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First World War medal found in school: Pupils turn supersleuths to trace family

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A FIRST World War medal has been reunited with the family of a prisoner of war thanks to Wearside youngsters.

No one knows how the Victory Medal, awarded to South Tyneside man, Corporal David Barr of the Durham Light Infantry, ended up lost in Newbottle Primary Academy, but pupils turned detective to track down the soldier’s relatives.

Now, just in time for the centenary of the Great War, Cpl Barr’s great-great nephew Malcolm Camp, 48, travelled from his home in Sheffield to be presented with the medal by the pupils at the Houghton Road school.

Graham Stephenson, headteacher of the school, which dates back to the 1880s, said the medal was found during a clear-out of a cupboard in the nursery and no one has any idea how it came to be there.

The Year Six pupils enlisted the help of visitors from the Royal British Legion to research who it had belonged to and they were stunned to find there is no record of Cpl Barr ever living in Newbottle.

Instead, they found the Jarrow man, born in 1883, had been called up in August 1914, one of the first soldiers to set foot on Belgian soil, but was ambushed by the Germans during a scout of the area just weeks later and spent four years in a Dutch prisoner-of-war camp.

Mr Stephenson said: “Our children were really keen to find David’s relatives, they wanted the medal returned to where it belongs.”

Teaching assistant Joanne McDonald, a keen genealogist, managed to contact Malcolm, whose great-grandmother, Agnes Macfarlane Barr Dalziel, was the sister of David Barr.

Malcolm said: “Times were very tough and my grandparents moved to London with their nine children so my grandfather could find work, and lost touch with lots of family members. I was busy researching my North East family when I got a message from Joanne about the medal.

“I couldn’t believe it, I was so shocked.

“It is so kind of the children to want to return the medal to David’s family, I’m very humbled to have it. To find out that I have a blood relative who was a soldier with the DLI makes me very proud.”

But the story has not ended there – both Malcolm and the children of Newbottle Primary Academy are now on a quest to learn more about Cpl Barr, such as how the medal came to be left in a box in a cupboard at the school and what happened to the War Medal and the 1914-15 Star, which they know he was also awarded.

Although the researchers have managed to find a photograph of Agnes, they haven’t got one of David and would love to see what he looked like. Mr Stephenson said: “This has been a fantastic project for the children. It has made the whole history of the war much more real for them. Although there is no obvious link with Newbottle, our children seem to have adopted him.”

What is known about Cpl Barr is that he had previously been a soldier with the DLI and had served in India. But by the time of the war, he was a reservist.

As well as his sister, Agnes, he had two brothers, one of whom was called William. At some point the family, who hailed from Scotland, lived in Jarrow’s Ferry Street and David married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Purvis Ainsley, who worked in the corner shop. It is thought they didn’t have any children.

If anyone can shed any light on the mystery, they are asked to contact Newbottle Primary on 553 6571 or email newbottle.academy@schools.sunderland.gov.uk.

 

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