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, 10th March 2017, 1:08 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:54 am
HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 9, 1917.
HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 9, 1917.

Among the military decorations which have been won by Morpethians on the battlefields of France has now to be added that of the Military Cross. The honour of having brought that high distinction — the first of the kind to Morpeth — has fallen to the lot of Captain James Herbert Cecil Swinney, the eldest son of our respected townsman, Councillor R.N. Swinney of Ashleigh.

The brave deed for which he received the meritorious distinction is described in the official notice as follows: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at great personal risk. He rescued an officer whose clothing had been set on fire by a flare. Later, although severely burnt, he continued to command his company.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 9, 1917.

The gallant officer, it may be stated, enlisted as a private in the Northumberland Fusiliers shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. During his training he was stationed at Alnwick and Cambois, and in April, 1915, he proceeded to France. Some months later he received a commission, and was gazetted a second-lieutenant in the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers.

In March, 1916, he was severely injured in both legs with shrapnel, and was home in England for nearly six months. Having recovered from his wounds, he returned to France on November 9th of last year. On Christmas Day he was promoted to the rank of captain and it was on January 3rd that he won the decoration.

He is still in hospital in France. Both his hands were burnt, the right one very severely.

It is three weeks ago that the news first leaked out that Captain Swinney had won the Military Cross, although at that time it had not been officially notified. It will be remembered that at the last meeting of the Morpeth Town Council (Tuesday, February 13th) the Mayor, on behalf of his colleagues, congratulated Councillor Swinney on his son having so distinguished himself on the field of battle that he had been awarded the Military Cross.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 9, 1917.

Captain Swinney, who is only 23 years of age, was educated at the Morpeth Grammar School, and the honour he has won has given great satisfaction to the headmaster and teaching staff and also to the boys. While at the school he took a keen interest in sport. He was also connected with the Y.M.C.A. football teams and very popular with his fellows.

Prior to the outbreak of war Captain Swinney was serving his apprenticeship as an engineer with Messrs Swinney Bros., the Wansbeck Iron Works, Morpeth.

During the past few days Captain Swinney has been the recipient of congratulatory letters from Lieut-Colonel J.J. Gillespie, Lieut-Colonel Geo. Reavell, and other officers of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

Councillor Swinney’s second son, Nelson, is a Marconi Wireless junior officer on one of His Majesty’s transports.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 9, 1917.


It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death of Mr Sidney Arthur Wright, an assistant master at the Morpeth Grammar School and well-known in local musical circles, who died a few days ago, while serving his King and Country in France.

The deceased was born on June 20th, 1882, at Westerham, in Kent, and was educated at Hosey Church of England School, Westerham, and St Mark’s Training College, Chelsea, S.W. In 1902 he passed London University Matriculation, and in 1903 he obtained the Teacher’s Certificate. From 1903 to 1906 he was teaching in Napier Street Council School, London, N, and from 1907 to 1912 he was an assistant master in Dulwich College Preparatory School. While there he joined the Kent Cyclist Battalion, and rose to be Colour Sergeant. When he left Dulwich he joined the National Reserve.

In September, 1912, he came to the Grammar School, Morpeth, as an assistant master. His special work was in teaching of music and geography, and of which he was an excellent teacher, patient, painstaking and enthusiastic. He carried his classes along with him, and the boys made marked progress in both these important subjects.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, March 9, 1917.

For two years and a term he threw himself heart and soul into the life of the school, and by his unselfish devotion to duty, his sympathy, and his transparent honesty of purpose he gained the confidence, the respect, and the affection of all with whom he came in contact — masters, boys and parents.

In all matters appertaining to music the late Mr Wright was an enthusiast of the first order. In September, 1915, he was appointed organist and choirmaster of St George’s Presbyterian Church, Morpeth. He was a fine player of the organ, and under his leadership the choir was brought up to a high state of efficiency. On special occasions he never failed to provide a beautiful service of praise, and on those occasions the music rendered was always greatly appreciated.

At Christmas, 1914, he was called up in the National Reserve, and joined the Scots Guards, and his experience in the T.F., was of great use to him, and he soon obtained promotion and eventually was made Sergeant.

For some time he was employed on important work in the depot in London, where his friends hoped he would be allowed to stay, but late last year he was sent out to France and has been continuously at the front since.

Last week news came that he was lying at a Clearing Station dangerously ill with bronchitis, and he passed away on March 1st, yet another of the high-minded, devoted, chivalrous men who have given up all to do their duty to their King, their Country and their God and have made the supreme sacrifice.

Mr Wright married Miss Benson of Carlisle in 1909, and leaves three young children.


A special meeting of the Northumberland Presbytery was held in the vestry of St George’s Presbyterian Church, Morpeth, yesterday. The moderator (Rev. P.J. Green, Bedlington) presided.

A resolution was passed recommending the members of the Presbytery to give careful and sympathetic attention to the requirements of National Service and do all in their power to facilitate what is desired.

Applications for part national service from the Rev. Mr Robertson and the Rev. Mr Ward were both cordially granted. With regard to the application from the Rev. A.A. Smith, of Cheviot Street, Wooler, for whole time, under the National Service scheme, it was referred to a committee.

