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.
BRAVE SOLIDER’S HOME-COMING
The home-coming of Private George Burrell, 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, on furlough, who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous bravery at St Julien, in April last, was worthily recognised at Morpeth on Monday last, as was the merit of his fellow-townsman, Pte. Martin, five weeks ago.
The deed which gained for Pte. Burrell and his comrade, Pte. Martin, the coveted decoration is worth mentioning again. The facts, as supplied to the Mayor by Captain H.R. Smail, of the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, were as follows:—
“It will no doubt give you and the inhabitants of Morpeth great pleasure to know that two of your fellow townsmen — Private G. Burrell (1180), and Pte. C. Martin (2188), of No. 1 Company, 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, have been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal — a decoration very much coveted and difficult to obtain in this campaign.
“During an attack on St Julien on the 26th April, these two men, with conspicuous gallantry, brought up a box of ammunition to the trenches we were occupying. For over a mile they had to traverse ground plastered with shell and machine-gun fire, yet on their own they came undaunted, reaching the said trench amid cheers from the various members of all regiments occupying it. I witnessed this gallant action myself, and am exceedingly glad the recommendation was favourably received by the Commander-in-Chief.”
Splendid arrangements were made by the Mayor and the Town Clerk to give Pte. Burrell, who was employed as Messrs Swinney’s foundry before enlisting, a welcome worthy of the occasion.
Private Burrell, who left the trenches on Sunday morning, arrived at Morpeth railway station by the train timed for 12.38. He was met on the platform by the Mayor and Mayoress (Councillor and Mrs T.W. Charlton), Ald. S.W, Brown, Councillors R.N Swinney, C. Grey, J.H. Simpson, Jas. Elliott, and Ed. Norman; also Mr Jas. Jardin (Town Clerk) and Mr F.D. Wood, carrying the mace. There was also on the platform Mr T. Swinney, senr.
As soon as the train steamed into the station the band of the Durham Light Infantry struck up a tune, and the people assembled gave rousing cheers.
No sooner did the gallant soldier alight from the train than he was carried shoulder high by two of his fellow workmen to the carriage entrance, where a procession was formed. There were six motor cars, kindly lent by the Commanding Officer of the Northern Cyclist Battalion, Mr George Renwick, Ald. George Young, Councillor Jas. Elliott, and Mr Edwin Swinney. In the first motor-car were seated the soldier-hero and the Mayor wearing his chain of office, and Mayoress. The other cars were occupied by the members and officials of the council.
As the procession of cars left the station, headed by the band, loud and hearty cheers were given. All the way to the Market Place the gallant soldier had a magnificent reception from the townspeople and the soldiers who lined the streets en route. From nearly every window in Bridge Street enthusiastic spectators waved their handkerchiefs.
A halt was made at the Market Place, where the Mayor, in the presence of a large and enthusiastic gathering, cordially welcomed Pte. Burrell home.
The Mayor said: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are again honoured by another hero in our midst, and Morpeth should be proud of them. (Applause.) Private Burrell is the second Morpeth man to distinguish himself at the front. In the case of Private Martin, whom we welcomed some weeks ago, he came home wounded, leaving his comrade Private Burrell, in the trench. Now Private Burrell has come home on furlough. He left the front on Sunday morning, and has to return to face the foe again on Friday morning.
“I would like to see every man in Morpeth distinguish himself in the same way as our two gallant townsmen. I think that every man serving at the front should be given four days’ holiday to see his relatives.” (Applause.)
Turning to Private Burrell, the Mayor said: “On behalf of the townspeople I welcome you back to your native town. (Applause.) You are a credit to the town — (applause) — and I say there is nothing for it but for the young men to come forward and help in this great war. I had nineteen years as a volunteer, and I would not be afraid to go myself. If need be I am quite willing to do my bit. (Applause.)
The Mayor then shook hands with Private Burrell amid loud and enthusiastic applause.
Pte. Burrell said: “I thank you on behalf of myself and my comrades, whom I have left in the trenches, for your kindness to us.” (Loud applause.)
Councillor R.N. Swinney said he was very pleased to be again associated with one of the Morpeth men who has distinguished himself, and honoured Morpeth. Morpeth was one of the best-known towns in the North country. They had two “D.C.M.’s” for a population of 7,000. It was a great credit to the town, but a greater credit to the men who had earned the decoration.
