READERS have been piecing together what happened to the pieces of the stone soldier who once stood atop the war memorial in Tursdale, County Durham.
As Memories told last week, he was unveiled on March 25, 1922, in tribute to the 41 men from Tursdale Colliery who had gone to war and not come back.
But now the stone soldier’s plinth is bare.
Where has he gone?
Lots of people contacted Memories to point the finger at drunken roadbuilders who were living in caravans while constructing the A1(M) between Bradbury and Bowburn in the mid-1960s.
It would appear that they were merrily passing one night and one of their number had a spade with which he whacked the soldier’s head off.
“As soon as it was knocked off, the head disappeared, but the body of the statue stood there for quite a few years,” says Peter Wearmouth, of Ferryhill.
During the 1970s, Ralph Walton was a manager in the National Coal Board workshops that stood on the site of Tursdale Colliery after it closed in 1968.
Ralph remembers that in about June 1979, he was approached by a sculptor who wanted help in removing the soldier’s torso.
Ralph refused until the sculptor produced a letter signed by Tom Bartle, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Union.
“We got four men who loaded it onto a lorry and dropped it off in a yard in the Market Street area of Chester-le-Street,” he says.
“When they got back, they said he had wanted it lifted upstairs into his workshop but they didn’t have the time or the lifting equipment so they left it in an alleyway.”
That alleyway seems to have been the soldier’s last resting place. “It was in perfect condition,” says Ralph, “except that the head was off.”
Nearly all the callers to Memories expressed dismay that the plinth was bare, particularly after they saw the brilliant job which has been done down the road in Coundon where the stone soldier, absent without leave for 30 years, is now proudly restored.
Surely the 100th anniversary of the war is the time for the parish council, county councillors and the miners’ union to lead the way in getting the Tursdale Tommy restored to his plinth.
It seems unlikely that there will ever be a better opportunity than the century, and once it passes, Tursdale will be left with an unworthy bald plinth.