A Sunderland author has chronicled the history of an Army corps which was made entirely out of volunteers.
They were bottle makers, labourers and bank managers.
But when they all came together in the 1800s, they were a pristine award-winning Army unit.
And their story is being told by a Seaham man in his eighth historical book.
Seaham-born Fred Cooper has researched the growth of the 2nd Durham (Seaham) Artillery Volunteers in the town of Seaham and the colliery districts of Durham.
Fred, now from New Herrington, told Wearside Echoes: “I regularly visit my home town two or three times each week to carry out research. After spending my whole career in financial management I retired from my job as Finance Director at the University of Sunderland in 2003.”
A great debt is owed to all of those men from the Durham colliery districts that made such a commitment and showed so much dedication to train and prepare for the defence of this country.Fred Cooper
Retirement has given him the time to pursue loads of interests and that includes “more and more incredible and interesting stories about the history of Seaham”.
Once you scratch the surface you reveal “a wealth of local history often lost to the public for many years,” said Fred.
His tale of the 2nd Durham (Seaham) Artillery Volunteers started in the 19th century when the British Army was involved in conflicts in Afghanistan, India, Burma, Crimea, Persia, and China, and also needed to maintain a presence in the new colonies in South Africa.
“Parliament had demanded great reductions in the Army’s strength but almost all other European powers had spent decades increasing their military power.”
Britain took action and a new home defence force formed – the Volunteer Corps.
Fred’s book, he said, was a “record of the past service of many men from Seaham, Silksworth, Rainton and Durham who voluntarily gave their time, during peacetime, to prepare for war”.
Most of the brigade were working men who were full of enthusiasm. The rank and file were bottle workers, labourers, shopkeepers and agricultural workers but the backbone of the brigade was miners from Lord Londonderry’s collieries.
Then came the officers ... bank managers, solicitors, and doctors. It put many men in a compromising position.
“They had to obey orders whilst in uniform from the same individuals who managed them during their working day,” said Fred.
The 2nd Durhams were raised in 1860 at Seaham Harbour. They covered themselves in distinction within months. The corps gained nationwide fame in June 1860 when they were at the Volunteer Review in Hyde Park.
Queen Victoria was there and she “expressed her pride in the detachment that had travelled so far from the North of England to demonstrate their patriotism”, said Fred.
Their success went even further.
“Their proficiency with big guns, carbines and in repository won them many cups and prizes including the National Artillery Prize, two Queen’s Prizes, the Prince of Wales Prize, the Canadian Prize, and the Challenge Cup of Scotland.”
Between 1860 and 1908, more than 7,000 volunteers from Seaham and the colliery districts enlisted in the 2nd Durham (Seaham) Artillery Volunteers.
His research uncovered the names of every man on the 1888 Muster Roll, as well as details of all officers, NCO’s and gunners who won awards for gunnery and rifle shooting.
The book looks at the adjutants and drill instructors; the six drill halls; the uniforms, the big guns and the carbines used by the volunteers.
It looks at the building of the north and south batteries on the coast at Seaham.
“A great debt is owed to all of those men from the Durham colliery districts that made such a commitment and showed so much dedication to train and prepare for the defence of this country,” said Fred.
The book – The 2nd Durham (Seaham) Artillery Volunteers – is available in paperback from Amazon, iBooks, eBay, East Durham Heritage &Lifeboat Centre at Seaham Marina and from Seaham Family History Group.
It is also available on pre-order as an eBook from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Wallace, Kobo and others to be released on Friday.
They are for sale on Amazon, iBooks and eBay for £5.99 plus p&p.