In this feature to commemorate the First World War, we will bring you the news as it happened in 1915, as reported by the Morpeth Herald. All material is published with kind permission of the Mackay family. We thank them for their support and generosity in allowing us access to their archive.
LONG TALKS WITH THE ENEMY — CHRISTMAS DAY TRUCE
In a letter written on Boxing Day to Mr Noble, of the Broomhill Collieries, Mr Oswald Blunden, an officer of the Honourable Artillery Corps, states:—
“Your parcel of ‘chocs’ reached me in the firing line this evening, and the contents have already cheered my heart.
“We are now having a spell of six days in the trenches, and the weather has decided to be seasonable. Christmas Day was cold and dry, and a glorious change from what we have had. All today it has been snowing hard. It’s a wee bit ‘parky’ now and again, especially about four or five in the morning. It’s nice to get up, but, taking it all round, the cold knocks the mud into a cocked hat.
“At the moment I’ve got a few hours’ watch on, and have to post sentries and see that they are on the alert every now and again. One must not sleep during this time, and so in between the rounds I am knocking off a few arrears.
“Perhaps you may have heard how we spent our Christmas Day. It was the most extraordinary thing possible — mixing up and holding long talks with the enemy out in the open, and not a shot fired on either side. I got a jolly good German helmet, which I am going to try and send home when we get back to billets.
“There are two of us in my dug-out in the trench, and the way I have to twist myself into knots all the time is a sight for the gods. Now is the time when I would like to be 2ft. 6ins., and not 6ft. 2in. Expect you will have heard all the news.”
MILITARY FUNERAL AT MORPETH
The remains of the late John Barr, a private in the 7th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who died at Morpeth Cottage Hospital on Sunday, were laid to rest in Morpeth Churchyard on Wednesday afternoon, with full military honours.
The deceased was an ex-sergeant of the old Volunteers, and on mobilisation he rejoined the 7th Battalion as a private, and was a member of E. Company, stationed at Cambois.
The funeral procession from the hospital was an impressive one, and was watched by large numbers of the townspeople. The cortege was headed by the firing party, under Sergt. Clancey. Then came the battalion band, under Bandmaster Johnson, and the drummers, under Sergt. Adamson. Lieut. Merivale and Sergt.-Major Casey were in command.
Behind the hearse followed the relatives and friends of the deceased. Six of his comrades acted as underbearers. The coffin, which was covered with the Union Jack, had on top a beautiful wreath sent by Col. Scott and officers of the 7th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.
The service at the church was conducted by the Rev. F.C. Hardy, who also said the committal prayers at the graveside. At the close three volleys were fired over the grave, and the “Last Post” was sounded.
The deceased was 36 years of age.
The 19th (Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Commercials), numbering 1,350 Officers and N.C.O’s and Men, is to be billeted in Morpeth for training, and are expected to be here for three or four months, or possibly longer.
These men, in the noblest spirit of patriotism and self-sacrifice, are leaving lucrative employment and comfortable homes to serve their Country in the hour of its need, and it is felt that it is the duty of the people of Morpeth and the District to see to it that they are made as comfortable as possible during their stay here, and that they be provided with the means for obtaining recreation and amusement.
A large and influential Committee, with Mr George Renwick as Chairman, has been formed for the purpose of carrying this into effect. This Committee finds it essential that there should be a large hall which can be used as a recreation and a reading and writing room, and which will be available for concerts and entertainments.
All the places in Morpeth which might otherwise have been suitable are being occupied as billets for the soldiers, and the Committee have, therefore, had to face the problem of erecting a pavilion which will be suitable. Mr Francis Brumell has generously placed at the Committee’s disposal a site which is eminently suitable, a favourable contract has been secured, the building is to be proceeded with forthwith, and it is hoped that it will be ready for use in a fortnight.
To defray the cost of the building and its furnishing and equipments, a sum of between £400 or £500 will be required. Mr George Renwick and Mr George B. Bainbridge have generously headed the subscription list with £100 each, and other substantial sums have been already promised.
The Committee venture to solicit your support for this worthy object.
Subscriptions may be paid to any of the Banks in Morpeth, or remitted to the Treasurer, Mr Ralph Crawford, Lloyds Bank, Ltd., Morpeth.
T.B. WATERS, Secretary.
RALPH CRAWFORD, Treasurer.
A large committee, with Mr George Renwick as chairman, has been formed at Morpeth for the purpose of providing a scheme of entertainments for the Tyneside Commercials.
As all the buildings which might otherwise have been suitable are being occupied as billets, the committee had to face the problem of erecting a pavilion. A central site has been kindly given by Mr Francis Brumell, situate behind the offices of Messrs. Brumell and Sample.
On this site it is proposed to erect a building 90 feet long and 27.5 feet wide and 12 feet high. A platform will be provided at one end, and a porch entered from Bell’s Yard will give admission to the building. The pavilion will be heated on the low-pressure hot water system and brilliantly lighted by a lighting scheme provided by the Gas Company.
Mr C.F. Murphy is architect for the building. The work was commenced on Wednesday and it is expected to be finished in 15 days.
In all the churches throughout the country the first Sunday in the new year was observed as a day of intercession on account of the war and of remembrance of the men who have fallen in the Empire’s cause.
Locally, the services in the different places of worship were attended by large and devout congregations, and collections were taken on behalf of the British Red Cross organisations, the members of which are performing a noble work in attending to our brave sick and wounded soldiers and sailors.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE 2ND BATTALION
In almost every quarter of Morpeth great activity prevails in arranging halls and other public buildings for the reception of the 2nd Battalion of the Tyneside Commercials.
