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.
Under the auspices of the Morpeth War Heroes Fund an interesting ceremony took place in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall last Monday evening, when the presentation of a gold albert and appendage was made to Private Richard Gibbon, of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his courage and devotion to duty in France.
The presentation was made by the Mayor (Councillor Jas. Elliott) in the presence of a large gathering of the townspeople.
The Mayor, who was received with applause, said that their purpose there that night was to make another presentation on behalf of the War Heroes Fund. Those who had received an invitation to the ceremony would have noticed that it was intended to have had two presentations–one to Private Gibbon and the other to the widow of Private Watson, M.M., who had received her husband’s medal. Mrs Watson, he said, had removed from Morpeth, and gone to Alnwick. On inquiries being made at Alnwick, they discovered on Saturday that she had left there and gone to Easington where she had got married, and it was decided to let that presentation lie over for the present.
Continuing, the Mayor said: It is my pleasing duty to make the presentation to Private Richard Gibbon, and to those who have never met Private Gibbon, who is on my right, let me introduce him to you. (Applause.) He belongs to the Northumberland Fusiliers, or to what is more commonly known as the Tyneside Irish Brigade. I will now read to you an extract of our hero’s report, stating briefly the achievements which gained for him at first the recommendation for the V.C., or King’s Corporal, but he was eventually recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. This is the report:–
“On September 9th Private Richard Gibbon, as a stretcher bearer brought in two wounded men through an intense barrage to the dressing station. On his second journey he and a wounded man were buried by an enemy high explosive shell. He struggled and got himself free, and, though severely bruised and shaken, he got the wounded man out and conveyed him to the aid post. On arriving at the dressing station Private Gibbon’s condition was so bad that the medical officer told him to lie down for a while. This our hero refused to do, saying ‘There are many men lying in the front line requiring assistance!”
He returned to the front line again, and though in an exhausted condition continued to bandage wounded men for several hours.
The enemy barrage all the time was exceedingly heavy and intense, and Private Gibbon had to pass through three separate lines of barrage fire between the front line and the aid post.” His official report states: “His courage and devotion to duty were beyond all praise.”
Could they wish to have a more meritorious report, remarked the Mayor, on the conduct of a young man who before the war was a quiet, inoffensive market gardener? The war committee had endeavoured to obtain the Medal from headquarters for that presentation, but so far had not succeeded. He mentioned that Private Gibbon had had a watch presented to him by his friends at the Workmen’s Institute, and, instead of making the usual presentation of a wristlet watch, the committee had decided to give him a gold albert with appendage to wear with the watch. He then handed over the gold albert to Private Gibbon, and expressed the hope that the gallant soldier would be long spared to wear the watch and chain. (Applause.) On behalf of the committee of the Morpeth Cigarette Fund he had much pleasure also in handing over to Private Gibbon a box of cigarettes as a Christmas gift. Although their here did not smoke he was going to take them out to his comrades in the trenches and share them. (Applause.)
Private Gibbon suitably acknowledged the gift from the committee of the War Heroes Fund. He said that he had just done his duty up to the present, but with God’s help he would do it again. (Applause.)
The Mayor said he was pleased to see such a large gathering. He expected to have the pleasure of making other two presentations to local men who had distinguished themselves at the Front.
Councillor R. N. Swinney said that all present endorsed everything the Mayor had said about their gallant townsman.
They all knew the hardships the soldiers had to undergo. He considered that every man was a hero who went to France, and, as Private Gibbon had so modestly observed, “I have just done my duty.”
He was quite certain that if any man from the North Country has been placed in similar circumstances he would have done the same. He felt that there would be many more medallists from the North, and, as secretary of the Fund, he could say that they were only too delighted to honour those men.
A gentleman remarked to him the other day that it was a pity the local Heroes Fund could not be enlarged, and said that he would give £100 if he (the secretary) could find other five gentlemen who would do the same, and help to do what the Pensions Committee were unable to do.
The Pensions Committee certainly gave money away to the wives and dependents, but not sufficient in these days of high prices. This gentleman thought they could extend the operations of the War Heroes Fund in order to benefit those people he had mentioned. He did not see any reason why these should not get the £500 in order to put the fund on a sound financial basis. So far they had done splendidly.
They had only appealed to the members of the Town Council and some friends, and they had raised £70, altogether with the help of people giving concerts, etc. If they had ever to appeal to the general public he was sure they would get what money they required. (Applause.)
He hoped that Private Gibbon would be spared to come back amongst them. (Applause.)
Ald. Norman said they were all proud of every man who had gone to fight for them and undergo such hardship and danger, and when they found that heroism was acknowledged by those in high places they were still prouder of them. (Applause.)
He remembered when the first medal was presented to one of the men who had gone from the foundry. On that occasion the brave young man said: “There are others who have done just as much as I have done but they were not noticed by their superior officers.”