A committee was appointed to deal with all applications for part time national service, but when it is was for whole time a special meeting of the Presbytery was to be convened by the clerk.


Private R. Freeman, late of Felling and Hirst, was killed in action on July 1st, since when he had been reported missing.

Official news has been received by Mr and Mrs Croyle, of 20 West Greens, Morpeth, that their second son, Private J.W. Croyle, 21st N.F., T.S., has been killed in action on July 27th, 1916.

Mrs E. Widdrington, of Seaton Hirst, late of Seaton Delaval Terrace, has received news that her eldest son, Private Ralph Widdrington, 9th Yorks, has been killed in action in France.

Mr and Mrs Turner, of the Post Office, West Moor, have received official news that their son, Able Seaman Robert Allan Turner, R.N.D., has been reported as missing since Feb. 4th.

County Councillor J. Wight and Mrs Wight , of Darrel Street, Dinnington Colliery, have received the official intimation that their youngest son, A.B. James Wight, R.N.D., formed one of the crew of the destroyer which was sunk with all hands in the North Sea on March 1st. The deceased, who was a young man of much promise, was 22 years of age and joined the Navy in the early stages of the War, and for two years was a Petty Officer before going to sea.


CLARK.— Killed in action, on July 1st, 1916, previously reported missing, Private T. Clark, N.F., dearly beloved husband of Jennie Clark, late of 31 Hawthorn Road, Hirst, and youngest son of the late John Restrick and Elizabeth Clark, late of Morpeth.— Ever remembered by his loving wife and son.

LOCKE.— Missing since July 1st now reported killed, Matthew, beloved son of the late Matthew and Martha Locke, of Scotland Gate.

SMITH.— Killed in action, July 1st, 1916, previously reported missing, Private William M. Smith, N.F., aged 21 years, dearly beloved son of George and Margaret Smith, of 128 Pont Street, Hirst, late of Warkworth.— Deeply mourned by his loving father and mother, sister and brother, uncles and aunts.


Great satisfaction has been given in Broomhill and the north east corner of the Northumberland coalfield by the news that Private J.T. Urwin, of Crevington Crescent, Broomhill, one of the miners who answered the call for men in the early days of the war, has had two distinctions conferred upon him.

In earning these awards, Private Urwin has manfully upheld the traditions of the Northumberland Fusiliers, the regiment into which he enlisted. Time and again he has been to the fore in action, and he has on more than one occasion been mentioned for his plucky exploits.

Such gallantry as his could not go long without being recognised, and he now owns two medals awarded for “displaying great courage and determination in tending and dressing the wounded under heavy fire.”


The Military Authorities are in a position to release a limited number of men from a local depot for work on farms or market gardens in Northumberland, some of whom are subject to recall on April 15th, while others will be available until the end of the war unless recalled for urgent military reasons.

A proportion of these men have worked on the land; others have not done so. The rate of pay will be that current in the district for agricultural labourers according to whether he lives in or out.

For farms in the neighbourhood of Newcastle arrangements can be made for a squad of five or six men to travel daily from the depot if the employer is prepared to provide facilities for transit.

Applications for men should be forwarded immediately to the hon. secretary, Northumberland War Agricultural Committee, The Moothall, Newcasle-on-Tyne.


The Northumberland Guild of Agricultural Helpers is prepared to receive applications from women, and especially those who know something about country life, for a preparatory course of four weeks’ training in land work.

Arrangements will be made for approved applicants to be received on suitable Northumberland farms where they will be provided with board and lodging for the period of training. They will be required at the end of that period to be prepared to accept employment at the wages of women workers either on the farm where they have been trained or elsewhere.

Applications should be addressed to Mrs Straker, The Leazes, Hexham, on the Hon. Secretary War Agricultural Committee, The Moothall, Newcastle-on-Tyne.


That the members of the Morpeth Company of the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment are making steady progress was pretty conclusively proved this week.

On Tuesday evening the men were unofficially inspected by Colonel Verdin, who was accompanied by Captain Dewhurst, adjutant of the Cheshires. It was very gratifying to see such a large muster of the men, the officers present being Acting Second-Lieut. Duncan and Acting Second-Lieut. Shaw.

After Colonel Verdin had passed along the lines the men were put through company drill. It was undoubtedly very cheering not only to the officers in command, but to the non-coms. and privates to hear the good things that Colonel Verdin said about the company. He referred to the fitness of the men, and the smart and efficient manner in which the different movements had been gone through, testifying, as he remarked, to the excellent training received.

Last Sunday morning, the weather proving unfavourable, the route march was abandoned, and the morning was spent at headquarters. The first part was occupied in an interesting “talk” by Acting Second-Lieut. Duncan, who gave some useful advice on such matters as acting on the defensive when an enemy of superior numbers is advancing on certain positions. The remainder of the time was taken up with the platoon drill.

A special feature of the drills at present is the shooting practice on the Morris tube range. This week No. 2 platoon have been shooting with excellent results. Nos. 1 and 3 have been drilling at headquarters. Acting Second-Lieut. Shaw is orderly officer this week.

