The Project

Milestone for project as second year of research begins.

The Tynemouth World War One Commemoration project was formed a year ago by a handful of people who believed the significant loss of life suffered by the community should be remembered in a manner which recognised the sacrifice of many local families in a war which was the first to be fought with the terrible technology made possible by the advances of science and engineering in the late 19th century.

In 12 months we have gathered a group of over 60 willing volunteers who work at home, in the Local Studies Section of the Library and from our base in Room B9 at the Linskill Community Centre. Our aim, to develop a biographical record of each of those killed or died as a result of the war, based on the Roll of Honour compiled in 1923 by the Shields Daily News is harnessing the new technology of the late 20th and early 21st centuries to provide the most complete details we can find about each casualty and present it in an accessible form to be made available on the world wide web.

We are pleased that the progress made to date means that our target of making the fully detailed database available on the internet by August 2014 will be achievable. What is remarkable is the large amount of historical material in relation to family histories and significant events in the war which is being offered to us to assist in our research.

We are beginning the second year of the project confident that we will only expand our activity and are pleased that so many persons, both those with family connections to the casualties living locally and from around the world are willing to help us to ensure that the sacrifice of a hundred years ago is recognised and recorded for the future. The new year of 1915 began with many believing that the war would be brought to a conclusion within the year. The German advance in the west had been halted and a line of trenches now stretched from the North Sea coast of Belgium to the Swiss border. Look at an old pre-1914 school atlas of course, and you will find not the North Sea but the German Ocean - only one of the examples of early political correctness imposed in the wave of anti-German sentiment which was to grow throughout the period of the war. Our own royal family of course were to change their name to the House of Windsor from the rather less appealing Saxe Coburg Gotha.

Project receives information of national significance.

As the end of first year of the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project approaches the most gratifying aspect of past twelve months has been the enthusiasm of people of all ages for the work of the project and their wish to be involved in whatever way they can, to assist in the creation of the lasting record of the sacrifice of the local community which through their efforts is now more than a mere pipedream.

The project has struck a chord with many individuals whether they have a direct family connection or just an interest in the history of the town or the war.

What is remarkable is the amount of significant information that is still held by relatives of those killed in the war. Both families still living locally, and others often on the far side of the world are contacting the project and bringing in to the Workroom or sending by email material that is in some instances of national significance in the history of the tragic events of the period from 1914 to 1919, when the country endured a trial of unimaginable loss for families throughout the land.

Recently we were contacted by a relative of one of only 11 survivors of the sinking of HMS Hampshire on the 5th June, 1916. Richard Simpson was only 18 years old when he was serving in HMS Hampshire on its ill-fated voyage to Russia from the Orkneys. At 8pm on a summer evening but in the teeth of a tremendous storm the ship was forced to turn back to port and then struck a mine. All but a handful of the 650 souls aboard perished as the ship went down, and attempts to launch lifeboats only resulted in them being smashed to pieces against the side of the warship. The significance of this event was of course that the great architect of the creation of the vastly enlarged British armies - Horatio Herbert Lord Kitchener - was a passenger on the ship, being taken to Russia for talks with the Tsarist government about the future conduct of the war and Russia's needs for assistance.

The loss of the military hero of the late 19th century deprived the nation of a great popular figurehead, although by this time he had lost much of the power and authority he had at the start of the war when appointed Minister for War in the Cabinet on the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.

As with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, many people would recall where they were when Kitchener's death was announced. Reportedly many at the time thought the war could not be won without him. In reality he was to a great extent marginalised from key decision-making by the spring of 1916, and his greatest achievement had been insisting at the start of the war that it would be both long and costly in manpower - regrettably in that, he was totally correct.

Richard Simpson was of much humbler origins in North Shields with only a short life behind him. However, he has his place in history as one of only 11 survivors, who in the horrendous conditions that evening, as the ship was blown up by a mine, managed to cling for several hours to a Carley float (survival raft) and scramble ashore - one of only 6 of 60 reportedly clinging to the raft when it cast of from the ship. Along with six others clinging to a similar raft they were the only survivors of the tragic event.