As for Private Burrell, he knew what he was and what he would do when he went to the front. He was one of the finest men, and the class of men they wanted. There was not a quieter or better behaved boy, as a boy, when he was serving his time at the foundry, and there was not a better man than Private Burrell in the foundry. The way in which his fellow workers had turned out that day showed how popular he was. He hoped they would give him a good time during his short stay. If any men deserved it, it was the men who had come from the trenches. (Loud applause.)
The Mayor expressed the hope that the presentation of the D.C.M. to Private Burrell would take place at Morpeth and not at Alnwick, as was done in the case of Pte. Martin. (Applause.)
The interesting proceedings ended, and Private Burrell, amid further cheering, proceeded to his home in Bridge Street.
PRESENTATION OF MEDAL
The presentation of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Pte. Geo. Burrell took place at a recruiting meeting held in the Market Place, Morpeth, on Tuesday evening. The ceremony was performed by the Mayor (Councillor T.W. Charlton), who was supported by Major Wright, Captain Welch, and Sergt. Montrose of the 7th N.F. and Councillor R.N. Swinney. There was a very large and enthusiastic audience.
In his opening remarks, the Mayor said that one of the objects of that meeting was to get recruits to fill the gaps in the 7th Batt. Northumberland Fusiliers. They were aware that a large number of the men of Morpeth had gone to fight their country’s battles, but there were a lot of young men about the town who ought to come forward to help the lads in the trenches.
They had on the platform Major Wright and Captain Welch, both of whom had been at the Front and been wounded. He was also pleased that they had on the platform Pte. George Burrell, who was a credit to the town. (Applause).
He expressed the hope that many would come forward and join the 7th Northumberlands.
MAJOR WRIGHT’S TRIBUTE
Major Wright said that he was there for two purposes. The first one was a very pleasing one. It was to pay his tribute of honour and respect to Private Burrell. (Applause.)
Pte. Burrell had added one more gem to the glorious crown of the “Fighting Fifth.” (Applause). He had brought honour to his regiment, the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, and had brought honour to this ancient town of Morpeth. (Applause).
His next duty was to speak to them on the pressing question of recruiting.
Some eight or nine weeks ago, Lord Kitchener called for a new army to be raised. Now, they as soldiers, knew that Lord Kitchener never asked for anything unless it was absolutely necessary. More than that they knew, and the general public knew, that if Lord Kitchener asked for something he would get it. What he asked for was a new army, and he regretted to state that he had not got one man in that new army. That statement, perhaps, needed a little explanation.
Many men since Lord Kitchener made that appeal had enlisted. They had not joined the new army because they had to be used up to replace wastage; therefore the new army had still to be formed.
He appealed especially for recruits for the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers. They all knew of the great deeds they did on April 29th, when half of the Northumberland Division was wiped out in one afternoon and night.
Referring to Pte. Burrell, the Major said that he was devoutly thankful on that night when wounded that he was able to crawl down a ditch to a place of safety in a small dressing hospital. What must it have been for Pte. Burrell and Pte. Martin to walk calmly over that bullet-swept open with a box of ammunition between them.
They were two Morpeth men, and he wanted more men from Morpeth of the same nature. (Applause.)
“I see many young men here,” continued Major Wright, “men whom I think should enlist.
“Even if the war was to stop next month, the month’s training they will always remember for the rest of their lives and feel the benefit. They will also have the added pleasure of saying in future years that they prevented conscription.
“You can mark my words that if Lord Kitchener does not get the men he wants there will be conscription. Speaking as an old volunteer, that would be one of the saddest days for this country if conscription comes in.
“I don’t want conscripts to come out of Morpeth. I would rather have one volunteer from Morpeth tonight than twenty conscripts.
“I want more men from this town to come forward and help us in Flanders to avenge the deaths of your fallen comrades. I want them to come forward and enlist in our battalion and help to avenge the suffering of the wounded. I need only mention one name here, Captain James Flint. I want you to avenge his sufferings, and there are many others in a similar plight.
“I want you to come and fight side by side with Pte. Burrell and Pte. Martin and the remainder of your townsmen out in the Front. (Applause.)
