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.

Saturday, 18th February 2017, 09:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th February 2017, 11:06 am
HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, February 16, 1917.

Mrs A.S. Davidson, Fairmoor, Morpeth, has received a letter from her son, Private John Davidson, of the Royal Scots. The letter states:— “Red Cross, Egypt. Arrived here at last, after an exciting experience. You will have been wondering what has happened to me. Well, our ship was torpedoed.

“I was in the sea for over two hours with only an oar before being picked up, needless to say, in an exhausted condition. Waiting here, now, for a new rig-out, as I lost everything but shirt and breeches, which I had on — and lucky.”

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

John Davidson is the second son of Mrs Davidson, and was well-known in Morpeth. He was a Grammar School boy, and before joining the Army was in the office of Mr Murphy, architect, Morpeth.


The Mayor of Morpeth (Councillor J.R. Temple) along with other members of the Corporation and representatives of public bodies, and the local company of volunteers, attended service at the Congregational Church last Sunday morning. The service was of a special character, and the entire collection was devoted to the Lord Mayor’s Armenian Relief Fund.

The Mayoral procession from the Town Hall to the church was witnessed by a goodly number of the townspeople. The procession was headed by the local Pipe Band, followed by the Mayor and councillors and officials, with the volunteers under the command of Acting Second-Lieut. Wm. Duncan and Acting Second-Lieut. Chas. Grey, bringing up the rear.

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

The church was well filled, the service being conducted by the pastor, the Rev. J. Miller, who devoted his sermon to the Armenian refugees.

At the outset of his address the Rev. Mr Miller referred to the attendance of so many belonging to other Christian communities in the town. The cause they had assembled to support was dear to their hearts. He was grateful to the Mayor and Corporation for their presence.

In alluding to the Armenians, he said they were a very ancient race, and their national character was almost as strong as that of the Jews. He spoke of their long and continued oppression by the Turks, and said that the Armenians had been subjected to the most unspeakable horrors, as the recently published Blue Book clearly showed. He made an eloquent appeal on behalf of the Armenian refugees in Russian territory and Egypt. Their need was great, and they deserved the support of all.

He also alluded to our soldiers and sailors, who were fighting for freedom and righteousness.

After the above service the procession was reformed in Dacre Street, and to the strains of the pipes those who took part marched to the Market Place, where an interesting ceremony took place, namely, the presentation by the Mayor of a Distinguished Conduct Medal to Sergeant Cyril Johnstone, of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who is a native of the borough. Prior to the war he was engaged as an engineer at Wallsend, and was among the first of the men who volunteered for active service.

The volunteers were lined up in front of the Town Hall. There was a large gathering of the military and townspeople to witness the presentation.

The heroic deed which won Sergt. Johnstone the distinction is described in the official report as follows: “For gallantry displayed during a retirement. He went back and carried a wounded officer from the foot of the enemy parapet under intense fire.”

Addressing the gathering, Councillor Temple said that as Mayor of the Borough, he had again the honour of decorating another of their Morpeth heroes. He was sure that nothing would be more fitting after attending Divine Service and asking the Almighty to bless our arms, than to do honour to a British soldier who was prepared to lose his life rather than leave his wounded officer to the mercy of the enemy.

Sergeant Johnstone, who would soon be Lieut. Johnstone, as he was recommended for a commission, won his D.C.M. at Suvla Bay in August, 1915. From what he was told, and believed, the Turks, who admired a brave man and were clean fighters, were so much astonished at his reckless bravery that they actually refrained from shooting him down.

The townspeople would be interested to learn that the gallant soldier was a sergeant in the company commanded by the late Capt. Armstrong of this town, and Capt. Armstrong, before his death in France, recommended Johnstone for his commission which he was about to take up.

By honouring Johnstone they honoured the British Army, and he was sure their thoughts went out that morning to the brave lads. They knew that their armies, having got properly prepared, were now beating the Germans whenever they liked, and would never leave them until they had smashed them up.

It was their duty at home to back up their brave lads in every way they possibly could, both with men and money. He felt sure that the Morpeth people would not fail in their efforts. (Applause.)

The Mayor then pinned on the medal amidst great applause. One behalf of his fellow councillors, who had formed a War Heroes’ Fund, the Mayor presented to Sergt. Johnstone a beautiful wristlet watch.

Sergt. Johnstone, in responding, said he was proud of the honour which he had brought to Morpeth. He had been one of the lucky ones. Hundreds of soldiers were performing similar deeds in the fighting line. He thanked the Council for their beautiful gift, and expressed the hope that the people would at all times show their kindness to the wounded men who returned from the field of battle. He again thanked the Town Council for their handsome gift and congratulations.

