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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Joseph Pyke Wake (1876-1917)

Information about Joseph Pyke Wake, head teacher at Bowburn, who died of wounds from an artillery shell and is commemorated on Durham County Council War Memorial.


Joseph Pyke Wake was born on 19 June 1876 at Perkinsville, Pelton, where his father, John Wake was a miner. He was baptised (as 'Joseph Pake Wake') at the local Anglican church on 2 July 1876, and his two-year old brother, William Henry, was baptised at the same time with a note in the register that he had been previously privately baptised at Edmondsley.

Photograph of a howitzer in action at Albert, France, July 1916 (D/DLI 2/8/62(49))
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In 1881 his mother, Susannah, is described as a widow (although there is no record of his father's death), and the family is living at 27 Blue Row, Edmondsley, where Joseph's half-brother, Thomas Robinson, was a miner. By 1891 Susannah had moved to Daisy Hill, near Sacriston, where William Henry was employed as a pony driver in the local colliery, and Joseph was a 14-year old pupil teacher. Interestingly Joseph appears twice in the 1891 census, since he is also listed as resident at 1 Old East Row, West Herrington, with his uncle and aunt - John and Margaret Leadbitter.

It is not clear where Joseph trained as a teacher; possibly in Scotland, since in 1901 he appears in the census at Kelso in Roxburghshire as a public school teacher, boarding with Mrs. Scott at Inch View. In 1904 he moved back to Durham, and on 18 April the Edmondsley Council School logbook notes that 'Mr. Joseph Pyke Wake, 1st Certified Assistant of Kelso Public School has been engaged to begin duties here...'. The head teacher, John Clayton, recorded that Joseph began work on Monday 18 July, teaching the oldest children, class 1, or Standard VII. At the same time Minnie Sykes, a second-year pupil teacher, is listed as the teacher of class 3, Standard V. In January 1906 the Pupil Teacher Instructor at Chester-le-Street complimented the school on producing such good pupil teachers and said that Minnie Sykes was 'by far the best student in the Scholarship class ...'. Minnie completed her three years as a pupil-teacher at Edmondsley in April 1903 and went off to college. Apart from short absences for illness, Joseph is not mentioned in the logbook until 23 August 1909 when John Clayton recorded that he had 'left here to become Head Teacher of the Bowburn Council School'.

Joseph Pyke was the first head of the newly-built Bowburn Council Junior School. The village, with a population of about 400 in 1910, was only three years old, the pit having been sunk by Bell Brothers in 1906, and although there was a Primitive Methodist chapel in an iron hut, the Wesleyan chapel was not completed until 1910. Unfortunately the logbook for Bowburn Junior School has not survived so we have no information on Joseph's activities at his new school. However we do know that on 6 March 1910, having established himself in his new position, he married Minnie Sykes at Sacriston parish church. In the 1911 census they are recorded as living at Dunholme, Durham Road, with a boarder, Elizabeth J. Carruthers, who was also a school teacher. At Bowburn he was also a class leader at the Wesleyan Church, and from 1911 a local preacher in the Durham Wesleyan Circuit, as well as taking 'an active interest in the affairs of the village'.

On 27 November 1915 Joseph attested (i.e. he made an obligation to come forward when called upon, for which he was paid 2s.9d.), under the 'Derby Scheme', introduced in the previous month. The call for married men aged 40 came in June in the next year, and Joseph was enlisted in the Royal Artillery (Royal Garrison Artillery) on 17 July 1916, and since his service records have survived we can trace his army career. After training he was sent to France on 3 February 1917 and posted to the 252nd Siege Battery, with the rank of bombardier (equivalent to an infantry corporal). The Siege Batteries operated heavy howitzers mounted in fixed emplacements, firing large calibre shells, often at the enemy artillery. After seven months, on 4 August, he was badly wounded when he was struck in the back by a piece of a German shell which had burst behind his gun, fracturing his spine. He survived for 10 days before dying of his wounds on 14 August at St. Omer Base Hospital, and he is buried in Longuenesse (St. Omer) Souvenir Cemetery in the Pas de Calais. Among the personal effects which were sent back to Minnie were his pipe, false teeth, wedding ring, a Bellows English-French dictionary, a second English-French dictionary, a Bible, and two china ornaments (one broken).

Before Joseph was called-up Minnie had begun teaching again, and was appointed as an assistant teacher at Bowburn Council Infants School on 17 April 1916, the ban on the employment of married women being waived due to the shortage of teachers. On 21 August the school logbook noted that Minnie was absent 'owing to the death of her husband, Headmaster of the Mixed Dept., who has fallen in battle'; she returned to work on 3 September. Her teaching ability is probably shown by the fact that a year later, in December 1917, she was appointed as Headmistress of Catchgate Infant School, and she subsequently moved to live at Annfield Plain.


  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 CD
  • Medal Rolls Index Cards
  • North East War Memorials Project website
  • Pelton baptism register, EP/Pe 2, p.285
  • Sacriston marriage register, EP/Sa 1/8, p.40
  • Edmondsley Council Schools log book, E/NC 51, pp.6, 14, 16-18, 54-55, 98-99
  • Bowburn Council Infants School log book, E/SE 88, pp.73, 84, 87
  • 1881 Census return, RG 11/4980, f.26r
  • 1891 Census return, RG 12/4122, f.116v
  • 1891 Census return, RG 12/4115, f.112v
  • 1901 census return, Kelso enumeration district 11, p.22
  • 1911 Census return, RG 14/
  • Durham Advertiser, 24 August 1917, p.2(f)
  • Durham Advertiser, 8 November 1917, p.4(d)
  • Durham Advertiser, 16 August 1918, p.4(g)
  • British Army World War I Service Records, TNA WO 383Joseph Pyke Wake