In this feature to commemorate the First World War, we will bring you the news as it happened in 1914, 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.
MORPETH MAN WOUNDED
A representative of the “Stamford and District News” visited Lady Battie-Wrightson’s Hospital, Stamford, and conversed with some of the wounded inmates from the front. In the course of his visit he came across Private R. Sproat (son of Mr Sproat, carter, Morpeth), of the Northumberland Fusiliers.
Sproat, who has a bullet wound in his knee, has been in almost every battle since the war commenced. He had a miraculous escape from death a few days ago near Ypres. A lead shrapnel pellet travelling at terrific pace struck him on the identification disc, which was hanging from his braces on his left side. The missile glanced off the disc and cut its way through his clothes and great coat. The force of the pellet, however, bowled him over and dazed him.
The following contains some very interesting extracts from other letters written to his brother by Charles McCarthy, of the Royal Field Artillery, serving at the front. McCarthy is a son of the late William McCarthy, a well-known Morpethian:—
November 10th, 1914.
Dear Brother,— Just a line to let you know that I received your fags and letter all right. I am sending a postcard to G. Purdy, and you can thank him for them. You might try and send the “Herald” to me to see some of Amlett’s letters.
Well, we are having things pretty rough now. We had three killed and two wounded last week. One of them was wounded about midnight, while he was asleep. I don’t like this position, as we have guns all round us except at the rear. We are in a position like a horse-shoe, and, what makes things worse, they won’t let you sleep, as they keep shelling us all night long.
But surely this cannot last long, as it is such fierce fighting. What with the sound of German shells bursting and the sound of our big guns going off, I am about deaf. You should hear one of the “coal boxes” bursting. They don’t half let you know where they are made.
They come over in fours, and when they burst you would just think they were shouting “Krupp, Krupp, Krupp, Krupp,” all the day long. We have a name for all of their shells. There is “Whistling Rufus,” “Silent Meg,” “Coal Boxes,” and “Jack Johnsons.” The “Silent Megs” are the worst, because you cannot hear them coming, but they don’t do us as much damage as the “Jack Johnsons” do.
I think this is all this time.— I remain, your affectionate brother,
November 11, 1914.
Dear Brother and Sister,— We have at last got a mansion to live in. Our mansion consists of a hole in the ground, with trees and earth on the top to keep the cold and shrapnel bullets off us, as it is getting very cold out here just now, so me and my off man dug this pit so that we could keep ourselves warm at nights. It is bullet proof, but not “Coal Box” proof.
Me and Gill have sat down and made this song up to the tune of “Dolly Gray.” This is how it goes. You will not have to mind the rhyme, as we are not the best of poets:
There’s a Coal Box in the air, Dolly Gray,
And shrapnel everywhere, Dolly Gray;
You wake up in the night and get an awful fright,
And it makes you think of home, Dolly Gray.
So goodbye, Coal Box, I must leave you,
As I would sooner go than stay;
And I like to live in peace and quietness,
And that is all I have to say,
Said Robin, Robin Gray.
We have another one, to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”:—
O, what would we not do with the Kaiser
If we caught him on this plain;
He would feel very sorry,
And wish he was at home again.
Well, we are having a pretty rough time of it just now, but I think they are going too hard at it, for night and day you can hear the sound of guns everywhere, and if you have no grey hair when you come out here, you will soon have some, as this job puts years on you.
It is not because I am not afraid to die, but it is the anxiety and worry you have to put up with. But if we ever live to come back I will make up to this.
Your loving brother.
P.S.— You might try and send me the “Herald” out if you possibly can.
The following is an extract from a letter written by Corporal R.M. Daniels, of the Northumberland Hussars:—
Another story of German treachery: The Scots Guards were in a position they had occupied for some days, from which they were hoping to be relieved.
Just after dusk a company of men were seen arriving and were challenged by the captain of the Scots Guards, who received the reply in English: “We are the Highland Light Infantry, to relieve the Scots Guards.”
The Scots climbed out of their trenches, only to be shot dead, almost to a man, by Germans masquerading in khaki...(Censored.)
