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Friday, 22 January 2016

Smile, and the world smiles with you

James Jeffries of the Tyneside Irish, used with kind permission of Newcastle City Library
James Jeffries of the Tyneside Irish, used with kind permission of Newcastle City Library
Newcastle Libraries have been doing an amazing job of digitising First World War photographs from the Illustrated Chronicle and putting them on Flickr: 

Volunteers have helped them scan over 11,000 photographs of service men, women war workers, nurses and charity workers. Many of the men fought with the Durham Light Infantry or were from “our” side of the Tyne, so are of interest to Durham at War.

While scrolling through the pictures, our colleague, Steve Shannon, found a photograph of the Tyneside Irish soldier, pictured above, that piqued his curiosity. Not only does James Jeffries have an infectious smile, he was born in Bombay.

All three of us were intrigued and each did a little more digging. We found that he appeared in the 1911 census as a sailor, “sea going”. His birthplace was recorded as Bombay but he stated that he was a British subject “by parents”. We wondered whether this might mean that he was of Anglo-Indian heritage? At the time of the census he was living in a boarding house at 40-46 Stanley Street, Jarrow. Perhaps this explains why he joined the Tyneside Irish; Grange Road, just a few streets away, was the site of one of the Tyneside Irish recruiting centres.

His medal card tells us that he had the regimental number 25/302 and that he served from 16 November 1914 to 19 March 1919. He didn’t earn the 1914/15 Star, so he can’t have fought abroad until 1916, but his medal card and roll show that he was awarded the Military Medal. The London Gazette records the award in its edition of 28 January 1918. It seems that, later in the war, James suffered some sort of injury in the line of duty because he was given the Silver War Badge.

The Absent Voters’ List of 1918 records that his residency had changed from Jarrow to Shotton and that he was living at 100 Fourth Street. He stayed on in Shotton because he also appears on the 1920 Electoral Register at that address, living with a family called Nyas. David Nyas, the head of the household, was born the West Indies. Unfortunately, the trail then goes cold.

When the Durham County Record Office team began the planning for the Durham at War project one of the concerns of the team would be that First World War fatigue would set in. However, our project, and others such as this one at Newcastle Libraries, continue to unearth stories that surprise even seasoned military researchers like Steve. Luckily, this also seems to be the case for our ever-enthusiastic volunteers. Again and again, a human story, a smile on a photograph or a line in a love letter bridges across the century and dispels the fog of war.

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