Can you help schoolchildren to find out more about a World War I soldier?

Can anyone help provide more information about a WWI soldier and his medals? When Corporal David Barr of the Durham Light Infantry’s Victory Medal turned up in a cupboard in the nursery at Newbottle Primary Academy in Sunderland, the children decided to find out what he’d done in the war and how the medal had got there.

Year Six took up the challenge, and with the help of teaching assistant Joanne McDonald (a genealogy enthusiast) and visitors from the Royal British Legion, met with some success, as the Shields Gazette reported yesterday.

No Cpl Barr ever lived in Newbottle, but a Cpl David Barr had lived in Jarrow. The family, who had come from Scotland originally, lived in Ferry Street at some point, and David married Jane Purvis Ainsley, who worked in the corner shop. It is thought they didn’t have children. David had previously been with the DLI and served in India, but was a reservist by the time war broke out. Called up in August 1914, he was one of the first soldiers to enter Belgium. He was ambushed by the Germans while scouting the area weeks later, and spent 4 years in a Dutch Prisoner of War camp. After the war he was awarded not only the Victory Medal, but the War Medal and the 1914-15 Star.

The Victory medal, a campaign service medal, was awarded to 6,334,522+ men and women who mobilised in any of the fighting services or served in any of the theatres of operations, or at sea, between midnight 4th/5th August, 1914, and midnight, 11th/12th November, 1918. It was awarded to all who received the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star and, with certain exceptions, to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. These three medals were sometimes irreverently referred to as Pip (1914-15), Squeak (British) and Wilfred (Victory).

Since the children were keen to return the medal to David’s family, Joanne McDonald contacted Malcolm Camp, whose great grandmother, Agnes Macfarlane Barr Dalziel, was David Barr’s sister (he also had two brothers, one of whom was called William). The surprised Mr Camp, from Sheffield, had actually been busy researching his family when the school made contact. He told the Gazette: “Times were very tough and my grandparents moved to London with their nine children so my grandfather could find work, and lost touch with lots of family members.” Consequently, although he was able to provide a photograph of Agnes, Malcolm had no photos of David himself. The 48-year-old made a trip to the school to pick up his great uncle’s medal and thank the children for their hard work.

Several mysteries still remain: how did the medal come to be in Newbottle Primary Academy, when as far as anyone can tell, David had no connection to Newbottle? What became of his other two medals? Where else did David live, and do any photographs of him still exist? The children (and Malcolm) would love to find out more, so let us know if you can add anything about Cpl Barr, his family or the whereabouts of the medals, and we will pass the information along to the school.

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