When landlord Duncan Davis put a call-out among his regulars for authentic props to use in a play being hosted in his pub to mark Armistice Day, he wasn’t expecting quite as big a response.
But when he answered the door at the Black Bull at Frosterley, in Weardale, he found a three-foot First World War shell which had been used in the famous bombardment of Hartlepool.
He said: “I was asked if I could get people to bring along artefacts from the war so I put out the call to my regular customers and, blow me, one bloke turned up with a three-foot shell which was used in the bombardment of Hartlepool in 1914.
“Some didn’t go off and it seems his great-uncle had kept it as a memento.
“It’s absolutely massive. It’s got a 15inch diameter; I’m 5ft 10 and it comes up to my waist and two men couldn’t lift it.
“He had a van and rolled the shell down the ramp into the car park then rolled it into the pub.”
The 63-year-old added: “It’s hollow so the explosive has been taken out of it! But it’s unusual to have a bloke turning up at a pub with a bomb.
Hartlepool became the first place on mainland Britain to be bombed by the Germans when on the morning of December 16, 1914, more than 1,000 shells were blasted by ships in a 40-minute assault which killed more than 100 people.
“They were designed to hit ships and explode through armour plating so they tore through houses,” said Duncan, whose grandfather was a Navy medical officer during the First World War, working on a hospital ship transporting troops back from France, and Duncan has his own mementoes of the time, including 18inch shells which he keeps pokers in. “I used to think they were big until this monster arrived.”
Davis has run his character-packed pub for the past 10 years, since moving to the area from Northumberland and kept up his contacts with the Alnwick-based Northumberland Theatre Company by hosting productions in a custom-made theatre he’s had built on to the pub to accommodate a regular programme which includes original plays, music nights and readings from Dickens and Hardy.
When he heard NTC were touring Notes from the Front, a one-man show by a man called David Telfer who was originally from Weardale, he thought it would be ideal addition to mark Armistice Day tomorrow.
Telfer now lives in France where he became increasingly interested in the Great War while arranging battlefield tours for schoolchildren and decided to trace his own ancestors’ records, discovering his grandfather was a lieutenant colonel who was at Gallipoli.
Duncan said: “It was a disaster of course. The platoon was in a hopeless position and surrendered to the Turks. They were standing in a line and they ran him through with a bayonet. I don’t know why they picked him out and it was an unusual thing to happen to a senior officer.
“It took 20 minutes to bleed to death and records say he was “murdered” in action.”
Telfer will telling audiences about the story in the second part of his production which covers the role of the soldier in battles throughout the years.