In Tuesday’s supplement on the Durham Light Infantry the marvellous story of James Frances Durham, the orphan baby adopted by the Durham Light Infantry in 1885, was told and our attention has been drawn to one of his medals that is currently for sale for £99,000.
“It was at the close of the last engagement in the Sudan war that a party of “Faithful Durhams” came across a brown chubby baby abandoned on the battlefield,” said the Echo in 1910. “He was taken to their hearts and made pet of the regiment, and in lieu of a better surname, the soldiers named him after their own territorial designation.”
He is believed to have become the first black soldier to serve fully in the British Army, although the Echo said: “He continued in the ranks as a bandsman, but his physique was never that of his comrades.” He played the clarinet in the DLI band which performed popular concerts across the county.
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On July 25, 1908, at Newcastle Register Office, Jimmy married Jane Green, 23, of Bishop Auckland – she was the sister of a DLI quartermaster. His regiment was then posted to Cork, where the teetotaller ran the Army Temperance Association so successfully that he was awarded a medal for converting so many of his comrades. It is suggested, though, that because he held his temperance meetings in a pub’s upstairs rooms, many soldiers attended his anti-alcohol lectures so that they could have a swift half or two before opening on the way out.
Sadly, the wet Irish weather caused Jimmy to contract pneumonia and he died, aged 25, on August 8, 1910.
“His associations with Bishop Auckland were many, as throughout his lifelong connection with the army he found a guardian in Sgt-Maj John Fisher, who now occupies the Sun Hotel at Bishop Auckland,” said the Echo’s obituary. “‘Jimmy’ Durham, for such was the name he was known by at Bishop Auckland, was exceedingly popular, and much regret has been felt at his untimely end.”
The Sun is renowned as the pub that was rebuilt at Beamish Museum.
Three weeks after his death, Jane gave birth to their daughter, Frances, in May Street. Frances remained in the town until she died, unmarried, in 1998.
The temperance medal emerged from a house clearance several years ago and has put been on eBay by London dealer Jonathan Loomes. “I have no idea how much it is worth, so I am listening to offers,” he says. “To me, it is worth a lot because it is such a rare medal.”