A SOUTH Tyneside soldier’s First World War medal has been returned to his family thanks to the detective work of a group of school pupils.
No one knows how the Victory Medal, awarded to Jarrow man, Corporal David Barr of the Durham Light Infantry, ended up in Newbottle Primary Academy, in Sunderland, but youngsters decided to track down the soldier’s relatives.
Now, on the centenary of the Great War, Cpl Barr’s great-great nephew, Malcolm Camp, 48, travelled from his home in Sheffield to receive the medal from the pupils.
Graham Stephenson, headteacher of the school – which dates back to the 1880s – said the medal was found during a clear-out of a cupboard in the nursery and no one has any idea how it came to be there.
The Year Six pupils enlisted the help of visitors from the Royal British Legion to research who it had belonged to and they were stunned to find there is no record of Cpl Barr ever living in Newbottle.
Instead, they found Jarrow man David Barr, who was born in 1883, had been called up in August 1914 and was one of the first soldiers to set foot on Belgian soil. He was ambushed by the Germans during a scout of the area just weeks later and spent four years in a Dutch prisoner of war camp.
Mr Stephenson said: “Our children were really keen to find David’s relatives. They wanted the medal returned to where it belongs.”
Teaching assistant Joanne McDonald, a keen genealogist, managed to contact Mr Camp, whose great grandmother, Agnes Macfarlane Barr Dalziel, was David Barr’s sister.
Mr Camp said: “Times were very tough and my grandparents moved to London with their nine children so my grandfather could find work, and lost touch with lots of family members.
“I was busy researching my North East family when I got a message from Joanne about the medal.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was so shocked. It is so kind of the children to want to return the medal to David’s family,
“I’m very humbled to have it. To find out that I have a blood relative who was a soldier with the DLI makes me very proud.”
The story has not ended there.
Both Mr Camp and the children of Newbottle Primary Academy are now on a quest to learn more about Cpl Barr – and they want to know how the medal came to be left in a box in a cupboard at the school and what happened to the War Medal and the 1914-15 Star, which they know he was also awarded.
Although they have managed to find a photograph of Agnes, they haven’t got one of David and would love to see what he looked like.
Mr Stephenson said: “This has been a fantastic project for the children. It has made the whole history of the war much more real for them.
“Although there is no obvious link with Newbottle, our children seem to have adopted him.”
What is known about Cpl Barr is that he had previously been a soldier with the DLI and had served in India. But, by the time of the war, he was a reservist.
As well as his sister, Agnes, he had two brothers, one of whom was called William.
At some point the family, who originally came from Scotland, lived in Jarrow’s Ferry Street, and David married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Purvis Ainsley, who worked in the corner shop.
It is thought they didn’t have any children.
If anyone can shed any light on the mystery, they’re asked to contact Newbottle Primary on 553 6571 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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