Friday, 5 October 2018

Conference round up

Friday, 28 September, saw the Durham at War team not only in final preparations for the 2018 conference taking place the next day, but also hosting 80 school pupils for a mini conference. The students, from five schools across the county, had either just begun GCSE history or were interested in taking it next year. 

It begun with historian Andy Robertshaw giving a talk called ‘Mud, blood, and bandages’, about medicine during the First World War, and its impact on medicine today. Looking around the Council Chamber, the students were scribbling away making notes. They also asked some interesting questions of Andy after his talk. The second part of the afternoon was run by Durham at War (Jo) and Gabrielle Reddington, Durham County Council Secondary School advisor. It was a workshop that explained and gave examples of different types of historical sources, how to use them, aimed specially to help students and their teachers answer a GCSE history exam question.

And then Saturday was upon us.
Poppy Bake Off entries
Poppy Bake Off entries
It was an absolutely fantastic day. The Durham Room was filled with stalls and displays from community groups which attendees were able to browse over a cuppa before the talks got underway. There was also the drop off point for the wonderful Poppy Bake Off entries. Our resident volunteer balloon modeller was also on form with bouquets of balloon poppies.

Councillor John Lethbridge, Chairman of Durham County Council and Mayor of Durham, opened the conference with some kind and impassioned words about the Record Office. This was followed by a welcome from the Durham at War team and Sarah Sproates from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The first talk of the day was by Steve Shannon, revealing the process of identifying the remains of a body found near Zonnebeke, Belgium, in 2014. Steve’s work led to the official burial and marking with a Commonwealth War Graves headstone, of Private Thomas Edmundson, 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. Steve then handed over to Jim Busby, joining us for a third time from Winnipeg, Canada. Jim’s story started at the other end to Steve’s, he had a name, Andrew Rosmus, but no grave location. Jim’s work led him to locating Rosmus’ final resting place, as yet unmarked. He has submitted his evidence to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is currently waiting for a decision.
Tucking into the bakes
Tucking into the bakes
Tea break, and time to judge the Poppy Bake Off. During the first talks, Record Office staff were busy prepping the wonderful cakes for sampling. I knew it was successful as there was barely any left by the time I got there! But it was great to see everybody tucking in and casting their vote.

Andy Robertshaw returned from the previous day to be our keynote speaker, this time giving us a thought provoking talk on the end of the war. One point he made that has stuck with me is that we sometimes forget, when we are looking back at war at the things that happened and the decisions that were made, that we have the benefit of seeing the whole picture. Those men didn’t know what was coming next, didn’t always know what the enemy had planned.

Next, it was my turn to talk about Colonel Morant and 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and Margaret Eason to talk about her research into officers of the battalion. Margaret, who wrote the blog’s Very British Romance series, overcame a case of nerves, as she stood up and talked with great passion and humour about some of the men whose stories she has told on the Durham at War website.

Evenwood, Ramshaw, and District Local History Society told us about the making of their film ‘In the Pink’, which is available now on DVD with accompanying book. Their website also lists upcoming screenings.

The film was made with Crackin’ Toast, and director Rosie Anderson talked about their involvement. Then she sent us off for lunch in tears from singing the beautiful song she wrote about Sally Smith, wife of Private Fred Smith.
George Muirhead talking about Adolphus Hudleston Williamson
George Muirhead talking about Adolphus Hudleston Williamson
After a delicious lunch, we began the afternoon session by revealing the winners of the Poppy Bake Off. There was a three way tie for second place (luckily, due to an ordering error we had enough prizes). Margaret Eason, Clare Singleton, and Jean Longstaff each won a poppy china mug designed by Susan Rose for the Royal British Legion. In first place was Wolsingham School, who won a poppy mug and a signed copy of Andy Robertshaw’s book ‘Feeding Tommy: Battlefield Recipes for the First World War’. I think it’s lovely that the book will be put into the school library.

Paul Frodsham, archaeologist with Oracle Heritage Services, was our first afternoon speaker, telling us about Lidar and giving us some of the results from the latest Durham at War Lidar project. He emphasised how these results show how important it is to preserve our First World War heritage, as so much physical evidence has already been lost.

Next, Mel Brown and Fiona Johnson revealed some hidden histories to us. Mel told us about the impact of the war on children in the county, and steps that were taken to protect them. Fiona gave us the stories of two formidable women she had found. 

John Banham of Tudhoe and Spennymoor Local History Society introduced us to their film ‘Behind the Lines’ about nurse Kate Maxey who received the Military Medal. The premiere of the film takes place later this month, and will be available to watch on YouTube from 22 October.

Volunteers with the DLI Collection told us about the work they do at Sevenhills, then onto George Muirhead’s talk. George spoke about the wonderfully named Adolphus Hudleston Williamson, son of a Whitburn baronet, who served as a captain with the Royal Navy during the war. 

Lastly we had John Sheen who has given the project huge support over the years, through the loan of his photograph collection, his knowledge, and chocolate from his trips to Belgium. Being involved in the project helped inspire John to pursue a Masters degree in Britain and the First World War. In his talk, John took us through the research he has been doing for his dissertation. Looking at the men of the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Green Howards that passed through a casualty clearing station due to their attack and capture of Contalmaison on 10 July 1916, he has built up a picture of the backgrounds of the men, including finding that the majority were from Durham and Teesside. 

With no time for an open session, County Archivist Liz Bregazzi gave some closing remarks, and that was the conference. To toot our own horns for a moment, we have received fantastic feedback from the people attending, and it is always heartening to know that people have really got something from the day.

It is important to say that while this was the final Durham at War conference, it is not the end of the project, we will still be here for a little while longer yet. 
Margaret's balloon poppies
Margaret's balloon poppies


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  2. Well done to all staff and volunteers. We had a great day and learnt so much.