Durham Record Office to Tell Story of North East’s Luckiest Woman

Durham Record Office to Tell Story of North East's Luckiest Woman
A WWI submarine attack was launched on Seaham

A talk at Durham County Record Office is to reveal the story of the north east’s luckiest woman from the times of the First World War.

Standing in the small kitchen of her unassuming pit village home, Barbara Mortensen had the luckiest of escapes.

At around 10.30 pm on a clear summer night, a German shell demolished part of her backyard wall, smashed through her kitchen wall, flew straight past her, crossed the room and landed near her front door. The shell, however, failed to explode.

On that July evening in 1916, Barbara had miraculously cheated death as her Danish husband Carl and her children slept peacefully upstairs. But, just a short distance away, Mary Slaughter was not so lucky.

While walking through the yard of New Seaham Colliery, 35-year-old Mary was hit by another shell fired by the same German submarine, which had surfaced 1.5 miles away. The next day, Mary died from her injuries.

The German submarine would bombard that section of the Durham coast with 39 missiles that night.

Durham Record Office to Tell Story of North East's Luckiest Woman
Newspaper reports from the time

The contrasting stories – and luck – of these two women will form part of the first ‘Third Thursday Talk’ to be delivered at Durham County Record Office in 2017.

Education and outreach archivist Dawn Layland said, “If you are familiar with the history of County Durham you may know that Hartlepool was bombarded by the German fleet in 1914, but many may not know that Seaham also came under enemy fire in 1916.”

“In the colliery village of New Seaham, 1.5 miles inland from Seaham Harbour, the quiet of a July evening was shattered by a German submarine attack.”

“Staff at the record office have built up a huge wealth of knowledge about the archives we hold and the history of our county, and our Third Thursday Talks are our chance to share that knowledge.” 

“The first talk – ‘Coastal Seaham Investigation: Submarine Bombardment’ – is a great story.”

“Come and find out about the luckiest woman in County Durham.”

The talk costs £2 per person and will take place on Thursday 19th January between 12.30 and 1.15 pm. The venue will be Durham County Record Office, in County Hall at Aykley Heads.

Anybody interested in hearing the talk can book a place by calling 03000 267626. More information can be accessed at www.durhamrecordoffice.org.uk.

Two further talks – entitled ‘Relieving the Monotony: DLI Regimental Journals 1857-1968’ and ‘From Idea to Act of Parliament: Local Legislation in the 18th Century’ – will be held on the third Thursdays of March and May respectively.   

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