Football legends to war heroes: Cornforth United team photo inspires history exhibition (From The Advertiser Series)
Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting NORTHERN ECHO to 80360 or email us
Football legends to war heroes: Cornforth United team photo inspires history exhibition
This week, an exhibition will reveal how amateur footballers from a County Durham pit village were transformed from sporting legends to war heroes. As Remembrance Day approaches, Lizzie Anderson takes a closer look.
In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Cornforth United Amateur Football Club posed for a team photograph, blissfully unaware of the global conflict that would change their lives forever. The formal photograph clearly captures the sense of pride amongst players and members of the club committee at the end of a successful season.
As well as winning the Wingate Charity Cup, the West Cornforth boys had scooped victory in the Durham Hospital Cup. A crowd of 2,000 people attended the final and spirits were high. Many of the men were miners and worked at nearby collieries of Thrislington, East Howle and Tursdale. Football was a way of escaping the drudgery of life down the pits.
The photograph is the centre piece of a history exhibition that opened at Cornforth Library in West Cornforth, near Ferryhill, on Saturday (November 2). It is the second staged by West Cornforth Local History Society (WCLHS), following a successful display at the same venue last year.
Since then, society chairman Andy Denholm has been researching the background of the men listed on the village cenotaph in preparation for a major exhibition to mark the centenary of the First World War next year. And it was during his investigations that he stumbled upon the photograph of Cornforth United.
“The timing of the photograph caught my attention as it was taken just before the outbreak of the war,” he said.
“I was determined to discover the fate of these men and was amazed by how much I found out.
“Some served and survived but others made the ultimate sacrifice and played their last game in 1914.”
The fruits of Mr Denholm’s research are now on show but he is keen to discover more.
“We would love to hear from anyone who knows more about the team or any of the players so we can add the information to the display,” he said.
“Also, if we have got anything wrong, we want to know too so we can put it right. It is all about engaging people local history.”
Here are some of the subjects of the exhibition...
James Barton (front row third from right)
Forward James Barton scored the winning goal in the Durham Hospital Cup final. He was born in August 1889 at Metal Bridge, near Croxdale, and, on the 1911 census, was living at Church Street in Ferryhill. He married Rose Alderson and worked as a miner. Barton served with the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War and received the Allied Victory and British Victory Medal. He survived but suffered with lung problems for the rest of his life after being caught in a mustard gas attack. He died in December 1948 in Cornforth.
The Crowther brothers
Forward, Simpson Crowther (front row, centre) was born in West Cornforth in 1884 and, in the 1911 census, was living in the village with his widowed mother Hannah, brother, Harry, and sister, Esther. Simpson was enlisted into the army in 1914 at the age of 30 and served with the Dragoon of the Line 3rd Dragoon Guards. He survived the war and died in 1947. Simpson’s youngest brother Harry (second row, third from the left) also played for the team.
John Naylor (Back row, third from right)
Committee member John Naylor was born in 1886 in West Cornforth and worked as a coal miner hewer. He served with the Durham Light Infantry 19th battalion as a private during the war and died in a gas attack in April 1919 at the age of 33. He is buried at Holy Trinity Church in West Cornforth. His medals are on display at the Durham Light Infantry museum.
Daniel Thompson Thirlaway (Front row, second from left)
Daniel Thompson Thirlaway played forward in the final and the medals he received that day are on display at the exhibition. Thirlaway fought in the war and was killed in action in December 1917 at the age of 22. He is remembered at Holy Trinity Church in West Cornforth.
Edward Wilson (second row, far left)
Edward Wilson was born in Coxhoe and played in back position in the final. In the 1911, he was 17, living with his mother and father at Tursdale Colliery and working as a coal miner driver. Wilson was enlisted as a private to the Border 6th Battalion and was killed in action in August 1915 at Gallipoli. He was awarded the Victory, British and 15 Star medals.
The exhibition will run at Cornforth Library for a minimum of two weeks. Opening times are 9.30am to 7pm on Tuesday, 9.30pm to 5pm on Thursday and 9.30am to 12.30pm on Saturday.
For more information on WCLHS contact email@example.com
Comments are closed on this article.