British WW1 Rifle Officer’s Sword, Durham Light Infantry, Lieutenant Houghton Aldgate Cotching
Straight spear-pointed blade with central fuller. Pierced nickel-plated steel hilt of ‘Gothic’ style with inset crown & strung bugle badge of the light infantry. Steel ferrule, partly chequered backstrap and oval pommel cap. Wire-bound shagreen grip. Brown leather washer, black leather sword knot with acorn. Brown leather field scabbard. Blade 31¼ inches, 37 5/8 inches overall.
The blade is etched on both sides with the royal crown, cypher and shield of George V, and foliate motifs. At the forte on one side it is etched with the royal coat of arms, above the maker’s mark ‘Fenton Brothers Ltd Sheffield Cutlers Estd 1850 Silversmiths to H.M. Government’, which is arranged within a garter similar to that in the royal coat of arms, surmounted by a crown with laurel wreaths and a shield within. On the other it has a proof mark consisting of the word ‘PROVED’ stamped within an etched six-pointed star. There is a blank cartouche on each side for the owner’s name to be applied, on the outside (proof mark side) this has been etched with ‘H. A. Cotching 6th D.L.I. 4th June 1915’. The inside of the hilt is stamped ‘Fenton Bros Ltd Sheffield’
Houghton Aldgate Cotching was born in Hull in 1887. He was commissioned into the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry on the 4th June 1915, exactly matching the etched date on this sword which would have been part of his new uniform. The 6th Battalion was a Territorial Force unit of part-time soldiers headquartered in Bishop Auckland, and was on its annual camp in Wales when the First World War broke out. After months of training the battalion was deployed to the Western Front in April 1915 with the Northumbrian Division. Houghton joined them in the field that same month, shortly after the Second Battle of Ypres in which they took heavy casualties counterattacking German lines in the aftermath of the first chlorine gas attack, forcing them to merge with the 8th Battalion until enough reinforcements arrived. It went on to fight on the Ypres Salient, Arras and the Somme. He was promoted Lieutenant in June 1916.
On the 2nd October 1916 Houghton was wounded by a gunshot to his arm and abdomen, while his battalion was waiting for drier weather to make an attack on the Butte de Wariencourt. He survived this injury and married in December. He may have required time to recuperate and does not appear to have returned to frontline service: in November 1917 he was seconded to the Inland Water Transport and Docks Section – a Royal Engineers unit created in 1914 to manage transport along canals and natural waterways. By 1917 it was active not just in France & Belgium but also Mesopotamia, Egypt and Salonika. Posted to the Middle East, Houghton was made Acting Captain while in service with the same unit in September 1918 and remained with them until March 1919.
In April 1920 he was placed on a special appointment with the rank of temporary Major. Houghton ultimately became the Chief Mechanical Engineer of Palestine Railways. I would hypothesise that his wartime service had involved the Palestine Military Railway, a network stretching from El Kantara to Haifa built by the Royal Engineers during the war. In October 1920 that railway was handed over to Palestine Railways, a public company under the government of the new British Mandate. With prior experience he would have been a natural choice for chief engineer. His wife Eva Cotching (nee Lamb) was a doctor who established an ‘Infant Welfare Center’ at Haifa to drive down infant mortality with modern nursing and midwifery. She was awarded the OBE in 1930 for her humanitarian work. Houghton died in 1961.
Light patination to the blade. The hilt has wholly intact bright nickel plating. The shagreen of the grip is all intact with very little handling wear, the wire binding is all present and tight. The leather scabbard has some minor dents & scuffing to the body and rubbing wear at the chape, all its stitching is fully intact. The sword knot is flexible with a little wear to the edges of its strap and some exposed core on the acorn.