JAMES Fawcett was 12 when appointed the local rate collector, could speak 14 languages when he was 13, 33 by his 25th birthday and for 17 years was aide-de-camp to Lord Kitchener. He lies in an unmarked grave.

Rex Warneford was the first man to shoot down a Zeppelin, was at once awarded the VC and the Legion d’Honneur and died in a flying accident ten days later. Tommy Raw was a cattle thief.

Their link is the small village of Satley, somewhere between Tow Law and Lanchester, in west Durham, and a talk and slide show to be given in the village hall on June 17.

It’s Tommy Raw who’s the problem.

Since he could hardly call his presentation “Three Local Heroes”, Ray Thompson has settled for “Two-anda- half”.

“He was a hero to half the locals, but he was no Robin Hood,” says Ray.

“Tommy would steal from anyone.”

Ray, 77, lives in Castleside, a few miles up the A68. A former electrician and union convenor at Consett Steel Works – “They called me Red Ray,” he recalls, cheerfully – he’s now a keen local historian.

“I bought myself a computer, then a laptop, then a scanner, then a projector, then I went on a course and got into power pointing,” he says.

His 53-year-old Norton motorbike, immaculately maintained and enthusiastically ridden, is a bit of local history, too. Any proceeds from the village hall talk, he hopes, will at last furnish a headstone for James William Fawcett.

FAWCETT was born in Satley in 1862, is said far to have outshone the teachers at the village school, walked when he was 13 to Hebrew and Latin classes at Dipton, ten miles away.

“I don’t suppose there’s many Hebrew and Latin classes in Dipton these days,” muses Ray.

At 14 he won a scholarship to the Model School in Durham and was 18 when chosen from 2,000 university educated applicants to be the Spanish interpreter on Malta. Eventually, he himself gained 13 honorary degrees.

Given the honorary rank of Bimbashi, equivalent to major – by which rank he was known in the village – he was also one of the first Britons into Khartoum after the murder of General Gordon, discovered a white rose tree in Gordon’s garden and sent cuttings back to Satley, where for many years they flourished in his garden.

He emigrated to Australia, became an MP and chief magistrate in New South Wales, returned to his beloved Satley – where the Daily Herald found him in 1938, trying to eke out a pitiable pension with a little historical research.

“In spite of his colourful character, Fawcett has been forgotten by the world,” said the Herald. “He does not grumble, except to say with gentle emphasis that the Army has treated him rather shabbily.”

Never a soldier, he received no military pension. “If only Lord Kitchener had been alive,” he said, “my circumstances might have been different.”

Ray Thompson remembers childhood visits with his uncle. “You simply couldn’t stir in that house for books, huge books, on the stairs, everywhere.

“He had a wife, a Heaviside from Consett, but no one ever saw her. If she’d felt edged out you couldn’t really blame her, because everything was books, but he was a very kind old man.

“If he and my uncle were gabbling on and he could see I was getting bored, he’d go out the back and return with a handful of raspberries.”

Tom Gibson, lifelong in Satley, still has Fawcett’s 210-page history of the parish of Dipton, published in 1911 and one of the author’s numerous local histories. He was also a naturalist and a leading members of the Newcastle Society of Antiquarians.

“He was a tallish man, trilby hat and black trench coat,” recalls Tom, 88. “Every Saturday he’d walk to Consett to do his shopping, even in his 70s, returning with his walking stick over his shoulder and the carrier bag swinging from the end. I can still see that distinctly.”

Fawcett died in March 1942. “Although in obscurity, he was one of the most outstanding personalities of his day,” said the Consett Chronicle.

Ray Thompson has won the backing of the parish and church councils and of local residents and has made a temporary marker for the grave, next to Fawcett’s father’s. A chap at the first informal meeting immediately gave £100.

“I was appalled when I discovered that he didn’t even have a headstone.

Probably some of the newer families are keener to do something than the longer established ones: a prophet is not without honour except in his own country, and all that. It would be wonderful to remember him at last.”

IT was also said of James Fawcett that he always arrived home late from his lectures, because he simply had so much to say. It’s possible distinctly to know the feeling. On, swiftly, to Rex Warneford, born in Darjeeling in 1891.

“A real daredevil, distinctly middleclass, not much of a team player” suggests Ray Thompson. “His only problem with the First World War was that he thought it might be over before he got into it.”

Warneford was the vicar of Satley’s nephew. His parents divorced, he spent school holidays in the village.

He joined the Royal Naval Air Service, on several occasions came perilously close to being busted, was flying from Brussels in June 1915 when ordered to look out for returning Zeppelins.

“London was becoming seriously worried about Zeppelins,” says Ray.

“We hadn’t the guns or the aircraft to tackle them and there was a real fear of a poison gas attack.”

Flying solo, Warneford was attacked by the Zeppelin’s machine guns and returned fire with his revolver, his only armament. Finally able to fly above the Zeppelin as it prepared to land, he dropped his six bombs on the German dirigible which plummeted from 6,000 feet, killing its crew and two sisters in the nunnery onto which it fell.

Forced to crash land after his own plane was damaged in the explosion, Warneford carried out running repairs to the fuel pipe – some accounts say with his cigarette holder, others with piping from his flying jacket – swung the propellor, jumped into the cockpit as the plane was moving and escaped just as German troops burst from the woods.

