Richard Robson Corker was born 14 July 1892 at Beamish, County Durham. He was the oldest of three children born to John Robson Corker, a butcher, and his wife Jane. The other children were George Holt Corker, born in 1894, and Edna May Corker, born in December 1902. In 1901 the family were living at 227 Stanhope Road, South Shields, and by 1911 they had moved to 22 Front Street, Quebec.
Having studied at Stanhope Road School and then the Pupil Teacher Centre at Consett Technical Institute, Richard was admitted to Bede College, where he attended 1910-1912. He lodged at 58 Gilesgate in the city with a couple of other Bede students from his year and a former Bede student, then a teacher in a city school. All these fellow lodgers, John Kitching, Henry Simmons, and Joseph Lowes, served in the Great War - Joseph (who was wounded) as a lieutenant with 12 DLI, John as a lance corporal in 8 DLI, and Henry who was also in 8 DLI and was badly wounded and invalided out in October 1916.
Richard was an active participant in many areas of college life, both during and after his time there. He played hockey, becoming vice-captain in 1911/12, and was secretary of the college rugby and football teams. We know from an obituary that he also played tennis. Music was another pastime: he could sing and play the piano. At the traditional Farewell and Welcoming Common Room concerts in June and October 1911 he sang in a trio (‘O memory’), a duet (‘Drake’s Drum’), and solo (‘The Veteran’s Song’), gave a valedictory speech, and accompanied on the piano the rendition of the national anthem. He was also acted as secretary in 1914 for his year’s reunion dinner in Newcastle. An amusing photograph of the 1912 college Smoke Hole club survives (E/HB 2/743), in which Corker’s nickname is noted as “Com”.
Richard completed his teacher training in July 1912 and was appointed as a certificated teacher at Waterhouses Mixed Council School, where he had trained as a student teacher. He was given permission by the County Education Committee to enlist on 30 September 1914, and he joined 18 DLI (the ‘Durham Pals’).
18 DLI was one of the Kitchener’s Army battalions, raised from the enthusiastic flood of volunteers in the first months of the war, and it was unique in that the expenses of about £10,000 for raising and equipping it were paid for entirely by the County of Durham (the only unit not paid for by the government). The battalion was formed and trained at Cocken Hall, and at the end of 1914 was sent to form part of the garrison of Hartlepool, where it became the first of the New Armies to come under fire, but from the German navy rather than its army. Cocken Hall and its grounds were excavated by a HLF-funded archaeological group, No Man’s Land, in 2016. Richard served with the battalion during its time in Egypt (December 1915 – March 1916), and was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
The battalion was withdrawn from Egypt in March and landed at Marseilles on 11 March 1916. It then moved to Northern France by a series of "long and exhausting" marches. After a period in the front line, the battalion was withdrawn for training, but returned to the front line on 20-24 April and 14-19 May. 18 DLI was one of the units which was involved in the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. Richard Corker was badly wounded by shell fire on that first day. There was a report in Bede Magazine that it was two days before he could be moved back to the advanced dressing post, where he died. However the official records give his date of death as 1 July.
He is buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps. He was reported to have been recommended for a decoration ‘for steadiness, and reliability under fire, and devotion to duty at all times, both as an able instructor, and as a leader in trenches’, but nothing came of this. During the first four days of the battle 18 DLI lost 12 officers and 440 other ranks out of a total of 789 which had moved up to the front line on 30 June.
A memorial service was held for ‘Dick’ Corker at St John’s Church, Quebec (where he had been a member of the church choir) on 23 July 1916. A lectern in this church was dedicated to Corker to commemorate his sacrifice. The newspaper report of the service notes that he had been a member of the Marquis of Granby Freemasons’ Lodge.