ONE of the reasons the First World War interests so many people is that practically every family has a First World War story.

This is Lt Wilfred Barker, of Kneeton Hall Farm, near Middleton Tyas, who joined up in 1915 and ended up a lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps. He won a Military Cross just before the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 because he managed to get his guns into position despite heavy shelling and dreadful weather.

On March 24, 1918, he was caught up in the German Spring Offensive – their last desperate push before the Americans weighed in. Near Bapaume, his leg was shattered beneath the knee.

He spent the rest of the war in hospital. Indeed, his injury affected his life for decades afterwards, as he required a daily bandage change and regular periods in hospital to keep infection at bay. It wasn’t until penicillin became widely available in the 1950s that it began to heal properly.

Such an injury prevented him from returning to farming, so he ran a milk business and then worked for Vale of Mowbray at Leeming. During the Second World War, he became a food inspector, and he died in 1970.

“We never found his war diary, and he certainly never talked about his experiences, even though I was in the army for 21 years,” says his son, Ashley, who lives in Richmond.

Is it possible that Lt Barker was well enough to be in Richmond Market Place on the day the kaiser was burned in 1918?

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of…

November 23, 1918

THOUSANDS of released prisoners of war were arriving by steamships at Hull, and Ripon was designated as one of two camps in the country that would take them – 10,000 ex-prisoners were to go to Dover and 21,000 to Ripon, where they would be fed, clothed, treated and then returned to their families.

The first five trains into Ripon had been greeted by cheering crowds and motor cars, to drive the men to the camp.

“Considering the trials they had been through, the men looked fairly well,” said the D&S.

The Queen had sent 13,550 articles of clothing and food as a “cordial welcome” for the Ripon men, and the camp commanders were preparing up to 160,000 uniforms to give to the men as they returned.

On the same day as the first trains arrived, Richmond was meting out justice to the Kaiser, the “crime-stained ex-potentate”. An effigy was made of him and he was put on trial in front of an “enormous crowd”.

“Equipped in full military regalia, he was firmly bound to a stout post in the Market Place,” said the D&S Times. “A placard describing him as “the Beast of Berlin and murderer of women and children” was affixed.

“The court martial proceedings against the staked delinquent evoked the utmost appreciative hilarity. The judge, the prosecuting and defending counsels and the jury were chosen from wounded soldiers under treatment at the Red Cross hospitals, and it need hardly be stated that despite all that could be urged on the culprit’s behalf, he was unanimously adjudged guilty of the many crimes.

“Both the verdict and the sentence that he should be publicly burnt were tumultuously approved by the vast assemblage.”

At 6pm, “the spacious market square was densely packed with spectators” as the Richmond mayoress, Mrs GR Wade, delivered the sentence.

“There was a great cheering when she applied a torch to the mass of inflammatory material which surrounded the doomed malefactor, who had been bound in position to take his final gruel with iron hoops,” said the D&S.

“From the spectacular point of view, he withstood the ordeal exceedingly well, for despite the fierceness of the flames, it took nearly two hours to reduce him to a frazzle.”

November 23, 1968

TEESSIDE AIRPORT was to cost ratepayers £18,000 more than expected due to growing operating losses, councillors were told 50 years ago this week.

Eleven local authorities in Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire had clubbed together to buy the RAF airfield in 1963, and on November 2, 1966, they had officially opened an international terminal there. However, in its second full year of operation, it was to cost the councils more than £180,000 as the number of training flights had not been as high as expected.

“The Air Races and Pageant, which had made a £740 profit in 1967, made a £190 loss this year, partly due to a considerable increase in the cost of accommodation for visiting aircrews,” said the D&S.

An airport spokesman told the paper: “The deficit must be seen in the light of deficits at other municipal airports. At Newcastle, for instance, it amounts of £375,000 and at Liverpool £500,000.

“It must also be remembered that Teesside Airport is providing a valuable service by brining industry to the area. The airport is an investment.”

In Richmond, the town’s Post Office Advisory Committee asked a “ticklish” question: now Darlington had taken over mail sorting duties, would Richmond lose its postmark and have all its letters stamped “Darlington, County Durham”?

HT Minchin, Darlington head postmaster, acknowledged the ticklishness of the question and said: “We know people have a certain sentiment about their postmarks. It is possible Richmond would lose its postmark, but there is no suggested that the postal address should be other than ‘Richmond, Yorkshire’.”

November 21, 1868

IT was exactly 150 years ago this week that the owner of the Darlington & Stockton Times, Henry King Spark, failed in his bid to become Darlington’s first MP.

We told his extraordinary story in these columns a year ago when he tried, and failed, to take control of the town’s first proper council. We called him “the Donald of Darlo” because he was a maverick megalomaniac who tried to drain the swamp of the town’s ruling Quaker elite.

He went in to the election convinced he would win convincingly, but lost by 1,789 votes to 875 to the Quaker banker Edmund Backhouse, and he accused his opponents of “every kind of corruption, intimidation and undue influence”, and he angrily demanded “retribution”.

In a tear-stained speech after the result was announced, he said theatrically: “Gentlemen, or rather let me say ladies and gentlemen…(after a pause)…I cannot speak…my heart is wounded…I am full of grief. My heart was with Darlington, and I could think of no other place. Darlington has rejected me. Whatever my future career may be, I can never forget the grand, the noble-hearted women of Darlington (great cheering).”

As he turned to leave the podium, the D&S said his supporters called out: “No, no, Mr Spark! You still live and are more firmly fixed than ever in the heart, the soul and the affection of Darlington…wait a little longer…you are not the rejected of Darlington. No, no, never!”