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.

Friday, 17th March 2017, 4:16 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:08 am
HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 16, 1917.

In the presence of a very large congregation, a special service was held in St James’ Church, Morpeth, last Sunday evening in memory of the local men who have fallen in the War. The service, which was conducted by the Rector (Canon Davies), assisted by the Rev. Hedley Haslem, headmaster of the Grammar School, Newcastle, was of a very impressive character.

The Mayor (Councillor J.R. Temple) and members of the Corporation were present. Seats were reserved for relatives and friends of the fallen.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 16, 1917.

The St James’ choir was augmented for the occasion by members of the Cheshires and others. It is an interesting fact that twelve members of this choir are at present serving their King and Country.

After the reading of the second lesson, the Rector read out the names of those who have fallen in action, as follows:—

Captain John N. Armstong, Lieut. Norman Swinney, Lieut. Robt. Oliver, Lieut. E.G. Lawson, Company Sergt.-Major Bertie Foster, Company Sergt. F. Swinney, Sergt.-Major Robert Hedley, Sergt. Geo Dunn, Sergt. R. Sproat, Sergt. L.F. Donnelly, Sergt. S.A. Wright, Sergt. J.W. Grey, Sergt. Frank Douglas, Sergt. John Lyons, Corpl. N.R. Johnson, Corpl. Robt. T. Lowes, Corpl. W.R. Soulsby, Corpl. E.J. Taylor, Corpl. Jos. Watson, Corpl. John Bowman, Corpl. Thomas Marshall, Lance-Cpl. R. Sproul, Lance-Cpl. Elliott Ashton, Petty Officer J.C. Loughran.

Pte. Geoff. F. Murphy, Pte. Geo. Blackhall, Pte. G. Dalton, Pte. E. Green, Pte. T. Henderson, Pte. G.R. Fawdon, Pte. Geo. Gibson, Pte. F. Douglas, Ptr. Thos. Bowman, Pte. Thos. Smith, Pte. W.T. Glass, Pte. Richard Sharp, Pte. Wm. Routledge, Pte. David Froude, Pte. Jes. Shaftoe, Pte. T. Tweedy, Pte. R.A. Daglish, Pte. Geo. Watson, Pte. J. Shepherd, Pte. John E. Harrison, Pte. G. Bates, Pte. Michael Dalton, Pte. F. Lyons, Pte. Bell, Pte. Thos. Telford, Pte. John Croyle, Pte. Chas. Hunter, Pte. Wm. Sproat, Pte. Alex. Sample, Pte. Ed.O. Burn, Pte. D. Robson, Pte. Richardson, Pte. E.J. Taylor, Pte. A.H. Wight, Pte. Thos. Smith, Pte. John Nicol, Pte. S. Robinson, Pte. Geo. Sproat, Pte. Athol Nicol, Signaller B. Waterston, Trooper Arthur White, Trooper G.C. Crake, Trooper J. Miller.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 16, 1917.

The Rector took his text from Revelation, chapter 21, verse 1: “And I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth; for the first Heaven and the first Earth were passed away, and there was no more sea.” This chapter, said the Rector, was a very wonderful chapter. In it St John in his prison on the Island of Patmos described in very vivid language his vision of a world redeemed, dwelling in intimate fellowship with God.

To bring this about was the purpose of Christ’s corning; to achieve this He called His church into being. It was a mighty enterprise to which He summoned His followers — an enterprise calling for chivalry, heroism, endurance, self-denial and sacrifice.

What is it that hinders the accomplishment of Christ’s work? — Human selfishness: This is the root evil welling up in individuals in desires for material prosperity and for the satisfaction of the unsanctified lusts of men; welling up in nations in lust of power and seeking satisfaction at whatever cost of loss and ruin to other nations. And this pursuit of purely selfish ends in the individual or the State is atheism, the practical denial of God, the rejection of Christ and all that He stood for.