“The ladies of this country have the hardest burden to bear of all in this terrible war. They have borne that burden bravely and patiently, and they are still bearing it patiently, and I am sorry to say that they will have to go on bearing that burden patiently for some time yet.”
Captain Welch, who made a stirring appeal for recruits for the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, said that he wished to thank Morpeth, for the number of recruits they had got from Morpeth. He was conscious of this that no district in the British Isles had done better in the matter of recruiting than Morpeth. (Applause.)
The most interesting part of the proceedings next took place, the presentation of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Pte. Burrell. The Mayor said that he had a very pleasant and interesting duty to perform.
His only regret was that he had not the pleasure of having Private Martin there also and presenting his medal. Pte. Martin had received his medal at Alnwick. At the request of Pte. Burrell he had made it his business to go to Alnwick in order to make arrangements for his medal being presented in his native town.
He then pinned the medal on the breast of Pte. Burrell amid great cheering.
The Mayor added that he hoped the young men would come forward and give their names to Sergeant Montrose, who had got over 1,200 recruits since he started recruiting.
Sergeant Montrose said he had witnessed the most pleasing ceremony that he had ever witnessed in his life when the medal was pinned on Pte. Burrell’s breast for doing his bit and a little bit more. There were a lot of men in Morpeth who were not doing their bit.
In answer to Sergt. Montrose’s appeal for recruits, two men and a youth mounted the platform. The lad was informed that he was too young.
At the close Major Wright said it was his pleasing duty to propose a vote of thanks to their worthy Mayor. The Mayor and Corporation of Morpeth had for ages past always supported the Volunteer and Territorial movement and none had been more arduous towards recruiting than their present Mayor.
Prior to the meeting, the band of the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers paraded the streets and also played pleasing selections of music in the Market Place.
Private George Burrell, D.C.M., who, prior to enlisting in the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, was employed at the Wansbeck Ironworks, Morpeth, was yesterday made the recipient of handsome presents from the members of the firm and his fellow workmen.
The gifts, which took the form of an enlarged photograph of Private Burrell and his mother and father, and a five pound war loan scrip from his former employers, and a wristlet watch from his fellow workmen, took place in the foundry shop.
Mr D.K. Bennett, who presided, remarked that they had met to do homage to one of their fellow workers.
Mr Joseph Spencer made the presentation on behalf of the men.
He said that he was very proud to have the honour to perform such a pleasing duty. The occasion was unique in the history of the ironworks.
They were living in stirring times when the fate of nations hung in the balance. They had a bigger army and navy than they had every had in the history of this country. He referred to the thousands of men in the firing line and their doings at the front were followed with great interest, because there was scarcely a family but had someone in his Majesty’s forces.
There were few towns of the size of Morpeth that had done better in the matter of recruiting. Morpeth had given some 800 or 900 men already, and there were few places of the size of Morpeth that had had four men mentioned in dispatches. Honours in the British Army were not got like iron crosses in the German Army. (Laughter and applause.) They had got to be earned and well earned at that.
About 30 men had gone from this foundry and the doings of these men were watched most closely. The majority of them had joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, and they were in the firing line within a week of leaving Cambois.
Referring to Private Burrell, he said he was one of the quietest men that they had ever had in the works. They all knew how he had won the D.C.M. His motto was that when a man did well give him the honour. (Applause.)
Their sincere wish was that he would come back safe to receive their congratulations again. Now, on behalf of the workers he had much pleasure in handing over the watch as a token of their appreciation of his gallantry in action. He asked him to wear it in the trenches, for it would remind him of his friends at home. He then wished the recipient every success and a safe return. That was the wish of every man in the works. (Loud applause.)
Councillor R.N. Swinney, in making the presentation on behalf of the firm said he could endorse everything that had been said. No man standing there had any idea or could realise what Private Burrell and Private Martin had done.
They faced shot and fell unflinchingly and carried no light load. They had performed one of the bravest acts that had ever been done on the battlefield. They practically saved the situation, and if they had not got the ammunition up it might have been a serious thing for the men in the trenches. Should the same opportunity occur again he felt sure that Private Burrell or any other Morpeth man at the front would not shrink from the task.
On behalf of the firm he had great pleasure in presenting the gifts. (Applause.)
Private George Burrell, in reply, thanked them for the handsome gifts. He said that there were many men in France who had earned six D.C.M.s, but whose conduct had not been observed.
Three ringing cheers for Private Burrell concluded the proceedings.
OUR OWN COLUMN
From every quarter of the British Empire thousands of men have forsaken the ordinary pursuits of civilian life to don the uniform of the King in order to help in the gigantic struggle on the continent of Europe.
Since the war commenced many deeds of valour have been performed which testify to the fact that the fighting qualities and the pluck and endurance of the British solider is as good to-day as ever it was. Like every other town that possesses its soldier-heroes we are proud of ours.
For the second time within five weeks it has been the joy and pleasure of the townspeople of Morpeth to welcome home another of their gallant sons. The hero on this occasion was Private George Burrell, who, along with his comrade, Private C. Martin, won the Distinguished Conduct Medal — a much coveted decoration — for conspicuous bravery at St Julien.
It can be said that they have done their “bit,” and a little bit more, in this campaign. As in the case of Private Martin, the mayor, as soon as he heard that Private Burrell was coming home on furlough, made arrangements for giving him a civic welcome. The townspeople turned out in their hundreds and accorded to their gallant townsman a splendid reception.
In the Market Place, where many historic gatherings have taken place in the past, the major alluded to Private’s Burrell’s great achievement. He replied with soldierly modesty and thanked all for their kindness to him and his comrades in the trenches.
LOCAL OFFICER’S PROMOTION
Captain the Hon. J.N. Ridley, who has been promoted to a temporary majority in the Northumberland Hussars, has had several year’s service with the regiment, which has the distinction of being the first territorial unit to go into action in the present war. A brother of Viscount Ridley the new major will be remembered as a former Unionist candidate for Morpeth and Newcastle. He is married to Countess Benckondorff, daughter of the Russian Ambassador.
Sir,— Now that the winter is approaching, the number of soldiers using the institute increases. We have plenty of games, etc., for them, but could do with another bagatelle board (this being a favourite game with the men), as the one we have at present is about done.
I hope some kind friend will send one. –
T.B. WATERS, Sec.
The local council has provided a number of seats in their district as a convenience and to accommodate the old people who cared to take a walk along the highway and there take a rest.
It is at this meeting-place the latest war news is discussed, experiences of older times re-told, stories of the escapades of youth are cited, incidents of daily life recounted, political and economic questions debated.
The story we relate was told one fine day not long ago. Jack was the spokesman, and his subject was the Zeppelin scare.
“I divvent, like the look of these big clumsy-looking things fleein’ aboot wor heads especially at night time; it makes me feel as though I cannot gan to sleep at nights when I gan to bed. The other day I had a good spell in the garden, and you might be sure I wrought a hard shift which made me very tired.
“The aad woman and me went soon to bed and to my surprise I soon dozed over — a thing I hadn’t done for many a night. How long I slept I canna tell, when suddenly I was awakened by a loud noise; something had fallen on the floor.
“When I head this noise I jumped up and struggled out of bed, when I strup upon something on the floor. My first thowt was had there been a Zeppelin over and dropped a bomb. I went to the bed-side to see if the wife was all right, and pleased I was to find she was, although she had getten as big a fright as mysel’. I felt I could scarcely get my breath, the room was that stuffy. At last I managed to strike a light and low and behold, what do you think it was — a lump of the ceiling had fallen down reet in the middle of the floor.
“When I got my eyes thoroughly opened, and with the aid of the candle which burned very dimly. I could see nowt but lime and dust, a’ the bit furniture in the room was covered, even the very bed-claes look as through they had been in the “goaf” for mony a day, they were that black. You may guess the auld wife and me had a bonny job to get things tidied up at such an unearthly time of the morning. Never mind, we succeeded, and there was one redeeming feature about the incident: there was nowt broken, and it’ll not cost the landlord very much to repair to damage.
“Had your ceiling been cracked?” asked Bill.
“Yes,” replied Jack. “It had been that way for many a month, but I never thought it would fall in the dead hour of the neet.”
“What did you feel like?” enquired Bob.
“Well to make a long story short,” says Jack, “I had a funny feeling and cannot really describe it. I thought my time had come. One thing I cannot deny, it gave both the wife and me a big fright, but I think it waddent ha happened if I hadn’t bothered myself so much about Zeppelins.”