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.
A special meeting of the Morpeth Town Council was held on Wednesday evening. The Mayor (Councillor J.R. Temple) presided.
At the outset the Mayor said that the first business was to pass votes of condolence with relatives of sons lost in the war during the past month.
“We have had very serious losses in Morpeth,” proceeded the Mayor, “and they are getting worse. Two of our colleagues — Councillors Armstrong and Jackson — have each lost a son, both having died fighting for their country.
“In Councillor Armstrong’s case, this is the second son he has lost within six months. It must be a sore trial for him at this time. I feel sure that our sympathy goes out to our colleagues.
“I would also like to refer to other sad losses. Ex-Councillor W.A. Grey has lost two sons on the battlefield, and Ex-Councillor Jos. Reay has also lost a son. Then again it was sad to read of the death of Mr S. Hoey’s son on the ‘Belgian Prince.’ There are others too numerous to mention.
“I will move that we pass a vote of condolence to all relatives.”
The resolution was passed in silence.
The Town Clerk stated that he had received the following letter from Lieut. Sanderson in reply to the Council’s letter of congratulations:— “My dear James,— I am very sorry that I had not time when I was at home to attend the Council meeting, where I intended to thank the Mayor and Corporation for their very kind congratulation in connection with my mention in dispatches.
“Will you please take the first opportunity to convey to my colleagues my deep appreciation of the genuine spirit which prompted their resolution. I hope to always be able to ‘carry on’ so as to maintain the confidence of my superiors, and in that be a credit to my friends and the dear old town.
“I sincerely hope that the blackest times are now over; certainly Morpeth has had its full share of the bitterness of this terrible war.
“What struck me most when I was at home was the splendid spirit of those fathers, mothers, wives, and all who have lost their brave ones. Certainly nothing could be finer than to see such brave people making the best of their sad losses.
“Wishing you all may soon see changes for a brighter future.— Yours, etc.
The Mayor proposed the following resolution.— “That at the end of three years from the declaration of a righteous war the inhabitants of the municipal borough of Morpeth, through their duly elected representatives in council assembled, record their inflexible determination to continue to a victorious end the struggle in maintenance of those ideals of liberty and justice which are the common and sacred cause of the Allies.”
Mr Charlton seconded the resolution, which was unanimously carried.
The Town Clerk said that he noticed in a Sunday paper a short paragraph in which it was stated that great consternation had been caused in London by it having leaked out that somebody had at last succeeded in getting a reply from the Food Production Department.
He also had got a reply at last from the Department, but he did not get it until he had written several letters, and had got a friend in London to move them. The letter dated August 4th, was as follows:
“In reply to your letter I beg to inform you that your order for 100 dozen jars was placed with Messrs Gilmer on July 13th. I can assure you that I fully realise the serious effect of the delay caused by the bottle manufacturers not having carried out their contracted deliveries, and you, on your part, will, I am sure, realise that I am doing everything in my power, through the Ministry of Munitions, who control the glass supply, to speed up deliveries.
“I am taking up the matter of your order with the Ministry of Munitions today, and I sincerely hope that your consignment may be despatched next week.”
TRAGEDY OF THE SEA
A crime, unparalleled for fiendish cruelty even in the worst phases of German submarine warfare, came to light on Thursday last week, namely, the deliberate drowning of 38 of the crew of the ship Belgian Prince.
The evident intention of the Huns was that none should live to tell the tale of this cold-blooded murder. There are, however, three survivors, who, after fearful sufferings, were picked up by a patrol boat and reached port.
Thomas Bowman, the chief engineer, a burly Tynesider, who has been ten times nearly drowned, but never so nearly as this time, gave the following narrative of his thrilling experience:—
“About 8 o’clock on Tuesday morning, while 200 miles off land, I saw from the after-deck the wake of an approaching torpedo. I gave warning. When the torpedo struck I was thrown on the deck by a piece of debris. The vessel took a heavy list, and all took to the boats.
“The submarine approached and destroyed the wireless by shell fire. The submarine ordered the boats to come alongside and called for the skipper. Captain Hassan went aboard, and was taken down into the submarine.
“The rest of us, 41, were mustered on the submarine’s deck. The Germans took the lifebelts from us, except eight, and the outside clothing from all of us. The submarine crew then entered the submarine, and closed the hatches, leaving us on deck.
“Before this the German sailors had taken oars, balers, and gratings from our lifeboats, and smashed the boats with an axe.
“The submarine went about two miles. Suddenly I heard the rush of water, and shouting, ‘Look out, she is sinking,’ I jumped into the water.