The project has been sent a number of important pictures of Richard and a news picture of the survivors taken only days after there epic adventure. In addition we have been reminded of a News Guardian item in October, 2010 when Richard was shown as a member of a class photograph from the Jubilee School taken in about 1906.

The project is now seeking as much additional information as possible about Richard and the events of his short life. Sadly, he only survived for a year and was then lost in the sinking of the SS Thames an armed merchant cruiser lost in August, 1917.

The most significant item received to date is a transcript of his letter home to his mother telling of the terrible circumstances of the ship wreck and his survival. This is an item of importance in the history of the loss of the Hampshire and will be preserved for the future interest of anyone studying the events of that time. It will be passed to relevant archives and the Imperial War Museum where his part in the events surrounding the drowning of the great military leader will be recorded. The story of Richard and several of his classmates in the ill-fated Class 6 of 1906 at Jubilee School will be a part of the project's work over the coming 2 years.

If anyone wishes to get involved in the work of the project they are most welcome to come along to the workroom at Linskill Community centre and see some of the fascinating materials already being built up into what it is hoped will be a comprehensive record of the contribution and sacrifices of local families in the Great War.

Project's invitation to join tour to Great War battlefields and memorial.

The Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project's first trip to the battlefields of the Great War will take place in May, 2012. The five day tour — 21st to 25th — is being organised in association with DFDS Seaways and will travel to Belgium and France. Anyone interested to join the tour will be welcome to join project volunteers and other readers with a family or personal interest in the battlefield areas to be visited. Full details of the tour and how to book can found at www.dfdsseaways.co.uk or by telephone 0871 522 9955.

The tour will include visits to the major battlefield areas and memorials of the Ypres Salient, Vimy Ridge and the Arras area. The project hopes that if this trip is well supported a number of visits will be organised over the coming three years. The trip will be an opportunity for many local residents with family connection to the men commemorated on the Tynemouth Roll of Honour to see the places where they fought and died: something which was to be a major aspiration in 1918 for the families of the hundreds of thousands killed and missing.

The end of the war in 1918 brought great relief for many but for others only hopes for an opportunity to visit the areas where loved ones had been reported killed or missing. Soon after the end of hostilities an announcement was made in parliament regarding the provisional casualties for the war. On 20 November, 1918, the Shields Daily News gave details of the military losses which of course were to be swelled considerably when merchant navy casualties were added to the grim toll. These additional losses were a significant element of the names which would be included in the Tynemouth Roll of Honour — the losses of merchant shipping had been a great threat to the very continuance of the war by Britain and her allies, in the early part of 1917 when the U-Boat menace was at its height.

The largest proportion of military losses were incurred in Belgium and Northern France, where the British and Dominion troops had held a small length of the 600 mile trench system extending from the North sea coast to the Swiss frontier. It is sobering to reflect on the appalling losses incurred along barely 100 miles of front, where British troops were actively fighting. The provisional figures showed 560,000 Officers and Other Ranks killed in France and Flanders but that figure was belied by the figures for the Wounded — 1,860,000 (many of whom would succumb to their injuries over the coming weeks and years), and the further 320,000 of the missing — almost all of whom would be officially declared dead in the coming months.

The creation of the great memorials to the missing would not begin for many years and the newly established Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission was faced with an almost insuperable task to trace and record the deaths of so many, when the chaotic nature of the final months of fighting from March to November had seen temporary graves obliterated and obscured by the to and fro of the final struggle.

On the 25 of November, 1918 the Shields Daily News noted that the French had announced land would be granted for cemeteries for the burial (and reburial) of British and Dominion soldiers, and that such land would be held by the government of France on behalf of Britain in perpetuity. The War Graves commission has by its charter a similar perpetual responsibility for the maintenance of the graves and memorials of the two world wars. The work of the Commission around the world is testimony to how the nations of the Commonwealth have kept faith with the inscription on the many memorials in the vast cemeteries the project intends to visit: "Their name liveth for evermore."

