Washington war memorials research project leads to film and book

Files on the project findings have been deposited in libraries and exhibitions staged at Washington Arts Centre, library, Beamish Museum and also this summer in the town of Albert on the Somme

It was a project which started out to research the names of 102 soldiers on a local memorial who lost their lives in the First World War.

But it grew to include another two memorials, a book, and a film which will be premiered on Armistice Day on November 11.

The origins go back 30 years to when Peter Welsh was a history teacher at Pennywell Comprehensive School in Sunderland.

A pupil brought in material relating to the setting up of South Hylton war memorial in the 1920s, which would otherwise have been thrown away.

The Harraton war memorial
The Harraton war memorial

It sparked Peter’s interest, and led to school trips to the battlefields of the Somme.

Around 12 years ago Peter and his teacher wife Margaret, who live in Fatfield in Washington and two friends began their investigations into the names on the nearby Harraton war memorial.

The research group expanded through the University of the Third Age movement, which largely caters for retired people with programmes of talks and varied interest groups.

The Wessington U3A War Memorials Group, based at North Biddick Social Club, moved on to look at the Washington and Usworth memorials.

Files on the findings have been deposited in libraries and exhibitions staged at Washington Arts Centre, library, Beamish Museum and also this summer in the town of Albert on the Somme.

There are the names of a total of 382 men on the three memorials and one woman - Sarah Ferguson, who died aged 18 of TB and is believed to have been an auxiliary nurse.

Peter’s book, Washington in the Great War, is due out this week at £10 from publisher Pen & Sword, £1 of which will go to the military charity Re-org Trust.

At Sunderland Heritage Forum, Peter met Mark Thorburn, who runs Lonely Tower Film and Media.

Mark had already made films on Wearside naval hero Jack Crawford and the Great Fire of 1854 which destroyed much of Newcastle Quayside.

They decided to make a film to tell the stories of Washington’s war, including research from the project on memorial individuals such as Billy Jonas, who played for Clapton Orient, now Leyton Orient.

The film, titled Washington Men in the Great War - Wad Thou Gan? Aye, Aa Wad, is backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

One of the ceramic poppies
One of the ceramic poppies

It will be shown at noon on November 11 in North Biddick Social Club, after which it will be available free on YouTube and as a DVD, cost £5 to cover costs.

Partners in the film project were Durham Record Office, Beamish Museum and the Durham Pals, a group based on the Durham Light Infantry.

The Wessington group’s activities have also included placing 94 bronze resin poppies on the homes of soldiers who never returned.

Two poppies were installed at the Fatfield home and workplace of Fred Nicholson, who was manager of the drapery department of the village Co-op store, now the River bar.

Another two have gone up on the Washington home of Robert Stanners and his workplace at the village Co-op.

A phone app is also being created to give information on a poppies route linking the three war memorials.

The research by Peter and his group has produced a series of poignant stories.

George Hedley Ainsley, the first name on the Harraton memorial, was a 19-year-old miner who joined the DLI.

He was killed in Italy in 1918 and is buried in an olive grove near Venice, a location which has been visited by Peter and Margaret.

Relatives passed to the group a coin, believed to be Egyptian, which had been carried by George for good luck.

It was then carried by his younger brother John, who served on HMS Dido in the Second World War.

The research showed that more than 70% of the men on the Harraton and Washington memorials were miners, and for Usworth the figure was over 80%.

Nationally, one in 12 soldiers were killed. For Harraton, the ratio was one in four.

Another name on the Harraton memorial was James O’Neil, whose family lived at Portobello near Birtley.

His three brothers lost their lives in the war.

It is believed that James may have been home on leave when he and his father-in-law, Thomas O’Keefe, were struck by a bus on Durham Road and killed.

Research on Joseph Affleck, the scout master at Fatfield, showed that when he joined up he took along his 15-year-old son, Joseph junior.

Both enlisted but when it was found that the boy was under age, he was discharged.

Richard Drummond with his wife, William Jonas
Richard Drummond with his wife, William Jonas

He joined up later in the war and as a bugler sounded the last post at the unveiling of the war memorial on which his father’s name appeared.

Another war casualty was Dr David Anderson, the Fatfield village doctor, who served in an army mobile casualty station, He died from illness in France in 1917.

Another memorial name was Leonard Sidney Claudian Davison, who lived at Girdle Cake Cottage at Fatfield on the Wear, where users of pleasure boats would call at the family cafe.

Leonard had two brothers, Norman and Richardson Henderson Davison and sisters June Vesta Ophelia Davison and Ena Jesse Olga.

Leonard and Richardson were both killed.

Richard Drummond was wounded at the Battle of Loos and was transferred to a London hospital, where he died.

His daughter, baptised after his death, was called Edith Loos Drummond.


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