If you missed the display, it is to be shown again in St Oswin’s Church (25 September to 11th October), Centenary Room of Wylam Institute (25th October to 1st November), and Wylam Methodist Church Hall (8th November to 9th November).
Wylam has three memorials: the cross on the village green, a plaque in the church, and a plaque in the old school (now Falcon Centre) with 21 names (‘the children of the village’). As well as the exhibition, a file has been produced on each of the 54 names recorded.
Because of our own activities on the names recorded in Heddon, I was particularly interested in the sources of information the group had used. Available online, there are Census records and military records: those of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Soldiers Killed in Great War, Army Service Records (only about a third of which survived the Blitz), Medal Rolls, and Pension records. For those serving in the Northumberland Fusiliers or Durham Light Infantry, Battalion War Diaries were consulted at Alnwick Castle and Durham County Hall respectively. Although seldom recording names of individual soldiers, they provided insight about military events on the days the men were killed.
Local information was mined from the Hexham Courant, available on microfiche at Hexham Library. In particular, the Wylam School Log Books provided a valuable source, due to the dedication of the headmaster, Ralph Brady, who with 37 years of service personally knew, and took an interest in his former pupils. Several of the names were augmented by family history research carried out by their relatives, often coming out of the blue from surprising distance, providing letters, photographs and memories.
Some intriguing stories came to light. One name on the old school plaque is Captain Frederick George ‘Dusty’ Dunn. From a humble background as son of a pit deputy, he became a pioneer in aerial warfare during the war, flying 17,500 miles in France. He was killed after Armistice Day, in May 1919, crashing as a test pilot at Farnborough in a prototype triplane. Roy Koerner, who unearthed much of the story is quoted in The Northumbrian (Issue 140 June/July 2014):
“He is one of Wylam’s most famous sons, yet nobody knew about him. If the schoolmaster had not recorded his name on the war memorial he would have been forgotten. Wylam already had its railway pioneers and now we have an aviation pioneer.”
Three of the Wylam men had more illustrious backgrounds to many of those recorded. The two sons of Sir James Knott, Henry Basil Knott and James Leadbitter Knott are shared on Heddon’s memorials and their stories are well known. The third, Algernon George Parsons, killed at Ypres in April 1918, was the only son of Charles Parsons, the industrialist of turbine fame who lived at Holeyn Hall.
Aubrey Smith got into this research to find something about the almost forgotten names he saw every day on the village memorial. The Heddon memorial records many fewer individuals, but the Wylam study will be a hard act to follow and we will need a little more time. The Wylam exhibition is well worth a visit. Take time to look at just a single random file of one the soldiers unknown to you and you will see that their stories can still resonate with us today.