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Bradford brothers provide inspiration for project exploring First World War's legacy

Published March 13, 2017 4.33pm


Villagers will be able to explore the history of the home of Britain's only brothers to win First World War Victoria Crosses thanks to a near £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Durham County Council and Groundwork NE have been awarded money to look at the legacy of the conflict on Witton Park as part of wider commemorations of the famous "Fighting Bradfords."

A day of events was organized by Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership to mark the opening a new memorial garden, which features a Victoria Cross stone in honour of brigadier general Roland Boys Bradford and a new statue by the creator of Seaham's "Tommy," artist Ray Lonsdale.

While the lives of the four Bradford brothers - George, James, Roland and Thomas - their parents, and younger sister Amy, will provide a starting point for a series of family events, public talks and school workshops over the coming months in conjunction with Durham County Record Office and the DLI Collection.

Cllr Neil Foster, Durham County Council's cabinet member for economic regeneration, arts and culture, said: "The bravery, heroism, service and sacrifice of the Bradford brothers - Roland and George who won Victoria Crosses, James with his Military Cross and Thomas, who was later knighted - is rightly still remembered today.

"We are proud to be involved in a project that will see a lasting memorial to the Fighting Bradfords, and that with the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund will allow local people to discover more of their own personal histories and that of their community, including the 150 Belgian refugees who moved to Witton Park during the war."

Who were the Bradford brothers?

George, James, Roland and Thomas Bradford were all decorated for their service during the First World War.

Youngest brother Roland rapidly rose through the ranks, and at the age of 25 became the youngest Brigadier General in the history of the British Army. In 1917 he led his brigade in the Battle of Cambrai, the first major tank battle, but was killed on the tenth day. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On St George's Day 1918 - his 31st birthday - George volunteered for a mission against German submarines in Zeebrugge, during which he was killed. His bravery saw him posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

James' actions during the Battle of the Somme in 1917 earned him a Military Cross, but as he neared the end of a week-long battle he was injured and later died in hospital.

Eldest brother Thomas was the only one who returned home from the war. Before the war he captained Durham County Cricket Club, and afterwards he stood for Parliament twice. He was knighted in 1939 for his contribution to public service.

What will the HLF money be used for?

The £49,800 from the HLF will enable activities including educational visits by learning officers from the DLI Collection, which is now based at Sevenhills near Spennymoor, giving pupils in local schools a chance to handle real objects from the First World War and explore and investigate the lives of soldiers and their families.

It will also see archivists from Durham County Record Office commissioned to run workshops, starting in April, to research the names on the village's war memorial plaque, with the results uploaded to the HLF backed Durham at War website.

An artist-led schools project on spiritualist art, and public talks and events - starting with a talk by local historian Harry Moses and including Mothers Day and First World War cookery activities - are planned.

While a "virtual exchange" scheme will see children from County Durham primary schools workign with their Belgian counterparts to find out more about ancestors of refugees who moved to Witton park.

Ivor Crowther, head of HLF North East, said: "The story of the Bradford brothers, their family and the community they shared their home with provides an incredible and emotive perspective on the impact of the First World War.

"Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we're pleased to support this project which will see people in Witton Park come together to remember the George, James, Roland and Thomas, share their own memories of the conflict and reflect on how it has shaped the place in which they live today."

The Memorial Garden

The unveiling of the Roland Bradford VC Commemorative Stone took place on Saturday 11 March in a new memorial garden on Main Street in Witton Park.

The memorial was made possible through £80,000 in Section 106 "social and community" funding that Durham County Council has received from developers working on projects in the area and £22,500 from the neighbourhood budgets of councillors Rob Yorke and Christine Wilson.

On the day of its unveiling the village also played host to a range of events including an adaptation of Durham's Gala Theatre's Fighting Bradford's play by young people from nearby schools, a screening of the HLF backed Wear At War film, and exhibitions from both local historians and the DLI Collection.

Discovering the legacy of the First World War

On the 20 March, past and present residents of Witton Park are invited to the first in a series of public events where they can find out how to get involved in future workshops and research. The event will take place at Witton Park Village Hall at 6pm and will be followed by a talk on the Bradford Family at 7pm by historian Harry Moses.

Joanne Norman, Senior Project Officer at Groundwork North East said "Over the next year we would like to involve as many residents of Witton Park, past and present, to build up a picture of the village during that time.

"Inspired by the Bradford family, local people will discover their own family's contribution to the Great War and experience what life was like for them."