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.
Some three months ago we had the pleasure of announcing that Lieut.-Colonel John S. Purdy, youngest son of the late Mr George Purdy, Morpeth, of the Australian Army Medical Corps, who commands the 10th Australian Field Ambulance, had gained the D.S.O. as an award for his services in a recent battle of France.
The paragraph reads as follows:— “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This officer was in charge of the evacuation of the wounded from regimental aid posts to dressing station. Although continually under shell fire — at times of a most intense character — for seven days he exercised close personal supervision over the evacuation of the wounded, and by his own example of courage and disregard of danger, he animated all ranks with a similar attitude of mind. To the thoroughness of his arrangements and devotion to duty is largely due to the quick evacuation of all wounded. The same untiring energy and devotion was seen in the previous week of this officer during preliminary operations.”
As soon as it became known that Lieut.-Colonel Purdy was on a short visit to his brother, Mr G.W. Purdy, Dacre Street, Morpeth, arrangements were made by the secretary of the local War Heroes Fund, at very short notice, to make a presentation to the gallant colonel. The presentation ceremony took place in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall, on Monday evening. The Mayor (Councillor Jas. Elliott) presided.
The Mayor said he was sorry there was such a small gathering to recognise and honour one of the sons of Northumberland, and especially seeing that the one to whom they were going to do honour was a Morpeth gentleman.
Lieut-Colonel J.S. Purdy, as they all knew, had distinguished himself ever since he left school. During his university career he had given promise of making his mark in life, and it was no surprise to his many friends that he should occupy the highest positions of his profession.
He had been a medical officer for several important towns in New Zealand and Australia, and had acted in a similar capacity in Egypt; later being appointed by the Government as a medical officer to Sydney, one of the largest cities in the British Empire. He had taken an active part in the Boy Scout movement in Australia, and for his work in connection with that movement he had received the Silver Wolf.
At the commencement of war, like every true Briton, he had rallied to the flag, and had taken his place in the ranks against the terrible enemy of civilisation. He had been awarded the D.S.O. for encouraging his men to stand to duty by his own courage and disregard of danger.
On turning to Lieut.-Colonel Purdy, the Mayor said it gave him great pleasure to ask him to accept a wristlet watch as a small token of their esteem from the town of Morpeth to one of its most distinguished heroes. He hoped the recipient would have a safe return, and enjoy a long life of happiness and prosperity. (App.)
Lieut-Colonel Purdy said he was not a prophet, nor was he the son of a prophet, yet it gave him great pleasure to be honoured by his native town. He was proud of Morpeth, and all who were connected with it, and was also proud to receive such a handsome gift from its chief magistrate. Lieut-Colonel Purdy said that if the D.S.O. for municipal men was awarded, he was sure that the Mayor of Morpeth was entitled to receive that honour.
During the present war it was those at home, especially the women, who had the heaviest burden to carry. He was proud to say he had married a Morpeth lady, who, along with every wife and mother, was anxious for the war to end. He considered himself an Englishman by birth, a Scotchman by education, a New Zealander by adoption, and an Australian by choice.
In conclusion, Lieut-Colonel Purdy said: “I can assure you that when the Australians came to England, a country they had never seen before, and saw your beautiful green fields they said “Your country is worth fighting for,” and, as an Australian by adoption, I am proud to be associated with that great continent, and especially proud that I am medical officer of health for Sydney and the outlying localities.
“I shall go back to France on Friday, and I shall look back with great pleasure to the few minutes I have spent with you, gentlemen. I again thank you for the gift you have given me.” (Applause.)
Ald. Ed. Norman said that it gave him very great pleasure to be present at that presentation ceremony, which had been arranged to do honour to a native of Morpeth, who had rendered such noble service to his country.
He was pleased to hear of his success, but knowing him as a boy, he could say that Lieut-Colonel Purdy had not surprised him at all, for he was sure that he would excel wherever he went. As the Mayor had pointed out, from his boyhood upwards he had shown the true grit of the Englishman. They were proud in Morpeth to have one in their midst who had served his country so nobly and well.
He was pleased to be associated with them, and was only sorry that the presentation had to be so hurriedly arranged. That more of the town councillors were not able to be with them that night was not because they were not interested, but owing to the short notice several of them were unable to get there in time. Nevertheless they all wishes Lieut-Colonel Purdy Godspeed in his career. (Applause.)
They would watch with interest his doing from tonight. He had always been interested in what he had read about their honoured guest, and how nobly he had done his work, and they would now take double interest in all he did in the future.
Morpeth was honoured that day and he (the speaker) was pleased that Lieut.-Colonel Purdy had had time to attend at the Council Chamber and receive some little acknowledgement of their gratitude for the noble services which he had rendered to this country of ours. (Applause.)
Councillor J.R. Temple also expressed the pleasure it gave him to be present at that gathering and to do honour to one of their own. Lieut.-Colonel Purdy had been the most successful man he had ever known that had left Morpeth. The people of Morpeth were proud that such a man — a native of this town — had distinguished himself so well. It was good that he had been able to come back to his native place and receive this slight recognition for his valuable services to his King and country. (App.)
County Councillor R. Nicholson, speaking on behalf of the outside public, said how much they felt indebted to the Mayor for the lead he had taken in this matter and for the support the councillors had given him in carrying out this excellent project. They all expected that this year of office would be of the pleasantest character, but he felt certain that nothing would give him greater pleasure and enhance the dignity of his office more than the carrying out of that ceremony in honour of Lieut.-Colonel Purdy.
What was going through his mind was the intense pleasure it would have been if it had been possible for Lieut.-Colonel Purdy’s father and mother to have been there that evening, knowing as he did that he had one of the finest mothers that ever looked after a family.
The two sons present must have a very keen memory of the efforts she made to push her family forward. If there was credit due to Lieut-Colonel Purdy — and there was very great credit indeed — he felt certain that he would say: “My mother was the starting point in my career.” It was through her fine example to her gifted son that he had been able to excel himself up to the present time.
He felt sure that Lieut.-Colonel Purdy was entitled to all the honours that Morpeth could bestow upon him. His visit had been short, but if time had permitted the Town Hall would have been crowded with people.
They hoped he would come through safely and go back to Australia and tell the people there of the good feeling that existed in his native town towards him. He congratulated the town of Morpeth and the county of Northumberland on having such an excellent son who had distinguished himself in different parts of the world. (Applause.)
The Mayor endorsed everything that had been said by the different speakers. On behalf of his colleagues, who were not present, he felt that he was voicing their wish when he extended to Lieut.-Colonel Purdy their high regard and esteem. He would also wish him God-speed, and that he would arrive safely home again to his wife and family in Australia. (Applause.)
Lieut.-Colonel Purdy thanked all the speakers and also County Councillor Nicholson for this kindly references to his mother. As had been said he was undoubtedly blessed by having one of the finest mothers that had ever lived, and also his father was a very fine man. (Applause.) He had certainly got to thank his father and mother for many things which he had been able to do. (Applause.)
County Councillor R. Nicholson moved a vote of thanks to the Mayor and Corporation for having arranged the gathering at such short notice.
Mr C.E. Young, in seconding, said that Lieut.-Colonel Purdy had called at his house that afternoon to give him some information about his nephew, Corporal Sidney Young, who was serving in the same unit under Lieut.-Colonel Purdy. He (the speaker) was not at home at the time, but, later, he went to Mr Geo. Purdy’s house and there saw Lieut.-Colonel Purdy, and that was how he got to know about the presentation.
The motion was carried, and Lieut.–Colonel Purdy, in reply, said that he had the honour or recommending Corporal Young for the Meritorious Medal, which he would probably get in the Birthday Honours, and which he richly deserved. (Applause.)
DEATH OF A BEDLINGTON OFFICER
Great regret is felt at Bedlington at the news of the death of Lieut. H.H. Middlemass, of Front Street, Bedlington. The gallant officer had a wonderful career. He enlisted just after the declaration of war in the Coldstream Guards. He took part in the battles of Ypres and Loos. After being wounded three times he was promoted sergeant, and afterwards received his commission on the battlefield in the Tyneside Irish. After taking part in the recent battles he was killed on October 23rd.
Lieut. Middlemass was a Morpeth Grammar School boy.
The following letter from his officer has been received by his father:— It is with the deepest regret that I write to you to tell you that your son Harry was killed at 2-3pm on the afternoon of the 23rd of October. His death was instantaneous, and therefore painless. I know it must be a great blow to you as such a fine character could not be but very much loved. But I hope you will find a little comfort from knowing that he died a very, very gallant death, the circumstances of which I will tell you.
The company made an attack on the morning of the 21st, and later that day we suffered from snipers. But the next morning we had them more or less under control, so your son collected a party and was endeavouring to capture some of them who were in a shell hole about three hundred yards from us. While going to them — he was within 2 yards of them — one saw him and shot him, the bullet going through his head.
It is sad that this very gallant effort to save his men cost him his life. You cannot realise what a loss he is to us, as he was the very best type of officer we get, and although he had been with us so short a time was loved by his men and his fellow officers, this to a much greater degree than I have ever seen before.
I sincerely trust that it will be a comfort to you to think that he was a very gallant officer, who gave up his life in a noble cause. His work up to the time of his death was brilliant, and there is little doubt that he would have received a decoration.
Col. Temple, the Commanding Officer, will write to you shortly. We both have been unable to until now, as we have just come out of the line and are moving to a new area.
We got out to your son’s body, and I have his personal effects, which I will forward to you as soon as we arrive in the new area. His kit will be sent on to you also. I’m sorry to say that we are unable to bring his body back to bury, as it was too far into No Man’s Land; but the location is just north of Poelcapelle.
If you wish me, I will try and see you when next I am on leave, which will be in January, I think— Yours very sincerely, Rex. Steel, Captain.
HONOURS FOR LOCAL OFFICERS
News has been received by Mr and Mrs Harper, East Cottingwood, Morpeth, that their son, Second-Lieut. Reginald K. Harper, has been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty in action.
Second-Lieut. Harper joined the Royal Fusiliers (Sportsmen’s Battalion) as a private in February, 1915, was trained as a signaller, and went with his regiment to France in November of that year. In April, 1916, he was recommended for a commission, and was sent to Ireland for training as a Cadet.
In September, 1916, he was gazetted a second-lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers, and in November again went to the Western Front, where he is still serving. He has been signal officer of his battalion for several months.
The gallant officer was educated at the Morpeth Grammar School. At the time of volunteering for service he was with Messrs Barclay and Co., bankers, at their Morpeth branch, and was then 19 years of age.
MORPETH CIGARETTE FUND
Sir,— Recognising that there is at the present time an abnormal demand upon the pockets of the generously inclined the Committee of the above Fund rather reluctantly feel compelled to ask, through the columns of the “Herald”, for a little assistance in providing our Morpeth boys with the “good old Blighty fags” which they so thoroughly enjoy and appreciate.
The work of collecting has been done by a little band of ladies who ungrudgingly give of their time so that Tommy may have his customary smoke.
Necessity, in the form of increased prices of the weed, and the consequent fewer parcels sent to the lads, has made this step imperative. The grateful letters from the lads at the Front tell their own tale of their appreciation and thought of the senders.
Any donation, however small, will be thankfully received by the following:— Mrs Jackson, Bridge Street, Hon. Treasurer; Mrs Stevinson, Newgate St., Hon. Sec.; Mrs Henderson, Market Place; Mrs Hall, Newgate Street; or the undersigned.
5 Olympia Hill, Morpeth
NORTH-EASTERN AGRICULTURAL FEDERATION
A public meeting of agriculturists will be held in the Town Hall, Morpeth, on Wednesday, Dec. 12th, 1917, to urge the necessity of a greater spirit of combination among farmers at the present time.
Speakers: G.G. Rae, Esq., President North-Eastern Agricultural Federation, A.J. Hargrave, Esq, Secretary, North-Eastern Agricultural Federation. Professor Gilchrist will also give an address upon the comparative costs of feeding dairy cows in 1913 and 1917.
Chair to be taken by Cuthbert Alderson, Esq., at 2.30pm.
MORPETH COUNCIL SCHOOLS
It is seldom that the people of Morpeth have the privilege of hearing the school children singing in unison under the watchful eyes of their teachers, but such a privilege was granted on Monday and Tuesday nights, when the girls of Morpeth Council Schools and the Infants School gave two concerts in aid of local war charities.
Both entertainments proved a great success, and the hall was filled each evening by a very appreciative audience. Great interest was centred in the first part of the programme, when the young artistes took part in several musical plays, as well as singing and dancing.
In moving a vote of thanks, on Monday evening the Mayor (Councillor Jas Elliott) said all credit was due to Miss Forster and Miss Urpeth and their assistants who must have taken great pains with the children before such a high standard of excellency had been reached. He was pleased to see such a crowded hall, and he was sure that the parents and relations interested, had thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment.
The proceeds of the concert, he understood, were to be divided amongst The War Heroes Fund, The Soldiers Sewing Meeting Fund, and the School Library — all very deserving objects. Before coming there he had presented a wristlet watch to a Morpeth hero, in the person of Lieutenant-Col. J.S. Purdy, who some time back had been awarded the D.S.O. Special thanks were due, he added to Miss Forster and Miss Urpeth, who had been responsible for the concert. (Applause.)
Miss Gladys Proudlock ably acted as accompanist. During the first part of the programme Miss Rennie presided at the piano.
The concert was brought to a conclusion by the singing of the National Anthem.
On Tuesday evening the chair was taken by Councillor R.N. Swinney.