Project to announce plans for first 'pilgrimage' to Great War battlefields.

As the annual remembrance of the national loss in two world wars has been marked for another year the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project is finalising the details of a first trip to the battlefields of Western Europe, planned for May 2012. The five day tour is being organised in association with DFDS Seaways and will travel to Belgium and France. Full details of the tour and how to book will be included in the News Guardian article next week.

The tour will include visits to the major battlefield areas and memorials of the Ypres Salient, Vimy Ridge and the Arras area. The project hopes that if this trip is well supported a number of visits will be organised over the coming three years. The trip will be an opportunity for many local residents with family connections to the men commemorated on the Tynemouth Roll of Honour to see the places where they fought and died but in so many cases were then lost without trace.

For many families the conclusion of the fighting in 1918 did not bring them the opportunity to pay a visit to the site of a loved one's burial. Early in the war a decision, enforced rigidly, prevented the bodies of those killed being repatriated for family burial. However, even before visits could be made there was a massive task placed on the newly formed Imperial War Graves Commission to organise the careful, and respectful, burial (often after recovery from temporary graves) of the hundreds of thousands of British, Dominion and Empire troops. The classless nature of the memorial headstones — undifferentiated in any way for officers and other ranks or by reference to religion or race — was the means by which all were accorded equal respect.

However, for many, there would be no identifiable place of rest. Tens of thousands were buried with a headstone merely remarking the burial place of 'A soldier (sailor or airman) of the Great War' with Rudyard Kipling's simple epitaph 'Known unto God' inscribed at the foot. For almost 200,000 men there would be no grave at which a family could grieve. These would be commemorated over the coming 14 years at the massive common 'memorials to the missing' in Belgium, France and elsewhere.

In the Ypres salient over 100,000 men were swallowed up in the mire and devastation of the battlefield areas around the town. The great Menin Gate memorial, which contains the names of over 58,000 men with no known grave, is the scene of a daily recognition by the Belgian people of the sacrifice made in the struggle to expel the invader from their home country. Save only for the period of the occupation in the Second World War, the memorial has, since its unveiling in 1928, been the setting for a sounding of the Last Post at 8pm each day, as the whole area around the Menin Gate is brought to a halt, to ensure that visitors from around the world can remember the suffering and loss that the daily observance keeps before us all.

The need to give expression to that colossal communal loss inspired the work of all the nations in their endeavours to remember the dead. The great memorials to the missing, it has been argued by some, are the attempts by the living to expiate their grief or guilt at the loss of so many consigned to an inhuman and degrading end.

Siegfried Sassoon, perhaps the greatest of the war poets, could not contain his anger on seeing the Menin Gate Memorial. A man who had called for an end to the fighting in 1917, when he saw that the war had lost all sense of the purposes for which it had been started, he was someone who had experienced the worst of the frontline and knew too well the sufferings of the ordinary soldier.

In his poem, 'On passing the New Menin Gate', Sassoon rails at the memorial and asks:

"Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?"

He concludes with these words:

"Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime,
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime."

Perhaps no one who was not there can ever truly appreciate the suffering of those commemorated. What is clear, some 83 years after its construction is that it stands yet to remind us of the great disaster which engulfed the communities of Britain.

A significant proportion of the names included in the Tynemouth Roll of Honour are amongst those whose only visible memorial is a name inscribed on these collective reminders of the terrible waste for which no share of blame can attach to the victims themselves.

Tragedy and hardship: project assists family's quest for recognition.

The loss of life or debilitating injury suffered by many servicemen was often compounded when the harsh and arbitrary policies applied to those bereaved left a sense that their loss and suffering was not properly recognised. The grandson of one local man has approached the Tynemouth project with a sad story, which has prompted consideration of what steps can be taken to get official recognition for the loss of a relative who did not qualify for the grant of an Imperial War Graves Commission headstone and who is not remembered at the family plot.

