Arthur Henry Corner was born on 26 July 1893 in Coundon, County Durham, the fifth of eleven children born to William Francis and Margaret Elizabeth Corner. His father was a coke-burner who rose to become the plant manager at the Dean and Chapter Colliery in Ferryhill. Arthur Corner attended Leasingthorne School, then Bishop Auckland Grammar School, returning briefly to Leasingthorne before finishing there in July 1911.
He entered Bede College at Michaelmas 1911, having been accepted on the two-year teacher training course. He was in the first class passing the Archbishop’s Certificate examination for second year students in March 1913, and won his Certificate to complete his training in July the same year. During his time at the college he played in the rugby team, in the backs. His nickname was ‘Swosher’.
He then joined the staff of Tudhoe Colliery Council Mixed School as an assistant teacher in summer 1913, remaining there until November 1914, when it is recorded in the school log book that “… Messrs Robinson, Fairless and Corner have obtained leave of absence to join Lord Kitchener’s army… they join their battalion tomorrow” (Ref: Durham County Record Office E/WC 31). Corner’s last known address was The Villas, Dean Bank, Ferryhill, his parents’ home.
Corner joined 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. This unit had been formed locally by a County Committee which “agreed to raise and equip at their own expense” a battalion from the county. It was formed at Cocken Hall near Durham, on 24 September 1914, then training in Ripon and Fovant, Wiltshire. In June 1915 it became part of the 31st Division, and in August 1915 the battalion was officially taken over by the War Office. The County Committee however refused any compensation or payment for the raising and training of the Battalion, and so 18 DLI became the only battalion in the country to be raised solely by subscription.
On 22 December 1915 Arthur Corner deployed with the 31st Division to Kantara to Egypt, where the battalion was employed in building and renewing trenches and providing reinforcements to protect the Suez Canal. A short diary of Corner’s survives in the archive of the Durham Light Infantry at Durham County Record Office: it chronicles his day to day activities for the period from 28 December 1915 to 28 March 1916 – food and letters from home were high points! On 6 March 1916 the battalion re-embarked for France, arriving in Marseilles five days later. From here they moved by train to Pont-Remy, Picardy, on the Western Front.
The Battalion was first deployed to the north west of Beaumont Hamel and then moved to the north of the Serre-Colincamps road. On 20 June it again moved, this time to Colincamps itself. An attack was planned for the end of June but which had to be postponed due to bad weather. It took place on 1 July, by which time the enemy lines had been heavily strengthened round Serre, Puisieux and Gommecourt. The 93rd Infantry Brigade, of which 18 DLI was a part, was to act as the spearhead to penetrate through and beyond Serre, to which action “the Battalion was looking forward with cheerfulness and confidence to success” (War History of the 18th Battalion (S) Durham Light Infantry by Lieut.-Col. W.D. Lowe, OUP, 1920). At 07:20 the mine at Beaumont Hamel was sprung, the German troops responded, Lowe reports, with “a ferocity … as overwhelming as it was unexpected”.
Arthur Corner was wounded and severely gassed during the engagement on 1 July 1916, now (in)famously known as the opening of the Battle of the Somme, one of more than 60,000 allied casualties on that first day alone. He was brought back to hospital in England where he died of wounds on 10 July 1916.
His death was recorded in the December 1916 issue of The Bede magazine, which observed, “his comrades speak warmly of his unfailing cheerfulness and unflinching courage”. William E. Marshall, a lance corporal in 18 DLI and a former Bede man himself (missing, presumed killed, 3 May 1917) reported in the same issue:
It is also my sad duty to record the death in hospital of Arthur H. Corner (’11-’13) who was badly wounded after leaving the trenches to meet the Boche. He lived to see England again and we thought all was going well with him, when the sad news came through to us that he had passed away at Colchester. He was always the cheeriest of the cheery, and was as popular with his platoon and company as a man could wish to be. It was hard indeed to lose such a comrade.
The Bede magazine, December 1916
Arthur Corner is commemorated on the Durham County Hall Memorial, a memorial plaque in King James’ School, Bishop Auckland, Ferryhill War Memorial, and the Roll of Honour of Spennymoor and District Teachers’ Association. He is also honoured on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour. He is buried in Coundon St James’ Churchyard, County Durham.