AYSGARTH is commemorating the end of the First World War by honouring its 18 men who were killed with an exhibition, flower festival and a photo-trail around the churchyard.

But beyond those who lost their lives, Aysgarth is also looking it how at least 191 of its men and women served in the war.

One of the many fascinating stories to emerge during research by Penny Ellis and Pip Pointon concerns the parish GP, Dr Will Pickles. He was born in Leeds in 1885, but came north to act as an assistant to a Bedale GP. He performed his rounds on a bicycle, and cured a local typhoid outbreak by tracing the source to a water pump – the beginnings of his interest in epidemiology.

In 1913, he bought into the Wensleydale GP practice based at Aysgarth, and enlisted with Royal Naval Reserve. When war broke out, he was posted to HMS Albion in Plymouth, but first he toured the dale saying goodbye to his patients and then caught the milk train to Northallerton at the start of his journey to war.

Albion had an 800-strong crew for him to look after as they patrolled the Atlantic, but an accident on board led to him being sent back to England for an operation. While recuperating back in Wensleydale, he formed the Aysgarth Voluntary Aid Detachment, recruiting 20 local women, one of whom, Gertie Tunstill, would become his wife.

He would have given the VADs basic medical training so they were able to help soldiers who were back in the dale recovering from injury.

Having himself recovered, Dr Pickles returned to the sea, and Constance Archer, from Sorrel Sykes, near Aysgarth, took over leadership of the VADs.

Dr Pickles served in the south Atlantic until 1917 when he was assigned shore duties at Dover. In peacetime, he returned to Aysgarth and in the 1930s and 1940s became renowned for his pioneering work on the spread of diseases, and in 1953, he became the first president of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The Aysgarth weekend, which will be opened on November 9 by Rishi Sunak MP, will also look to the 18 soldiers who are commemorated on headstones in the broad churchyard. A photo-trail has been organised to take visitors to them.

There are two Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones in the churchyard, both from the First World War. One is of Pte John Gould, the son of a Masham draper who lived at Thoralby. He joined up in January 1915 but didn’t get any further than Hull before dying on April 9 of pneumonia and pleurisy.

The other is of Pte John Percival, of the Yorkshire Regiment, who was badly wounded on the hand on the Somme in September 1916. He recovered to take up motoring duties until he was badly gassed and, after spending some time in a London hospital, was discharged as physically unfit.

“A relative went to London to bring him home,” said his obituary. “He was very weak, and while crossing London, an air raid was proceeding, and the journey was several times interrupted. Arrived at Aysgarth, he was very happy to see his home and family, and seemed to revive for a while, but the gas had seriously damaged his lungs and recovered was seen to be impossible.

“Though relatives and friends nursed him tenderly day and night, there was no progress towards health.” He died after some months on April 8, 1918, and was buried in the churchyard.

You can find him and all the other Wensleydale stories in the exhibition and flower festival which are open to the public from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, November 10 and Monday, November 12, and from 1pm to 5pm on the Sunday. Admission is free, and refreshments will be available.

ON a similar theme, in this space recently we’ve been talking about the German trophy guns which were part of the booty of war taken from the Germans and given by the government to communities to act as war memorials. However, these instruments of war were widely despised and many just disappeared – often being pushed late at night into nearby bodies of water.

Frances Whiteley of Bilton in Ainsty, near Wetherby, has been in touch to say: “Older residents have referred to a gun being sited on the left approach to the village on a concrete base. The gun has long gone but there is indeed still a concrete base. My friend, who is 96, tells me her late husband – who was born in 1923 – bore a scar from a bad wound he received when he was playing on the gun as a child.”

