Friday, 10 November 2017

Conference 2017

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
-Carl Sagan

I feel like this quote is very fitting for our project. Saturday 4 November was the second Durham at War volunteers' conference, and a chance to hear about what incredible things they have discovered. All the talks were fantastic and I learnt a lot.

The day began with Councillor Ossie Johnson welcoming and thanking the volunteers. He told us how he had already had a surprise in talking to volunteer David, whose talk he would not be able to stay for. He was interested in the Royal Naval Division as some relatives had been involved, it turned out that they were same as David’s relatives! 

The talks proceeded with Gillian Kirkbride (Heritage, Museums and Collections Manager) telling  us about the upcoming DLI Collection touring exhibition, When the Bugle Calls, on music and the regiment. It opens at Bishop Auckland Town Hall in December. Next we had a short talk on the use of Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) in First World War archaeology by myself and volunteer Dave [I’ll be doing a blog post of this in the future]. Then it was time for the all-important tea break and chance for people to chat and look around.
Poppy Rug produced by those involved in the Wessington U3A War memorials Project
Poppy Rug produced by those involved in the Wessington U3A War memorials Project
We had a range of stalls including Friends of Durham County Record Office, the North East War Memorials Project and Darlington Library. Wessington U3A were also there with a wonderful poppy rug. There were displays too, including one on Girl Guiding in the county during the war, produced by project volunteers Pat and Fiona, and our Victoria Cross pop-up banners. There were others loaned  to us by Northumbria University, on the impact of the war on higher education.
Mark Smith of the Antiques Roadshow talking about his medal collection
Mark Smith of the Antiques Roadshow talking about his medal collection
Next up was our keynote speaker. Mark Smith has appeared on the Antiques Roadshow and Who Do You Think You Are? as an expert in militaria. His talk was perfect for the day: a look at the First World War based on his medal collection. From the medals, he started learning about the people, and from the people he started learning about the action. It was also personal, as he told us about how he became a medal collector, and how he has developed his collection - his aim is to collect a medal for each day of the war. It was a fascinating insight into the war period and its study.

This talk was followed by a look at the wartime letters of Prince Riedelski by Jackie and Elaine. Riedelski was a pretender to the Polish crown, whose letters to Robert Edleston of Gainford are held at Durham County Record Office. It also discussed the status of Poland, and its people, during this time. Continuing the international theme, we had a return visit by our Canadian emissary, Jim, who told about finding a personal connection to County Durham whilst doing research for a friend.
Some of the entries into the Tank Make and Bake competition
Some of the entries into the Tank Make and Bake competition
Inspired by last year’s First World War Bake Off and Tank Banks, we decided this year, we would have a Tank Make and Bake. Delegates were invited to bring a long a tank they had made, or baked, out of anything. Voting took place over tea break and lunch time. Participation was down on last year, but not quality and the results were announced after lunch. The 'Bake' was won by the Record Office’s own Lindsey, with two impressive gingerbread tanks, winning a mug decorated with tank blueprints. The 'Make' was hotly contested between one made from corned beef and sardine tins, and one out of balloons. A late surge led to the balloon tank, made by Margaret (writer of the Very British Romance blog posts), winning the prize of a replica tank bank. 

The afternoon took us to the sea. George began this session with a talk on the Cretehawser, a concrete tug beached on the River Wear near the Queen Alexandra Bridge. This answered a long held question of several audience members who had often seen it without knowing what it was. For the last full talk of the conference, we had David talking about the Royal Naval Division [RND], and how it sat uneasily between the Admiralty and the Army. He also looked at why a significant number of men from land locked areas of the county ended up serving with the RND. 

Lastly, we had an open session where volunteers, including Amanda and Margaret, could say a few words about what they had been doing. We also had Peter Welsh of Wessington U3A tell us about their new phone app, designed by a local teenager. 

It was lovely to see everyone enjoying the conference, and next year, you could too. Conference 2018 will be open to the general public.

Hive Radio were in attendance during the Conference, and interviewed some of the speakers. These interviews will be going out on Sunday and you can listen online here:

The Durham County Council comms team made a video report of the day which can be watched below:

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