253 Private Bertie Kirby, 2nd (Northumbrian) Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, died from pneumonia and influenza 1st October 1918 and is buried at Sarigol Military Cemetery, Kriston, Salonika, Greece from Cockfield.
  • 252054 Private Mark Goliath Middlemass, 12/DLI, killed in action 27th October 1918 and is buried at Tezze British Cemetery, Italy, from Evenwood. (plate 15).

Back in Evenwood, in July, Rev. Collis was shocked and clearly devastated by the news of the death of his good friend William Gray.

178943 Gunner William Gray, 52nd Battery, 15th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds 3rd July 1918 and is buried at Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France. The Gray family lived at 20 Evenwood Gate.  William was the checkweighman at Randolph Colliery, a Parish Councillor, member of the Workmen’s Club, and secretary of the Soldiers and Sailors Fund before joining up.  He was then about 37 years old – he did not need to go to war.  He joined the Veterinary Service but soon after was transferred to the Royal Artillery and saw action in Flanders and Italy before going back to France.  Apparently under attack, he gave his gas mask to a comrade!  William died from gas poisoning.  A Memorial Service was held 21st July 1918 and Rev.  Collis wrote the following eulogy in the Parish Magazine, September 1918:

“…there is one thing that stands out in my memory and that is the Memorial Service which we had for the late Gunner William Gray.  This was held on Sunday afternoon, July 21st at 3pm.  There was a large attendance of relatives and friends and the service seemed to me a singularly impressive one.  My address on the occasion was based on the text S. Matt. x 39, “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  The text was taken from the 2nd Lesson appointed for that day and the words seemed to fit the occasion in a wonderful way.  If anybody ever gave his life for a good cause for conscience sake, certainly William Gray did.  He was in every sense a volunteer.

 I remember how he described it to me, the deep impression which had been made on him when he had seen some of the sufferers from the effects of the enemy’s poison gas.  I believe it determined him to take his full part alongside those who were striving might and main against barbarity.  It seems strange that he himself should eventually have been a victim to it.

 His letters home were impressive.  I gave one here once, you will remember and it created very much interest.  It was a phrase, however, in one of his letters home which gave me an insight into the real character of the man.  It was in reply to the remark from one of his family of the loneliness of his usually cheerful little home without him.  “I know that loneliness out here.” he said, “and I often feel it and the deep longing for you all, but I fight it down.”  That was just his very self as you all know. 

 He fought strenuously for his own side against all opposition in the smaller matters of our local lives.  We did not all agree with him always but we all liked to have him with us if possible and not against us.  He was the kind of soldier that nothing would stop from going right over the enemy’s parapet, except an over-whelming weight of sheer physical force, which in our homely language is sometimes called a “knock-out” should meet him on the way.  But though these qualities are great, it is, I think, equally great if not greater, for a man to be able to fight down his own longings, his own desires, even his own affections in a great cause. 

Yes, William Gray was a Soldier, a Man and in my opinion a True Christian. 

 Think of our Blessed Lord’s own words in the passage from which I took my text.  “He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me and that he taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me.  He that findeth his life shall lose it and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  

 This eulogy may be specific to Gunner William Gray but the sentiment could be applied to many who lost their lives in the Great War.

Sadly, Rev.  Collis did not see the end of the conflict.  He died on 15th September 1918 and is buried in Evenwood cemetery.  A glowing tribute was given by Spencer Wade (Cockton Hill, Bishop Auckland) and his parishioners erected a tablet in his honour in St. Paul’s church.

For the families of those who had been killed, difficult times lay ahead.  There were 90 widows and many children without fathers.


 The Armistice may have brought joy to the streets of some Allied European cities but possibly not in places like Evenwood Gate or the many homes in the Gaunless Valley where families had lost a husband, a father, a son or a brother.


 There were 2 bouts of influenza.  The first strain during the early summer of 1918 was less virulent than the second epidemic which struck in late 1918.  Many from the civilian population succumbed to the malady.  Former and serving soldiers were not immune:

  • 54398 Private George Harvey, 3/West Yorkshire Regiment, a resident of Cockfield, died of pneumonia 26th November 1918 and is buried at Cockfield.
  • John Sewell, ex-6/DLI from Cockfield, was honourably discharged from the army due to wounds received in action. He resumed work as a colliery mason but contracted influenza and died of pneumonia 1st December 1918 aged 27.
  • 24313 Private John Barclay, 50th Bn Machine Gun Corps, had previously served with 8/DLI being a Bede College student who took up a teaching position at West Auckland, died of pneumonia 14th December 1918 and is buried in his home town of Penrith.
  • 26952 Private John William Maughan, 12/DLI from Evenwood, enlisted as a Kitchener volunteer and survived his last action in October 1918. He contracted pneumonia, was admitted to Catterick Camp Military Hospital and died 27th January 1919, leaving a wife and 3 children.

