'Important' WWI suitcase salvaged from tip to be exhibited on Remembrance Day

A discarded World War One suitcase discovered by workers at a Wearside waste plant last year is to be exhibited in Sunderland to mark Remembrance Day.

The leather case - salvaged in November 2020 - contains photographs, letters and other documents from the 1910s, including letters from Winston Churchill and Secretary of State for War Herbert Kitchener.

Its contents tell the remarkable story of the Cowie family from Wearside, who lost two relatives during the war: father John Cowie and his son Henry.

John (centre) and Henry (left). George Cowie (right) survived the war.

If not for the eagle-eyed Thompson Waste Centre staff, the family's unique account of the conflict and a large engraved medal would have been lost to the ages.

On Thursday 11 November, the suitcase and therefore the Cowie story is to be exhibited at The Fans Museum in Sunderland.

Speaking to ITV News Tyne Tees following the discovery, a family tree researcher praised the staff for their 'important find'.

Anne Ganley, owner of Thompson Waste Centre at the Parade, Hendon, was staggered by the find - and wanted to ensure that the two men would not be forgotten.

She organised a stone for them to be laid at Sunderland's Veterans Walk and has funded the creation of the exhibition, with the space loaned by the fan museum at Monkwearmouth.

"These amazing items could so easily have been lost," she said.

Anne also made a donation to a local history organisation to carry out some research  about the men and their family, to build up a real picture of their past.

"There couldn't be a better day to unveil these amazing artefacts," said Anne.

"And we hope that this is something that we will be able to run every single year around Remembrance Day, to ensure that this important piece of local history is maintained."

The research unearthed a tragic tale.

Meg Hartford discovered that Ellen Stephenson had eight children in all, with her son, George, also going to war, but surviving.

She found Henry was born in 1897 in Sunderland and joined the 15th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. According to his 'Soldier's Small Book' he was number 15752.

He rose to the rank of Corporal before being killed in action aged just 18 "at a place unknown" on 26 September 1915. He was buried in 1915 in Loos-en-Gohelle, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.

Unlike Henry, his father, John made it back to England and died at a War Hospital in Croydon, aged 51. He was buried at Southwick Cemetery.

Michael Ganley, Founder of the Fans Museum, said they were very excited "to be able to house such an important part of World War I history."

"This is not only significant in world history but the fact that the family were from Southwick, an area I lived in as a child, makes it extra important to us.

The exhibition opens on 11 November and will run until 30 November.