The singing of the National Anthem concluded the proceedings.


The quarterly meeting of the Morpeth Town Council was held on Tuesday evening. The Mayor (Councillor J.R. Temple) presided.

After the minutes of the previous meeting had been read, in which reference was made to the keeping of pigs, Mr Waterson asked: What about hens? Are people to keep them in their back yards?— Town Clerk: The Board of Agriculture advised that people should be encouraged to keep them.

The Town Clerk read the following letter which had been received from Councillor Armstrong:— “I beg to thank you for copy of resolution of the condolence passed by the Town Council on the death of my son. Please convey to the Council the thanks of myself and my wife for their kind expressions of sympathy and our grateful appreciation of the kindly feeling which prompted the Council’s resolution.”

The Mayor said it was his pleasing duty to congratulate one of their colleagues, Councillor Swinney, on his son, Captain Cecil Swinney, having won the Military Cross in France. The announcement was received with applause.

The Town Clerk said he had received applications for 27 cwt. of seed potatoes in answer to advertisement, and he had forwarded the same to the Northumberland War Agricultural Committee. He had had no applications for the keeping of pigs and none from farmers for the growing of oats for the Government.

The whole of the Corporation allotments had been applied for. With regard to allotments to grow one or two crops of potatoes, several members of the Council had been looking round for suitable land, and one of the places was Mr Kilby’s at North Field. He saw Mr Kilby about getting the land, and he found he was quite agreeable to let the Council take his four acres provided the Council let him put his four horses on Tommy’s field.

He communicated with Mr Kilby’s landlord to find out whether he was agreeable. Mr Thorp had the matter in hand, but he was away from home. Mr Archer, who was in the same office, said that they in the office did not see any reason why there should be any objection to the proposal. He also told him that Mr Thorp would not be back that night to inform him, but he would let him know in the morning.

If Mr Kilby’s horses were to go on Tommy’s field the probability was that there would not be room for the Corporation horses, and therefore another field would have to be provided. He had written to Lady Carlisle’s solicitor and asked him if he could get her ladyship to suspend the covenant so as to allow the Council to graze their horses on the banks in the park. He replied that he saw no reason to anticipate any difficulty, and that if he was in their place he would take the risk. It seemed to him the way was fairly clear.

Mr Swinney proposed that the Council take Mr Kilby’s field, subject to Mr Thorp’s approval:— Ald. Duncan seconded.

Mr Turnbull: Can we not allow Mr Kilby to put his horses on the Common?

Mr Elliott said the Council has 20 or 30 tenants who had taken Corporation gardens. If they had to part with Tommy’s field the majority of the ratepayers would have to pay for gardens for the minority. He did not think it was a fair deal. If anyone wanted a garden let him take the gardens that were on offer. The applicants simply wanted this land because it was to be paid for by the ratepayers.

Mr Swinney retorted: I don’t think Mr Elliott is in order. We are doing what the Government told us to do. It is not fair to say these men are not patriotic. They are just as patriotic as most men in the town. These men have gardens, and they want to increase the foodstuffs by taking another garden. I don’t know what the Government will think if we refuse them this land.

Mayor: If men want gardens we have to find land for them.

In reply to Ald. Brown the Town Clerk said that Mr Kilby was to continue to pay the rent of the field and graze his horses on Tommy’s field instead of his own.

Ald. Brown: Is he to graze on Tommy’s field for nothing?

Town Clerk: No; he pays the rent for Thorp’s field as usual.

Mr Swinney: If you agree to take that field you will have twice as many applicants for gardens.

Mayor: There is no difficulty in the matter. It is only an exchange of fields.

The motion was then put and carried.

The Town Clerk stated that as far as war loans were concerned the public meeting was held, and that meeting confirmed the Council’s resolution. Consequently the Mayor and himself waited on the bank for the loan of £5,000, and bought war stock. He got the sanction of the Local Government Board to borrow.

The Town Clerk stated that he had collected information from several banks in the town as to what amount of war stock had been taken up through them. He found that from the four banks £145,000 of war stock had been taken, of which fully one half was new money.

There might be some people who had taken war stock through Morpeth banks who did not reside in the borough. On the other hand he knew of an item of £50,000 that did belong to Morpeth, which would reasonably have been expected to come through Morpeth, but went to Newcastle, and one might balance the other. Taking the population at 8,000 it showed that £20 had gone from every man, woman, and child in the town.

The Town Clerk reported that he had received a letter from the Church Army Recreation Huts Committee at home and abroad asking the Council to organise a flag day on behalf of their funds.— The letter was handed to the Mayor to make arrangements.