For those in Prisoner of War Camps, hoping to get home, problems of ill health and poor diet caused problems:

  • 340630 Private Fred Purvis, 1/5th battalion, the Northumbrian Fusiliers, from Evenwood, died 9th December 1918, while being held at Quedlinburg Prisoner of War Camp in Germany. He is buried at Niederzwehren commonwealth war grave cemetery together with Bobby Smart, 6/DLI, from West Auckland.

For ex-servicemen, old injuries and health problems resulted in death:

  • Robert James McNeally, from West Auckland, ex-6/DLI, suffered a gunshot wound on the Somme in November 1916, was treated at Nottingham Military Hospital and thereafter not considered fit enough to serve overseas. He died 2nd June 1919, the cause of his death being “cerebritis from a war wound and exhaustion.”  He left a wife and child.
  • Norman Clay, ex-RAF flight cadet. After the war, he worked as a clerk at West Auckland brewery.  He suffered heart disease and died 29th October 1919, aged 21.


On the brighter side, those who worked tirelessly at home were rewarded.  Lady Sybil Eden and Mrs. J. O. Stobart were awarded the OBE in recognition of their work with the Windlestone Hall and Etherley V.A. Hospitals (respectively) which operated from their family homes.  Lady Sybil’s son, Anthony Eden, was to become Prime Minister between 1955 and 1957.

Others got on with their lives as best they could, for instance:

  • George Gillham, ex-2/London Regiment, had been admitted to Etherley V.A. Hospital, where he convalesced from a leg amputation. He met Polly Stubbs from Phoenix Row, whom he later married, having 3 children.
  • James Nutter, ex-Royal Army Medical Corps, received a gold watch from the appreciative residents of Evenwood for being awarded the Military Medal. In 1925, he joined the staff at Cockfield (CofE) School, becoming headmaster in 1929.
  • Angus Campbell, ex-Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the Royal Engineers 177th Tunnelling Company, received a gold watch from the people of Evenwood in recognition of his Military Cross. He resumed with his medical practice in the Evenwood area.
  • Wade Emmerson, ex-Army Service Corps, established the OK Motor Services in 1929. The OK Motor Services was possibly the most famous commercial name to come from the Gaunless Valley. (plate 16).
  • Bill Tarran, ex-King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, returned from the war and received a gold medal from grateful residents of Butterknowle in appreciation of his Military Medal. In June 1923 he married Ellen, had 3 children and moved to Catterick Village, where he worked for an oil distribution firm.
  • William Lamb, ex-MGC Sergeant and POW, returned home to work back in the pits. He became an influential figure in the community, becoming Ramshaw Lodge Secretary of the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers and Evenwood WMC Chairman.  (plate 17).
  • Richard Bowser, ex-Royal Scots Fusiliers, received a scroll from the West Auckland Durham Miners’ Association Lodge Officials and a gold watch from the people of West Auckland in appreciation of his Military Medal. In 1919 he married Annie, and they had 2 daughters.  He worked as a pump man at West Auckland colliery until retirement. (plate 18).
  • For Fred Smith MM, ex-DLI, it was back home to Morley, his wife Sally and children and back to work at the pit. With the outbreak of WW2, he joined the Home Guard.
  • Elizabeth Cree, widow of Private Christopher Cree, received a commemorative scroll from the residents of Esperley Lane in hour of his sacrifice. She never remarried and brought up her 4 children alone. (plate 19).


The men named on the following memorials were researched. The numbers listed next to the location indicate the number of men listed on the memorial.