ANOTHER of the stories to emerge from the Aysgarth research came from Trina Cloughton, of Thornton Rust, who has photographs of her great-uncle, Sgt Ernest Moore, of Tudhoe Colliery, near Spennymoor. He joined the 18th Durham Light Infantry – the “Durham Pals” – which was shattered during the Battle of the Somme: the 800-strong battalion lost 500 wounded and 70 killed. Sgt Moore survived, only to die in northern France on May 19, 1918. The story of how he shared his love of poetry with the woman he hoped to marry is told in the exhibition. Is it too unlikely for anyone to be able to spot a familiar face in this picture of the Durham Pals trying to relax while at the front? Sgt Moore may well be standing at the back, cigarette in hand. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk if you can

Besides these anecdotes, there are no hard facts – unless you can help us. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of November 2, 1918

“DECEASED, who was only four feet high, and whose professional name was Little Gen, was engaged to give a performance at one of the side shows at the Ripon Casino,” reported the D&S Times 100 years ago this week. “A part of his performance was to stand on his head and throw himself backwards on to his feet and bow to the audience.

“On the 19th of last month, he performed this trick, but when he landed on his feet he was seen to stagger. He fell like a log on to a rail about 3ft from the stage, striking his shoulder, and then fell heavily on to his head.”

The contortionist, Carlisle Percy Harley, 45, was picked up and taken to Ripon Workhouse Infirmary where he died six days later – he was, concluded the inquest, “accidentally killed by breaking his neck”.

The poor fellow was obviously a travelling artist, as he’d been in Ripon a week. As he lay dying, he said he came from Brighton and was married, “but he did not know where his wife and child were”.

Meanwhile, there were more entertainment-related issues over at Thirsk where the influenza epidemic had caused the Medical Officer to close the Electric Picture Palace. Much to the annoyance of proprietor, WN Power, appealed to magistrates because he was losing £20 a week in film hire and wages.

The magistrates agreed with his suggestion of banning children under 14, who were most susceptible to infection, even though the magistrates’ clerk told them: “What is the good of closing the schools if children are allowed to throng together in places of amusement?”

The D&S of 100 years ago also claimed that “experts” had invented a way of manufacturing a kind of alcohol out of peat which could be used as a petrol substitute.

“The cost of production, it is claimed, is from 3d to 4d a gallon,” it said. “There is a vast expanse of moorland in Teesdale and Weardale which, if properly utilised, would provide great supplies of this alcohol. There appears to be a great future for this industry.”

October 31, 1868

“A CROWDED and enthusiastic” public meeting was held in the Buck Inn, Reeth, to consider extending the railway from Richmond. It was chaired by Sir George Denys, of Draycott Hall, Fremington, who owned a lead smelting mill, and was attended by “a considerable number of landowners and influential inhabitants of the dale”.

The line would “commence a little below the Richmond station, running up the valley within a short distance of the Swale all the way, the only cutting of any extent being opposite the castle, near the Force”, said the D&S. “The cost is estimated at £45,000 for the whole distance of 10 miles. A considerable number of shares was taken up at the meeting.”

Despite the optimism, the plan never left the drawing board, although it was regularly returned to throughout the rest of the 19th Century – Swaledale was never penetrated by railways, unlike its neighbouring Wensleydale, Teesdale and Weardale.

Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, election fever was nearly taking hold, as the two MPs were up for re-election. In Bedale, the sitting Conservative, Colonel Octavius Duncombe, addressed voters from a window of the Royal Oak Inn.

He was surrounded by gentlemen and “was patiently heard by a large assemblage of farmers and others, but his reception was by no means enthusiastic”.

He gave a long speech, expressing his “regret that the North Riding was about to be plunged into the expense, turmoil and unpleasantness of a contested election”.

“Three cheers were given for Col Duncombe at the close of the meeting, and these were quickly followed by three cheers for Mr Frederick Milbank, the Liberal member,” said the Liberal-inclined D&S.

November 2, 1968

THERE was a large advert in the D&S of 50 years ago featuring the Barker brothers, Alan and Cecil, of Darlington, who had hitchhiked from Scotch Corner to the Mexico City Olympics carrying four cans of Newcastle Brown.

Dressed as English city gents, they travelled to Glasgow airport where a cheap Icelandic airline flew them to New York. They then hitchhiked through Canada and down to Mexico, bumping in to BBC reporter Martin Bell outside the stadium and he filmed them cracking open their celebratory cans.

Newccy Broon saw the potential, and featured the brothers in a series of adverts so that they became momentarily famous. This one was published three days before they returned to the country.

Elder brother Cecil died earlier this year aged 91, but young Alan still lives in Harrogate.