In this feature to commemorate the First World War, we will bring you the news as it happened in 1917, 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.
Sir,— Through the medium of your paper I wish to thank the people of Stobswood who comprised the “guising party” to raise funds to present each of the local soldiers at the Front with a New Year’s gift.
I am one of these, and as we were out of the trenches for the New Year I enjoyed it very much.
It is very nice to be thought of sometimes, especially at the New Year. I sincerely hope that the others who received these gifts enjoyed them the same as I did.
Again thanking the people of Stobswood.— Yours etc.,
Coy.-Sergt.-Major G. SIM.
DEATH OF CAPTAIN J. N. ARMSTRONG, MORPETH
It is with much regret that we have to report the death of Captain John Norman Armstrong, of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who died from wounds in France.
The deceased officer was the eldest son of Councillor Isaac Armstrong, of Alexandra Road, Morpeth, and the first intimation received by the bereaved parents was a wire from the War Office on Monday stating: “Regret to inform you that Captain J.N. Armstrong, Northumberland Fusiliers, was wounded on January 10th.”
A wire from the War Office on Wednesday conveyed the sad news as follows: “Deeply regret to inform you that Captain J.N. Armstrong died of wounds on January 16th. The Army Council express their sympathy.”
The late officer was well known in the borough, and was very popular with all his fellows.
He commenced his school days at the Council School under the late Ald. R.J. Carr. He proved himself a diligent scholar.
In September, 1909, he entered the Morpeth Grammar School with a County Council scholarship. His career at the Grammar School was a very successful one. In connection with the Oxford Senior Local examinations he took a pass in 1912, and in the following year he was awarded second class honours.
He went through the preliminary examination for the teacher’s certificate with distinction in science in 1913.
In the school Cadet Unit and in athletics he played a prominent part. He was made corporal of the Cadets in 1911, and two years later he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and then to colour-sergeant in 1914.
A young man of fine physique, it was only natural that he should have taken a large share in the school’s athletics. He was a member of the football XI in 1911-12, 1912-13, and 1913-14, and of the cricket XI in 1912, 1913, and 1914, in which year he was captain.
In 1913 he tied with E. Wood for the Creighton Challenge Cup, a much coveted trophy in connection with the school’s annual sports, and in 1914 he had the honour of winning it.
Deceased was a good swimmer, and a loyal member of the Morpeth Company of the Boys’ Brigade. He joined as a private and passed through the various ranks to that of lieutenant.
After leaving the Grammar School the late captain proceeded to Armstrong College in September, 1914. He at once joined the Officers’ Training Corps, and later applied for a commission, and was gazetted to the Northumberland Fusiliers as a second lieutenant in December, 1914.
In September, 1915, he went to Gallipoli and took part in the campaign there, and in the evacuation at Suvla Bay and proceeded to Egypt.
In July last year he went to France with his regiment. He was gazetted lieutenant in March, 1916, and in October the same year he was promoted to captain.
In October last he was home on ten days’ leave.
The news of his death has come as a great shock to his many friends, and we feel sure that the sympathy of the townspeople will be extended to Councillor and Mrs Armstrong and family in their sad bereavement.
His brother, Edwin Armstrong, who joined the Grenadier Guards in 1915, is in hospital in England recovering from wounds received in action.
Mr G.D. Dakyns, headmaster of Morpeth Grammar School, refers to Captain Armstrong in the following words:– “A fine all-round athlete, of considerable mental ability and not a little power of leadership, he was a very fine character — one of the best, and would have made a mark as a teacher and leader, especially after his experience in the Army.
“His loss is very grievous, but his passing after a good life crowned with a noble death is yet another proof that those are taken who are fit to go to do higher and better service for the Master beyond the veil.”
SAPPER HERBERT BROWN OF SEATON BURN
It is with feelings of great regret that we have to record the death in action of Sapper Herbert Brown, of the Royal Engineers, who was killed instantly by a shell in France on January 5th.
Deceased was in his 21st year, having celebrated the 20th anniversary of his birthday on the field on June 18th last, and was the only son of Councillor and Mrs John Brown of Seaton Burn, and grandson of the late Mr William Pearson Brown and Mr Joseph Davison of Morpeth.
Having received a thorough elementary education at Dudley Council School under Mr R. Pratt, he proceeded to Morpeth Grammar School, where he proved himself a diligent, apt, and successful student.
He was a devotee of cricket and football, and played in his school form teams. He also joined the school Cadet Corps on its establishment.
On leaving school he went to the office of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne branch of the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company. His worth and capacity for work there was soon recognised, and he became a great favourite with the officials and staff.
With a view to his advancement he studied and sat for the preliminary examination of the Chartered Insurance, London, gaining two firsts and two passes out of four subjects, and secured the certificate of the Institute.
When the war broke out he was anxious to serve his King and country on a foreign field. It was not, however, before the following July that he could be released for the Army.