  • St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages (37)
  • West Auckland Memorial Hall (53)
  • West Auckland War Memorial on the Green (71)
  • Evenwood War Memorial in the cemetery (48)
  • Etherley War Memorial (26)
  • Cockfield War Memorial (45)
  • Butterknowle War Memorial (22)
  • Copley War Memorial (8)
  • Woodland War Memorial (8)

There are family memorials to local men not included on the village memorials:

  • St. Helen’s Church (John and Nicholas Eden)
  • West Auckland Cemetery (Robert Bayles and Sidney Monk)

There is one additional name on a West Auckland Methodist commemoration (John Greenwood).  Some names are commemorated on more than 1 memorial.  In total, 244 men have been researched, 240 men are definitely confirmed with military details, 3 men likely but no positive military service history and 1 man remains elusive. Yearly totals are:

1914: 4                1915: 23              1916: 59

1917: 63              1918: 85              1919 – 21: 6

 Total: 240

 A rough breakdown shows that:

  • 17% were below the age of 21.
  • 71% were single men.
  • 74% were coal miners.

The oldest serviceman to be killed was 51 year old Private Samuel (known as James) Martin, 2nd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.

The youngest was 16 year old Midshipman William Nicholas Eden, son of Sir William and Lady Sybil Eden of Windlestone Hall.

The first serviceman to be killed was Private Sydney Teasdale, 9th Lancers, on the 29th September 1914.

The last soldier to die of wounds received in action was Private Jonathan William Gill, 7th East Yorkshire Regt, on 3rd December 1918.

The last date for a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone is 1st February 1921 and that is for Private Stephen Harvey, 2nd Dragoons Guards.