Our billet was set on fire again last night. We had seven shells into our billet the night before. Strange to say, our casualties were small, and we are known throughout the division as the “Lucky Northumberlands.”
PROPOSED TRAINING CORPS FOR MORPETH
Sir,— Ever since the war commenced I have waited for someone more qualified than myself to raise the question of forming a “Morpeth District Training Corps.”
The locality has responded liberally to the call for volunteers for the Regular Army, but what about the large number of those over age limit who are capable of rendering service? Are they to be counted as mere ciphers? Will they allow themselves to be so counted in the case of invasion?
The War Office does not at present recognise such bodies, although a great many have been raised throughout the country; but possibly it is because they have too much in hand for the moment with the great numbers of the eligible enlistment.
Possibly they will be glad later of all the help obtainable.
I see no reason, therefore, why we of a certain age, together with those younger — but unable at present to volunteer for active service — should not fit ourselves by drill and regular training, so that when the call comes — if ever — we should be fit and ready to do our little best for the defence of hearth and home.
It should be distinctly understood, however, that the operations of this proposed corps would merely be preparatory training until such time as the War Office might call on its services. It seems to me to be quite feasible to raise an efficient corps, which would prove of great use as an adjunct to the Territorial or even Regular troops, either on garrison duty or lines of communication, etc.
In furtherance of these sentiments, I beg to announce that a meeting will be held in the George and Dragon Commercial Room on Monday first, at 8pm.
We may do much good, and even if never called upon shall, I am sure, benefit by the training. Some of us need it badly. One or two qualified ex-Volunteers have proffered their help in drilling.—
From the contents of a letter which appear in another column, we gather that an effort is to be made to form a training corps for Morpeth and district.
The proposal is a very commendable one, and in a centre like this it should not be a difficult task to organise a body of men. Of course, the all-important question which will have to be considered when the matter is discussed at the meeting convened for Monday night first will be the financial side of the undertaking. While the War Office authorities have never raised any objection to the formation of training corps in other centres they have not, so far, given any monetary assistance.
PONTELAND’S GIFTS FOR SOLDIERS
The parish of Ponteland has already sent off a good number of garments for our soldiers, and last week a further supply was forwarded as follows:—
For Northumberland Fusiliers at the front, in response to Col. Dashwood’s appeal, 24 shirts, 15 pairs of socks, 6 mufflers; and for Nurse Eva Schofield, 20 shirts and 24 pairs of socks. Mrs Langton thanks all who have sent clothes for Belgian refugees, and is glad to say she has received 200 articles, which have been despatched.
AN APPEAL FOR COMFORTS
Mrs J.F. Riddell, wife of the Brigadier of the Northumberland Infantry Brigade, appeals for 4,000 woollen belts, socks, mittens, Balaclava helmets, and strong flannel shirts — especially belts — for the men of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th Battalions Northumberland Fusiliers.
Mrs Riddell asks Northumbrian ladies’ work parties if they will be good enough to support this appeal on behalf of the local Territorial corps. The requirement is not a small one, and is only a first instalment of what may be needed. It can only be met by many workers.
Contributions may either be sent to the following ladies, wives of the colonels of the battalions: 4th Battalion, Mrs Foster, Anick Cottage, Hexham; 5th Battalion, Mrs Macdonald, Millbroke, Scrogg Road, Walker-on-Tyne; 6th Battalion, Mrs Spain, 12 Haldane Terrace, Newcastle; 7th Battalion, Mrs R. Scott, Newton House, Lesbury; or may be sent for all four battalions to Lesbury, addressed to Mrs Riddell, who undertakes to carefully forward the articles intended for special battalion, according to the wishes of the donor.
“A FEARFUL DAY”
A trooper in the Northumberland Yeomanry, now at the front, in a letter to his parents, says:—
We had a hot time in Ypres when the Germans were shelling it. We had to leave it one night at 12 o’clock, and trekked nearly into France, only to return in the morning after a long cold night.
Our troop is with the regiment again in a rest camp. — tells me they (a regiment training in England) are going to Egypt, but I don’t think they will send infantry out there, as they want all the foot soldiers here. The war now is between artillery and infantry owing to the standing battles.