The criteria for the grant of an official headstone can seem quite strange and even perverse for a family whose relative was denied official recognition when they died; often years after the event which left them broken in body or mind. If a serviceman or woman died whilst under military discipline and not discharged from service then they were automatically granted an official war headstone or their name included on memorials to the missing, of the kind seen in the immaculately cared for cemeteries which honour the 1.8 million British and Commonwealth war dead of two world wars. That recognition was granted irrespective of the cause of death, be it the result of direct or indirect enemy action; accident, illness or other cause.

However, when a serviceman died after returning home, discharged from his unit as no longer fit for military service, often suffering debilitating and chronic effects of service (exposure to gas or mental stress from the terrors of constant shellfire) his family could not obtain the recognition of his service and subsequent death unless they could prove beyond reasonable doubt that the cause of his death was a direct result of his war injury. In the circumstances of the time this was not always easily proved.

Herbert Henry of Seymour Street served 12 years in the Royal Navy from 1896 to 1908 and then transferred to the reserves then recalled for war service in 1914, Following an injury received when a heavy ammunition case crushed his chest on board ship in March, 1915 he was hospitalised in Malta and finally discharged from Chatham Naval Hospital in June 1915. Unfortunately, surviving naval records are unclear as to the circumstances of his being sent to hospital and the family had only verbal and anecdotal evidence of the incident.

In summer 1915, now returned to North Shields, he had only his pre-war pension of 10d (4.5p) per day to support his wife and three children. He took a job as a labourer with the Tyne Commissioners at the local docks but was often unable to work owing to severe pain in the chest which he stated prevented him from sleeping for weeks at a time. Finally, in February 1917, wracked by pain, he attempted to take his own life by cutting his throat with a razor. This attempt to kill himself was unsuccessful, and after several weeks of treatment at the Jubilee Infirmary and Preston Workhouse Hospital, he finally succumbed to his illness and died on 15 August, 1917. At the inquest held on the same day, in the afternoon, the doctor who had attended him was not clear in asserting that death had been a direct result of war service and the death certificate issued merely states 'pleurisy and pericarditis — probably resulting from an injury on board a war ship at the Dardanelles about two years previously'. The self-inflicted injury was categorically ruled out as the cause of death. His widow was left without a pension, with three children and her only means of support was to take in washing.

Herbert's grandson (also named Herbert), of Tennyson Terrace, was born in 1929. Along with his sister Joan Bennett of Chirton Green he has been investigating the mystery which has surrounded the history of his late grandfather and the fact that he has no official war headstone or recognition in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The project has discovered that a process for 'cold case reviews' can be instituted provided reliable evidence can be presented to support the grant of a headstone.

Along with Herbert (Richard) Henry a case will be assembled for submission to the Royal Navy — unfortunately these can take from 1 to 5 years to be considered and decided.

This case also reflects the strange coincidences of life because Herbert's grandson was enabled to study for the stage through a grant from the Sir James Knott Trust (Sir James' memorial to his sons killed in the Great War) and went off to London to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the early 1950s.

He had served an apprenticeship at Smith's Dock company Limited at the end of the Second World War and was active in his youth in Tynemouth Borough labour Party and the YMCA drama group. After his spell in London at RADA he completed two year's national Service in the Royal Navy as a Writer but was disillusioned when he only served on land at HMS Victory in Portsmouth.

He subsequently enjoyed a life-long stage career under the name 'Richard Henry', and in a case of art reflecting his own family history he appeared in an episode of the famous television drama series 'When the Boat Comes In' playing a war-injured soldier suffering the effects of gas poisoning, who is assisted by the lead character Jack Ford, played by James Bolam (of 'Likely Lads' fame), to seek financial assistance from the Board of Guardians, who administered Poor law relief before the advent of the post-war (1945) social security system.

The project will now work with Richard and Joan, hopefully to gain the recognition they seek for their late grandfather's service and death.

Project group forges link with émigré family seeking family history.

