The Durham Pals were volunteers who joined up as groups of friends from across the county. Here are just some of their stories.

Private Arthur Corner

TEACHER Arthur Corner was just 22 when he died, nine days after being wounded at the Somme.

Arthur Henry Corner was born in Coundon, County Durham, in 1893, one of 11 children of coke burner William Corner and his wife, Margaret. By 1911, the family had moved to Ferryhill, where William Corner had become plant manager of the pit’s coke oven plant.

Arthur, who excelled at music and physical training, studied to be a teacher at Bede College, in Durham, and in September 1913 took up his first classroom post at Tudhoe Colliery Council Mixed School. But in November 1914, just over a year into his teaching career, the young idealist joined up with two of his colleagues at the school – Frederick Robinson and Edward Fairless.

Remembering the Durham Pals on the battlefield where they gave their young lives
Help commemorate the sacrifices made by the men of the Durham Light Infantry at the Somme. In the month of July 2016, we are aiming to raise £10,000 to create a battlefield memorial to those who fell 100 years ago. To donate, either go to and make a pledge, or send a cheque made payable to Former Charities of the Durham Light Infantry to The Rifles Durham Office, Elvet Waterside, Durham DH1 3BW.

Pte Corner was wounded and gassed during the attack on Serre and was evacuated back to England, but his injuries were so severe that he died in a West Sussex hospital on July 10. His body was brought home and he was buried at Coundon St James’ churchyard on July 13, his funeral attended by his pupils from Tudhoe Colliery school.

Lance-Sergeant William Wilson

WILLIAM Wilson made it just three steps into No Man’s Land when he was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire and killed instantly. He was 23.

Born into a military family from Azalea Avenue in Sunderland, he enlisted in the Durham Pals along with three friends in November 1914 and was promoted to the rank of lance-sergeant. His officer wrote home to his parents: “Shrapnel and high explosives were bursting all over, and machine-gun fire swept the whole line.

“Poor Wilson got on to the parapet, leading his section into the attack. He had only gone two or three yards when he fell with a machine-gun bullet through his chest. I understand he was carried back immediately to our trench, but he was dead.

“He was a steady, quiet, and manly fellow; everybody liked him, and many in the battalion have expressed their sorrow to me.

“That he did his duty, and that he nobly led his section in front of perhaps the most murderous fire that there has been in all the war may be some little consolation to his mother.”

Sgt John Duke

SERGEANT John Duke was killed by machine gun fire as he crossed No Man’s Land during the assault on the German trenches.

Born in New Herrington in 1892, he was one of eight children and his father was a waggonwright. As a teenager he attended Durham Johnston School, where he played football for the school team, and eventually became a teacher, first at Dubmire County School in Houghton-le-Spring and later at Wearhead in the Durham Dales. The 24-year-old was a specialist machine-gunner and was seen to fall during the attack on Serre. As the fighting raged on, his body was lost to the mud of the battlefield and he has no known grave.

Sgt Richard Corker

SPORTSMAN Richard Robson Corker was born in Beamish in 1892, the eldest of three children.

By 1911, the family were living in the hamlet of Quebec, near Lanchester, where John Robson Corker was the butcher at the village Co-operative store. Then aged 18, Dick Corker moved into lodgings in Gilesgate while he attended Bede College to train as a teacher.

In July 1912, he qualified and took up his first teaching post at Waterhouses Mixed School, near Durham, where he coached the school football team, but enlisted in the Durham Pals as soon as war broke out. The young recruit was a member of the choir at St John’s Church, in Quebec, and a keen sportsman, playing both rugby and tennis, and a member of the Marquis of Granby Freemasons Lodge.

Corker proved to be an excellent soldier and was promoted to sergeant, his officers recommending him for a decoration “for steadiness, and reliability under fire, and devotion to duty at all times, both as an able instructor, and as a leader in trenches”.

Sgt Dick Corker was in the frontline trenches on July 1 when they were hit by shellfire and he suffered horrific wounds. It was two days before he could be brought off the battlefield, he lay injured in the trenches under continuing fire until he was eventually moved back to an advanced dressing station, where he died.

He is buried in France, although a memorial service was held for him on July 23 at St John’s Church in his home village, where he had sung each week before the war which claimed his life.

Corporal Wilf Barker

BEFORE the war, Corporal Wilf Barker worked as a fitter with the North Eastern Railway Company in Darlington.

He lived in Dundee Street and joined many of the town’s railway workers in signing up with the Durham Pals, with whom he served in A Company.

During the opening bombardment of the Battle of the Somme, A Company were being shelled in a shallow trench, waiting for orders to go over the top.

Corp Barker later said: “My sleeve was torn by a piece of shrapnel and I was also hit in the shoulder by a piece, but not wounded.

“The rum ration was served out and then came the order to get our packs on and move up to the ladders.”

He said that when the order finally came to leave the trenches, the men felt relieved. “Nobody seems to care if they get hurt or not.

“The suspense over, we begin to walk forward as if walking up the street towards the German trenches, only to drop and take cover now and again, lads lying all over, some groaning, others are quietly praying.

“I saw poor Billy Blewitt lying in the entrance to a dugout, shot through the leg. I wished him the best of luck and told him the stretcher bearers would be along shortly to get him.”

Moments later, Corp Barker suffered a bad wound to the stomach and stretcher bearers took him from the battlefield to a clearing station. He eventually woke on a train heading back to England, to discover his money and watch had been stolen while he was unconscious.