I am well set up for gloves, mufflers, and socks. The chaps here say I am getting fat, but it is the amount of clothes I wear; it is the best way to carry them. We have not our kit bags now; they were taken from us at Ostend, and we may not see them any more. We got a new issue of clothes a few days ago.
We have had some funny billets. We have a fairly good one just now. We are in a straw barn, and it is very warm. We sleep very close together. Prior to this we never had the saddles off the horses for eight days and nights. Before the big battle began we had to be ready to move at any movement, and we were sleeping in the open.
I have seen some fearful sights. I think this battle has been the fiercest in the war. The battle was like a heavy thunderstorm. At nights the lights from the guns and the reports were awful. But we got used to it.
The worst time I had was when we were in the trenches five-and-a-half hours, and our officer was shot. The Germans had their Maxims on us nearly all the time, and it was not a dug-out trench, but only a ditch at the side of a wood. The shrapnel was bursting all around; a big tree was knocked down just in front of me, but it fell the other way.
The Germans never showed themselves; they were in some thick bushes, two or three hundred yards away. When we got the word to retire to another ditch smaller still, that was where they caught our fellows and the officer. Then the Queen’s came up, but they retired also. I thought we were never going to retire, as our officer could not speak, as he was wounded. When I looked round there were only four of us and a sergeant in the Queen’s and one wounded officer left. We had to do our best and retire.
The shells were bursting all round us, and we did not know which way to go to miss them. The bullets were whizzing through the trees. We had to cross a ploughed field before we came up to the Life Guards advancing. Then we all advanced against, and drove the Germans back. We had to retire at dusk to attend to our horses, after a fearful day, which I shall never forget.
MORPETH RED CROSS HOSPITAL
The following letter has been received by Mrs Joicey, Longhirst Hall, who is in charge of the above hospital:—
Northern Cyclists’ Battalion, Headquarters, Morpeth, Nov. 10th, 1914.
Madam,— I am instructed by Surgeon-General Ford, Northern Command, York, and by Colonel J.V.W. Rutherford, A.D.M.S., Northumbrian Division T.F.; and by Lieut-Colonel A.J. Collis and the officers of the Northern Cyclists’ Battalion, to ask you to accept personally, and to convey to the nurses of your A.B.D., their cordial thanks for the valuable aid that has been rendered by your hospital to the sick that have been treated there. I can assure you personally that no one appreciates the value of the hospital more than those who have had the benefit of the kindness shown to them by the nurses of your detachment.
I have the honour to be, madam,
JAMES ANDERSON. Lieutenant, R.A.M.C. (T.F.), M.O., Northern Cyclists’ Battalion.
MINES OF THE EAST COAST
In view of the extension of the system of mine defence, notice is hereby given that on and after the 27th inst, pilotage will be compulsory at the following ports, and that it will be highly dangerous for any vessel to enter or leave such ports without a pilot:—
River Tyne.— All incoming vessels from the northwards must call for a pilot off Blyth, and those from the southward off the River Wear. Outgoing vessels are to discharge their pilots off one or the other of these places.
CARE OF HORSES
At a meeting of the Northumberland and North Durham Society to the Protection of Animals, held at Newcastle last Friday, Inspector S.T. Robinson said a fortnight after mobilisation it was found that there was no suitable horse ambulance in Newcastle. He proceeded to obtain subscriptions, and with the help of Miss Parker, of Gosforth, and Mrs Alex. Leitch, of Riding Mill, he was able to collect £156 7s. Out of this £64 was paid for a heavy cart horse and £65 for a Lingfield horse ambulance, and with the harness, etc., the total amount expended was £152 4s. 5d.
He thanked heartily all the subscribers to the fund. The horse ambulance had given the highest satisfaction to the military authorities, and scores of horses had been saved by its use. Inspector Robinson showed a sample of a horse cover, and expressed the hope that the War Office would be induced to provide such protection for every horse. In war far more hinged upon keeping horses fit than the average man had any conception of.
