ON November 11, 1928, Sergeant Joseph Stephenson of the Durham Light Infantry was chosen by lot at the last minute to unveil Darlington’s war memorial.

“With the eyes of the large crowd upon him,” reported The Northern Echo, “he mounted the steps which form the base of the monument, grasped the cord and pulled it, whereupon the draping, a Union Jack, slid gracefully from the column and exposed it to full view.”

The Northern Echo: Darlington Memorial Hospital postcardA late 1920s postcard showing the newly unveiled war memorial outside the first hospital building

The cenotaph stands outside the Memorial Hall of Darlington Memorial Hospital, which was also opened to the public for the first time that day. It is a measured, dignified, sober building, and around the walls of the hall are the names of 700 men from the town who had made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.

The Northern Echo: This picture has various captions in The Northern Echo archive, some saying it is the 1928 unveiling of the cenotaph and others saying it is the 1933 official opening of the hospital. In 1928, a crowd of 9,000 gathered to witness Joseph Stephenson unveil the cenotaph in a heavy drizzle - the ground in the picture appears to be dry and there are even shadows

The Northern Echo: Joseph Stephenson, who unveiled the Darlington memorial in 1928 and his wife, Hannah

But even on that day, Sgt Stephenson knew that there were names missing. He had been born in Haughton-le-Skerne in 1894 and, distantly related to George “the father of the locomotive” Stephenson, he’d become a railway engine cleaner for the North Eastern Railway, living in Eldon Street, which was one of the railwaymen’s terraces off North Road.

He was steeped in the town so he knew that there were lads who, like him, had gone to war when the nation called. He’d joined the DLI as soon as he turned 18 in 1912, he was sent to France in January 1916, made it through the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres to return to his wife, Hannah, in Eldon Street.

But he knew others who had not come back – and their names were nowhere to be seen on the walls of the hall.

The names weren’t compiled from any official lists, but largely from rumours. If a dead soldier had no one to speak up for him, he was forgotten.

This weekend, Sgt Stephenson’s grandson, Paul, is playing the key role in getting the forgotten remembered.

The Northern Echo: A certificate presented to Joseph Stephenson following his unveiling of the Darlington cenotaph

Whereas Sgt Stephenson was selected for the unveiling that very morning when his name was pulled out at random from a list of 25 suitable ex-servicemen, Paul has spent more than a decade researching the forgotten.

He identified nearly 1,000 men with a Darlington connection who had been killed in the war but who were not among the 700 names. He then applied strict criteria to those 1,000 that they had to have either been born in the town or to have lived the bulk of their lives in the town.

This left him with 155 indisputable Darlingtonians who were missing from the Memorial Hall, and their names were printed in a special remembrance edition in 2021 (Memories 551).

After the Second World War, Darlington compiled a book with the names of its 581 men and seven women who had given their lives on active service. The book has pride of place in the Memorial Hall.

But Paul’s research showed that there were another 75 indisputable Darlington men and one indisputable Darlington woman who had been missed. So in our remembrance edition last year (Mems 602), we published their names.

And we agitated – MPs, mayors, anyone who’d listen. When we got to the chief executive of the Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, Sue Jacques, she took action, and tomorrow Paul, with his daughter and grand-daughter, will be there following in the footsteps of his grandfather Sgt Stephenson as all the names are officially remembered for the first time.

The Northern Echo: Joseph Stephenson, second from right on the front row, at a Territorial Army camp in 1921 




The Northern Echo: Joseph and Henderson Dent who will be remembered at last in the Memorial Hall

NEITHER Joseph nor Henderson Dent have been remembered on the official Darlington memorial – until tomorrow.

Their family home was at 14, Zetland Street, where their parents, railway fitter John and Elizabeth, “suffered a sad bereavement” as they learned they were killed in northern France within four days of each other in January 1916.

Both were in the 15th DLI, and the first news home came from Henderson who had discovered Joseph “lying dead, killed by a bursting shell”.

Joseph, 31, was a baker in Barnard Castle where he lived in 34, Newgate, with his wife, Rebecca – a Norwegian – and their two children.

Four days later, Henderson, 36, died from wounds. He was an iron moulder at the Rise Carr Rolling Mills. He’d married Louisa in 1904 but she had died in 1913 so now their three children were orphans.

Joseph and Henderson were named on the roll of honour of their old school, Albert Road, but for unknown reasons were not included in the Memorial Hall.