Never has this been so clearly illustrated as in the circumstances that brought about this accursed war. Germany’s purpose during over forty years of peace was clear and definite. It was to satisfy her lust for world power. For this she planned and schemed. To this she devoted all her energies; for this she made her gigantic preparations; for this she plotted all over the world. At the time when she thought the right moment had come she, with a ruthlessness inconceivable before the event, repudiated honour, broke her pledged word, burnt and ravaged a small nation, and set ablaze a conflagration in the world which has already cost countless thousands of lives, has destroyed art, treasures which cannot be replaced, and wealth in material beyond the powers of the mind to measure.

In her action Germany threw down the gauge to God — challenged all standards that had obtained in the world before. She was going to establish a new standard: Might was right. Is it irreverent to say that God took up the challenge in and through the men of the British race: Germany was attacking France and Russia and Serbia. She did not want us in arms against her. To avoid that she made us infamous proposals.

We went in to save our friends. In doing so we see clearly now that in more senses than one we shall save ourselves. It was not so clear then. It is difficult to disentangle all the elements in a complex motive. But what was highest and best in England spoke in August, 1914. Duty called: honour called. God called, and we responded to the call.

We were risking much. It demanded great sacrifices from us. The demand for sacrifice grew, and it is still growing. Is there room for regret? No. Was there any other way of overcoming the monstrous evil? No. Would Christ have stood aside? No.

This was God’s enterprise for which our men offered themselves willingly in the early days — these men, many of them not religious as the world counts religion. But in a dim sense they felt that not only their country called them, but that their country stood for something great and noble and just. You may say they obeyed the instinct of their manhood — an instinct born of the Spirit of Christ, and God, whose soldiers they were, smiled approval on their deeds. Who dare to question, today our cause?

The cause which these men espoused was the cause of the human race — the cause of humanity and in serving it our men served God. Many knew it clearly, others in a dimmer way. Tonight we are honouring the memory of our own Morpeth men who in this great service have given their all — have laid down their lives for the brethren, and “Greater love hath no man than this.”

Homes are poorer, how much poorer those alone who have experienced the loss can adequately tell. But the world should be the better for their sacrifice. It will be if we prove ourselves worthy of their sacrifice. They gave all, their lives, that the world of men and women may be the better for their suffering. They have given life a new meaning; yet it is not new. Christ gave it to the world nineteen centuries ago.

Is that meaning ours? What indulgence have we given up? What higher level of life are we reaching to be in harmony with the sacrifice of our boys at the Front? Let each answer be according to his own conscience. What of the dead, your beloved dead? Where are they? Let me answer in the words of a poem written by a woman, inspired surely to give her vision to the world for the comfort of those who mourn.

The Rector quoted the whole poem from Charles Allan’s book on the war, the last verse being as follows:—

“Oh if the sonless mothers weeping.

The widowed girls could look inside

The country that hath them in keeping,

Who went to the great war, and died,

They would rise and put their mourning off,

And say, ‘Thank God he has enough.”

After the sermon the hymn “On the Resurrection Morning,” was sung, followed by three verses of the National Anthem. The “last Post” was sounded from the altar steps by Bugler Isherwood, R.A.M.C., which created a profound impression, after which Mr Wyatt gave a most artistic rendering of Guilmant’s Funeral March and Hymn of Seraphs, the congregation remaining standing as a tribute to the memory of the fallen.


Long and animated discussions took place at the monthly meeting of the Morpeth Town Council held on Tuesday evening. The Mayor (Councillor J.R. Temple) presided.

An application for a subscription had been submitted with a request from Captain Adjutant Barnes for an interview with the Council. It was agreed to fix the interview for that night, and the force have the use of the Town Hall for meeting to form a motor section on April 5th.

The Town Clerk explained that when the circular letter was received from the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment asking the Council for a contribution, the Council left the matter over until they saw what other authorities in the county were going to do. He read out a list of the different rural and urban authorities with the amounts subscribed. On an average the contributions worked out at one half-penny in the pound.

Captain Barnes thanked the members for giving him that opportunity to speak to them. It had been, he said, his business to go up and down the county on matters somewhat similar to that. He had addressed a goodly number of local authorities. His task on those occasions had generally been a double one. He had asked for their support in raising men, which was really an important thing, and now he had to ask them to make a grant.

