Friday, 11 August 2017


This is the 200th Durham at War blog post. To mark it, I decided to have a look through the Durham Light Infantry archive collection, held here at Durham County Record Office, at items that have 200 in their reference number. I have wondered before, what it would be like to look at a sample from a catalogue based on a number. Once I had searched, I had to extract the items that are related to the First World War. This gave me a list of seven potential items to look at:

Ref: D/DLI 2/18/24(200)
Photograph of the coast of Sardinia, taken from on board the SS Ivernia, c.1916

Ref: D/DLI 2/1/18(200)
Photograph, from a magazine, of the grave of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, taken at Agny, France, c.1917

Ref: D/DLI 2/7/18(200)
Photograph of a railway track running by a ruined building in France or Belgium, c.1914 - 1918

Ref: D/DLI 7/63/2(200)
Colour sketch map of a section of the Western Front between Neuville and Vermand, France, c.1917

Ref: D/DLI 7/63/5(200)
Newspaper cutting concerning the death, from pneumonia, of Major Biggs, 5th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, 2 December 1916

Ref: D/DLI 7/172/1(200)
Newspaper cutting headlined 'Magnificent Gallantry of our Troops', c.1916

Ref: D/DLI 7/701/2(200)
Newspaper cutting concerning celebrations at the Newcastle Exchange following the end of the war, November 1918

Original grave marker of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (D/DLI 2/1/18(200))
D/DLI 2/1/18(200) Original grave marker of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry
I decided to have a closer look at the photograph of the grave of Gerald Evelyn Shuldham Sewart, as he died 100 years ago, and served with 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (10 DLI), which connects to our Shiny Tenth project.

Gerald Sewart was born in West Yorkshire in 1893 to the Reverend Anthony Wilkinson Sewart and his wife Margaret. Sadly, Margaret died three days later, likely from complications following the birth. As a vicar, Anthony moved around and at some point found himself in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. Here, he met Constance Annie Ormsby, and the couple married in 1900. A daughter, Mollie, followed in 1903.

By the time war was declared, the family was living at the rectory in Brignall, near Barnard Castle. This part of the small area covered by Durham at War that was Yorkshire at the time, but is now part of County Durham. Gerald was having a successful education, first attending Giggleswick School, then in 1912 being accepted to study maths at Oxford University. He won a form of scholarship called an exhibition. Gerald also made a name for himself in the university’s rowing community. He graduated with a first class in Mathematical Moderations in 1914.
Portrait of Second Lieutenant Gerald Sewart (D/DLI 2/1/18(200))
D/DLI 2/1/18(201) Portrait of Second Lieutenant Gerald Sewart

There was no time for Gerald to enter the workforce, however, he took a temporary commission as a second lieutenant with 10 DLI, commanded by Colonel HHS Morant. The battalion entered France in May 1915 but Sewart was only there a month when a shell exploded close above him, killing a fellow officer. Suffering from shock, he was sent back to England for convalescence. During this time, he became a musketry instructor at the military training camp in Ripon, not too far from his family.

Gerald got back to 10 DLI in France in early 1916, but his service there was once again cut short, and sadly it was also to be his final resting place. On 8 May 1916, the battalion was in reserve at Agny, and Gerald was giving instructions in the use of the Stokes mortar, a simple and fast trench mortar that fired 3.2 inch shells. After firing one round, the Germans retaliated with two of their own. He pushed the lance corporal he was instructing into shelter and safety, but took a direct hit himself.

Strangely, especially given that he was an officer, the official war diary makes no reference to the incident. The entry for 8 May 1916 reads:
‘A very quiet day. Enemy m[achine] g[un] suspected at [location] M 15. B.8.2. This appears to be very strongly built.’

Colonel Morant’s memoirs make no specific reference to these days in reserve, but he does acknowledge in an annotated photograph from 1915 that Second Lieutenant Sewart was killed.
Photograph from Colonel HHS Morant's memoirs showing himself, and Second Lieutenant Sewart (circled), May 1915 (From D/DLI 7/1230/3 ))
From D/DLI 7/1230/3 Photograph from Colonel HHS Morant's memoirs showing himself, and Second Lieutenant Sewart (circled), May 1915

Being a vicar, Reverent Anthony Sewart is frequently mentioned in the local newspaper, the Teesdale Mercury. The archive of this is searchable online. There is an article to say that Reverend Sewart received news of his son’s death, and that a service was held at the church in nearby Rokeby. There is also an article from March 1920, reporting on the unveiling of a war memorial in Brignall cemetery to Gerald Sewart, and four others.
The war memorial at Brignall church, taken by David Rogers, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license
The Teesdale Mercury warrants a close look with regards to the Sewarts and their activities at home during the war period. I found a letter from August 1918 from Constance, Gerald's stepmother, to the editor. In it, she offers her assistance to anyone with a missing or prisoner relative, in the form of writing letters to the correct authorities, even offering to pay the postage costs herself.

So a speculative endeavour based on the number 200 has revealed a story of a young man’s simultaneous bravery and sad end. It has also revealed the beginning of a story about the wartime life of a small village vicarage and the efforts of those left behind to cope with their loss.

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