Advance parties have been busy with these operations for quite a week already, and local tradesmen have been employed in putting up erections to facilitate their sleeping, feeding, and entertainment accommodation.
The day of the battalion’s arrival does not appear to have been definitely fixed, but judging by the extent and rapidity of the preparations being made it is not likely to be long deferred.
The Duke of Northumberland, as Lord Lieutenant of the county, has issued the following proclamation:—
The recent bombardment of Hartlepool, Scarborough, and Whitby, shows the possibility of such action by the enemy’s fleet, and though there is no reason to assume that it will be repeated, some suggestions as to the course to be taken by the civil population to prevent or reduce to a minimum the loss of life and injury consequent of a similar attack may be considered not out of place at the present time.
Conditions vary so much on different parts of the coast that general principles only can be laid down to be acted upon according to circumstances.
(1) It is important to avoid crowding. A densely packed street presents a most vulnerable target, and one shell, possibly fired at random, bursting under such conditions, would in all probability lead to disaster.
(2) Where arrangements can be made for the population to scatter rapidly into the open country, risks can be reduced by their so doing, as the effect of a bursting shell is local. Any cover, such as a steep railway embankment, approximately parallel to the coast line, a quarry, or even a deep hole in the ground, affords good protection, as the angle of shells from the ships’ guns is comparatively flat.
This scattering of the inhabitants will clearly only be possible in small places. Any attempt to adopt it in the case of populous centres would only lead to congestion in the streets and in the outlets from the town.
(3) In such places, the best course to pursue is to remain in the house, and especially in the basements or cellars, till the attack is over. The householders who have such basements or cellars in their dwellings will doubtless be willing to admit their neighbours whose habitations do not afford such accommodation.
(4) Holes or trenches prepared beforehand quite close to the house, for instance, in the gardens, will also afford comparative safety for the occupants. The trenches or holes should be about six feet deep, narrow, and should, for protection against splinters and from the weather, be roofed over, and the roof covered with about a foot of soil. The County Constabulary and all special constables living near the coast have already received their orders, and it is most desirable that the inhabitants carry out any instructions that may be received from them.
MILITARY AUTHORITIES AND THE WORKHOUSE
The monthly meeting of the Morpeth Board of Guardians was held on Wednesday.
The Clerk stated that after the last meeting he wrote to the military authorities, stating that the Guardians were prepared to make arrangements for the accommodation of troops in the workhouse. They then came through and saw him, and they had some further correspondence.
The military authorities have now abandoned the idea of billeting soldiers in the house, but they would like to have the female casual ward as a store-room and the board-room as a military hospital.
He replied that the Guardians would be willing to give them the accommodation required, but that it would be necessary to obtain the sanction of the Local Government Board, and a room would have to be hired for their meetings. He had arranged to get a place at the Y.M.C.A. Rooms, at a guinea a meeting. However, he had received a further letter from the military authorities, stating that they might not now want the board-room, as they were negotiating for the use of a church hall in the town.
The Clerk was instructed to make the best arrangements he could should they want the board-room. It was agreed that the Clerk inform the military authorities that, as the workhouse master was on military duty, they would have to take upon themselves the clearing and fitting up of the places required in the house.
Amongst the many pathetic cases in connection with the Hartlepool bombardment is that of a poor woman named Walker, the wife of a blacksmith, who resided at Blyth. Becoming alarmed at the talk of invasion, she moved with her husband and family to Hartlepool, where she and her two children were killed in the bombardment.
A gallant act at the front cost Captain Hugh Taylor, a native of Northumberland, his life.
It is officially stated that Captain Taylor was killed on the night of December 18 while endeavouring, after a successful attack on the enemy’s trenches, to bring into safety two of his section who had missed their way.
He was killed instantaneously.
AN INTERESTING PHOTO
A very fine photo, handsomely framed, of the first Australian Expeditionary Force, Victorian contingent, marching down Bourne Street, Melbourne, is being exhibited in Mr Fail’s shop window in Morpeth. The photo is being viewed with interest and much admired. It belongs to Mr William Noble, Belmont House, of this town, who lived for a number of years in Melbourne.
The officer commanding A Co., 7th (Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers begs to acknowledge with thanks the gift of plum puddings forwarded from various donors in Morpeth by the Mayoress for the N.C.O’s and men at Christmas.
WESLEYAN SOCIAL ROOMS FOR THE SOLDIERS
Will any kindly disposed persons give any Games suitable for use in the above. Any contributions will be gratefully received by JAMES ELIOTT, 60 Newgate Street, Morpeth.
On Sunday last the Morpeth Presbyterians held their services in the School-room, Cottingwood Lane, their church at the Bridge End being required by the military.
The services, which were conducted by the Rev. Dr. Drysdale, were unusually interesting, as it was a day set apart for intercession in all the churches in reference to the war, and they were largely attended.
This is the third time the Morpeth Presbyterians have held their services in the Cottingwood Lane School-room since their new church was built.
On the two former occasions, some internal alterations were being made.
The Cottingwood Lane building was erected in 1721 as a Presbyterian Chapel, the members worshipping there until 1861, when the handsome church at the Bridge End was opened.
The building in Cottingwood Lane has since been used as a day school as well as a Sunday school.
It is expected that the services will be held in the Cotingwood Lane School for some time.
MORPETH TRAINING LEAGUE
Dear Sir, the Rector of Morpeth’s letter in your last week’s issue made reference to the Morpeth Training League, asking that that body should hold its route march at some time other than that of Intercessory Services.
Allow me to say that orders were given on Wednesday night — before publication of his letter — for the route march to take place in the afternoon, so that any so inclined might attend the service mentioned.
The Corps hopes, when its members are more informed in their drill, to hold church parades.— Yours, etc.,
Morpeth Training League