Morpeth was one of the places where the Volunteer movement got one of its earliest send-offs, and they looked upon the Morpeth Company as one of the most promising in the regiment. The had divided the county into five areas, each to have a battalion. Morpeth was placed in the 5th Battalion.

They had further decided that they ought to be able to raise in the area of each local authority a definite unit which should not be less than a company. The raising of these companies entailed a certain amount of expenditure, and to meet that expenditure Parliament had made a contribution — an inadequate contribution. He did not propose to go into the reasons why the contributions were inadequate as the Council were already well acquainted with those matters. In a matter of soldiering it might be said that this was a national affair, and that the whole expense of the Force ought to be borne by the Government.

Owing to the greatly increased cost of clothing, which was at least double what it was before the war, it was going to cost £4 a head and Parliament was going to give £2. They required a sum of £12,000, and they thought that if they got a quarter of that sum from the local authorities they would get the rest from the great industries. That was the course they had followed, and had been very successful. In appealing to them he felt sure that the Council would give practical evidence of their interest in the Volunteer movement in the county.

The Mayor thanked the speaker for his address and referred to the rapid growth of the Volunteer movement in the county.

When the question of a grant was discussed, Mr Swinney moved that the Council give fifty guineas. Mr Jackson seconded. Ald. Norman supported.

Mr Armstrong said it was to be regretted that the Government could not see its way clear for the upkeep of the Force. The charge should not come on the ratepayers. The Government should pay the whole bill in connection with the defence of the country.

Mr Fearby remarked that the Government was squandering money at a tremendous rate. They asked the people to supply the Volunteer Force and now ask the people, who were in heavy taxation already, for the upkeep of the Force as well. There was a straining point, and that point had been reached now. He was wholly opposed to any grant being given by public bodies for the purpose. They paid rates and taxes for the maintenance of their forces.

Mr Armstrong: I made no definite resolution. Seeing the Government has not contributed sufficient money local authorities will have to do it. It is entirely wrong on the part of the Government.

The motion was eventually carried. Mr Fearby and Mr Armstrong voting against it.

The Town Clerk explained the situation with regard to the national service. The committee recommended that the Commissioner (Mr Lauder) be informed that the Council could take no action in the matter until they received a satisfactory explanation why the Mayor’s nomination for the position of sub-commissioner had been ignored.

The Town Clerk said he had had a visit from a gentleman who wished to know what they were doing. He explained the position the Council had taken up, and he expressed his regret. He said that they were anxious that the work should go on as quickly as possible. He asked him to suggest to the Council not to delay the appointment of the committee, but to suspend operations until they had heard from Mr Lauder.

The appointment of a committee, chairman, and secretary was proceeded with. Mr Swinney moved that the committee consist of the whole Council. Mr Jackson seconded.

Mr Fearby: What are to be our duties?

Town Clerk: They expect us to call public meetings and organise a canvass on the system of the National Registration.

The Mayor was elected chairman of the committee. The Town Clerk asked the Council to appoint some persons, other than himself, as secretary, inasmuch as his time was fully occupied.

Mr Jackson moved that Mr Fearby be appointed secretary. Ald. Hood seconded. Mr Charlton proposed Mr W. Simpson. Mr Fearby seconded.

Ald. Hood thought the office should be held by one of their own members. It was an important matter.

Mr Fearby: I am in your hands.

It was unanimously agreed that Mr Fearby be secretary.

It was reported by the committee that the Town Clerk had reported (1) arrangements with Thos. Jobson for a renewal of the expired lease of Waulk Mill field and close adjoining, on a yearly tenancy on the same terms as before; (2) the letting of the field alone to Mr Kilby, for £13 a year on his giving up the land in Thorp’s field occupied by him, which the Council required for allotments; (3) arrangements with Mrs Thorp for acquiring her land for allotments; (4) taking of Mr Brown’s land in same field under the Land Cultivation Order; and (5) the receipt of 51 applications for allotments. The committee recommend that the surveyor let out the required land in plots of 22 square yards each with the necessary roads for taking manure, etc.

