The Life of a World War One Soldier

People interested in World War One can learn more about a Victoria Cross recipient in an online talk this week.

Durham County Record Office, run by Durham County Council, continues its popular online talks, with an event run in partnership with the local authority’s Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Community Cohesion Service on Thursday (10 February).

The free talk focuses on the life of John Cunningham, a Romany Gypsy from Hull who served in the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment and had relatives in the Durham Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community.

In November 1916, John was involved in the Battle of the Ancre, the last big British attack of the Somme offensive, as part of a bombing section.

The only man in his section not killed or injured after meeting strong opposition, John collected bombs from his fallen comrades before continuing alone and managing to clear the trench to the new British line.

This heroic action earned John a Victoria Cross, the Army’s highest gallantry medal, which was presented to him by the King in July 1917. He received a hero’s welcome when he returned home, where he lived with his wife and two children.

Dawn Layland, education and outreach archivist for the record office, said: “Our online talks offer fascinating insights into our past and we are delighted to be working with the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Community Cohesion Service to offer this talk on the life of John Cunningham.

“As well as looking at John’s life and actions in the war, we will also focus on the broader context of World War One and the times in which John lived. This is an excellent opportunity for those with an interest in the war to learn more and we look forward to welcoming participants on Thursday.”

The talk starts at 7pm and booking is essential to receive the joining link. To book a place, visit the record office online shop at:

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