He eventually received his special course of training for the Signal Company of the Engineers, an arm of the Service that Sir Douglas Haig so highly commended in his report on the battle of the Somme, and passed with honours in all branches of the examination.
He had been in France eight months.
Of fine physique, he was a promising young man, with a singular smartness of character and cheeriness of disposition. He leaves a wide circle of friends to mourn his loss.
The father of the deceased has received the following letter:— “It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that your son, Herbert, was killed in action.
“He was out with Sergt. Mitchison and a party, and came under heavy shell fire. It will be some slight comfort for you to know that death must have been instantaneous. His comrades join with me in expressing to you and yours our heartfelt condolences in this the hour of your sorrow.
“He died as would have wished— serving his country, and now lives at rest in a soldiers’ graveyard near the front line.
“I cannot close without an appreciation of the work your boy has done out here. He will be missed not only by his officers but by all who knew him.— Yours etc.
CHAS. F. BAGNALL, Capt.
Jan. 8th, 1917;
We are requested to add there will be a memorial service at the Prebyterian Church at Seaton Burn on Sunday evening first at six o’clock.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Private Christopher Gascoigne, 131 Katherine Street, Hirst, who was reported missing since July 1st, is now reported killed in action.
Mr and Mrs Fenwick Bowman, 21 Bridge Street, Morpeth, have received official information that their youngest son, Corporal Arthur Bowman, N.F., is missing since 14th November, 1916.
Mr and Mrs W. Armstrong, 23 Northumberland Terrace, Backworth, have received official news that their son, Lance-Corporal J.W. Armstrong, Gordon Highlanders, was killed in action on August 18th, 1916.
Private T. Barron, of Hawthorne Road, Hirst, has been killed in action. Prior to enlisting he worked at Linton Colliery, and was well known in the district. His relatives have received a short poem, entitled “In Memory of my Pal,” from a comrade in France.
Mrs John Bell, 91 Poplar Street, New Hirst, has received a letter from a lieutenant of her brother’s company stating that her brother, Private Oliver, was mortally wounded by a German bomb on December 14th. He was the only man who assisted the officer to extinguish a dump which had taken fire.
Mrs Mason, of Craster, has had official word that her son, Private Robert Woodcock Mason, Northumberland Fusiliers, who had been missing since July 1st, is now reported to have been killed in action. Previous to the war he was employed at Craster Quarry.
A Blyth man, who was colonising in South Africa, responded to the call to arms for the German East African campaign, has been accidentally killed. He was trooper J. Arnold Partridge, eldest son of Mr and Mrs James Partridge, of 11 Union Street, Blyth, and was 24 years of age.
A well known Blyth miner, previously working at Cowpen North Pit, Private Pat Laing, had died from wounds received in action. Laing, who was 30 years of age, leaves a widow and a family of eight children.
ROLL OF HONOUR
MAVIN.— Killed in action on November, 18th, 1916, Private Robert Mavin, aged 27 years, the dearly beloved son of James and Isabella Mavin, of 18 Sixth Row, Choppington Colliery.— (Ever remembered by his father, mother, sisters, and brothers, and his friends.)
REAY.— Died in Bethnal Green Military Hospital, January 10th, 1917, from wounds received in action in France, Signaller E. Reay, beloved son of William and Catherine Reay, of 91 Sycamore Street, Hirst. Interred on Sunday, January 14th, 1917, at Seaton Hirst, with full military honours.
LOWREY.— Reported missing, now reported killed in action on July 1st, 1916, aged 20 years, Corporal W. Lowery, of West Stobswood. Only his comrades saw him fall, He gave his life for one and all; But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow, None but an aching heart can know.— (Deeply mourned by his sorrowing mother and step-father, sisters and brothers, and sisters-in-law, and brothers-in-law.)
During the past few days the Morpeth Company of the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment has been slightly decreased in numbers owing to several of the men joining up, their periods of exemption having expired.
Naturally, those in command are desirous of seeing the company up to full strength or as near that point as possible.
Of course, that can only be done by the men between the ages of 41 and 50 coming forward and joining the corps. As most of the younger men have now gone it is for those over military age to line up and do their bit.
There are three platoons in thorough working order, and, as we have remarked on a former occasion, the drills are becoming more and more interesting.
No matter what the weather conditions are, the corps has its enthusiasts who turn out without fail.
Last Sunday morning the number on parade was smaller than usual, but on Tuesday night there was a considerable improvement, 93 men being on parade.
There was again a satisfactory muster at last night’s drill.
This week the men of No. 1 platoon have been receiving rifle instruction with the Morris tube, and the other two platoons have been mainly engaged in company drill, when the various movements were well gone through.
Acting Second-Lieut. Chas. Grey is the orderly officer this week.
The company officers are as follows:— Acting Second-Lieut. Wm. Duncan, Acting Second-Lieut. Chas. Grey and Acting Second-Lieut. T.D. Shaw.
Mr S. Hoey is at present acting as instructor of the company.
