WHEN Captain Barrett Fitzgerald Wilson was badly shot through the hand in the First World War trenches, his Medical Officer advised that he should take up sketching to help him re-make the connection between brain and his fingers.

And it worked. Indeed, as he recovered, Capt Wilson discovered that he had such an aptitude for art that he became one of Europe’s foremost artists in the 1920s and 1930s, causing quite a stir with his “modern” work, an example of which is still in the Darlington Borough Art Collection.

Capt Wilson’s story is told in a booklet about the men, and women, of the Manfield and Cliffe parish who served in the First World War.

The parish covers the southern banks of the Tees near Darlington. It is centred on All Saints church in Manfield but it also includes the estate of Cliffe Hall, and the booklet compiled by Malcolm McCallum looks at the stories of the five men from the parish who were killed, plus the 41 who served and the nine women who became Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses.

Cliffe Hall, the home of the Wilson family, features quite heavily because one of the owner’s grandsons, is memorialised in Manfield church. He is Captain Charles Fitzgerald Sowerby, who joined the Royal Navy aged just 13 in 1879. Capt Sowerby also called Snow Hall at Gainford, Manor House at Rushyford and Blackwell Grange in Darlington his home but he died on May 31, 1916, when his ship, HMS Indefatigable was sunk during the Battle of Jutland. Of the 1,019 crew on board, only two survived, and the 50-year-old captain was not one of them.

Another of the grandsons of Cliffe Hall was Capt Wilson, who was a London lawyer until he joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He received the Military Cross for an act of exemplary gallantry in 1916, but the following year his hand was so badly damaged that he was advised to take up painting.

His first exhibition, in London in 1917, of war scenes caused quite a stir because he was still a serving officer, but after the war he developed a more gentle landscape style. With his wife, Muriel, from Thirsk who was also an artist, he moved to Paris and he exhibited around the world, from Helsingfors in Finland to New York in the US.

And, in March 1934, in the Darlington Municipal Art Gallery – perhaps it was the Cliffe connection that brought him to town because he usually only went to capital cities like London and Paris.

However, in provincial Darlington his “modern” work apparently created an “uproar” – although the council liked it enough to buy a painting of the Dordoyne.

Capt Wilson died in 1972, and his work is in several leading modern art collections around the world, among which must therefore be counted the borough collection in Darlington.

BLOB ONE hundred copies of Malcolm McCallum’s booklet, produced with the assistance of North Yorkshire County Council, have been distributed to Manfield villagers.