I had a stand-up comedy gig in Liverpool last night so thought I could stay overnight in the city, then call in at the Durham Records Office on the way back up to Scotland the following day. I booked a place to do some research in advance and hoped I would find out more about my great uncle Fred Cowling who had served with the 5th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.
As I was on my way up from Liverpool I saw that the A66 was completely closed and by that stage the only way I could get to Durham was to drive up to Carlisle, across to Newcastle and back down to Durham.
So I arrived later than I had hoped but I did get to spend a few hours in the Records Office this afternoon and the staff were very helpful. It seems I was covering old ground when it came to any personal information concerning Fred Cowling - there was nothing to be gleaned about his pre-war bankruptcy. But I did get to look at the 5th Battalion Durham Light Infantry’s history and I found this both fascinating and moving.
There were some lovely personal accounts of life in the army. What struck me most was the description of the send off the troops received when they finally went off to war, with cheering crowds at Newcastle Central station, a station I myself used a lot in my student days. And then the almost complete wiping out of the battalion in one action later in the war. It seems he was ‘lucky’ to survive all the way to October 1918, although the circumstances of his death remain a mystery at the moment.
The account ends with a lovely poignant personal poem which I think I ought to end my talk with. It did bring tears to my eyes.