 1914 – 1921 

Date Name & Initials Regiment Local Memorial
29/09/14 Teasdale S 9th Lancers Cockfield
17/10/14 Eden J 12th Lancers St Helen’s Church
21/10/14 Caile JA 3/CG Etherley
29/10/14 Bell JJ 2/YR Butterknowle
19/01/15 Howson JS 4/DLI West Auckland
13/03/15 Davison GW 2/CG St Helens/West Auckland
26/04/15 Campbell J 8/DLI West Auckland
25/05/15 Martin J 2/ NF St Helens
06/06/15 Lane R 6/DLI St Helens/West Auckland
06/06/15 Readman H RND Butterknowle
12/06/15 Lowes EV 3/Dorsets Lynesack/Woodland
16/06/15 Siddle W 1/NF West Auckland
14/07/15 McGuire J 9/DLI St Helens
07/08/15 Bagley R 6/YR St Helens/West Auckland
09/08/15 Million WL 2/DLI Etherley
16/08/15 Wilson FL 9/EYR St Helens
18/09/15 Richards JC 44 Bty RGA Etherley
25/09/15 Bennett JA 16/GH Butterknowle
25/09/15 Robinson S 1/GH Butterknowle
25/09/15 Brown W 15/DLI West Auckland
25/09/15 Thompson F 15/DLI Butterknowle
25/09/15 Towers E 15/DLI Evenwood
04/10/15 Dixon H 5/Bord R Evenwood
07/10/15 Robinson J 14/DLI St Helens
13/10/15 Anderson R 1/BW Woodland
19/10/15 Fairhurst T 6/DLI St Helens
10/12/15 Yole RC RMLI Butterknowle
02/02/16 Cree C 21/NF Cockfield
16/02/16 Lamb A 7/EYR Cockfield
29/02/16 Cradock A 6/DLI Etherley
12/03/16 Maughan E 21/NF West Auckland
14/03/16 Tate RW 27/ NF St Helens
02/04/16 Pinkney T 6/DLI Cockfield
07/04/16 Smith T 31/Can Inf West Auckland
13/04/16 Gowland T 6/DLI Butterknowle
26/04/16 Walker BR RAMC Cockfield
01/05/16 Kirby EO 6/DLI Cockfield
24/05/16 Raine JH 13/DLI Evenwood
28/05/16 Bestford J 10/YR West Auckland
31/05/16 Wren JW RN Evenwood
01/06/16 Carrick W RN Evenwood
01/06/16 Lynas A RN Evenwood
31/05/16 Eden WN RN St Helens
26/06/16 Davison W RE Cockfield
01/07/16 Bayles R 27/NF West Auckland
01/07/16 Hood P 16/NF Cockfield
01/07/16 Gaskin F 7/YR Etherley
01/07/16 Watson T 7/YR West Auckland
01/07/16 Goldsborough T 15/DLI St Helens/West Auckland
01/07/16 Sewell MA 15/DLI Butterknowle
04/07/16 Wilson W 75 MG Coy West Auckland
08/07/16 Eales W 2/YR St Helens/West Auckland
20/07/16 Hodgson JE 8/EYR St Helens/West Auckland
22/07/16 Neal T 8/EYR St Helens
13/09/16 Conlon RW 2/Y&L Evenwood
14/09/16 Waters GH 265 TC RE Copley
16/09/16 Alderson TA 10/DLI Etherley
16/09/16 Gargett JG 2/DLI Butterknowle
16/09/16 Graves JC 10/DLI Evenwood
16/09/16 Meads G 15/DLI West Auckland
16/09/16 Tazey F 15/DLI Etherley
17/09/16 Dunn TW 6/DLI St Helens/West Auckland
18/09/16 Pratt T 14/DLI West Auckland
19/09/16 Teasdale W 9/YR West Auckland
25/09/16 Bolton G 10/KOYLI West Auckland
29/09/16 Earl WE 14/DLI Evenwood
01/10/16 Holliday J 6/DLI Cockfield
01/10/16 Lee JC 6/DLI Cockfield
01/10/16 Lowther CE 6/DLI Butterknowle
01/10/16 Wallace RW 6/DLI Cockfield
01/10/16 Baker RW 6/DLI St Helens
03/10/16 Wilson RW 6/YR Evenwood & Etherley
04/10/16 Robinson B 9/YR Butterknowle
15/10/16 Patton JW 2/DLI West Auckland
16/10/16 Maughan J 14/DLI Evenwood
26/10/16 Chamber NW 22/DLI Cockfield
05/11/16 Brunskill F 6/DLI Etherley
05/11/16 Cox GT 6/DLI Evenwood
05/11/16 Hebdon R 6/DLI St Helens
05/11/16 Wilson R 6/DLI West Auckland
05/11/16 Walker WGB 3/DLI Cockfield
08/11/16 Russell C 9/DLI Cockfield
13/11/16 Hepple J RND West Auckland
11/12/16 Close JJ 14/DLI Cockfield
26/12/16 Dunn TH 11/DLI Evenwood
28/12/16 Spavin G 13/DLI West Auckland
30/01/17 Bird JR RE St Helens/West Auckland
06/02/17 Jackson J 6/KOSB West Auckland
07/02/17 Priestley J 2/AFA Butterknowle
28/02/17 Featherstone JR 10/DLI Etherley
01/03/17 Featherstone W 15/DLI Etherley
08/03/17 Walling J 6/DLI Evenwood
13/03/17 Rose JT 2/YR Copley
17/03/17 Million J 18/DLI Evenwood
03/04/17 Hammond M 2/KOYLI Cockfield
10/04/17 Mason E 15/DLI St Helens
11/04/17 Arkless JW 2/5th Lincs Evenwood
12/04/17 Hutchfield W 2/WRR St Helens
14/04/17 Jackson EH 6/DLI West Auckland
14/04/17 Simpson C 6/DLI St Helens
14/04/17 Greavison W 6/DLI Etherley
22/04/17 Heseltine J 2/Y&L Evenwood
23/04/17 Hobson G 14/DLI Etherley
23/04/17 Jackson JP 151 MG Coy Butterknowle
24/04/17 Wardle R 14/DLI Evenwood
28/04/17 Shepherd WH 27/ NF St Helens
03/05/17 Clark TC 8/EYR Butterknowle
03/05/17 Gardner W 15/DLI West Auckland
06/05/17 Rutter S RE Evenwood
13/05/17 Hedley F 7/YR St Helens
17/05/17 Hathaway R 12/SWB West Auckland
20/05/17 Hodgson GB RMLI Etherley & Butterknowle
20/05/17 Brown C 9/HLI Butterknowle
29/05/17 Armstrong W 1/Leins R West Auckland
07/06/17 Heaviside W 2/DLI West Auckland
16/06/17 Gargett G 12/NF Cockfield
20/06/17 Ratcliffe W 191 MG Coy St Helens
04/07/17 Bagley WH RE St Helens/West Auckland
10/07/17 Storey WR 1/LNLR Evenwood
