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 Borough War Heroes Fund a goodly number of people assembled in the Town Hall on Wednesday evening to do honour to three local men who have each been awarded the much-coveted decoration — the Military Cross.
The names of the three heroes are Lieut. W.D.B. Thompson, D.L.I., 2nd Lieut. R.K. Harper, N.F., and Sergt.-Major Halliday, Northumberland Hussars. The presentation in each case consisted of a wristlet watch. The Mayor (Councillor Jas. Elliott) presided.
In the course of an interesting address the Mayor, after introducing the three heroes, said that they were all delighted to have them with them that night. They were proud of all their men. They were proud of their Imperial Army and naval men of their Empire, and the men from the far-distant parts of the world. All honour to the men who had rallied round the flag to support the Motherland in this her hour of need.
They had men from the mine, the factory, the plough, the shops, offices and banks. They had men from all positions and ranks in life, and last, but not least, they had the lads from their higher grade schools, cadet units, representative of all the schools of old England. The Morpeth Grammar School included. (App.)
They were especially interested that night in the three Northern battalions — Northumberland Fusiliers, Durham Light Infantry, and the Northumberland Hussars. Those regiments had been in the thick of the fighting, and had stood the test like old veterans. They had taught the Germans to respect the men of the North. (Applause.) He referred to the battles in which those gallant regiments had taken part, and said that history would not be able to describe adequately their deeds of daring and persistency and their devotion to duty. They were closely in touch with those three battalions that night, having representatives of three battalions on the platform.
As Mayor of the Borough he wished on their behalf to congratulate their three heroes on the high distinction which they had won and the honour which they had brought to the old borough. (Applause.) Each of those three men had been awarded the Military Cross on account of their coolness and gallantry in action with a total disregard for their own safety — in fact their fine example had highly contributed to the success of the operations in which they had been engaged. (Applause.)
Continuing, he said: I have great pleasure, on behalf of the War Heroes Fund, to present to Lieut. Thompson this small token of our regard and esteem and appreciation of his distinguished services. (Applause.)
To Lieut. Harper: I also hand to you our small token of appreciation in recognition of the distinguished services you have rendered. (Applause.)
To Sergt.-Major Halliday: I have equal pleasure in handing to you this wristlet watch as a token of our esteem for the gallant services which you have rendered to your country. (App.)
Ald. W. Duncan said that public speaking was not always a position to be sought after. Although it brought one a certain amount of pleasure it was not always associated with pleasure, sometimes pain was added to it. He had to confess that to speak that night gave him both pleasure and pain, because two of the lads who had received their presentations were associated with the battalions which he had had in the past many pleasant memories. It brought back to him memories of old folk who would never be seen again in the town of Morpeth. Of course, one must not look at the black side on an occasion like that.
Mr A. Balfour, reading from the Old Book, said: “Let us praise famous men.” It was their duty to praise those famous men. (Applause.) They had got practically the first man in the North of England to receive the Military Cross. Sergt.-Major Halliday had had that distinguished honour. (Applause.)
In referring to Sergt.-Major Halliday, he said that he was sure that the two officers would forgive him for placing the Sergt.-Major first. He wished to congratulate his old friend, Sergt.-Major Halliday on having won such a high distinction. He was a gigantic man, but, unlike a lot of gigantic men, he was gigantic in his enterprise. A lot of big men were slothful, but he was as active as he was big, and his heart was a big as his frame. They knew that Sergt.-Majors were called the backbone of the Army, but when they had a man of the type of Sergt.-Major Halliday they had not only the backbone but the limbs of the British Army.
Sergeant-majors were, as a rule, “holy terrors” to the men who did not do their duty. Sergt.-Major Halliday was the type and personality of a good soldier, and as instructor of the Morpeth detachment of the Northumberland Hussars he had proved himself not only a good soldier himself, but a first-rate instructor and a capable leader of men. Without leadership where would they be in this campaign?
They all knew that the Northumberland Hussars were the first Territorial regiment to go into action. (Applause.) They had been proved conclusively. They had pleasure in feeling that a North Country regiment was the first to distinguish themselves. They met with many hardships in their wanderings in Belgium seeking the enemy. At that time they were not settled down to trench fighting, and Sergt.-Major Halliday, as one of the men of the Old Brigade, proved how capable they were to settle down under practically any circumstances.
Sergt-Major Halliday joined the Army as a soldier of fortune, not because he did not like to sit on a stool in the office or work in a factory, but because he wished to see adventure. He had seen service in many lands during his long service in the Army. (Applause.)
The other two officers brought back to him many memories and associations. Lieut. Thompson was one of those 70 young men, who, in September, 1914, went from Morpeth to join the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers. As a Fusilier he addressed him that night.
He had had a most remarkable career, which showed his daring and keenness to see service. After seven months’ service with the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, he had the misfortune to be practically rejected. That was a nasty slap to the young lad. He, however, came up smiling. After the Fusiliers would not have him he came to Morpeth, and saw Colonel Henderson. He got a commission, and the healthy air of Rothbury made him an A1 man, and he had seen service in France, which was denied him with the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers.
Sixty-one of the seventy lads he had mentioned had been out in France. The others had been rejected or kept in a home battalion. Out of the 61 men, 38 had been wounded and 13 had laid down their lives in the service of their country, and one of them was a prisoner of war. That was a highly credible performance.
Some of those men had not only been wounded once, but two, three and four times. Two of them had won the D.C.M. and two the Military Cross. Those 61 men were fairly representative of the town of Morpeth. (Applause.)
Of the 13 men who had fallen 12 lie in French soil, while the other one, who died from wounds, was buried in Morpeth Churchyard. It brought to him peculiar sadness when he thought of the following lines:—
“Lie buried in some corner of a foreign soil, That is, for ever England.”
And in the words of Mr Balfour again:— “Their bodies lie buried in peace, But their names liveth for ever more.”
He was certain that those men’s names would never be forgotten in the town of Morpeth, and would be handed down from generation to generation.
Lieut. Harper has seen service in the 7th N.F., and as one of the younger lads he saw the path of duty was to him one of service, and right nobly had he performed his duties on the field of battle. To win the Military Cross a man had to do some brilliant work, even to face death itself.
Lieut. Harper was going out to India, having been given a permanent commission in the Indian Army. They would congratulate Lieut. Harper upon having attained that distinguished position. (Applause.) He hoped that Lieut. Harper would never forget the motto of his old regiment.
He then wished the three heroes good luck and long life to wear their honours, and perhaps yet to win the Victoria Cross. (Applause.)
Councillor Charlton also spoke a few words, and said it was their duty to honour those brave men — in fact they should honour all the men who were fighting. He also mentioned that the fund was in need of funds. He then asked for three hearty cheers to be given to their three heroes, which was given with much heartiness.
Lieut. Thompson, in thanking them for the beautiful present, said that he had only done his duty. There were hundreds of thousands of his fellow-countrymen who were doing the same in France, and all over the world. It was very good to know that the people at home thought so much of them. He could assure them that the spirit of the gallant lads out in France was to win. (Applause.) After the business was over their nation would rise firmer in Christianity then ever before. He would never forget the gallant lads — his brothers — who had paid the great sacrifice. (Applause.)
Second-Lieut. Harper also thanked them for their gift. They had all, he said, to do the best they could out there. Some of them had been lucky and some had not. He had been exceptionally lucky. The determination of the British Army had never been better than now — the men were fighting with greater keenness than ever before. He asked the people at home not to be too pessimistic. If they were to win — and they should win — entirely depended on how much support they got from the people at home. Since he had been in the Army he had been stationed in various places, and nowhere were the soldiers better treated than in Morpeth. (Applause.)
Sergt.-Major Halliday said that the other speakers had fully expressed his sentiments. He did not like the word hero in these cases. He thought everybody was a hero out there. (Applause.) They were the three lucky ones, and lucky to be there. He asked them to make a special point of looking after the wives and families of soldiers serving, and see that they were well cared for. He would also impress upon the Mayor and town of Morpeth to think well of the widows and families of the brave men who had fallen in the services of their country. He thought the war would be over some time during the coming year. He was proud that they honoured him, and added that he would like to live in Morpeth for the remainder of his days. (Applause.)
Councillor Swinney said that they had in connection with the fund about £40 in the bank. That sum had been got without asking for a single subscription. Outside the Council, people had given concerts and dances in aid of their fund. He had been asked by a gentleman why they did not extend the operations of the War Heroes Fund in order to give relief to the widows and children of soldiers. If five gentlemen would give one hundred pounds each this gentleman would give £100. That sum would start a fund on a sound financial basis to support those whom Sergt.-Major Halliday had referred to.
He congratulated their three heroes and said that they would not have been picked out if they had not done something worthy of the honour. (Applause.) He then moved a vote of thanks to the Mayor and the other speakers.
The motion was enthusiastically carried, and in replying the Mayor announced that one of the German guns captured at Cambrai by the Morpeth and Ashington troop of the Northumberland Hussars had been promised to be given to Morpeth. He also announced that they were going to establish a war trophy museum in the town, and he hoped all soldiers returning from the Front would send trophies to him for the museums.
In Morpeth and district the Christmas holidays passed off very quietly, and wholly in keeping with the times in which we live. All places of business in the borough were closed on Christmas Day, and as Boxing Day fell on the Wednesday, Market Day, shops were opened for business and closed on the following day instead.
From the shopkeepers’ point of view, trade on the whole had been exceedingly brisk during the weekend, and there was a general demand for useful articles of good quality, and it was particularly pleasing to find that Father Christmas proved as lavish and liberal as ever before in the distribution of his gifts which gladdened the hearts of many children whose fathers are away fighting our country’s battles.
At the post office the postmaster and his staff had an extremely busy time. The number of parcels dealt with were much in excess of last year’s figures, but the number of letters was about the same. The work of the indoor and outdoor staff was carried out very smoothly and expeditiously, and all credit is due to the regular staff who remain, and to the numerous temporary employees, both indoor and outdoor, who have worked under the most extraordinary difficulties.
The ordinary services for Christmas Day were held at St James’s Church, St Robert’s Roman Catholic Church and the Congregational Church where there were good congregations. At the Congregational Church a collection was taken in aid of St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers, which amounted to £12 6s 8d.
The annual dinner to the inmates of Morpeth Union Workhouse took place on Christmas Day, when the usual substantial fare was provided and greatly enjoyed by the inmates. The Master and Matron (Mr and Mrs Hoey) having made the usual excellent arrangements for dinner, everything passed off very successfully.
Mr Allison said: I rise on behalf of the inmates of this Union to return our sincere and heartfelt thanks and to gratefully acknowledge your kindness in providing us with this very excellent dinner, which we have thoroughly enjoyed. (Applause.)
Our best thanks are also due to our respected master and matron for their very elaborate and very efficient arrangements for our comfort, which have been carried out in their usual skilful style. We thank them for their kind solicitude and care for our welfare at all times.
We also desire to assure them of our sincere sympathy in the great loss they have recently sustained of their dear son. Only last Christmas Day he was amongst us in the bloom and vigour of his early manhood, every inch a sailor, and little did we think so soon he would be called to join the gallant band of youthful heroes who gave all for their king and country’s sake.
‘Have inscribed their names on the roll of fame;’ but, alas, for the uncertainty of life —
‘He sleeps beside his comrades
In the ocean beneath the foam;
But his name is written in letters of love
On the hearts he left at home.
Not dead to those he loved so dear,
Not lost, just gone before;
He dwells with them in memory still
And will for ever more.’
Mr Hoey expressed the hope that the war would be over before they met next year.
An interesting football match was played between teams chosen from the V.T.C. and the Shropshires, in the Grange House field on Christmas Day.
Considering the weather conditions, the attendance of the public was very good. The proceeds were in aid of the local V.T.C. fund and Shropshires Sports Fund.
Mr Walter Slassor acted as referee, and the game, which was well contested, resulted in a win for the Shropshires by four goals to one.
The Morpeth Pipers Band, under Pipe-Major Strong, was in attendance.
SAVE OR STARVE
New Year is the time for making good resolutions, the season when we all turn over a new leaf and begin a clean sheet. “Waste no food” is one good resolution which we should make all this year, and having made, “should keep.” “For we are up against it.”
The world’s small harvest and the shortage of shipping are two causes which have been slowly but surely making their effects on our food supply, and now we are faced by the unpleasant fact that, if we will not save we must starve. It rests with ourselves to choose.
Saving does not mean hoarding in stores and cupboards — only traitors do that. Saving means avoiding waste of every kind; we must not eat more than we need, or provide ourselves with more than we can eat. Every time we take a bigger helping than is necessary we are firing a shot for the Hun.
For it is only by the utmost economy in every kind of food that we can meet the requirements of ourselves and our Allies and hold our places in the fighting line. Now is the time for every one of us to determine that economy shall be practised.
The first week in the New Year has been set aside for helping people to make this resolution. It will be known as the S.O.S. week, the week in which the people of Britain are asked to decide whether they will Save or Starve. Every effort will be made to lay before the whole country the seriousness of the situation, and the absolute necessity for every one on the land to do his or her bit towards saving the nation’s food.