The list of casualties provided by the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project published in the News Guardian on 11th August, 2011 included details of a Northumberland Fusilier, Charles Lewis Byder, killed in action at the ill-fated assault at Suvla Bay, on the Dardanelles peninsular. That report has prompted an enquiry from New Zealand from a great niece who emigrated from England in 1973.

The project is now hoping that its new link will be able to assist in the search for information on the background and military history of the men from Tynemouth who enlisted into New Zealand units during the First World War.

The Robinson family in East Levin, Horowhenua are seeking any information about Charles Byder (son of Daniel and Mary Winifred Byder) and who is commemorated on the memorial at St Cuthbert's Church in Albion Road, North Shields. He was the brother of our contact's grandmother Mary Jane.

Any reader with knowledge of the Byder family and living relatives is asked to contact the project who will pass on any information or contact details.

Meanwhile a member of the Tynemouth Project team who is leading research into the Commonwealth and Dominion servicemen listed on the Tynemouth Roll of Honour is hoping that the new contact in New Zealand will be able to assist in the search for information on the many men who joined overseas units but had family connections to Tyneside.

David Grey, a local Graphic Designer and supporter of the Project has a personal interest in the ANZAC forces through a family connection for which he is hoping to obtain further information. David's grandfather lost a cousin, William Sanderson, who had enlisted into a New Zealand unit in 1915 and was killed in action in the Siniai area in fighting with the Ottoman Turkish forces seeking to cut the vital link through the Suez Canal – see this week's News Guardian casualties list.

William was a Trooper in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and was sent to Egypt as part of the 6th reinforcement of the Canterbury unit. He was killed in the defence of Bir El Abd, an oasis 22 miles east of Romani on the track to El Arish which deployment was aimed at stopping the Turkish advance towards the canal. A question to be resolved is the exact date of his death which is shown in the Tynemouth Roll as 19th August, 1916, but listed on the Commonwealth War Graves register as being the 9th.

William was the son of George and Alice Ann of Ashfield Grove in the Rosella estate off Ayres Terrace. At that time he had two sisters Sally (Sarah) and Georgina (a third sister, Mary ,was born after his death). At present David has no knowledge of why William was in New Zealand at the time of his enlistment. He is buried in the Kantara War Memorial cemetery east of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

News Guardian story prompts new links to project.

The list of casualties provided by the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project that was published on 28th July, 2011, included details of Nicholas Mainger, killed at the battle of Fromelles (Somme), in July, 1916. Following the item in last week's News Guardian concerning the campaign in Gallipoli, the project was contacted just days later by a project in Australia which is assembling details and photographs of all men from the Commonwealth of Australia who were killed or listed missing in the Dardanelles peninsular battlefields.

The project in Australia will be assisting our local group to trace details of any men noted on the Tynemouth Roll of Honour who are known to have served in the Australian Imperial Forces.

Details of the service records of Nicholas Mainger have been sent to the project and will be reported in a future item. Unfortunately there is no picture as yet of Nicholas, who had been a seaman for 21 years before enlisting. His next-of-kin was given as a Robert Mainger living at the same address given for Nicholas on the Tynemouth Roll of Honour — 7 Stormont Street, North Shields.

If any reader knows of a relative of these men, or John Mainger of North Street, Milburn Place, North Shields, and who may have any further information (or would like copies of the information received from Australia) the project here would be pleased to hear from them.

WW1 Project teams begin search for histories of local men.

The Tynemouth World War One Commemoration project's research volunteers have now been allocated to work groups to look at various military and civilian groups drawn from the record of casualties detailed on the Roll of Honour published in 1923.

Following a series of familiarisation sessions in the Local Studies section of North Shields Library the many volunteers are about to begin the difficult task of seeking out information on the life and family connections of the 1700 men of the former Borough of Tynemouth lost in the Great War.

The history of each man will then form the materials to be recorded in an electronic database which will be the much more detailed record of the sacrifice of the community in the years 1914-19 that the project hopes to complete by August 2014.

