Friday, 29 August 2014

The County Council and the Great War

The War Memorial at County Hall, Durham
The War Memorial at County Hall, Durham
This week we have another guest post by David Butler, former County Archivist.

For over 30 years I walked past the War Memorial in the Durham Room at County Hall without giving it a second glance.  However, about two years ago I happened to look at it and realised that the anniversary of the Great War was coming up.  I suggested to Liz Bregazzi, the County Archivist, that it might be useful to investigate the names on the memorial, so that we would have some information when the inevitable questions started arising.

I began to look at the 122 Great War names using the ‘usual suspects’ – the Commonwealth War Graves database, Soldiers Died… etc. and it became clear that there were a number of teachers recorded.  This led me to look at the minutes of the Education Committee for the period of the War, and I discovered that these were a very valuable source of information.  Not only did the minutes record the deaths of teachers (as Education Committee employees) but they also recorded the permissions given to teachers (and other Education Committee employees – clerks, attendance officers) to join-up, and when those same employees returned to work, either when invalided out of the forces during the War, or as part of the general demobilisation in 1918-1920.  Although the bulk of the names on the memorial are teachers, 110 out of 122 (a reflection of how small a work-force the County Council employed in 1914, if you exclude teachers), there are also members of the Health, Surveyor’s, Clerk’s and Accountant’s Departments.  When the memorial was unveiled in 1921 it was reported that 823 teachers had joined-up and 311 other members of staff, a total of 1134.

War Memorial at Shire Hall, the previous County Council headquarters (CC/X 110c)
CC/X 110c War Memorial at Shire Hall, the previous County Council headquarters
At this stage I was only concerned with the men who had died and whose names are on the memorial (although, inevitably, there are at least eleven names missing).  As part of the Record Office run-up to the anniversary we decided to produce a monthly mini-biography of one of the men and this will continue.  A transcript of the information on the memorial, the story of the construction of the memorial, originally in Shire Hall and other details can be found here, including the monthly biographies.  For these I used a range of different sources including local newspapers, other County Council records, school log books and the Durham Light Infantry records.

By the time I had undertaken the basic research into the 122 men on the memorial the Record Office was preparing for the bid to the HLF which resulted in the money being made available for this project, and I thought that as a contribution to the project it would be interesting to look at the other 1012 County Council employees who joined-up.  This involved extending the memorial database, and I am currently up to 1133 names, and I am only partly through the Education Department sources - clearly the 1134 figure given in 1921 was incorrect.  Watch this space!

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