Plaques at Bernicia homes to remember fallen soldiers

Plaques in place at homes on South Moor Heritage Trail to commemorate fallen World War One soliders

Hand-crafted plaques bearing a dove of peace and miner’s pick axe and shovel are being put in place outside the former homes of soldiers in neighbouring County Durham communities who died in World War One.

The pewter medallions designed and made by a school pupil at North Durham Academy, are being fixed to dozens of properties – including Bernicia homes – in South Moor and Quaking Houses.

More than 200 miners from the communities were killed in the First World War and Bernicia is proud to be working with volunteers on the South Moor Heritage Trail project to remember those who fell in battle.

The trail is a circular walk around eight key heritage sites in the local area that existed during or soon after World War One, with an interpretation board detailing the significance of each site.

Bernicia owns five houses in South Moor which will have plaques fitted outside their front doors – the first being 80 Elm Street, home to brothers Robert and William Hill.

Both enlisted into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, leaving South Moor, friends and family behind to fight for king and country.

Robert, was just 24 when he was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His name is engraved along with many thousands of other British servicemen on the Tyne Cot Memorial in West Vlaanderen, Belgium.

His brother William, who was married to Mary Annie Hill and living in nearby Standish Street, South Moor, at the outbreak of war, was killed in action aged 32 on May 2nd 1915. William’s name is to be found on the Helles Memorial in Gallipoli, Turkey.

The home where both grew up as boys living with their parents Robert and Emma Hill will bear the small pewter plaque to let people know of its special connection to one of the most tragic chapters in British history.

Ian Finlayson, of South Moor Local History Group, is helping fit the commemorative plaques to homes and attended 80 Elm Street with Bernicia housing officer Jonathan Jones.

“There’s a dove of peace and a pick axe and a shovel to represent the collieries where these lads worked,” said Ian.

“It all revolved around Holmside and South Moor Colliery Company which owned something like 4,800 acres of the valley and worked five seams underground.

“The lads who fell were miners or worked in the mines in some form or description, maybe hewing on the coal face, pushing tubs around or loading pit props.

“Robert and William Hill weren’t the only brothers in the valley, there were five or six more that we know of in the war and they all died.

“When they signed up it was ‘what I do, you do’; it was as simple as that. They were all pals, they worked together, went to school together, and some of them tried to enlist at 15 and 16-years-old.

“Hopefully these plaques will give people an understanding of who these lads are. If we didn’t have these lads we wouldn’t be here today.”

Jonathan said: “Bernicia is proud to be able to support the superb South Moor Heritage Trail project by helping fit these plaques outside our properties.

“Learning about the history of these properties, homes to miners who left them to go off to war and who gave their lives for their countries, is very moving. It shows the huge sacrifice made by the communities of South Moor and Quaking Houses to the war effort.”

The South Moor Heritage Trail is supported by Durham County Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Stanley Town Council.