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

Soldiers Biographies

Sergeant John Barclay

Photograph of Sergeant John Barclay, 1918 (E/HB 2/235 p.160) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Joined 8DLI in 1914; transferred to 151 Machine Gun Company; became Orderly Room Sergeant.

Born on 5 October 1889 in Penrith, Cumberland, he lived with his parents, William and Barbara, and his brothers.

Barclay served in France from 1915 and, although he survived the war, died of Spanish Influenza (see Glossary) on 14 December 1918.

He is buried at Penrith Cemetery. Read more about John Barclay (1889-1918)

Rev. James Alexander Gordon Birch

1DLI and 5DLI.

Born at Middleham, West Yorkshire in 1862, he was ordained in 1886 and served in several parishes in England. Birch was vicar of St Hilda's Church in Dariston in 1902 and, in addition to this, became chaplain to the 1st Volunteer Battalion The Durham Light Infantry in March 1905.

Birch went to France with 5DLI in April 1915 and was invalided home with trench fever (see Glossary) in August 1915. He spent the remainder of the war serving in camps in Britain. After the war he became the chaplain at Queen Margaret's School in Scarborough.

Lieutenant Cyril Herbert Barclay Catford

1DLI, attached 6th Battalion Born in 1890 in Barnet, Greater London, Hertfordshire, he married Rosalind Ruth Jarmand in 1915 and they lived in Steeple Morden, Royston, Hertfordshire.

Catford died of wounds on 5 October 1916, aged 26. He was buried at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension in the Somme (see Maps).

Sergeant Robert Constantine

Photograph of Sergeant Constantine (D/DLI 7/137/54) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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9DLI.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1887 and married in 1910. He enlisted at Gateshead before the outbreak of war in 1914. In April 1915, he went to France and fought in the Second Battle of Ypres (see Maps).

Constantine was killed in action on 15 September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial near Albert, on the Somme.

Second Lieutenant John Walcote Gamble

Photograph of Second Lieutenant Gamble (Acc. 3290(D)) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Enlisted Public Schools Battalion at Ashtead, Surrey, commissioned to 16DLI; active service with 14DLI.

Gamble grew up in Derbyshire, where he lived with his parents, Ernest and Constance. He went to the Western Front in October 1914, and was wounded in action on 8 January 1916, but rejoined his unit on 1 February. Gamble was wounded again on 21 May 1916 and died the next day, aged 22.

He is buried in Lijsenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge (see Maps) in Belgium

Captain Robert Mauchlen

9DLI.

Born in Newcastle in 1885, he was awarded the Military Cross (see Glossary) on 1 October 1916, for 'conspicuous gallantry in action. He rallied and led his men in the attack with great courage and initiative. Later, he organised and led a successful bombing attack' at Eaucourt L'Abbaye (see Trenches), near the Butte de Warlencourt.

Mauchlen also designed the ornate wooden memorial cross which was originally on the Butte de Warlencourt, but is now in Durham Cathedral. He died in 1972.

Private Martin O'Donnell

Photograph of Private O’Donnell and family, c.1915 (D/DLI 7/929/8) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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14 and 10 DLI.

Worked in the Short Brothers shipyard in Pallion, Sunderland, for 15 years before joining 14DLI. He married Catherine Wilkinson in1908 and they had a son and a daughter.

He was killed on 26 February 1916 and has no known grave, but is remembered on the Menin Gate (see The Last Call), near Ypres (see Maps). 

Lieutenant Frederick Llewellyn Forsaith Rees

Photograph of Second Lieutenant Rees (D/DLI 7/560/12A) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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13DLI.

Born in Ireland in 1891 and attended Durham University before the Great War. In 1914, he joined 13DLI, and went to France in December 1915. In August 1916, Rees was badly wounded in Munster Alley, at the Battle of the Somme.

He had led a bombing party up Munster Alley, capturing sixty yards of trench and five prisoners, before halting at a strong German barricade, heavily wired and defended by two machine guns.

After failing several times to capture the barricade, Rees set up his own barricade only yards from the German block, and held this despite repeated German night attacks.

For his bravery and leadership, he was awarded the Military Cross (see Glossary). After his recovery, he returned to France and later served in Italy.

He was badly wounded again in October 1918. After the war, Rees was ordained as a clergyman of the Church of England. He died in 1983, aged 92, and his medals are held in the Durham Light Infantry medal collection.

Private William Roberts

Enlisted with 18DLI at Great Eversden, Cambridge.

Born in Boston, Lincolnshire, and lived in Cambridgeshire with his parents, Caleb and Amelia. Roberts died of wounds on 15 June 1917, aged 23, and is buried at Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun near Arras (see Maps) in France. 

Private Tom Smith

Photograph of Private Smith (D/DLI 7/963/2) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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14 DLI.

Born at Boldon Colliery, on 8 March 1895, and was a miner before joining 14DLI in September 1914. Smith was severely wounded at the Battle of Arras (see Maps) on 22 April 1917, losing both of his eyes.

He attended the newly established St Dunstan's, a charity which provided training and workshops for blind ex-servicemen at Regent's Park in London. Here he trained to be a mat and net maker, and met his wife Adelina Catherine Hunt.

He never fully recovered from his wounds and died in 1952. Tom Smith's war medals are in the Durham Light Infantry medal collection.