They were made of sterner stuff in war

IT was earlier this year.

My wife and I were on holiday in the southern hemisphere when the quizmaster asked when the First World War started.

Contact Memory Lane Tom Collins

My wife and I were on holiday in the southern hemisphere when the quizmaster asked when the First World War started.

“Well,” said my wife, “you will know that” knowing my interest in that war.

The couple we were in the team with were Graham and Helen Darley who were born and bred Australians and as happens they later told me the story of Graham’s grandfather, Tom Darley.

Incredibly, considering where we were, Tom was born in 1883 in West Hartlepool, in County Durham.

Tom’s father was a sea captain and had a very comfortable enviable childhood, being well educated and frequently travelling on his father’s ships to places most at that time, and indeed today, could only dream about.

In fact it was on a voyage from Java that malaria broke out and the young Tom had to man the ship with his father for 18 days!

Tom Darley’s family was concentrated in the seafaring port of Hull where Tom’s grandfather, Timothy, was a master mariner.

In the 1870s Timothy and his family moved to West Hartlepool where their port was booming and became one of the most important ports on the North-East coast, particularly following the birth of the railways in 1825 and the vast sea transportation of Durham coal.

In 1875, Tom Darley senior married Sarah Ann Mobrey.

The Mobreys were Hartlepool watchmakers, a profession carried out in the town by future family members.

Inevitably Tom became a captain, taking over from his father in October 1909 The Myra Fell, built at West Hartlepool for Scott Fell and Company.

Tom’s family had migrated to Australia and in 1915, having left the Navy, he joined the Second Field Ambulance unit of the Australian First Division.

For the next four years he served on the Western Front as a stretcher bearer where he won the Military Medal.

Probably from his training as a naval captain he meticulously recorded his time in Northern France.

Typically perhaps his diary entries, he would probably call them his log, are matter of fact, made without comment or emotion but do open a window on the terrible world over 90 years ago that was the Western Front.

There is no doubt men were made of sterner stuff then.

Tom talks about his shoulders being sore with carrying, being scared to death, having a terrible time, in and out of shell holes for cover and being knee deep in mud.

Frequently the poor wounded soldiers would fall off the stretcher, and bearing in mind these body retrievals were carried out at night, the cloudier the better, they would often get lost.

Tom lived in a world of death.

Limbs being blown off were a regular occurrence, while one poor wretch is described as having his head blown off one way and the rest of his limbs in other directions.

It is difficult to believe that just down the road from all this carnage civilians were trying to get on with life and charming diary entries describe taking local little boys by the hand for a walk and being unable to resist handing out his purchase of biscuits to the outstretched hands of these unfortunate wretches.

In his words, he just didn’t have the heart to refuse.

It must have been with great relief that leave time came around and on three occasions Tom, being a Hartlepool lad, made his way back to the town of his birth.

This being the time when there was no radio never mind television, in October 1917, Tom arrived quite unexpectedly at Jack Darley’s house in the early hours, woke him up and stayed there during his leave.

He records sugar being in short supply, only a quarter of a pound can be bought per week, the gas street lights are out at night in case of attack and all the shop windows are shaded.

On October 9 the Darley family went to the Empire Theatre to see Kodak Girl.

Alas on October 14 he caught the 5.45pm train at West Hartlepool and after travelling all night got to Calais with that leave finished.

On November 3, 1918 Tom and his Australian friend, Ray Elder, again arrived at West Hartlepool station at the early hour of 5.45am.

They walked from the station to 60 Osborne Road and roused his relations out of their bed.

Life was much simpler then; people walked everywhere.

Tom describes walking to Seaton Carew and from Middlesbrough after missing the last train back.

He describes family get togethers, talking until the early hours and playing the piano.

On November 4 the family went to the Opera Maritana and apparently had a very pleasant time.

The First World War ended on November 11 with much celebration.

Tom and the family went down the town to watch guns being brought into town to go on view on Church Square.

Streets were lined with happy people, ribbons and decorations everywhere.

That night they celebrated with fireworks and a bonfire in the back street.

On November 16 Tom left West Hartlepool for the last time and caught the 8.52pm train for London.

Tom Darley returned to Australia in August 1919 on the SS Ormonde.

He died in 1938 at the age of 55.

Colin H Hatton,

Sorrel Court,

Marton