“Many men went down with the submarine; others swam about. I had a lifebelt. Near me was an apprentice, aged 16, shouting for help. I went to him, and held him up in the darkness till about midnight, when he became unconscious, and eventually died from exposure. I took his lifebelt and waited for daylight.
“I then saw the Belgian Prince still afloat, and made for her. My way lay through dead bodies, some in lifebelts, others not.
“As I neared the ship she blew up. I held on for another hour, when a boat picked me up in the last stages of exhaustion after eleven hours in the water.”
Another survivor, G. Siliski, of Odessa, second engineer, stated he had almost a similar experience, save he reached the doomed steamer in the morning before she was blown up, and was actually on board when the Germans came aboard and looted her.
He watched them from a hiding place, and when they came near he jumped into the sea, and, catching some wreckage remained afloat till rescued.
He confirms the chief engineer as to the obvious intention to drown the crew.
The Secretary of the Admiralty on Sunday made the following announcement:—
As has already been reported unofficially in the Press, the British steamship Belgian Prince was torpedoed by a German submarine on July 31st.
The crew abandoned the ship in two boats, and were ordered on the upper deck of the submarine by the German commander. Under his direction the boats were then smashed with axes, and the crew of the Belgian Prince deprived of their lifebelts.
The master was taken below and the hatch closed. The submarine submerged, without warning with 43 men standing on her deck. This was the entire crew of the Belgian Prince with the exception of three. All these were drowned.
The three survivors had contrived to retain their lifebelts without the knowledge of the enemy. They were picked up after having been in the water for eleven hours.
The details of this atrocious outrage are supported by the separate affidavits of the three survivors.
The cold-blooded murder of these men equals, if it does not transcend, the worst crimes which our enemies have committed against humanity.
When it became known that Cyril Joseph Hoey, aged 17, the only son of Mr and Mrs S. Hoey, master and matron of the Morpeth Workhouse, was one of the victims of the Belgian Prince, great sorrow was felt for the bereaved parents.
He was a promising young lad, and was very popular with his fellows. He was serving his apprenticeship on the Belgian Prince, and during the past two and a half years had made several long voyages on the same ship. Just a fortnight before his ship was torpedoed he was home on leave for a week.
He was educated at the Morpeth Grammar School, and took a keen interest in all outdoor sport. He was an excellent swimmer, a first-class cricketer, and a good footballer. He played for the school both in cricket and football, and in 1914 obtained his cricket colours, and in the season 1914-15 won his football colours.
In connection with the school Cadet Unit he rose to the rank of corporal.
MORPETH SOLIDER DIES FROM WOUNDS
Councillor Isaac Armstrong and Mrs Armstrong, of Alexandra Road, Morpeth, received the sad news last Sunday morning from the matron of one of the casualty clearing stations at the Front that their son, Private Edwin Armstrong, aged 20, of the Grenadier Guards, had been severely wounded in the thigh.
He never regained consciousness, and died a few days later.
On Wednesday they received the official notification from the War Office stating that Private Edwin Armstrong had died from wounds in action. Enclosed was a message of sympathy from the King and Queen.
The deceased had been over two years in the Army. He was wounded in September last, and returned to the Front in May this year.
He was a promising young man, and prior to enlisting was a clerk in the Town Clerk’s Office, Morpeth.
He received his early education at the Council Schools under the late Ald. R.J. Carr, headmaster. He entered the Morpeth Grammar School in September, 2010, with a County Council scholarship, and some three years later passed his Oxford Junior Local Examination.
He played in school cricket XI. in 1912 and 19013, and proved a very promising cricketer. He also took a great interest in the school sports and was a keen competitor while there, and was a member of the Cadet Unit. His interest was also centred in the Boys’ Brigade.
This is the second son that Mr and Mrs Armstrong have lost in six months, and we feel sure that the sympathy of the townspeople will go out to them in their time of bereavement.
A meeting of farmers and others interested in the prices of cattle and meat will be held in the Market Place, Morpeth, on Wednesday, Aug. 15th, 1917, at 2.30pm, to protest against the action of the Food Controller in reference to the matters above mentioned; and to pass Resolutions and make Recommendations to the Ministry of Food thereon.
Chairman: The Worshipful The Mayor Of Morpeth (Councillor J.R. Temple, J.P.)
ST. JAMES’ CHURCH, MORPETH
At St. James’ Church, Morpeth, last Sunday morning the Rector (Canon Davies) in his sermon made special reference to the third anniversary of the war. He took his text from 2nd Timothy, chapter 2, verse 3 — “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
At the outset he said they had met together that morning under circumstances of a peculiar nature — more solemn than any other morning, it being practically the third anniversary of our entry into the great war.
The time forced upon them thoughts and considerations retrospective and looking forward. Such an anniversary as this was inevitably a time for review for special thoughts and thanksgiving.
First of all, it was well for them to look back to the beginning and examine afresh in the light of what had happened what were the motives which prompted our nation to enter upon this war.
Were they selfish motives? Surely they were not. As far as human motives could be they were absolutely good and pure. That could be proved by our unpreparedness for the great conflict, for they had never expected to become engaged in anything of the kind.
Then let them never forget the supreme effort our statesmen made for peace. They knew now, more clearly than ever before, in the light of recent revelations, that those efforts for peace were impossible because Germany was determined upon war, because Germany thought “The Day” had come to launch forth her legions to dominate the world.
But though unprepared and though bidden by Germany to count the cost, we entered the war, and never did England do a nobler thing.
“As we view in our minds the great and terrible events of these three years, our action has been fully justified. Yes, fully justified by what the war has revealed. It has revealed the savagery of the Germans, their inhumanity and callousness.
“Only yesterday we read in the newspapers of the deliberate attempt of a German U-boat to drown the crew, 41 in number, of a merchant ship, the “Belgian Prince,” which it had torpedoed. One of the victims was one of our Morpeth boys who was deliberately drowned.
“It is very clear, and nobody can question it for a moment what is at stake. It is this: Whether Europe is to be dominated by a world-power such as the Germans or whether the Christian ideal of freedom, liberty, justice, mutual respect, love, and brotherhood, is to reign supreme.
“Surely it is the greatest crisis in human history. It is for the vindication of the Christian Ideal that England has set her hand; that is revealed clearly and distinctly to us.
“Surely the meaning of the gospel has come to us during the last three years with greater force than ever.
“As we dwell on these things let us give thanks today, and every day to God for our entry into this conflict.
“Thank God for the magnificent response from the whole of the Empire. Let us thank God for the entry of America — the great Republic — on the side of the Allies in the cause of freedom and liberty.
“Let us thank God for our mighty deliverance from the dangers which faced us in the autumn of 1914. Let us not forget also our deliverance in April, 1915, when the Northumberland Division were hurried into the gap when the Germans used for the first time their asphyxiating gas.
“The Germans cannot win if England and her Allies are faithful — faithful to their cause.
“Let us remember and give thanks to God for the sustained courage and faith of the Empire.
“What remains for us to do? To endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Let us not falter until a just peace is possible, and to dedicate ourselves in the future as now to the vindication of God’s cause.
“For we have been bought, and the price paid is the blood of our heroic and beloved dead. We owe it to them and the great sacrifices they have made that they shall not have died in vain.”
Special prayers were said, and special hymns were sung, and at the beginning of the service the National Anthem was rendered by the choir and congregation.
THE VOLUNTEER MOVEMENT
The members of the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment have covered themselves with honour. For four days they have been in camp at different places in the county — Berwick, Hexham, Whitley Bay, and Ponteland — and from all of these reports of a most satisfactory progress have been received.
There was only one drawback, and it was centred in the fact that the units were so scattered over the county. If rumour be correct the next camp will see the battalions assembled in a regimental compound, and then one will be able to witness the whole working as a well-organised machine.
That the men were to make themselves proficient in the shortest possible time there could be no gainsaying, and, as a result of this keenness, many have passed as “proficient,” which means that they will be able to don the new khaki uniform permitted by a Government that it must be said is none too generous to a force of such importance.
Considering that a number are well over military age, that others are exempt from the Army for health or business reasons, it was most interesting to see the smart manner in which they went through their work.
The officers and the instructors are particularly pleased with the work accomplished. It indicated one thing conclusively that the drills in the men’s spare time had produced good fruit. One cannot go into details of what had been accomplished, but, according to one enthusiastic instructor, the new Volunteers are now nearly up to the standard of the old corps before the days of the Territorial Army.
The general feeling is that the material is there, but the numbers are lacking. The case of the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment today is that of “Men, more men, and still more men.” Given numerical strength, they would soon become a powerful body suited for home defence.
Under the command of Lieut. W. Duncan, with Second-Lieut. T.D. Shaw, 70 men of the Morpeth Company journeyed to Berwick on Saturday last to attend the camp of the 5th Battalion Northumberland Volunteer Regiment, and were joined on Sunday morning by other 20 men under Second-Lieut. C. Grey. The company was accompanied by the Pipers’ Band under Pipe-Major Luke Strong.
No time was lost in commencing the duties, and on Saturday morning instruction was received by the men in company drill, bombing, musketry, and bayonet fighting. Unfortunately, owing to the indifferent atmospheric conditions, a large number of the men were not able to complete the firing of their musketry course, but most of those who were able to remain in camp until Tuesday successfully passed their tests.
Several of the men are remaining in camp until the end of the week.