“It was all like something from the Hotspur,” says Ray, hardly surprisingly.

“Britain’s morale was lifted massively. We’d shown we could tackle the Zeppelins.”

Warneford’s funeral was attended by 50,000 onlookers and a firing party of 50. A photograph of him and his plane hangs in the vestry of St Cuthbert’s church in Satley, his image was used on Ascension Island stamps.

Unlike James Fawcett, Rex Warneford died a hero.

SO what of Tommy Raw, hero and villain, the man whose name was used countless years after his death as a warning to Derwentside’s children. “Tommy Raw will get you...”

Excommunicated, he had been buried in an unmarked grave near Castleside, the year of his death marked with the single word “Anno” and not the customary “Anno Domini”.

“My theory is that Tommy thought God had done nowt for him, so he was going to do nowt for God,” says Ray.

Some time in the 19th Century, the headstone from Tommy’s grave beneath an oak tree was moved and is now part of a barn wall near Satley.

“We get people from all over coming to see it,” says Angela Steel. “If they make a film about him, I hope it stars Mel Gibson.”

In the 1920s, locals dug up his remains and photographed them on a tablecloth. That image is in the slide show, too – Satley Village Hall, 7.30pm, Wednesday, June 17, all welcome.

Flesh on the bones, it’s over to Ray Thompson now.

Hot on the tail

TWICE in four summer nights to Crook, on the first occasion to open the quite wonderful flower festival at St Catherine’s church and on the second, umpteenth year running, to present the Games League awards.

None other appeared to be at both.

Before the flower festival, time to climb Church Hill, find a bench and marvel at the sun-blessed vista over Crook and far beyond.

Some would liken it to gazing over Jerusalem and others to Holmfirth, since it is impossible at such times not to think (and to drink) of Last of the Summer Wine.

The evening’s text, at any rate, was at once obvious. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Unlike the annual darts league do, they’d not had a flower festival for 28 years. The arrangements were stunning, the buffet superb, the hosts’ welcome and generosity richly gratifying.

The games league night is ever-enjoyable, too, a particular highlight the annual challenge match against Crook lad and former England darts international Doug McCarthy, one of the nicest men alive. Since I’m never going to beat him at darts, the challenge is at dominoes.

At St Catherine’s, inspiringly led by the Reverend Vince Fenton, the challenge was to persuade them just how magnificent their achievements were.

Eventually it dawned. “Opening tonight’s flower festival,” I announced, “is an even bigger pleasure than beating Duggie McCarthy at dominoes.”

Bless them, they understood at once.

NOT everyone is so immediately embracing, nor so familiar with The Northern Echo and its longest-serving hand.

Earlier last Thursday I’d been addressing in Durham the Dunelm U3A – it’s shorthand for University of the Third Age – a rather grandiosely-named organisation for those of advancing years. The introduction came from Charlotte Staples, the chairperson. “We’re delighted to welcome Mike Amos,” she said. “He will speak to us on the life and times of Cole Porter.”

BACK at St Catherine’s in Crook, the Bishop of Durham was surprised on Sunday evening to find a dog – a regular, faithful chihuahua – among his congregation.

It proved to be Zacchaeus, first encountered by the At Your Service column on a bitterly cold Easter dawning at the top end of Weardale and owned by Anna and Roger Lelleker.

Biblically named after the little feller who climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus, Zacchaeus was marking his ninth birthday.

“There used to be tongs in churches so that churchwardens could remove dogs without being bitten,”

says Bishop Tow Wright. “Fortunately there was no need. Zacchaeus behaved impeccably.”

NO dogs allowed – or, at least, expected – Bishop Tom will be at St Helen’s Auckland church at 6pm on Sunday to celebrate the £80,000 refurbishment of the organ and the completion of a ten-year restoration project.

Even the lighting system’s computerised now. “It’s been a tremendous amount of work, but the result’s superb,” says Canon Robert McTeer, the vicar. More in the At Your Service column on June 13.

TAIL still wagging the dog, the column’s old friend Bob Whittaker – Shildon lad, Auckland Chronicle reporter when he had nowt – launches a 13-part television series on June 15 following rescue centre dogs training to be “professionals”.

One became a fire and rescue service dog, another an acting dog, a third a British Transport police dog.

Despite a heart problem, the splendidly named Dinky Brush was trained by the County Durhambased charity Pets as Therapy and now visits the sick and elderly in hospitals and care homes.

Bob, once familiar at Tyne Tees Television and winner of two Royal Television Society awards, now runs Orion TV with his wife Marrisse, a scriptwriter. Cameras followed the dogs’ training for a year.

“It was sad seeing the dogs locked away, but the transformation has been amazing,” says Bob. “Some of them now play key roles in areas like border security.”

Project Puppy was commissioned by Discovery for its Animal Planet channel. It starts at 7pm on June 15 for 13 successive nights.

…and finally, a PS to all the recent notes on railways. Fred Ramshaw of the North East Locomotive Preservation Group reports that on their recent rail tour over the Settle and Carlisle line, they stopped at Kirkby Stephen station. “We thought that more passengers must be getting on and were somewhat disappointed to learn that it was simply a warning about sheep on the line.

Some things don’t change at all.”