The following men have been recommended for the promotions named:— Cov. Q.M.S. J.L. Yarwood. Platoon I.: Sergt. R. Matheson, Corporals W.W. Parker, J. Smail, W.V. Lawson, W.H. Bibby. Platoon. II: Sergt. Geo. Brown, Corporals C.W. Smiles, W. Grey, G. Kennedy, and A.H. Rowe. Platoon III.: Sergt. C. Rutherford, Corporals R. Dixon, F. Stokoe, S.J. Heddon, and F.J. Halls.
The usual parade will take place on Sunday morning at the Council Schools at 10.10am, when it is hoped there will be a big beat up.
UNOCCUPIED LAND FOR GARDENS
There is a great amount of activity just now in carrying out the scheme of taking over unoccupied land for garden purposes.
The North Eastern Railway Company are making a big effort to provide as much land as possible for this object, and there has been a wonderful response.
At Seaton Sluice branch line there is a big strip of ground; at Bebside, at Bedlington, and between the stations of Choppington and Hepscott, and Hepscott and Morpeth.
At North Blyth the company has much land. They have 97 workmen occupiers there, all of whom are provided with gardens, and in addition 260 applications have been received from others.
This particular land in great part may be available for gardens for some, as the projected works there will be delayed on account of the difficulty of getting timber and other causes.
Mr Brewis, agent of the Ridley estate, has placed a number of sites at the disposal of applicants for land.
By an overwhelming majority (316 against 156) miners’ lodges in Northumberland have rejected the peace resolution of West Wylam which was also defeated at the last council meeting.
The resolution read:—
“That we request the Executive Committee of the Miners’ Federation to draft proposals calculated to secure an end of the present European war on honourable terms, so that at the earliest possible time the terrible slaughter of human lives with all the consequent suffering by tens of thousands of others, including women and children, may be terminated; and that such proposals be laid before a special conference of the federation at an early date, and, if approved, submitted to the Government.”
The only unanimous decision was on the Rising Sun’s protest against “the misuse of the Military Service Act by colliery managers who, in our opinion, are using the Act to get clear of men who have the courage to claim what is their due.”
NOTICE TO FARMERS
The President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries has received a communication from the War Office to the effect that it has been found necessary to call up one-half of those men engaged in agriculture to whom tribunals have reduced certificates of exemption from military service.
Arrangements will be made as quickly as possible to place several thousand of Class C3 men at the disposal of farmers, and the President hopes that in the national interest farmers will do their best meanwhile to carry on in the very difficult circumstances in which they are placed.
MORPETH SOCIAL CLUB’S BENEVOLENCE
Practically every club and institution in the country have members with the Colours, and these were more or less remembered at Christmas in the shape of money or parcels sent by those at home.
The Morpeth Social Club was not behind others in its thought of those who are fighting, and at Christmas each member was sent a sum of money in lieu of a parcel, and that this kindly action was much appreciated is shown in the following letter, received by Mr Dunn, the secretary, from J. Straker:— “I have great pleasure in acknowledging receipt of your kind letter and enclosed P.O., which I may state came in very handy, and I ask you to accept and convey to the directors of the club my heartfelt thanks and appreciation of the esteem in which I am held by them.
“I am absolutely at a loss to find words to express my gratitude, but although the words are few the sentiments are sincere. I only wish now that peace may be once again restored and we were all safely back.
“I feel quite sure that this is the year of victory, which must come sooner or later. I wish you to accept and convey to all the season’s greetings.”
A MORPETH ORGANIST AT THE FRONT
Sergt. S.A. Wright of the Scots Guards (a former Morpeth Grammar School master and organist at St George’s Presbyterian Church), in gratefully acknowledging cigarettes from the committee of Morpeth ladies who are diligently working for the Soldiers’ Cigarette Fund, states that he is in good health under the somewhat trying circumstances of entrenching.
Morpeth, states the good soldier, should be proud of the little band of workers who have the comforts of the soldiers at heart in the way of providing them with smokes, of which the lads are indeed thankful.
WHIST DRIVE AT PONTELAND
A successful tea and whist drive took place at The Mount, Ponteland, by kind permission of Mrs R.P. Hogg, the proceeds of which are to be devoted to buying comforts for wounded soldiers.
Upwards of sixty persons were present. Credit is due to the committee of ladies who organised the gathering, namely, Mrs R.P. Hogg, Mrs I. Hilton, Mrs Nichols, Mrs G.W. Clark, and Mrs M.C. Berkley, for the efficient manner in which they discharged their duties.
It is expected that nearly £6 will be realised as a result of their efforts, which is to be divided between the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, and the Northumberland War Hospital, Gosforth, for the above named purpose.
LOCAL MAN’S PROMOTION
Mr W.D. Simpson, the eldest son of Mr Wm. Simpson, Unionist agent for the Morpeth and Wansbeck Divisions, has been gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry.
Mr Simpson’s other son, Dundas, went through the West African campaign under General Botha, and is now taking part in the East Africa campaign, under General Smuts.