With a view to engaging the services at Elswick Works of large numbers of pitmen who have been thrown out of employment through the war, a deputation from Messrs Armstrong, Whitworth, and Company and the Board of Trade Labour Bureau visited different parts of the county of Northumberland this week.
Already a representative from the Elswick Works has been in communication with the secretary of the Northumberland Miners’ Association, Mr W. Straker, and it is expected that a considerable number of the unemployed miners will be transferred to Elswick.
Meetings were held at Newburgh, Pegswood, and Choppington, for the purpose of explaining the requirements of Elswick Works, the proprietors of which are prepared to pay 24s. 6d. per week, plus 33 and a third per cent, while there are many opportunities for overtime and Sunday work, which will increase the nett earnings of the men.
Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth are prepared, we understand, to do what they can towards inducing the colliery owners to allow the men who may go to Elswick to continue their colliery houses at small rentals, and efforts will also be made to secure cheap travelling facilities between the several outlying districts and the city.
AMBULANCE MEN FOR FRANCE
The second contingent of members of the St John Ambulance Brigade on Tyneside, left Newcastle at 11.20 on Thursday night for France.
The men, numbering 35, were drawn from the colliery districts, and they assembled at the Cambridge Hall, Newcastle, where they were entertained to supper by Mr and Mrs Potter, of Heaton Hall. Afterwards the Deputy Lord Mayor (Councillor T.W. Rowe) and Mr Cecil Cochrane visited them and wished them the best luck.
The Walker division of the Association provided a band, and the ambulance men were played down to the Station, where they received an enthusiastic send-off.
Deputy-Commissioner C.B. Palmer was in charge, and he will accompany the men to Rouen. Before leaving he said that the work of the St John men was highly appreciated by the military authorities, and he had just received a request for twenty more men for France.
LOCAL SOLDIERS WOUNDED
News has been received by Mr and Mrs Ostle, of Ridley Street, Klondyke, Cramlington, that their son, Private John Ostle, of the King’s Own Loyal Lancasters, has been badly wounded, and is now a prisoner of war. Ostle, who was a reservist, was called up for active service at the commencement of the war, and sent to France. He had been in the thick of the firing line.
Information has been received by his aunt, Mrs Anderson, of Garden Row, Dudley Colliery, that Private John Haley Ward, of the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, has been wounded while in action in France. Private Ward was well known and highly respected in the Dudley district.
He was called up at the beginning of the war, and has been in the thick of the fighting. He also served in the Boer War, and has done six years in India.
Private Chas. Robinson, of Crank Row, West Moor, who has been serving with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, has been wounded in France, and is now invalided home suffering from a bayonet wound in the hip. Robinson, who is a reservist, was called up at the beginning of the war, and has been in the thick of the fighting.
He served in the Boer War, which, he says, was nothing compared to this war. They had sacrificed a large number of lives, but their losses were nothing compared to the German losses.
News has been received by Mrs Dodds, of Hardy’s Buildings, West Moor, that her husband, Private Fred Dodds, of the 2nd West Riding Regiment, has been wounded in the great battle at Ypres in France. Dodds, who was a reservist, was called up at the commencement of the war, and has been in several engagements. In a letter to his wife, he states that he is now in a London hospital, and adds it is quite a treat to wake up in the morning without hearing the sound and roar of the big guns for it is simply “hell let loose” on the battlefield. Our losses were heavy, but nothing compared with the Germans. Corporal Frank Howe, of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the younger son of the late Captain Joseph Swann Howe, has returned to his home in Alnwick, invalided from the front.
THE BELGIAN RELIEF FUND
The Morpeth Amateur Orchestral Society (Presidnet, Professor T.W. McDowall, M.D.) will give an Orchestral Concert under the patronage of the worshipful the Mayor of Morpeth and Lieut.-Col. A.J. Collis and officers of the Northern Cyclists’ Battalion, in aid of the above Relief Fund, in the Masonic Hall, Morpeth, on Tuesday, 1st, December, 1914.