12/07/17 Teasdale J 6/EYR West Auckland
26/07/17 Hall HR 20/DLI Etherley
31/07/17 Scott W 20/DLI West Auckland
31/07/17 Wardle H 234 Coy RE Evenwood
10/08/17 Laskey E RGA West Auckland
11/08/17 Greenwood J RFA West Auckland
14/08/17 Walton JJ 6/YR Evenwood
19/08/17 Bestford W 19/DLI West Auckland
24/08/17 Hope JJ 43 MGC Cockfield
04/10/17 Atkinson F 10/YR Butterknowle
04/10/17 Hardy A 13/NF Etherley
04/10/17 Sedgewick CW 15/DLI Cockfield
04/10/17 Wilson W 8/LR West Auckland
09/10/17 Christon N 5/WYR Cockfield
09/10/17 Hall H 7/WYR Cockfield
09/10/17 Raine MT 7/WYR Evenwood
16/10/17 Parmley G 4/KOYLI Evenwood
19/10/17 Blenkin W 12/DLI St Helens
22/10/17 Wilkinson JW 15/DLI West Auckland
24/10/17 Kirby LD 21/Mancs Cockfield
26/10/17 Hebdon EW 7/NF Butterknowle
26/10/17 Priestley G 6/DLI Cockfield
27/10/17 Thompson RH 5/DLI West Auckland
28/10/17 Ellerton JW RFA Cockfield
01/12/17 Bryant GW RAMC Evenwood
01/12/17 Spence JW 2/DLI Evenwood/Butterknowle
18/12/17 Judge G 6/KOYLI St Helens
21/12/17 Monk H AE Auckland
31/12/17 Sowerby 215 Lab Coy Lynesack & Copley
04/01/18 Harrison JC 12/13 NF Etherley
12/01/18 Sanderson P 9/HLI West Auckland
30/01/18 Lambert GW 17/KLR Cockfield
28/02/18 Hewitt J 2/6 WYR Evenwood
21/03/18 Dowson G 7/8 IF Evenwood
21/03/18 Newton T 15/DLI Woodland
23/03/18 Bainbridge J 11/DLI Etherley
23/03/17 Hutchinson J 9/Mancs Evenwood
24/03/18 Tallon W ACC West Auckland
25/03/18 Castling JF 5/Y&L Regt West Auckland
26/03/18 Christon V 22/DLI Cockfield
26/03/18 Jackson JJ 22/DLI West Auckland
26/03/18 Lamb W 6/DLI Cockfield
26/03/18 Wood TE 7/DLI Cockfield
27/03/18 Clarke 6/DLI Etherley
27/03/18 Simpson T W 6/DLI Evenwood
28/03/18 Ellerker JH 15/DLI Evenwood
28/03/18 Hodgson R 2/LF Butterknowle
28/03/18 Skelhorn J 8 MGC Evenwood
28/03/18 Stephenson PC 58 Lab Coy Woodland
08/04/18 Applegarth TW 11/DLI Evenwood
09/04/18 Stevens GWT 6/DLI Cockfield
12/04/18 Baines S 15/17 WYR St Helens
13/04/18 Gibson TH 4th GG West Auckland
16/04/18 Vickers TH 2/4 KOYLI St Helens/West Auckland
17/04/18 Williams J 5/N Staffs Etherley
29/04/18 Nelson GW 171 TC RE West Auckland
25/04/18 Cross TW 1/EYR Copley
25/04/18 Holmes W 1/EYR Cockfield
01/05/18 Million J 15/DLI West Auckland
08/05/18 Oates J 2/YR St Helens
15/05/18 Morley W 4/YR Evenwood
27/05/18 Baister D 5/DLI Evenwood & Etherley
27/05/18 Lowther W 2/YR Butterknowle
28/05/18 Hutchinson W 14/NF West Auckland
30/05/18 Rushford O 6/DLI Evenwood & Etherley
30/05/18 Oates R 14/NF West Auckland
31/05/18 Stephenson TW 15/DLI Woodland
31/05/18 Smith T 6/DLI W Auckland
31/05/18 Field JR 6/DLI W Auckland
05/06/18 Summerson HW 9/LNLR Cockfield
06/06/18 Riley S 1/SF W Auckland
08/06/18 Moses WA 7/EYR Evenwood & Etherley
10/06/18 Hutchinson JJB MGC Cockfield
14/06/18 Wilson H 7/Leics R W Auckland
03/07/18 Gray W RFA Evenwood
07/07/18 Richardson JJ 6 MGC Evenwood
28/07/18 Reed TG 19/DLI Etherley
09/08/18 Weatherald WN RAMC St Helens
15/08/18 Lowson CH 7/Lincs R St Helens
25/08/18 Hodgson GA 12/13NF Cockfield
29/08/18 Snowball W 6/DLI Evenwood
02/09/18 Burrell A Lab Corps Cockfield
06/09/18 Heaviside R 22/NF Evenwood
06/09/18 Sams A 8/RIR Etherley
08/09/18 Dickson GA 12/13 NF Copley
10/09/18 Bowron JH 1/EYR St Helens/West Auckland
11/09/18 Dowson JG 1/EYR Cockfield
18/09/18 Howlett JW 12/13 NF Evenwood
20/09/18 Jobling TJT Civilian West Auckland
27/09/18 Dent GN 1/GG Copley & Butterknowle
27/09/18 Dobbin H 5/Lond R St Helens/West Auckland
27/09/18 Guy J 1/CG Cockfield
27/05/18 Little P 15/DLI St Helens
27/09/18 Polkinghorn WJ 23/LF West Auckland
29/09/18 Shaw RB 2/4 WRR West Auckland
01/10/18 Alderson TW 19/DLI Cockfield/Butterknowle
01/10/18 Kirby B RAMC Cockfield
05/10/18 Hepple J 9/YR Woodland
17/10/18 Smart RW 6/DLI St Helens
22/10/18 Simpson M 9/YR Evenwood
23/10/18 Clark J 3/DLI West Auckland
23/10/18 Wooding J 1/NF Cockfield
24/10/18 Bradley E 1/WYR Cockfield
24/10/18 Morton TW 2/DLI Woodland
13/10/18 Kirkup R AEF Cockfield
27/10/18 Middlemass MG 12/DLI Evenwood
01/11/18 Rewcastle G 6/WRR St Helens/West Auckland
04/11/18 Davis T 4/NF Evenwood
19/11/18 Hodgson JA ASC Etherley
26/11/18 Harvey G 3/WYR Cockfield
01/12/18 Sewell JCA 6/DLI Evenwood & Cockfield
03/12/18 Atkinson AK RE Evenwood
03/12/18 Gill JW 7/EYR Hamsterley/Woodland
09/12/18 Purvis F 5/NF Evenwood
14/12/18 Barclay J 50 MGC West Auckland
29/01/19 Maughan JW 12/DLI Evenwood
03/06/19 McNeally RJ 6/DLI West Auckland
21/07/19 Maughan TP 2/RS West Auckland
29/10/19 Clay AN RAF West Auckland
08/04/20 Smith JR 5/GMGR Cockfield
01/02/21 Harvey S 2/Dragoons Cockfield


