Colliery Village to Call-Up

This section of the site focuses on my father Tom Tunney’s background as a young man in Thornley Colliery, County Durham. His service in the 16th DLI was purely by chance. Called up in December 1941, he could just have easily found himself in the RAF or the RN--or in almost any other Army unit. Here I have tried to place his wartime experiences within the larger picture of life in the village in 1939-45. Men and women from Thornley served in every conceivable branch of the armed services and in every theatre of war. At least three other men from Thornley served in the 16th DLI: Tom English, John Halliday and Syd Shutt, and at least one man from Wheatley Hill, Norman Cook. The pit remained in full production throughout this period, too, indeed many ‘Bevan Boys’ were assigned to work there. Also, many women from the village were employed at the large ammunition factory at Newton Aycliffe. All the information I have gathered on Thornley casualties and POWs in 1939-45 will be placed here. The neighbouring villages of Wheatley Hill and Ludworth, then as now, had close ties to Thornley, so I have also included some coverage of their wartime casualties, too--though these listings are by no means definitive. Further details and photographs all gratefully received.

Thornley in 1939 was a busy, thriving village of around 4,000 people. The pit head at its heart could be seen and heard from almost everywhere in the village and the incessant sigh of steam from the winding engine, alternating with its abrupt ‘chug-chug-chug’ of angry wheezing motion were constant reminders that the pit never slept.

The colliery gates opened onto the village’s main shopping street, Hartlepool Street, which followed the direction of the railway to Hartlepool. Opposite the pit gates was the Colliery Inn, the Market Place and Coronation Clock. And just up from the Market Place were the large houses of School Square, where my father’s family lived at No 43 until early 1942. Then they moved just up the road opposite the church to Theodore Cottage.

Going down Hartlepool Street, the pubs were in order: The Colliery Inn, The Queen’s Head, The Spearman’s Arms, The Three Horseshoes, The Station Hotel and The Workingmen’s Club. Off Hartlepool St, on a side street to the left was The Dun Cow Inn and to the right, very close to the railway line was The Railway Tavern. Tightly packed Victorian terraced houses were clustered in rows by the railway line and also on the other side of Hartlepool St. Slum clearance work had begun in earnest in the Thirties and much new council housing had recently been built on the farmland near Gore Hall farm in the upper part of the village.

Travelling up from pit along the main road through the village, the terraced High Street (where my father was born) led onto the Officials’ Club, Stanley Terrace and the Villas, the Aged Miners’ bungalows and the Catholic Church, the new estates of Thornlaw North and South and then up to the bright new houses and spacious gardens of Dunelm Road. At the top of Dunelm Road was the Half Way House pub and the road to Durham, which was about five miles away.

This then was the scene in Thornley on September 3rd 1939 when war was declared by Great Britain on Germany.


This section, as with all the other direct quotes of Tom Tunney in the web site, is taken from a series of very informal 1995 taped interviews. The memories are arranged as a series of one-page anecdotes. Click on the hyperlinks below to read them. Photographs and captions will be added to the right of the pages in due course.

The Day that War was Declared

Thornley Band in 1941 (photograph and caption)

Called Up and in the Colliery Inn

Brancepeth Camp

Brancepeth in the News

Soldier’s Pay

A Reporter goes to Brancepeth

With the 16th DLI in England

Letters from the Frontline in Tunisia 1943

The Battle of Sedjenane

A Prisoner of War in Italy, Camps 66 and 53

A Cattle Truck to Stalag 4B

POW Letters and Documents 1943-45

‘There was the Yanks, the Russians and Me and Ben.’ April 1945 in Bad Schmiedeberg. Germany

May 1945: Back in the Colliery Inn

The Old Village and the Old Routine

The Thornley Welcome Home Fund

Thornley Roll of Honour 1939-45

Wheatley Hill Roll of Honour 1939-45

Ludworth Roll of Honour 1939-45

Thornley, Wheatley Hill and Ludworth POWs 1939-45

Demobbed: ‘I’d come back, I wanted to be in the band and that was that!’

They Also Served: Clippings on Some Other People from the three villages who fought in WW2.
Thornley Colliery Pit Head