This project website has now been enhanced to provide a direct link for anyone wishing to volunteer but who does not have a personal e-mail facility. Anyone wishing to register interest in volunteering with the project or to contact them with information about any of the casualties of the war appearing in the weekly column in the News Guardian or any of their relatives can now send an enquiry message from our Contact page.

The project will be organising further sessions for volunteers in the Local Studies section of the library and now has a range of information and resources to assist their research volunteers in its Workroom (B9) at the Linskill Centre on Trevor Terrace, North Shields. The workroom is open every weekday (Monday-Friday) from 10am to 4pm for anyone to call in and find out about the project or how they might get involved.

Project co-ordinator Alan Fidler said: "New volunteers are getting in touch almost daily. The project has struck a chord with many people, young and old. Only last week a 19 year-old student called in to find out about the project and has volunteered his help.

The project has grown from first concept, in 6 months, towards becoming a truly community-wide effort. The Project Steering Group is confident that the number of people of all ages and backgrounds getting involved will grow steadily. There is no doubt that once acquainted with the many aspects of the war and its effects on the local community, volunteers are 'hooked' on a subject of immense significance which deserves to be properly recorded and preserved for the future."

Mayor hears of recognition for World War One Commemoration Project.

To mark their move into a dedicated work space at the Linskill Community Centre on Monday, 13th June, 2011, the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project held an informal reception and 'drop in' session for all those who have expressed support for the project and anyone else interested to learn about the project.

Those present were able to see the facilities and resources now available to allow volunteers to meet and plan activities for the future as the three year programme of research and other activities gets underway. The informal proceedings included a reading of war poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen which were selected and read by Peter and Dylan Mortimer.

Elected Mayor Mrs Linda Arkley called into the Project's new base and commented that while currently the Council was recognising the sacrifice of recent veterans and serving men and women of the armed forces by concessionary access to many local facilities provided by the Council, it was also very much appreciated by many local people that the Project was intending to record and remind the residents of the Borough today of the enormous sacrifice of the community and families in the years from 1914–1918.

The Mayor and those present heard how the project has attracted attention from other groups and bodies who are planning various activities for the forthcoming centenary of the war. The most notable of these is an invitation from the Imperial War Museum to the Tynemouth Project to be entered onto an international register of recognised projects which are working to commemorate the Great War; which was a conflict which drew into its many campaign areas, peoples of many countries, and was the first truly world-wide conflict.

The first four familiarisation sessions for volunteers will be taking place over the next two weeks at North Shields library, where they will learn about the many sources of information to help them in researching the history of the 1700 casualties of the war.

Open evening invitation from World War One Commemoration Project.

To mark their move into a dedicated work space at the Linskill Community Centre on Monday, 13th June, 2011, the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project are holding an informal reception and 'drop in' session in the evening for all those who have already expressed support for the project and anyone else interested to learn about the project.

New volunteers to help in the researching of the biographical details of the 1700 men of the former Borough of Tynemouth killed in the War or anyone interested to learn about the project and the many opportunities to get involved, will be welcome also to come and meet the project team and volunteers, between 7.30pm and 8.45pm that evening at the Linskill Centre on Trevor Terrace, North Shields.

Information about the initial work programme and familiarisation sessions about the many sources of information held locally will be available as well as details of the opening times of the project work room when volunteers will be able to get involved and assist in the various activities planned by the project.

Project Co-ordinator Alan Fidler said: "It is very pleasing that we have been able to establish the project in a dedicated workspace only 6 months after forming the project steering group.

The widespread expressions of interest and public support for the aims of the project — not least from the News Guardian — have been very encouraging and confirm our view that the history of the Great War is still a significant element in the collective memory and experience of people alive today; many of whom have connections with and poignant stories to tell of the impact of the war on their families and the local community.

The links we have forged already with local youth groups and the education service will help us to ensure that future generations will be aware of and hopefully understand the consequences of the conflict which still have resonance today."