The Town Clerk stated that there were another two applicants. Mr Swinney proposed that the names be put into a hat and the different plots drawn for. This was unanimously agreed to.

It was agreed that the expenses incurred be divided between the allotment tenants. It was stated that it would be something like 3/- each.

The Surveyor stated that there were 4¾ acres divided into 84 garden plots.

Mr Charlton moved that the Mayor, Ald. Norman, and Mr Swinney be the committee to settle the question of drawing for plots. This was agreed to.

Mr Charlton referred to the great difficulty there was to get seed potatoes. Many of the allotment holders expected the Council to obtain seed potatoes for them. He thought that should be made known.

A letter having been read from the Empire movement suggesting the celebration of Empire Day on May 24th, the committee recommended that the arrangements be left in the hands of the Mayor, Ald. Norman and Councillors Swinney, Fearby, and Jackson, but that there be no public holiday nor interference with business. This was carried.

The Finance Committee recommended that the estimate for a general district rate for the half-year, April to September, be approved, and that a rate of 1/8 in the £ be made and sealed on 22nd inst.

The Mayor, in moving the adoption of the rate, said, he would like to say that they had got the rate down to 1/8 in the £, which was the lowest rate they had had. It would mean sixpence reduction on the last 18 months, and a saving to the ratepayers of £1,200 per annum. It showed that the Council was economising in every possible way. He remarked that although they were saving the County Council were not. He thought that they should protest against the rising of the county rate, while they were saving.

The rate was adopted.

The surveyor and rate collector respectively applied for a war bonus, and, on the recommendation of the Finance Committee, the surveyor was granted £15 and the collector £10 a year, those grants to be reconsidered at the end of the war.


On Sunday evening, Dr Drysdale conducted a memorial service at the Presbyterian Church, Morpeth, in memory of the late Sergt. S.A. Wright, organist and choirmaster of the church, who died at a clearing station in France from bronchitis, on March 1st. There was a good and sympathetic congregation, and a large attendance of the choir, who held Mr Wright in high respect.

Dr Drysdale preached an eloquent sermon from the text, “And some of them said, Could not this man have caused that even this man should not have died” (John 11, v, 37.)

In referring to Mr Wright, he said:— “We are holding this evening a memorial service in honour of our deceased organist, Mr Sidney Arthur Wright, who died of bronchitis on March 1st, in a clearing station in France.

Mr Wright came to Morpeth in September, 1912, as an assistant master in the Morpeth Grammar School, whose special or expert work was being a skilled and trained musician, to take charge of the musical department of the school; and we deemed ourselves fortunate in securing him as our organist and choirmaster a year after — September 1913.

When he was called up soon after the beginning of the War as a reservist, at the close of the following year (after 15 or 16 months), his place was kept open for him here in hopes of his resuming it — a post, alas! he was not destined to ever re-occupy. We are here this evening, linked together in united and common sorrow, because of his premature death, and our thoughts and feelings may find solace and expression in the text.

The pulpit is not the fittest place for eulogium of our dear departed friend and comrade, Mr Wright; but it seems only just to bear testimony to his personal worth, and the value of the services rendered to us for fifteen months or more, and his willingness to return to his work here. If there was any service he could do for us in his own department, we know he was ever eager and ready to do it. He was an enthusiast in his work; very capable, sympathetic and successful in it, under whose direction the choir was brought to a high state of efficiency.

In losing him, we lose much by his early death. We are sorry not only for the choir and church, but for the Grammar School and the town — above all, we feel deeply and sadly for the bereaved widow and children — those beloved ones to whom all hearts go out in Christian tenderness and fellowship of woe.

We finally lament his loss to the nation and army, as one more of those devoted chivalrous, and high-mined souls whom we can ill afford to lose, who have given up all and made the supreme sacrifice of life itself for their King, their Country and their God.”

Appropriate hymns were sung, and at the close of the service, Private Cook, acting organist, played the Dead March in “Saul.”