There were thousands on the battlefield who had done as much as Private Gibbon, and had been overlooked, but that did not make Private Gibbon’s heroism any the less. It made it all the more great, when he had been picked out from so many men who were doing their part so nobly and well. Let them remember them all with gratitude. The present was simply an acknowledgement to those heroes, or in other words saying “thank you” in a small way for what they had done. Their best wishes went out to Private Gibbon who was returning to the trenches. They wished him God-speed and a safe return. (Applause.)
Ald. Duncan proposed a vote of thanks to the Mayor for presiding and assisting to organise that gathering. It had been a most appropriate function and one appreciated by all. He was also pleased to be associated with the Mayor that night in making the presentation, which he has done in a very happy and appropriate manner.
The vote was passed with much heartiness.
The Mayor thanked them all for their appreciation of his services on that interesting occasion. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to see the boys marching home after a glorious victory. (Applause.)
Private Gibbon, who has been in the Army two years, and served in France fifteen months, returned to the Front on Monday evening. He was wounded in June last.
A social evening was held last Saturday by the members of the Morpeth Workmen’s Institute, when the occasion was taken of presenting one of their number, Pte. Richard Gibbon, with a gold watch in token of their esteem for and appreciation of him.
Private Gibbon has recently won the D.C.M. for gallant conduct in the field, and Ald. S. W. Brown, president of the Institute, in some aptly chosen remarks, made the presentation. He read the account of the deeds which merited the distinction.
Great cheering greeted the reading of the report, after which the remarks of the chairman were supplemented by Mr Geo. Marshall and Mr Jas. Dobson, and Private Gibbon gave an effective response.
The rest of the evening was spent in harmony, songs being sung by Messrs J. Blanch, L. Whittle, Molly, Marshall, Douglass, McCarthy, and Pybus, interspersed with gramophone selections.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF DISCHARGED SAILORS & SOLDIERS
A Branch of the above fund has recently been formed at Morpeth, with Mr J. W. Bushby as secretary, and Mr T. Wade as treasurer. The aims and objects of the Federation are worthy of encouragement in every possible way, chief of which are to watch over and promote legislation on behalf of discharged and demobilised men and the dependents of deceased Sailors and Soldiers.
A subscription list has been opened to speed up this worthy cause.
Any further donations will be gratefully received by the treasurer, Mr T. Wade, Bridge Street, Morpeth.
Steady progress is being made by the Morpeth Company, and the enthusiasm of the men in their work is as keen as ever.
The club room is very popular with the members and the different competitions held from time to time create a great deal of rivalry. In a variety of ways efforts are being made to arouse greater interest in the doings of the corps with the view of attracting recruits.
There is room for more recruits, and excellent opportunities are afforded for training.
Nearly all the men who have signed on for the duration of the war have been served with their kit and other equipment.
During the past week or two a good deal of useful work has been put in. Recently the men were on Cottingwood, where an examination of the officers of the company and adjoining detachments was conducted by Lieut. Morrison, adjutant of the 5th Battalion.
The men were exceedingly steady on parade, and were complimented by Lieut. Duncan on their return to the Drill Hall.
Last Friday a very interesting and instructive lecture on musketry was given in the Wesleyan Church Hall, Morpeth, by Captain Cocane, musketry officer, Tyne Garrison.
On Sunday morning the men were given instruction in bayonet fighting and the various exercises were gone through very effectively.
Regimental Sergt.-Major Atkinson, who has recently been attached to the battalion, visited the Drill Hall on Tuesday evening, and gave some useful advice to the men regarding their duties generally, and expressed the hope that they would all give their best in the carrying out of their duties as volunteers.
The shooting competition which had been arranged to take place on the miniature rifle range on Thursday and Saturday of Christmas week has been postponed till the following week.
The members of the company have arranged to hold a ball in the Masonic Hall, Morpeth, on Tuesday evening first.
The event is being looked forward to with much interest, and we are asked to state that a limited number of tickets (5/- each person) are available, and applications for same should be made to members of the corps or direct to Q.M.S. Yarwood, Olympia Hill, Morpeth.
Captain Cocane gave an interesting lecture on musketry and bayonet fighting at the West School, Bedlington, to the members of the “B” Company, Bedlington, 3rd Batt. Northumberland Volunteer Regiment. Capt. J. W. Hogarth and Lieut. J. Lee were also present.
A similar address on the subject was given by Capt. Cocane at the Bebside Institute, when a good proportion of the members of the “E” Company (Bebside) were in attendance.
The Seaton Delaval Company of the 3rd Battalion, “D” Company under the command of Captain Tom Percival, have had a test mobilisation.
The men mustered 150 strong at 9 a.m. at the Drill Hall, after which they proceeded by road to Bebside, where they were to be inspected by the C.O., Major J. P. Harding, but owing to the inclement weather the men were dismissed.
The other officers present were Lieutenants J. W. Mitchell, A. Dorin, and A. F. Gibson.
The company is making rapid progress. The majority of the men are now efficient, and have passed their test. Special efforts have been made from time to time at Seaton Delaval and the various villages adjoining to obtain recruits.
Those desirous of enlisting can do so on Thursday and Sunday drill parades. Special invitation is given to young men engaged in mining who are exempt from military service.
ST. GEORGE’S GUILD, MORPETH
Last week, the ladies connected with St. George’s Guild sent to each of the soldiers, whose names are upon St. George’s Church Roll of Honour, a Christmas parcel, containing a writing pad and indelible pencil, packet of toffee, packet of tabs, and a lithographed letter written by Dr. Drysdale, with his photo at the top. Seventy-two parcels were sent. The funds to defray the cost were readily raised by a voluntary appeal to the congregation.
Mrs G. Middlemass (secretary) and Miss Jean Middlemiss (treasurer) organised the undertaking, and carried it out, with the willing assistance of a number of ladies, who did the packing, addressing, and despatching of the parcels.
The following is a copy of Dr. Drysdale’s Christmas letter:–
“St. George’s Vestry, Christmas, 1917.
“On behalf of the fellowship of St. George’s Church, Morpeth, we are asked to write this word of Christmas greeting to our own brave lads, whose names stand on our Roll of Honour, sending to each a slight token of remembrance and interest, to show you are not forgotten. Your self-denial and endurance in this long world struggle, are ever before our mind. We bear you on the arms of our prayers, and sympathy and special intercessions on your behalf. We desire to cheer you, as we cheer ourselves with the steady assurance that by God’s favour this great fight for righteousness, peace, and humanity, is going to be crowned with final and triumphant success. Meanwhile the Good Lord have you in His safe and merciful keeping. With heartfelt regard, we are, in the name of the whole Church Fellowship of St. George’s, your ever indebtedly,
A. H. Drysdale, D.D., Minister.
J. R. Hood, President.
Dr Drysdale and Mr J. R. Hood (president of the Guild) have already received several beautiful letters of acknowledgement from recipients of the Christmas parcels who are stationed in England.
On Wednesday evening Mr J. R, Hood gave a coffee supper and social in the large vestry of St. George’s Church to which were invited the soldiers attending the services of St. George’s Church. There was a good attendance, including several men in khaki, Mr J. R. Mitchell presided. After an enjoyable supper and a smoke indulged in by the gentlemen, the following programme was rendered:–Pianoforte solo, Miss Drysdale; song, Miss Ferrie; recitation, Miss Storey; songs Mr G. Middlemiss; songs, Mr Mitchell. During the coffee supper, Miss Drysdale, Miss A. Middlemiss, and Miss McManus rendered pieces on the piano, and the two former ladies accompanied the singers. A vote of thanks accorded to Mr Hood, the host, and the performers brought to a close a very enjoyable evening.
ST. JAMES’S CHURCH INSTITUTE, MORPETH
The annual meeting of the above institute was held last week, the Rector (Canon Davies) presiding.
The secretary (Mr W. Armstrong) read his annual report, in which he stated that the membership was somewhat better than the previous year, owing to the war measure adopted of electing younger members to help to “carry on” while their brave lads were fighting away. It was sad to relate that some had made the great sacrifice during the past year. They would cherish their memories and the happy days they had spent amongst them. The whist drives had been very successful and very enjoyable. They had again placed their rooms at the disposal of the soldiers billeted in the town, and he was pleased to say that the soldiers had made full use of the rooms and writing materials provided. The billiards had been a source of income, the soldiers making good use of their little table. Handicaps were run for their benefit, suitable prizes being given. He thanked the officials and all who had helped in any way towards the success of the Institute.
The treasurer (Mr S. Wood) presented the financial statement, which showed that the income from all sources, including a balance from last year of £307 5s, had amounted to £73 0s 4d, and the expenditure to £45 0s 4d, which left a balance of £28.
Mr J Nicholson moved the adoption of the report and financial statement.–Mr J. Carman seconded, and both reports were adopted.
The Rector said it gave him great pleasure to find such an excellent state of affairs existing under the very trying times through which they were passing. He felt very grateful indeed to the officers for their zeal and efforts in carrying on the Institute so successfully. He was sure that the members who were away fighting our battles would appreciate St. James’s Institute more than ever on their return, and he hoped that after the war better and more up-to-date premises would come into existence. (Applause.)
The Rector proposed that all the officers who had done to splendidly should be re-elected.–Mr Nicholson seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.
The election of new members brought the meeting to a close.