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Bernard McArdle (1894-1930)

From Sunderland, served with the 7th Battalion DLI, played piano in the trenches.

Bernard ‘Barney’ McArdle was born in Sunderland in 1894, the son of Bernard McArdle, who worked as a street ‘pavior’ [laying paving stones] for Sunderland Corporation and his wife, Elizabeth. In 1911, ‘Barney’ was living at home with his parents and working as a casual street pavior.

From his low number (7/1909), ‘Barney’ joined his local Territorial Force battalion, the 7th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, in Sunderland before the First World War began.

On 19 April 1915, after long months of training, the battalion, including Private McArdle, left for France and was immediately sent into battle at Ypres. After the Second Battle of Ypres had ended, these Sunderland soldiers moved to a quieter sector at Armentières in France in late July 1915, where, amazingly, they found a piano in a trench.

In 1989, Frank Surtees, who had served in ‘A’ Company 1/7th DLI, was recorded by the Imperial War Museum and he remembered the piano.

“At Armentières some unit had got a piano and dragged it up and got it into a trench. I don’t know how they did it. This day, the sergeant started playing this piano. We were shouting [singing?] and we had only been doing it for two or three minutes when He [the Germans] turned a battery on us. I’ve never seen the sergeant shift so much.”
Quoted in Clive Dunn, The Fighting Pioneers. The Story of the 7th Battalion DLI (2015), p.79.

Sometime that summer in the trenches at Armentières, ‘Barney’ McArdle was photographed playing this piano.

Private McArdle survived over three years on the Western Front, He returned home to Sunderland 1919, where, in June, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM), though why is unclear.

‘Barney’ McArdle died in Sunderland in 1930.

Imperial War Museum Oral History, Catalogue No: 10913 (1989): Frank Surtees, 1/7th Battalion DLI.

Trench Piano. According to Major Alwyn Raimes, who wrote a history of the 5th Battalion DLI, this piano was also played by 5 DLI’s soldiers. In a letter home, dated 15 August 1915, he wrote “In our trench… there is a piano which the men play much to their delight. I understand however that if they play the Marseillaise the Germans quickly retaliate with a Whizz-bang.”

Civil Parish: Sunderland

Birth date: 1894

Death date: 1930

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: 1911 Census: 15 Coronation Street, Sunderland.

Employment: 1911 Census: Casual street pavior.

Family: 1910 & 1911 Census: Parents: Bernard & Elizabeth McArdle. Siblings – Charles, Eliza, Margaret, Clara, William, Nora, Winifreda, Mary Elsie, and Louisa.

Military service:

7/1909 (later 275216) Private, 1/7th Battalion DLI.

Medal(s): 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Meritorious Service Medal.

Gender: Male

Contributed by Durham County Record Office