ACC                    Army Cyclist Corps

AFA                    Australian Field Artillery

ASC                     Army Service Corps

Bord R                Border Regiment

Can Inf                Canadian Infantry

CG                       Coldstream Guards

DLI                      Durham Light Infantry

EYR                    East Yorkshire Regiment

GG                       Grenadier Guards

GMGR                Guards Machine Gun Regiment

HLI                      Highland Light Infantry

KLR                     Kings Liverpool Regiment

KOYLI                Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Lab Coy              Labour Company

LF                        Lancashire Fusiliers

Lincs R               Lincolnshire Regiment

LNLR                  Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

Leics R                Leicestershire Regiment

Leins R               Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians)

Lond R                London Regiment

Mancs                  Manchester Regiment

MGC                   Machine Gun Corps

N Staffs               North Staffordshire Regiment

NF                       Northumberland Fusiliers

RAF                     Royal Air Force

RAMC                Royal Army Medical Corps

RE                       Royal Engineers

RFA/RGA           Royal Field Artillery/Royal Garrison Artillery

RIR                      Royal Irish Regiment

RMLI                  Royal Marine Light Infantry

RND                    Royal Naval Division

SF                        Sherwood Foresters

SWB                    South Wales Borderers

TC                       Tunnelling Company

WRR                   West Riding Regiment

WYR                   West Yorkshire Regiment

Y&L                    York and Lancaster Regiment

YR                       Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards)


“The Wipers Times” was a famous wartime trench newspaper, edited by Captain F.J. Roberts and Lieutenant J.H. Pearson.  By December 1918 it was known as “The Better Times”.  A letter to the Editor concerning the award of medals, particularly the 1914 Star (plate 20) is reproduced below:

The 1914 Star 


I feel I cannot let this 1914 Star discussion pass without airing my little grievance.  My husband has got the 1914 Star and the red, white and blue ribbon clashes most horribly with my cerise blouse.

What can I do?

I am perplexed about it.

Am I to dye the blouse, dye the ribbon or get a new husband?

 Yours etc.

A Contemptible’s wife,

9a Suburban Villas,


“This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”  Marshal Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch