In this feature to commemorate the First World War, we will bring you the news as it happened in 1916, 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.
The employment of child labour on farms is a topic of general interest in the rural districts in these disturbing times.
It was a subject of a lengthy debate at the meeting of the Northumberland Education Committee last Thursday, when the following resolution from the County War Agricultural Committee was brought forward:— ”That the Education Committee be approached with a view to the withdrawal from schools in agricultural districts of boys from 12 to 14 years of age, so that their services can be utilised in helping to meet the existing shortage of agricultural labour in the country.”
Many interesting points were raised by members, the chairman giving a very helpful lead. Whilst they all recognise the needs of the farming community in these days, they also recognised that the education of the children could not be lost sight of.
Stress was laid on the point that before any concessions were granted they, as an educational authority, should be satisfied, among other things, that there was a shortage of agricultural labour, that every effort was made to get the labour of elderly men or women, and that boys when employed will be well taken care of and properly treated in the way of wages.
The Committee also came to a very proper decision in deciding that all applications for boys to be withdrawn from school for farm work must be considered by the Education Committee first and that permission must not be granted by managers or head teachers.
SOLDIER LABOUR ON FARMS
The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries on Tuesday night issued a notice to farmers announcing that, in view of the shortage of agricultural labour, arrangements have been made with the Army Council for a limited number of soldiers serving at home and accustomed to work on farms to be given furlough for farm work.
Farmers must pay each soldier 4/- a day, or 2/6 a day if board and lodging is provided. Application for soldier labour must be made to the Labour Exchange. Convalescent soldiers may also be engaged at 3/6 daily, or 2/- with board and lodging provided.
A LOCAL LAD’S EXPERIENCE
A local soldier, Private George Nelson Maddison (19), of the 8th Somerset Light Infantry, writes as follows.—
”I am still all right after four months in the trenches. No doubt you have seen about our good work, when we did that bit of a charge on the 15th of December. I was in it. I will now explain what we did that morning.
“Our guns opened fire, and we were outside the German wire waiting for the word to give way, and then we rushed up over the Germans’ first line of trenches, shooting the sentry. Then we started work bayoneting our way through. We went into their dugouts, turning them out and taking the occupiers prisoners.
“We were in these trenches twenty minutes, and then we got word to go back into our own trench, leaving about thirty or more dead Germans behind. Then we made back with sixteen German prisoners and a Maxim gun, bombs and several other things. I took back two of the Germans myself. We had a pretty rough time going back. They were shelling us all the way through our trench, but it wasn’t very long before our guns stopped their little game.
“The next day it was very quiet, and on Sunday morning about half-past five we were standing in the trench behind the firing line when one of our lads said he could smell something like fuses. We all looked over, and before we could get down they blew the firing line up. Then they started to rush for us, but we beat them back by heavy rifle fire from the supports. We had then to fight for the crater.
“We are now looking forward to going back for a month’s rest, and I am looking forward to being in England any time this month for my leave.”
It does not require very great discernment to notice the great waste of paper on every side. In view of the present scarcity and high price of paper, and a likelihood of that want becoming emphasised in the near future, people would do well to economise in the destruction of paper.
NORTHUMBERLAND AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY
The annual meeting of the Northumberland Agricultural Society was held at the Berwick Corn Exchange on Saturday.
The annual report, carrying with it the decision not to hold a show in 1916, was adopted.
Mr G.G. Rea, of North Doddington, said they knew how heavily farmers were handicapped by the impossibility of getting their supplies forward by rail. They had to wait sometimes for five or six weeks before they could get supplies of cake, and manures were even worse. He knew many people who ordered slag in November and had not got it yet, with the result that the season when it could usefully have been applied was practically over. Thus, not only did they lose the advantage of its application but the country lost by the increase of produce which would have come from that manure.
He moved: “That this general meeting of the Northumberland Agricultural Society petitions the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to confer with the Board of Trade with a view to reducing the present congestion of railway traffic, and suggests that all trucks should be pooled for the duration of the war, and that the regulation of certain traffic should be removed from the military authority and placed in the hands of a board of railway experts.”
Mr T.O. Rand, Beaumont Hill, seconded.
After some discussion, on the suggestion of the Chairman, Mr Rea agreed to omit the words “that the regulation of certain traffic be removed from the military authority,” and in its amended form the motion was unanimously carried. Copies are to be sent to the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Board of Agriculture.
Amid the present conflicting opinions as to the question of compulsory military service, there is an interesting representation of these opposite views in a letter written by Mr J.W. Taylor of Ashington to Mr Charles Fenwick, in which is set forth the position against compulsion, and Mr Fenwick’s defence of his support of the measure, which will be read with interest. The correspondence is as follows:—
203 Maple Street, Ashington.
Dear Sir,— I venture to approach you re the terrible business now before the House, in order, in the first place, to offer my most sincere and deepest regret and disappointment that you should have recorded your vote in favour of providing the privileged classes of this country with the most powerful whip or weapon that they can have in order to flog or grind the workers into the lowest depths of subjection.
When I heard and afterwards read of your action, I pondered. Surely, Sir, you have read the history of the Durham and Northumberland Miners by R. Fynes, of how the revered member for Morpeth and his wife, when children, were thrown with many others to the mercy of the weather and the shelter of the heavens, of the struggles of the miners and others in those dark days in the cause, and for the formation of Trade Unions, some even exiled, not to Siberia, but to Australia, and I thought sir, you must have forgotten, for the time at least, of the fearful tyranny and oppression of the workers by their employers, when you recorded your vote in such a manner.
Sir, I put it to you most sincerely, that if this measure (hideous and absolutely devoid of humanity) should pass, it will brand your name with infamy if you should at the third reading cast your vote in its favour in the days that are to come when we are being ground down by this terrible weapon and surely we are on a scale much too low even now.
It is a sad business indeed, when you, with so many others who have done so much for trade unionism, should undo all at one fell stroke, and thus prove a victim to the blandishments and flattery of the privileged or their representatives, because, sir, this is a deep-laid conspiracy and patiently worked out and cleverly, too, by the arch-schemers.
You will be well aware of the foundation of the National Service League (a nice name). That, I think, was the real business beginning of the wretched legislation before the House. Scan the list of names of officials of this organisation and you will not find the name of one who in any way showed a tendency to befriend Labour. The whole scheme is now laid bare.
One cannot complain of those who do not claim to be Democrats or Trade Unionists; but I do most earnestly hope that those who profess or claim to be such will at the vital moment prove themselves to be capable of safeguarding the principles aforesaid.
I therefore, sir, conclude with the hope that your name may appear on the fateful day among those of the Faithful, not to the shirker, but Faithful to the Toiler.— I am, sir, yours respectfully,
P.S.— I trust there is nothing in this humble epistle that will lend to give the least possible shade of offence, as it is my sole desire to appeal to reason. Conscription means force, tyranny and oppression, and will be the death knell of trade unionism.
Mr Fenwick’s reply was as follows:—
14 Tankerville Terrace, Jesmond,
Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jan. 25th, 1916.
Dear Sir,— I have to acknowledge receipt of yours of the 19th instant, in reference to my support of the Government “Military Service Bill.” I accept your assurance that your letter is not intended to be in any way offensive, and I certainly do not consider it as such.
You express your regret and disappointment that I should have recorded my vote in favour of “providing the privileged classes of this country with the most powerful whip or weapon that they can have in order to flog or grind the workers into the lowest depths of subjection.”
If I thought with you, and others who oppose the Bill, that it was likely to produce a tithe of the evils you predict likely to follow its passing into law, I should be inclined to agree with you when you declare that my vote will be likely to “brand my name with infamy amongst my fellow Trade Unionists.” I do not, however, share your fears as to its probable effects, and, therefore, I am quite content to leave my case to the judgement of the Trade Unionists in the Wansbeck Division.
I do not know whether you are aware of that fact that the division in favour of the second reading twenty Trade Union Labour members voted for the Bill and ten against, and of those ten several have never been Trade Unionists, and declare that they never intend to be.
I will mention only one fact which influences me strongly in my conclusion to support the Government. According to the General Auditor’s report of our Association dated the 6th December, 1915, I find that no less than 5,709 of our members have enlisted out of the Wansbeck Division.
Some of these men have been fighting since the beginning of the war; several of them have been wounded; all of them are weary and tired, requiring a rest; and when I am assured by the Government, including Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, that more men are required not merely for the purpose of finishing the war, but in order that these men may have the necessary rest and change, I could not incur the responsibility of denying them the same.
You remind me in your P.S. that compulsion or conscription means “force, tyranny, and oppression.” May I take the liberty of pointing out that we have gone a long way already by the exercise of force of compulsion. By law we compel the feeding of necessitous children and their education without fees, and pensions for the aged, and both you and I are in favour of providing work for the unemployed; surely, then, in a case of National emergency we ought to be able to call upon all who are fit and free to undertake the defence of the State.
In conclusion, may I remind you that when the war began there were over 40,000 time expired soldiers and sailors who were entitled to receive their discharge and return to civil life, having done their “bit,” some of them seven and others thirteen years.
What happened? A measure was passed without a single protest from any Member of the House of Commons ordering these men to remain at their post until the end of the war. This, I repeat, was done without protest either in the House or out of it, so far as I am aware. I don’t know whether you will consider such a measure as an act of conscription, it certainly was a measure for compulsory service.— I am, yours faithfully,
C. FENWICK, M.P.
GIFT FOR MINERS’ WIDOWS
Mr T.E. Ruddock, of Messrs Watts, Watts, and Company, Limited, Newcastle, has received a letter and cheque for £100 from Mr Drye Halse, of Trondhjem, Norway, for the benefit of widows and orphans of Northumberland miners who have fallen in the war.
Mr Halse sends the gift “with sincere sympathy for the brave men who are now bleeding on the field of battle in heroic struggle for their beloved country, and also for their relations who suffer at home.”
Mr Ruddock has forwarded a cheque for £5 to Mr John Humphrey as a contribution to the colliery engine men, and the remainder to Mr John Cairns, financial secretary of the Northumberland Miners’ Association. It is suggested that £5 be given to the colliery mechanics and £5 to the deputies, and “the balance — £85 — to the larger union.”
Mr Ruddock, in his letter to Mr Cairns, says:— ”My friend is a coal merchant, dealing exclusively in Northumberland steam coal, and I think, under the circumstances it is peculiarly fitting that he should desire his contribution to be divided among the men, or the relatives of the men, upon the labours of whose class his trade depends.
“I trust my friend’s gifts will be accepted by your good self on behalf of the men as proof that among the neutral nations there are generous people whose practical sympathy is with this country. I have full confidence that the amount in question will be distributed in accordance with the expressed wishes of the donor.”
Secretaries of miners’ lodges in Northumberland who know of needy cases in their district are requested to communicate with Mr Cairns at Burt Hall, Newcastle.
On Tuesday night a public meeting was held in the Scotland Gate Co-operative Hall. The Rev. J. Burdon, vicar of the parish, presided and in his opening remarks explained that the meeting had been called for the purpose of hearing their views upon the postal services which they had at present in Choppington district, and which were, as they all knew, nothing like what they used to have.
While they could not expect the same facilities during war times, they at least expected better service than what they had.
A discussion followed, after which it was resolved to protest against the meagre services, and a deputation was appointed to wait upon the Morpeth Postmaster at as early a date as convenient to him.
A capital children’s patriotic concert was given in the White House Mission Hall on Monday last week in aid of Prince George’s Motor Ambulance Fund.
The programme consisted of a short musical drama entitled “Kitchener’s Boys,” and an historical sketch entitled “A Game of Bowls on Plymouth Hoe.” The infants sang songs of sailor boys, soldiers, and nurses, in costume. Miss Minnie Smith’s “My Dolly” was well received.
A group of girls sang a selection of appropriate songs in effective style. “Learning French,” “Juanita,” and “Hope will banish sorrow” were well rendered. Poems of war were recited by elder scholars. Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” and Macaulay’s “Armada” were given by Masters William and R. Hunter.
The dramatised version of the old song, “The Miller and the Maid,” rendered by Misses M. Brewer and Miss J. Rutherford, with chorus, earned a well-merited encore, as did also the pleasing old favourite “Jeannette and Jeannot,” sweetly sung by Miss M. Varnham. “The Children of the Empire” was well recited by Master Mason.
The Russian National Anthem (Jude’s arrangement) and the popular song, “Till the Boys come Home,” were sung. The tableau, “Rock of Ages,” was effectively represented by Miss Beatrice Smith, and the final tableau, “A Worthy Volunteer,” with musical accompaniment, was well done by Master Bernard Smith in full Highland costume.
We learn that the proceeds of the concert were over £4. The concert reflected great credit on Mr Brewer and staff.
COMFORTS FOR THE 7TH N.F.
Lieut.-Col. R. Scott acknowledges with thanks the receipt of the following articles and donations for the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers and would like to inform intending contributors that there is no need to send anything except socks for the present as he has a sufficiency of all other articles:—
Per Mrs Beveridge, Rothbury, 24 pairs socks; Miss E. Crawford, 3 pairs socks; Bank House, Acklington, 5 pairs socks; Mrs Muckle, Manchester, muffler, 2 pairs socks; Miss Winnifred Cole, 2 pairs socks, 3 pairs mitts, 1 muffler; Miss Riddell, East Thirston, 1 pair socks. Per Mrs P.C. Swan, 141 pairs socks, 48 pairs mitts, 24 mufflers; Miss Martin, 6 pairs socks; Rothbury Church Working Party, 14 shirts, 20 mufflers, 7 pairs socks, 2 belts; Miss D Moore, 7 pairs socks; the Hon. Mrs G.W. Liddell, 6 pairs socks; Major A. Falconer Ball (3rd donation), £5 5s.
There is a proposition abroad which almost amounts to a truism anyway, that in these times of scarce labour the hedges should be allowed to grow and no labour be wasted in cutting them.
The writer would like to point out that this might be a good think to do in any case, for a good many hedges have been cut down which would have been of more value if left standing. There are many farms with low neatly-trimmed hedges which are very much windswept, and which would be very much improved for both live stock and crops if the hedge were allowed to grow.
The value of shelter is sometimes not appreciated till we find the want of it, and in the absence of woods, good strong hedges are wonderful wind-breaks.
BELSAY EGG COLLECTION
During December, and up to January 17th, 191 eggs were sent to the National Egg Collection, 154 Fleet Street, London; total since May 10th, 2,420.
Eggs for the wounded or cash will be received by Mr C. Snowball, Belsay; Mrs Richley, Highlander Inn; Miss D. Clarke, Stamfordham; or Wilkinson’s, Bankfoot, Belsay.
Contributors: Mrs Potts, Broadlaw; Mrs Thomas, Bolam; Mrs R. Bell, Kirkley; Mrs Richley, Highlander Inn; Miss Meek, Nun Hill; Miss D. Clarke, Stamfordham; Mrs Carmichael, Black Heddon; Mrs Wilkinson, Bankfoot.
The date of next despatch is February 7th.
EAST NORTHUMBERLAND TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION
The first general meeting of this association for 1916 was held in the Council School, Bedlington Station, on Friday. Mr R. Joisce presided.
After the minutes of the annual meeting had been adopted, the president heartily congratulated the secretary on his unopposed election as vice-president of the County Association.
The president then proceeded to deliver an address on “Education in the Future.” He predicted changes in the lives of the people, and, in the readjustment that will follow the war, he expects that education will receive its share.
He reminded his hearers that education has been one of the first institutions to suffer, for stationery and staffing had both been reduced, the leaving age had been attacked, and now schemes are being devised for the creating of make-shift teachers to be employed in various parts of the country.
An inspiring and instructive address was brought to a close by recommending the members to be on alert, and he asked for a national scheme of education rather than the many local forms that exist today.
MORPETH WAR SEWING MEETING
The committee are indebted to Mrs Shepherd, Howard Street, for tea on Thursday afternoon, which realised the sum of £1 14s.; and also acknowledges with thanks socks and mittens from Mrs R.J. Carr, De Merley Road.
THE POLITICAL TRUCE
“War suspends the rules of modern obligations, and what is long suspended is in danger of being totally abrogated.”
The above quotation of Edward Burke was cited by Mr John Cairns at a meeting of trades-unionist representatives at the old I.L.P. Institute, Blyth, on Sunday morning, as the keynote of his defence against the charge made against the Labour party in the Borough of Morpeth of a violation of the political truce, contained in a communication from Mr T.C. Heatley, chairman of the Morpeth Borough Liberal Council and published in the last issue of the “Herald.”
The chief object of the conference was to hear the political views of Mr John Cairns, the prospective Labour candidate for the Borough. There was about 30 delegates from various trades unions in the district, all of which however, as explained by Mr Hunter, were not affiliated with the Labour Party.
The agenda provided for a speech by Mr Cairns to be followed by questions, and, after that, discussion. After Mr Cairns had spoken, however, there was no question asked, nor was there any discussion, a unanimous vote of confidence being given Mr Cairns. The proceedings lasted 1½ hours. Strong resentment was expressed by the chairman and speakers against the charges of Mr Heatley.
Mr John Summers (Bebside Miners) presided, who remarked that he would be brief as they had a lengthy programme to consider. He would first of all like to make one or two remarks in respect to an attack upon their newly-formed organisation by Mr T.C. Heatley, who in the Press accused their association of something which he trusted would be proved they were not guilty of, and he hoped the few remarks he was about to make would allay the apprehension of Mr Heatley.
It had never been their intention, said Mr Summers, to cause political strife nor to conduct a political campaign in the constituency during the period of the war, but it had always been their object to gather together from time to time to perfect their machinery so that they might be in order when the proper time arrived to enter the political warfare well equipped to safeguard the interests of those affiliated with them in common with the Labour party.
But he proceeded, one wondered what underlying motive it was that caused Mr Heatley to send that letter to the Press. If it was to make political capital out of assumed unpatriotism or disloyalty to King and country of the Labour Party, then, Mr Summers said deliberately, his action was unfair.
Mr Heatley ought to be aware that out of 45,000 members in the Northumberland Miners’ Association, not more than 492 had claimed exemption from the political levy, and this being so, they and the Borough of Morpeth were within their rights in seeking to put their machinery in order to better equip their organisation and look after the interests of those identified with them.
He would not trespass further on their time as the primary object of the meeting was to hear Mr Cairns’ political views on those questions that made for the moral and social well-being of the generality of the members of that constituency. He first of all called upon Mr Hunter to explain some of the objects of the conference.
The meeting that morning would not discuss controversial issues. The meeting had never been called to do that; it was the outcome of a former business meeting, and he contended they were as much entitled to perfect their organisation as other people were to keep their’s together. (Applause).
Mr Cairns expressed his pleasure at seeing such a large gathering of representatives and he was also glad to see Mr Summers in the chair for he had been associated with him for many years. Mr Cairns remarked there had been something in the Press that he wanted to refer to.
Mr Henderson, representing the Labour Party, came from London to see him at the Burt Hall and told him that the political truce meant they had not unnecessarily to harass and criticise the Government through the war. He (Mr Cairns) then asked whether they would be allowed to go into the constituency to organise and hold political meetings and Mr Henderson said: “By all means, me dear friend: we are all doing it — Liberals, Conservatives, and Labourites are all doing it.”
Most of them, went on Mr Cairns, would have seen an effusion in the Press from Mr T.C. Heatley, of Blyth, chairman of the Morpeth Borough Liberal Council, who sought to fix the charge upon them of seeking to distract the public mind by party strife and to play into the hands of the enemy. Then Mr Heatley in the arrogance of his patriotism assumed to speak for the electors, who, he said, would hold them to strict account.
He (Mr Cairns) claimed that no man realised more fully than himself the terrible crisis through which they were passing, and the same might certainly be said of the Association and his associates in that movement. He would like to state that of his association 26.8 per cent of the miners of the county had enlisted.
Since war was declared he had been, as everybody knew, addressing meetings all over Newcastle and elsewhere, and had been very successful in getting recruits. The Parliamentary Committee of the Tyneside Division appointed him one of five to form an Advisory Committee to deal with all kinds of men, and Sir John Simon, then Home Secretary, asked him to be one of two on the Colliery Courts Committee, and the Miners’ Executive had allowed him the time for that work. How many man could say that the Labour Party or himself was seeking to play into the hands of the enemy he could not tell.
Who was there amongst them whose heart was not thrilled by the stories of the heroism of our brave lads amid the terrors of the trenches, on the far-flung battle-line in Flanders and Gallipoli, and on the lonely sea and in the air?
Who was there whose heart did not glow with indignation when they read of the barbarities of our enemies against the weak and helpless?
Were they indifferent whilst the fate of this and other nations trembled in the balance, and where were there braver men than their own sons and brothers from the mine, the shipyard, the shop, and from every industry in that Northumberland of theirs?
He had tried to do his duty and had letters from the Mayor of Newcastle and Lord Kitchener, and after doing such work to be told by a man from Blyth that he was seeking to aid the enemy, why he was out of it. (Applause). He was too old to shoulder a gun, but in the words of the song: “I will do my best to keep the fires burning. And help the lads in the trenches.” (Applause).
Referring to the need of keeping their organisation intact to prevent their rights being totally abrogated after the war, he said too many of their brave men would never return, but those who did return, they must see to it that they did not return to a conscript, but to a free country, and they must see to it that their just claims must be conceded, or there would be another war.
He had sufficient blood in his veins to say that, and he was not speaking to the gallery but to a gathering of intelligent men. (Applause.) He also claimed that they must exercise eternal vigilance as the price of liberty to see that what had been so hardly won would not be taken from the coming generation.