It is interesting to note that the company will soon be in possession of its own rifles, and that arrangements are now being made for the holding of a weekend camp for the battalion at Easter. A goodly number of the local company have sent their names to attend.

The Company will be inspected by Brigadier-General Little on the Common on Sunday morning, 11th inst. It is hoped that there will be a large muster.

Orders for the week ending 18th March, 1917:— Orderly officer, Acting 2nd Lieut. W. Duncan; next for duty, Acting 2nd Lieut. C. Grey; orderly sergeant, Acting Sergt. C. Rutherford; next for duty, Acting Sergt. C.W. Smiles.

Duties:— Morpeth Detachment, Nos. 1 and 2 platoons, Tuesday and Thursday, Company drill. No. 3 platoon, Tuesday and Thursday, miniature rifle range.

Sunday,18th inst.— Route march or Company drill.

Rothbury Detachment:— Monday, 12th inst., at 7pm, and Wednesday, 14th, 7pm, Company Drill.


On Friday night last the first weekly competition night arranged by the Secretary was held, the competitions being hat trimming and limericks. The men entered into the fun with zeal and a most enjoyable time was spent.

A farewell concert was given in the Soldiers’ Institute, Morpeth, on Wednesday night by the R.A.M.C., who are leaving the district. The chair was taken by Mr J.T. Harrison, who apologised for the absence of Mr Renwick of Springhill who had been detained in London.

The programme was opened with a pianoforte solo by Private Heap, followed with conjuring by Private Sandbach and Party; song “My Ain Countree,” Miss Storey; monologue “The Student,” Private Dutton (encored); comic song by Private Shipton; ventriloquism by Pte. Sandback; song, “O, friend of mine,” Private Allsopp (encored); song and dance, Bugler Iserwood (encored); song “Mountain Lovers,” Miss Storey; glee “Comrades in Arms,” the Cheshire Yeomanry Glee Party.

The programme was brought to a close by the singing of the National Anthem.


The Commandant wishes to acknowledge the following gifts with many thanks:— Fruit, Miss Laverick; crutches, Mr Waters; cake, Mrs J. Simpson, Mrs Joicey, and Mrs Dickie; flowers, Mrs Gillespie, Miss Hudson; books, Miss Dixon; eggs, Mrs Crawford, collected by school children, and Mrs Pringle, Tritlington; butter, Mrs Strake.


Mr Wm. Simpson, Press correspondent for the Morpeth War Savings’ Committee, sends us the following article:—

The majority of the nation did their part in the great loan so far as lending is concerned, even though for many something in the way of sacrifice was involved. Yet, when one begins to ask, “What shall we do next?” two things come to mind.

First, that “sacrifice” is hardly the word, inasmuch as everything that any individual handed to his country comes back to him with something added in the end. Of “temporary inconvenience,” therefore he may be able to speak but hardly of sacrifice in the word’s strict sense.

And the other thing is this — that lending is not enough for love to do. Who so really loves his land will want to “give.” And he can do it. Now, after the enthusiastic days in which he lent his money, comes the long succession of days in which he can give himself, and in whose every hour, almost, he can make his land the richer by what he does or by what he abstains from doing.

The old call is still heard — ”Do without something in order that the country may have the benefit of the goods you do no take into your own hands, and the labour you do not wantonly exhaust in the sacrifice of your own desires!” Or again, “Do all in your power, if it is only by cultivating a little plot of ground which has lain idle now to increase the country’s wealth.”

To obey these calls is to give ourselves to Britain, provided that obedience be steady and not spasmodic, all-round and not merely at some or two points where it does not chafe.

If one may venture to say so, thus to offer yourself for Britain’s service is an even nobler thing than to lend for five, twenty or forty years the gold which grows all the time it is away and comes back at last to make us richer than we were. Something less than love of country can do the first, but real love of country will not be content with less.

Of course it remains true that he who thus gives himself will be able to lend as well, for the money he ceased to spend and consequently has to spare will take up the War Savings Certificates which in their turn add to the country’s strength, and for which an adequate and more than adequate return will by-and-by be made.

Indeed if the possession of a War Savings Certificate does not necessarily prove that some sacrifice has been offered or the spirit of country love has worked, the non-possession of it may well in the case of many of us raise sharp doubt whether the spirit of country-love has been there.

An impression is wide-spread that with the closing of the War Loan lists the sale of War Savings’ Certificates has ceased. In spite of repeated contradictions, the rumour rises again and again. It is most important that this impression should be dissipated. The War Savings is as important and needful to-day as it was twelve months ago.

Near the top of the hill the climber often falters, and it is the last two steps that try him most. The war savings movement has gone far up the hill during the past year, but the summit is not yet attained. With new energy let it be carried up the next year’s slope.

Remember Morpeth War Savings’ Committee meet every Tuesday evening from six to seven in the Town Hall. In the past good results have been attained, but there is room for a vast increase in the sale of War Savings’ Certificates. Let each and all save what they can do without, and put into the war savings.