Tickets may be obtained from Mr J.J. James, 8 Newgate Street, Morpeth, where a plan of the hall can be seen. Tickets may also be obtained from the Members of the Orchestra and of the Patriotic Concert Committee, and at the “Herald” Office, Morpeth.
Doors open at 7.15. Concert at 7.45. Carriages at 9.50.
T.B., Benton, writes asking if there is any truth in the rumours of Lord Kitchener having recently visited Blyth. It is perfectly true that our great military organiser has visited Blyth recently.
WARNING TO THE
PEOPLE OF BLYTH
Mr C. Hunter, chairman of the Blyth Council, issued the following public warning to the inhabitants of the town on Saturday:—
“At the earnest request of Brigadier-General Riddell, commanding the troops now stationed at Blyth, I have to exhort the inhabitants of the district that, in the event of any gun-firing being heard, they are not to become unnecessarily alarmed, and not rush into the streets, as this action on their part is likely to seriously impede the military in the discharge of their duties.”
MESSAGE TO BRITISH WOMEN
Writing from the front to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families’ Association, General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien says:—
Knowing as I do that you are striving to help the wives and families of the brave soldiers who are fighting under me in this glorious war, I should like you to tell them when you have an opportunity, a little about the doings of their husbands, brothers, and sons, so that they may learn to appreciate them to their true value.
Never has an army been called on to engage in such desperate fighting as is of daily occurrence in the present war, and never have any troops behaved so magnificently as our soldiers in this war. The stories of the battles of Le Mons and Le Chateau are only beginning to be known, but at them a British force not only held its own against a German army four times its own size, but it hit the enemy so hard that never were they able to do more than follow it up.
Of course our troops had to fall back before them, an operation which would demoralise most armies. Not so with ours, however. Though they naturally did not like retiring for 12 successive days, they merely fell sullenly back, striking hard whenever attacked, and the moment the order came to go forward there were smiling faces everywhere.
Then followed the battle of the Marne and the Aisne.
Tell the women that all these great battles have, day by day, witnessed countless feats of heroism and brave fighting. Large numbers will be given Victoria Crosses and Distinguished Conduct Medals, but many more have earned them, but it has been impossible to bring every case to notice.
Tell the women that, proud as I am to have such soldiers under my command, they should be prouder still to be near and dear relations of such men, and that they can show their pride by their own behaviour.
Let them think of their husbands and brothers undergoing the greatest imaginable fatigues, often cold and wet for days together, and through it all, though in constant danger, performing deeds of which any country might be proud.
Tell the wives to talk to their children about their brave fathers, and for themselves never to do anything a full account of which they would shrink from giving their husbands on their return from the war.
Tell the women and girls they can serve their country best by leading quiet lives, thus setting an example of self-restraint and uprighteousness at home, which, equally with the bravery of their dear ones in the war, is necessary to bring the country through this great national crisis with credit to those who have the good fortune to live under the Union Jack.
Private J.L. Collins, of the Border Regiment and now in the Royal Infirmary Sheffield, in a letter dated November 15, to his aunt, Mrs Harvey, 48 Potter Street, Willington Quay, says:
“I expect you will have heard about me getting badly wounded. Well, I went through the thick of it. I was wounded three weeks ago, and I am no better yet.
“A piece of shell went right through my ankle. I have eight wounds altogether. It was on Sunday night, at five o-clock, on October 25, that I was wounded. I was on the look-out from four to five, and I had just lain down in the trench. My officer was on my left. A German shell burst just at my left hand and it killed him outright and wounded me.
“I lay till it was dusk, and then I crawled on my hands and knees to try and find the headquarters, but I could not, so I lay in a turnip field all night teeming rain.
Next morning I found the headquarters, but they could not get the stretchers up, as there were too many shells flying about, so I had to lay till dinner-time.
The Germans broke through our lines, so the head officer told me to crawl on and try and find the hospital. The Germans, however, had blown up the hospital.
“One thing helped to save my life. I had my pay book and — photograph inside in my top left pocket, with a tin of tabs, and a piece of shell cut through my pay book and the photo, and lodged in the tin of tabs. I am keeping the tin.
Ever so many people have seen it, and they say I was lucky.”