THE funeral of the Durham Light Infantry historian Harry Moses was held this week. Harry wrote about the regiment in the first and second world wars, and its service in Korea in the 1950s. When he died on January 30, aged 90, he was nearing completion of a book on its earliest days as the 68th (Durham) Regiment of Foot.

He also recorded the stories of countless veterans for the Imperial War Museum’s oral history project.

“Harry was everything to the DLI,” said Major Chris Lawton, chairman of the DLI Association. “He was a mega-part of the regiment.”

Harry came from Tow Law and was headteacher at Aycliffe Village primary school for 23 years – on Wednesday, on its way to the crematorium, the cortege paused outside the school gates.

When Harry began training as a teacher in the 1950s at Bede College in Durham, he discovered that 600 Bede men had gone off to fight in the First World War. He found that 100 of them, literally straight out of school, had been thrown into a cataclysmic conflict near Ypres within days of arriving at the front.

The Durhams were devastated – and they were, like Harry, just local young men with their whole teaching careers ahead of them.

Harry researched, wrote and lectured about the Battle of Gravenstafel to ensure that the stories of these lads didn’t fade away and that their voices could always be heard.

In the week of his funeral, it seems appropriate to revisit an article that his work inspired…

THE boys of Bede went to war on April 19, 1915. Cheering crowds waved them off from Newcastle station in railway carriages on which had been chalked “Up the Bede” and “Bede v the Kaiser”.

But it was an unequal fixture. Poorly trained and ill-equipped, on April 25, 1915 – just six short, violent days later – nearly all of these Durham teachers and students were either dead, wounded or captured in their first, and only, taste of trench warfare.

Of the 102 Bede boys who boarded those railway carriages, only 21 were able to gather a few weeks later and hold up a chalkboard to the camera saying: “Bede – all that was left.”

The College of the Venerable Bede was founded in 1841 by the Diocese of Durham to train schoolmasters. Fitness and sporting prowess were part of the college’s ethos, and all students were expected to join the college Volunteer Rifle Company. In 1908, it became part of the Territorial Force in the 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and the students trained in the Gilesgate Drill Hall and out on the Durham moors.

When war broke out, the Bede students were sent as A Company to the east coast, near Whitburn, to guard against invasion, under the command of Captain Frank Harvey, head of Gilesgate Council School and a member of Bede staff, who was known as “Captain Cardboard”.

After eight months of coastal duty, the 8th were waved off to the front by the patriotic crowds at Newcastle station. At Folkestone, they joined a troopship, and at Boulogne they were loaded into horse trucks and rattled through the French countryside to Flanders.

Novice soldiers were usually slowly introduced to the horrors of the trenches, but on April 22, just as the Bede boys arrived, the Germans unleashed the first gas attack on trenches north of Ypres. A hellish yellowish-green sulphurous cloud of chlorine was blown over the French troops, causing immediate asphyxiation and 6,000 casualties, and opening a four-mile hole through which the Germans threatened to flood.

The Canadians beside the collapsing French lines urinated on cloths and held them over their faces as they bravely tried to stem the German tide.

Reinforcements were needed immediately.

As April 23 dawned, the 8th received its emergency call-up.

With the noise of the distant guns getting louder, the Durhams marched to Steenvoorde, where they gathered in a field, were issued with dressings for the injuries they were about to receive, and those who had not yet done so were ordered to make a will.

Then a fleet of red, London double-decker buses carried them towards the guns.

“The moon shone down on a strange scene for us – a faint mist covered the ground,” wrote Capt Harvey. “Our buses swayed and bumped along the uneven pave. The men were in excellent spirits, and sang and cheered like boys out for a school treat.”

The buses dropped the teachers off near Ypres on April 24, and they marched through the ruined town, its buildings collapsing into the streets, dead humans and horses blocking the roads. German missiles flew overhead, and gassed and injured Canadian soldiers streamed towards them.

