The Man Behind the Medals
In this blog series, SOFO Museum's Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum's collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive.
While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier's service, it's only with further research that their full story can be revealed! SOFO's Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum's records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.
Colour Sgt Alfred James Durn
Alfred James Durn was born in December 1893 in Whiteshill near Stroud, the son of John & Emily Durn. Alfred was the eldest of nine children, seven of whom survived infancy. Alfred’s father John was a carter, working for a local brewery and on farms. Alfred had a younger brother Walter who joined the Gloucester Regiment, but when Alfred joined up in April 1911, he chose the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and was assigned to the 1st Battalion (the old 43rd) as Private 9452.
Private Durn joined the 1st Bn (part of the 6th Poona Division) when he landed in Mesopotamia on 5th December 1914 and took part in the advance up the Tigris River on Baghdad. Fortunately, he was not with the battalion when they were beleaguered in Kut El Amara (there were over 100 men absent at that time) and consequently avoided the dreadful suffering of the survivors after the surrender of Kut. He was with the provisional battalion which became the new 1st Bn and took part in the advance up the Tigris with them until he was wounded in December 1916.
Invalided home, and after convalescence, he was posted to the 2nd Bn (the old 52nd) serving on the Western Front. The 2nd Bn were part of 5 Bgd in the 2nd Division and saw a great deal of hard fighting in 1917 and 1918, including the Battle of the Canal du Nord in October 1918 – part of the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. Cpl Durn was wounded again in this battle but returned to his unit for the final advance into Germany.
Army life obviously suited Colour Sergeant 5373205 Durn, as he re-enlisted in February 1919 and continued to serve with the 2nd Bn. He married Ethel Isabel Tritton in June 1919 in Oakridge, Glos, and their first child Ivy was born in Cowley Barracks in February 1921. The 2nd Bn were posted to Rawalpindi, India in March 1922, where the Durn’s next child – Muriel – was born in March 1924. The battalion saw service on the North West Frontier before being moved to Burma in 1929 as part of the contingency force during the Galon Rebellion. C/Sgt Durn however had returned home before this, being posted to the Cowley Depot, with two more children being born in Oxford in 1926 and 1927 and was awarded his Long Service Medal in 1929.
Warrant Office Durn completed his service and left the Army on 19th April 1933. In 1939 he was recorded as living in Randwick near Stroud where he worked as a plastic mixer/roller, and was still living there in 1946. He died in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire in late 1976, his wife Ethel having died ten years before him.
1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Defence Medal, Long Service and Good Conduct Medal