Friday, 7 October 2016

Echoes of Loos

This week we have a blog post by our Record Office colleague Gabriel.

Earlier this year Durham County Record Office was contacted by a member of Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team (TWSMRT), who, together with two other team members, takes part in surveying and excavating First World War trenches near Loos in France.

Together with members of the Durand Group that specializes in surveying and investigating First World War underground installations, they made several very interesting discoveries last year. They found various artefacts including rusty explosives and degraded black powder, various items used by soldiers during the digging and military operations underground, and several examples of graffiti pencilled on tunnel walls including names, service numbers and regiments. Even remains of the soldiers themselves have been found and efforts were made to identify them to find their living descendants, so they could take part in full honours burials. To find out more about the Durand Group and other projects they are involved in, please visit the association’s website:

We were given three images of graffiti on tunnel walls showing the names and service numbers of three soldiers from the Durham Light Infantry in the hope that we can find more about them and their families, which might lead to finding living relatives. This is what we started with:
Graffiti at Loos with kind permission of members of TWSMRT
Photographs with kind permission of members of TWSMRT
As the Record Office holds the Durham Light Infantry’s regimental collection, Durham at War ( volunteers were able to establish some facts about their military service and interesting intelligence reports from actions on the front line, as found in the war diaries. Also, census records and parish registers were very helpful in establishing who the soldiers were before they enlisted, and their family background.

Making sure that we were following the right person was very tricky in the post-war period, and the fact that the soldiers’ names were also among the most common ones, only made the task more laborious.

We hope that by reading this article someone can identify the soldiers or any of their family members and help us contact their living descendants. We would be delighted, if you could participate in connecting the story from the past with a living person!  Here is what we have learnt about each of them so far:

20/857 Pte. Rrt Slater, 14 DLI
Private Robert Slater (D/DLI 2/20/5/45)
D/DLI 2/20/5/45 Private Robert Slater
Robert married Hilda Ruddock of Ryhope in 1918. We think they had a son born in 1920, who married Margaret Williams in 1943 and had two children born in 1945 and 1947, but this requires confirmation.

During the search in various parish records we also found a family of Slaters in Cornforth, Coxhoe and Ferryhill, all connected with a Robert Slater.

The following is what we have managed to establish about Robert’s siblings:
  • William Jobson was born 1891 in Ryhope Colliery and worked as a boot repairer for his father before going to war. He married Jane Worrall in 1912, settled in Thornley and had at least three children that we know of: Elsie born 1912, William born 1915, and Jennie born 1917. 
  • George, born 1894 in Ryhope Colliery and died 1896 in Thornley Colliery
  • George Tearson, born 1898 in Thornley Colliery
  • Albert, born 1901 in the same place
  • Dorothy, born 1905 in the same place; we found that she married Ernest Cunningham in 1929
  • Elizabeth Alice, born 1907 in the same place, married Arthur Edwin Morgan in 1929
  • Norman, born 1910 in the same place, died in 1915 at home

’55 L/Cpl R.G. Walker, 2 DLI
This one was particularly tricky to find, as he scribbled only the last two digits of his service number on the wall, so we first had to establish which RG Walker he was as, again, it is a common name. After comparing several records we finally believe he is Private Reginald George Walker, 27955, who enlisted in Consett on 10 November 1915, aged 19. He initially joined 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, but a few weeks later was transferred to 2 DLI. 

In 1917 he applied for an unpaid post as a Lance Corporal and was sent to a signalling course. Walker did not serve long, as he suffered from acute appendicitis and spent months in various hospitals in France and in England due to complications that occurred during the treatment. Eventually he was transferred to the reserve in August 1918 as medically unfit for active service and completely discharged in April 1919. He was awarded the Silver War Badge.

From the 1911 census we know that he was born in Sacriston in 1897 to Joseph Walker, a coke yard foreman, and Dorothy. Reginald’s occupation is given as joinery apprentice and had four brothers: 
  • John Robert, born in Sacriston in 1887, colliery joiner
  • Joseph, born in the same place in 1891, colliery blacksmith
  • Frederick, born in the same place in 1896, pit heap token boy
  • Arthur, born in Winlaton in 1905
  • They all lived at 5 Greenhead Terrace in Chopwell in 1911 
After the war Reginald married Dora Turnbull in 1922 in Chopwell and had a daughter, Josephine in 1925. We know that not long afterwards, in 1927, he emigrated to Fremantle in Australia on board SS Baradine. On the passenger list his address is given as 9 Nelson Terrace, Chopwell and he travels alone as a miner. He died in Perth in 1966. We don’t know what happened with the rest of the family, whether they followed him to Australia or not.

9533 Pte J. Brown(e), 2 DLI
Unfortunately we do not know much about this soldier. He enlisted in September 1914 and was discharged in March 1919 due to the same reasons as the two above soldiers (medically unfit for further service). He was awarded the Silver War Badge, Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1914 Star. We don’t know where he lived before enlistment and what his life’s circumstances were after the war. 

All these soldiers served in France, they all left their names in tunnels under Loos and all three were discharged due to becoming medically unfit for further service. 

If you can identify any of the soldiers mentioned above, or their family members, please contact Gabriel at the Record Office:

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