It started to rain, heavily, soaking their greatcoats.

Leaving Ypres, 8DLI marched through the night towards the front, the noise getting louder, and just before dawn on April 25, they stopped at Boetleer’s Farm at the top of Gravenstafel Ridge. Two companies – the Bede boys in A and the Durham Pals in D – were selected to walk down the ridge, picking their way past dead bodies, to the partially-flooded trenches.

The shattered Canadians in the trenches were delighted to see them, and showed them how to wet a cloth and place it over the face to protect from gas.

Then the Canadians left, leaving the Durhams – who had never fired a shot in anger – beside the gap in the lines through which the Germans were about to flood.

At 9am, the Germans began bringing up reinforcements. They sent up aircraft to work out the strength of the British newcomers. Excitedly, the Bede boys took pot shots at the planes, giving away their positions. The aircraft dropped glittering paper onto their trenches, marking them out as targets for the German guns.

At 12.30, the bombardment began, and the German infantry started advancing towards the Durhams.

“These young students and their comrades, totally without experience of the horrors of war, were seeing their friends suffer appalling wounds and deaths,” said Harry. “Some collapsed into the bottom of the trench, covering their faces, shaking and crying, only to be encouraged by their fellows to return to the parapet and rejoin the fighting to keep the enemy at bay.”

Harry’s research showed the human cost of this immense toll.

Pte John Huggins, 28, was killed. After studying at Bede from 1905-07, he had become a professional footballer, playing seven times for Sunderland and Reading, only to return to teaching at Wheatley Hill Council School.

L-Cpl Robert “Barney” Robson, 26, was so badly injured that he died in a German dressing station nine days later. He was from West Hartlepool and had been teaching at Middleton-in-Teesdale Council School.

Pte William Arnett, who had been teaching at Ferryhill Dean Road Council School when the war began, was so badly injured that the Germans captured him, amputated one of his legs and sent him home to Ripon where he died on September 23.

Cpl Joseph Watson, 21, was born in Heighington and lived in Shildon where his father was a railway shunter. At Bede, he had been captain of rowing, but at Gravenstafel he fell, severely wounded, in a shellhole, crying out for water. Attempts to throw bottles to him failed, so his friend, Pte Joseph Atkinson of New Shildon, crawled out to him.

Unfortunately, Atkinson was killed outright and his body never recovered. Watson was rescued only to die of his injuries on May 10.

Harry found similar stories of sacrifice up and down the Durham trenches. So many stories that as the dusk fell, withdrawal was ordered.

There were some survivors, of course, and Harry traced their stories.

Pte John Barclay, who had been teaching at West Auckland primary school, made it to the bitter end of the war in 1918, only to die in his home town of Penrith on December 14, 1918, of influenza.

Two teachers at Corporation School, Darlington, Pte William Bannerman and Pte JH Knaggs both made it through, and Captain Cardboard also survived.

And then Harry told the extraordinary stories of Pte Weymouth Wash and Pte Herbert Tustin, who were both captured by the enemy. Pte Wash was held until December 1917 when he managed to escape by bribing a German with some bread and soup. He resumed his teaching at Butterknowle and then went into coal mining.

Pte Tustin was held in a PoW camp near Munster and, inspired by word from home that “a young lieutenant” was paying too much attention to his intended, Sybil, spent 16 months digging tunnels and trying to escape through electrified wire. He made it out by scrabbling 10ft over the hospital barbed wire fence, lacerating his hands, and then, living off the land, crept through 50 miles of German countryside to Holland where he was returned to Newcastle via the sea.

Sybil, whom he had met when she had been teacher-training at the female College of St Hild in Durham, had had no truck with the young lieutenant, and was waiting for Herbert. She accepted his proposal of marriage, and went with him to Middleton-in-Teesdale, where he became head of the village school.

Harry had found the only happy result in this terrible fixture between Bede and the Kaiser.