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The Wearside hero who went ‘over the top’ and lived to tell the tale

James Duffield  father James Duffield served in the First World War at The Somme and survived.''
James Duffield father James Duffield served in the First World War at The Somme and survived.''

James Duffield has an ancestry with plenty of heroes in it.

And today he shares stories of them with Wearside Echoes as he looks back on days of First World War bravery, and the tragedy which struck his family in the Second World War.

James Duffield with photographs of his father, also called James, and his uncle Dave Duffield, left.

James Duffield with photographs of his father, also called James, and his uncle Dave Duffield, left.

James, a 75-year-old former bus driver, contacted us to talk about his father, also called James, and his uncle David Duffield.

James senior, he said, saw some of the worst horrors that the First World War could offer.

And yet, he lived to tell the tale in a battle where many thousands of others had no such luck.

His son explained more and told us: “He was posted at Ypres and I think it was with the Northumberland Fusiliers.”

He was only 16 and a half when he joined up and when he came home and told my grandfather, he went mad with him. But my dad was not bothered. He said he was going to fight for his country

James Duffield

Like many others, James senior was keen to do his bit for his country – no matter that he was only 16 when he first decided to join the Army.

“He was only 16 and a half when he joined up,” said James junior, “and when he came home and told my grandfather, he went mad with him.

“But my dad was not bothered. He said he was going to fight for his country.”

James senior duly played his part and went ‘over the top’ at Ypres. Miraculously, he survived the drama.

But, years later and on the very rare occasion that he talked about his experience, he told his family that the worst part had been returning to the British lines.

“He never did talk much about Ypres,” said James junior, “but when he did, he said it was horrible coming back because he could see the carnage that had been done.”

He was put on light duties and had another reminder of the devastation that war could cause.

James junior said: “They gave him a horse to pull the guns at The Front. The next morning, the Germans had taken his horse and eaten it because they were so hungry.”

Ypres – or Wipers as it was called by British troops – was a key location in the First World War and there were a series of battles there. The third was the most devastating and led to almost half a million casualties.

Yet James senior was one of the lucky ones. He survived the conflict and first became a fore shift overman at Silksworth Colliery. An overman was an underground official at a pit in charge of underground operations on a shift basis. After that, he then went on to become an Independent Methodist Church Minister, serving at Silksworth. He died aged 70 leaving daughters Lorna and Muriel and son James.

And while James’ own story was dramatic, another family member was involved in just as memorable an action, this time in the Second World War.

Uncle David Duffield, said James, suffered a more tragic fate when he served with the Royal Navy in the Second World War.

James believes that David served on board HMS Hood which famously met a sad end in 1941.

She and a fellow Navy vessel – the battleship Prince of Wales – were ordered to intercept the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

But instead, the Hood was hit by several German shells and sank within three minutes.

James junior, a 75-year-old Silksworth-born grandad from Murton, was an HGV driver from the age of 19 and worked at the NCB ‘Philly workshops.”

He left there and got his HGV and drove wagons, and then went to Northern General Transport – starting on the old Leyland buses before progressing to the Atlanteen. He was the first person to take it on the Bishop Auckland run, he told us.

He went on to join United in Toward Road.

We would love to hear from more people across Wearside and County Durham who want to pay tribute to their own relatives who served and fought for their country.

And with the 100th anniversary of end of the First World War marked by Armistice Day on November 11, we would especially like to hear from those wanting to honour those who died in the Great War.

To share their stories, email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk