In this feature to commemorate the First World War, we will bring you the news as it happened in 1918, 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.

Sunday, 11th February 2018, 10:36 am
HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, February 8, 1918.

The following is an extract from a letter received from Geoffrey Baylis, a wireless operator in the R.F.C., now stationed in Egypt, who sailed from Southern Italy about the 28th of December last in one of the two transports torpedoed in the Eastern Mediterranean during the latter part of December 1917:—

“When we reached the southern coast of Italy we set sail across the Mediterranean Sea, which was like a duck pond the whole way across, and such beautiful weather. We were on it about 3½ days all told, and I thoroughly enjoyed it until the last few hours of the journey.

“Now I will tell you of the experience through which I went. We were in sight of land when a blighter of a German submarine torpedoed me in the bow. From what I can make out, the submarine had been following us a long time, and waited until the last few miles for devilment and then dealt the fatal blow, which ended in the ship going down gradually. In the end she seemed to take a very quick plunge, and was only 5½ minutes sinking, so you see there was no time to waste.

“I will now try to explain how I escaped from the beastly thing. On being torpedoed I waited a minute or two to see if the ship was going to stay up a little, but no such luck, so I plunged into the sea. Luckily we had all been dished out with life belts. I was nearly jumping into a lifeboat, but am glad I did not do so, as they were already very full.

“After jumping into the sea I swam towards a raft, but it was so crowded that it was already beginning to sink, so I left it and swam to a quiet part of the sea, where I could swim peacefully and quickly about without being pulled down by non-swimmers and older people.

“It was a ghastly sight to see soldiers, of whom there were hundreds on board, in the water, and there were also some Red Cross nurses, but it was impossible to render any assistance.

“After being in the water three-quarters of an hour I was hauled aboard a Japanese destroyer, where they gave me brandy and some warm blankets and clothes, and with the other survivors was brought to our destination amid the cheers of the inhabitants of the quay.

“I am unable to state the number of casualties, but perhaps it is just as well, for I want to forget all about it and am now safe and sound and happy and cheerful on land.

“The ship was torpedoed on the 31st December, 1917, and my watch stopped at 10.32pm, when I jumped into the sea.”

Geoffrey Baylis was 19 years of age in August, 1917, and was at Messrs Barclay’s Bank, Morpeth. He is a son of Mr and Mrs Richard Baylis of The Grove, Morpeth, and joined the Royal Flying Corps just before his 18th birthday.

He was selected for a commission in September, 1918, but failed to pass for flying when examined by the Air Service Medical Board.


At a meeting of the Morpeth Rural District Local Food Control Committee, held on Wednesday, it was unanimously resolved that a ration scheme be adopted for the district, and to be put in hand as early as possible.


Lieut. Wookey, R.F.C., one of the two captive airmen sentenced to imprisonment in Germany for releasing printed matter from their aeroplanes, is a grandson of Captain Wookey, well remembered as a Governor of Morpeth and Newcastle Prisons.


Owing to his unit having left the district, Sergeant Roberts has had to relinquish his duties as instructor of the Morpeth Company.

As an indication of the esteem in which he was held both by the officers and men, Sergeant Roberts was, on Thursday last week, presented with a silver wristlet watch and Treasury note.

In making the presentation, Lieut. Duncan referred to the great assistance which Sergeant Roberts had rendered to him during his stay in Morpeth and his readiness to do anything in his power to increase the efficiency of the men.

In acknowledging the gift, Sergt. Roberts stated that the months just passed had been the happiest he had spent since joining the Army three years ago, and he greatly appreciated that spontaneous recognition of his services.

At the close of his remarks the Company gave three cheers for Sergt. Roberts, and joined in singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”

Five N.C.O.s attached to the Morpeth Company journeyed to York on Saturday last to take a course of instruction at Fulford Barracks, namely Sergeants Brown, Kennedy, Dixon, Corporal Elliott, and Lance-Corporal Seabrooke.

This week the men have been given instruction in platoon drill and rifle and bayonet exercise, and good progress is being made all round.

A number of the best shots in the company have been on the miniature range competing for places in the team, which is to be composed of the ten best marksmen.

On Tuesday evening Lieut. Duncan remarked that he was desirous of promoting to a greater degree the social side of the corps. There had been provided out of company funds three sets of boxing gloves. It has been suggested that the old Masonic room might be used as a recreation hall, which would serve the purpose admirably.

Any suggestions from the men to further the social life, he said, would receive the careful consideration of the officers, and would be carried out if at all practicable.


The Rev. J.C. Sutcliffe, the respected pastor of the Primitive Methodist Church, Morpeth, left the town yesterday by the 9.25am train en route for France, where he is going to take up four months’ work in connection with the Y.M.C.A.

He had a good send-off from his friends, who wish him the best of luck and God-speed.

The members of his congregation held a social evening in Vose’s Cafe on Monday, when their minister was the honoured guest. There was a large company present, and the supper was greatly enjoyed. The proceedings were of a pleasant character, and the good wishes of all were extended to the Rev. J.C. Sutcliffe.

Mr F. Rowe, the society steward, in a few well-chosen remarks, handed over to Mr Sutcliffe, the proceeds of the social and donations, amounting to £8 10s, with the request that he would entertain some of the boys at the front.

The Rev. Mr Sutcliffe, in responding, thanked them all for their hearty good wishes, and said that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to entertain the local lads out there.

It is interesting to note that this is the second occasion that Mr Sutcliffe has gone to France to undertake work on behalf of the Y.M.C.A.


Mr and Mrs R. Taylor, Ulgham Grange Crossings, have received information that their son, Gunner J.J. Taylor, is in Egington Hall Hospital, Derby, suffering from trench fever.


An interesting ceremony took place in St James’s Hall last Thursday evening, when the annual enrolment service in connection with the 1st Morpeth Company of the Boys’ Brigade was gone through.

There was a capital attendance on the part of the members of the brigade and of others who take an interest in the movement locally. The Rector (Canon Davies), chaplain of the Company, presided. He was supported by the Mayor (Councillor Jas. Elliott), who wore his chain of office, and Captain Arrowsmith.

Captain Arrowsmith, in presenting an account of the work for the past year, said that the last day of May, 1917, witnessed the close of the 23rd year of the Company. In spite of so many officers and senior boys being on military service the full routine of work has been kept up all the session, and the keenness of the boys was shown in a marked manner by the record number of badges and certificates which had been gained.

During the session the Company has suffered a great loss by the death of their captain. They had all felt his loss very much, and they knew that his place would be hard to fill.

The King’s badge had been awarded to another of their boys, Colour-Sergt. Ellison, who was the sixth member of the company to gain that distinction.

At the request of the Rector, the boys all stood to attention in order to show, as the Rector remarked, that they remembered the old boys who for the last three-and-a-half years had made the great sacrifice on behalf of our country, freedom, liberty, and brotherhood.


REED.— 4 North Row, Seaton Burn, Private T.R. Reed, N.F., only son of Mr and Mrs H. Reed, officially reported missing since 28th April, 1917, now presumed dead.— Ever remembered by his father and mother.— Deeply mourned.

ROGERS.— Accidentally killed in France, on the 3rd Jan., aged 25 years, Private Edward Charlton Rogers, M.G.C., dearly beloved husband of Annie Rogers, of North Seaton Colliery.— Deeply mourned by his sorrowing wife and two children.

ROGERS.— Accidentally killed in France, on the 3rd Jan., Private Edward Charlton Rogers, M.G.C.— Sincerely mourned by his loving father and mother and brothers-in-law, Joseph Brown and family, 16 Institute Row, North Seaton Colliery.

STEVENSON.— Killed in action on the 23rd December, 1917, George Edward, the only son of Margaret Stevenson and of the late Edward Stevenson, of Widdrington Colliery.— Deeply mourned.


The patients of the above hospital spent an enjoyable evening last Saturday, kindly provided by Miss J.S. Young and party.

The programme was contributed to by Miss Marjorie Hall, Mrs Fred Halls, Lieut. Kunz, Master Bertie Jobson, Miss Young, and Corporal Taylor.

Private Mobly, on behalf of the patients, thanked the party for the entertainment, which they had all thoroughly enjoyed. Miss Young suitably replied.


A very successful whist drive, organised by Mr J.J. James, with the assistance of Councillor R.N. Swinney, took place at the Soldiers’ Institute, Morpeth, last Thursday evening, the proceeds being devoted to the purchase of a piano for the local V.A.D. Hospital.

There was a large company present, including Mr and Mrs Geo. Renwick of Springhill, and the Mayor and Mayoress (Councillor and Mrs Jas. Elliott). Splendid arrangements having been made, the proceedings passed off without a hitch.

The proceeds amounted to £27, which, after paying for the piano and other expenses, the balance will be used for keeping the piano in tune and any other musical expenses in entertaining the wounded soldiers.


Mr W. Straker has been appointed to act as the secretary of the Mine Workers’ Mobility Bureau in Northumberland.

The central office will be at Manchester, under Mr T. Ashton, and he will receive from the various districts of the coalfield information as to where more men are required for the mines, and where men are willing and at liberty to remove to pits in other districts.

Districts where men are wanted will be put into communication with those where men are to spare, through the pits working badly, and arrangements are being made under which the transfer of labour will be expedited.

Before the scheme is operative in Northumberland, however, there are certain conditions to be completed with regard to the removal of men, the granting of separation allowances in the case of married men, and the question of retaining free house and coal for the families of men who temporarily leave the district.

The arrangement of these conditions is nearly completed and very shortly the bureau will be in action.

“Will the scheme prevent wastage of manpower?” The question was addressed to Mr Wm. Straker upon his return from the Miners’ Federation Council, which has been engaged in constructing the scheme.

In reply, he said he thought there was a number of Northumberland miners who were prepared to go to other districts for a time, provided their work would be open for them when they came back.

The Delaval group, Walker, and Bedlington pits have worked short for a long period, and from these districts it is probable that numbers of miners will offer for transfer to other districts where more coal and more workers are required.

The fact that acceptance of the conditions under which work is offered in another district will be purely voluntary is expected to make the scheme, and the bureaux under which it is to be worked, acceptable to the miners.


The committee are indebted to Mrs Purdy, The Ferns, and Mrs J.E.N. Thompson, for tea, which was largely attended and realised £2.

We have to thank Miss Jean Paton for a gift of socks.


Private John Soulsby, N.F., and mother wish to thank the men at Pegswood Colliery for their kind and welcome present to him in France.


The Commandant wishes to cordially thank the following for their gifts this week:— Cigarettes, Miss Hopper and Form II Girls’ High School; papers, Hon. Mrs Joicey; brown loaf, Mrs J.S. Mackay; books, Shropshire Yeomanry; cakes, Mrs J Simpson; tea, crockery, jam, baskets and vases, Mrs Drysdale.

During the week Canon Macleod gave a lecture on a tour in France, illustrated by lantern slides, which were very much appreciated and enjoyed by the patients and staff; and Mr Robert Swinney brought a concert party, who gave an excellent concert, and afforded great enjoyment to the audience.