THE 55 men from a County Durham mining community who gave their lives in the wars of the 20th Century are being commemorated for the first time on a memorial.

The ten-and-a-half ton stone has been erected in Pelton Cemetery, near Chester-le-Street, by the parish council with the help of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The stone, which was quarried on Witton Fell near Leyburn and was carved by Darlington stonemason David France, will be formally unveiled on October 20. In the run-up to the unveiling, there is an exhibition, which opens on Thursday, in Pelton Community Centre telling the stories of the 55 men.

Pelton, which has a population of 8,500, did not have a war memorial, even though there are 28 war graves in the cemetery – 19 from the First World War and nine from the Second. The project to put that right began last August with a public meeting.

One of the major parts of the project was the research into the individual life stories of the men. This was undertaken by pupils from Park View School in Chester-le-Street, and it prompted them to look at ancillary subjects like life on the home front and the changing role of women during the war.

Some of the men’s stories are genuinely shocking, with families left devastated by multiple losses, men dying in notorious incidents and even taking their own lives in circumstances that we would today recognise as being Post Traumatic Stress. Such are the horrors of the war.

The stories have been collated into a leather-bound memorial book.

The exhibition runs every day in the community centre from October 3 until October 20 when the memorial will be dedicated with a ceremony at 2pm.

Here are a few of the men’s stories:

The Bonney brothers

Richard, Thomas and William Bonney were the eldest sons of John and Jennie. They grew up in Birtley, but their mother came from Pelton, and all three joined the Durham Light Infantry. All three were killed.

They were obviously close – in 1917, William was Thomas’ best man when he married Lizzie Greener when they were at home on leave.

William, a miner, was the first to die, on September 20, 1917. He was 25, and was killed in fighting at the Yser canal, near Ypres in Belgium.

Thomas, also a miner, followed on March 31, 1918. He was killed near Thennes, on the Somme in northern France, as his battalion, 11DLI, came under heavy bombardment. The day after his death, the 11DLI withdrew from the land he had been killed trying to defend.

The death of Richard, the eldest brother, was even more shocking. He worked at the Birtley Iron Company and served in the 4th Extra Reserve Battalion of the DLI stationed at Seaham Harbour. He was last seen alive when he was on leave on July 24, 1918. His body was found a month later in woods near Fatfield. He had taken his own life, aged 30.

Gunner John Forster

He was born in Pelton in 1910 and became a fish fryer. In 1934, he married Norah and the next year, they had a son, George.

When the war broke out, John enlisted in the 2 Army Observation Battalion of the Royal Artillery.

This is the most shocking story of all. On January 31, 1941, John was on leave at the family home in Tuart Street, Chester-le-Street. Police broke in to the house and found him and Norah dead in their bed from gas poisoning. Six-year-old George was on the bed and revived, but died in hospital in Newcastle.

Cpl Arthur Gray

He was born in Pelton in 1924, and qualified as a military parachutist at RAF Ringwood, which is now Manchester Airport. He was one of 16,000 paratroopers who were dropped on the German border with the Netherlands as part of Operation Varsity on March 24, 1945 – we’ve been commemorating the 75th anniversary of the battles around Arnhem this week, and Varsity also sought to secure crossings over the River Rhine so that Allied forces could march on to Berlin.

Cpl Gray successfully landed and fought towards his target, the town of Neustadt. To reach it, his company had to cross two bridges over waterways. The British were warned by a civilian that the second bridge had been booby-trapped, and they believed that the only way to get across was to rush it.

Two platoons made it over, but unfortunately, as Cpl Gray leading No 4 Platoon was on the bridge, the first arch was detonated. Cpl Gray’s body was never recovered.

Cpl John Sands

He was born in Perkinsville in 1895 and his family lived in Pelton Lane Ends, a little community on the edge of Pelton. He joined the Royal Field Artillery, and on one occasion in northern France in late December 1917, he remained at his post while all other members of his battery were killed.

He kept on fighting despite being wounded, gassed and suffering from trench fever. Then he caught tuberculosis and was discharged from the Army as medically unfit on May 2, 1918. He died at home on May 31, aged 23.

Sapper James Turnbull

He was born in Chester-le-Street in 1917, and died in one of the most notorious events of the Second World War.

He served with the Royal Engineers and was captured at the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, and was held on the Japanese troop ship, the Lisbon Maru. There were 1,816 British and Canadian captives on the ship, held in appalling conditions. One survivor told the BBC last year how those at the bottom of the hold were showered with vomit and diarrhoea from sick soldiers above them.

On October 1, 1942, the Lisbon Maru was taking its prisoners to Japan. It had no markings on it to indicate that it was carrying PoWs, and it was torpedoed by a US submarine, the USS Grouper.

The 700 Japanese troops on board were rescued, but they blocked the hatches to the hold so the PoWs were unable to escape – some sources say they battened down the hatches.

After 24 hours, it became clear that the ship was sinking, and the PoWs tried to break through the hatches and frantically climb out. The last remaining guards shot the PoWs as they emerged; those that managed to make into the water were shot by Japanese warships.

However, Chinese fishermen began rescuing the survivors and then the Japanese ships also began pulling them with the result that just under 1,000 men were saved.

But Sapper Turnbull was one of the 828 men who perished.

The Lisbon Maru is believed to have been located last year lying in 100ft of water with about 100 bodies still inside it.