The Town Clerk submitted an application by the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment for a contribution towards its expenses. The committee recommended that the Council defer its consideration until it was seen what course was adopted by other councils.

The committee reported that the Town Clerk had applied for an allowance of 12/6 a week towards clerical assistance and for the Council to provide a typewriting machine for use in his office. The committee recommended that in lieu of contribution towards his clerk the Town Clerk be given a war bonus of 12/6 a week and that the Council provide a typewriter.— Agreed to.

The Town Clerk submitted applications received in reply to advertisement of allotments to let. The applicants’ names were read over, and the committee recommended that all the applicants be granted allotments at the High Stanners. Those who had specific situations to have the allotments asked for, and that Mr Seabrook be informed that the gardens were let, and that he be asked to remove what crops he wanted off the land within seven days.— Adopted.

The Town Clerk read a letter from the manager of the Gas Works giving notice of expiration of their three-years’ contract with the Council for the supply of gas for the sewerage pumping engines, and the increase of the price in consequence of the war conditions from £102 10s to £123. The committee recommended that the contract be entered into with the Gas Company, but the latter to read for the period of the war and for six months afterwards.— Adopted.


The secretary of the above organisation begs to draw the attention of relatives and friends of Northumberland prisoners of war to the following regulations as to articles which may not be sent to prisoners of war by individuals; and articles which may be sent to this organisation to be forwarded to prisoners of war:—

The following articles may not be sent to this organisation to be sent to prisoners of war, nor may they be sent direct to a prisoner by any individual:— Printed matter, i.e. books, newspapers, magazines, etc., pictorial illustrations and photographs, money, stationery, stamps, playing cards and similar articles affording facilities for secret communications, textiles, wool, cotton, leather or rubber goods (this includes clothing of every description), spirits or solidified spirits for cooking, stoves, matches or other inflammable material, cameras, field glasses, etc., tins or other receptacles which cannot be opened for inspection, foodstuffs of all kinds.

Anyone wishing to send books, newspapers and magazines must apply to the Chief Postal Censor, Portugal Street, London, W.C. If the books are educational application should be made to Mr A.T. Davies, Board of Education, Whitehall, London, S.W. Photographs of individuals may be sent to a prisoner of war enclosed in an envelope, provided the photograph is not mounted.

Articles, of which the following are examples, may be sent addressed to the prisoner of war, c/o this organisation, Hale’s Garage, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne:— Razors, brushes, combs, cigarettes and tobacco in small quantities, certain games (other than card games), a description of which should be sent to the secretary before sending it to be forwarded; medicines, other than drugs, so long as they are not packed in glass or pot bottles or jars; footballs, tennis balls, etc., may be sent in limited quantities, under certain conditions, particulars of which will be supplied on writing to the Secretary, The Central Prisoners of War Committee, 4 Thurloes Place, London, S.W., who alone can despatch parcels containing such articles.—

J.H. Armstrong, hon. secretary, 31 Mosley Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne.


The monthly meeting of the Morpeth Rural District Council was held on Wednesday. The Hon. and Rev. W.C. Ellis presided.

With reference to investing in the War Loan, the Chairman asked Mr Ralph Crawford, who was requested to attend the meeting, if Lloyds Bank would advance them the money and arrange for an overdraft if necessary.

Mr Crawford: Oh, yes, and there would be no difficulty in obtaining the Local Government Board’s sanction in the matter.

Mr Young then proposed that the Council purchase £3,000 of bearer bonds in the War Loan, and that the Guardians at next meeting be asked to take over £1,000 of the same.

Mr Whittle seconded the motion, which was unanimously carried.

The Clerk read several letters on National Service, stating that the Director-General wished to obtain the co-operation of local authorities in the scheme. He also read the following communications:— Mr W.D. Lauder, National Service Commissioner for the Northern Division of England, which includes the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, Westmoreland, the Cleveland district of Yorkshire and Berwick-upon-Tweed, wishes us to state that he would welcome immediate offers of service from gentlemen of standing and position in the various cities, towns, and districts in his division, as it is his intention to select gentlemen of sound judgement and experience to act under the directions as sub-commissioners in each important industrial centre within his division.

All gentlemen making such offers of service must be prepared to act in a voluntary capacity and be able to give their whole time service to the duties of sub-commissioners in their respective towns and districts. All offers will be treated in strict confidence. The Commissioner’s headquarters are at 122, Northumberland Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

The Clerk Stated that he has written to the agent at Cresswell asking him if he would give land for allotments at Ellington. He also forwarded the plan which he has received from the applicants. He had received a reply from the agent stating that he would put the matter before Mr Cresswell and let him (the Clerk) know the position in due course.

Mr Colvin said that the applicants were ready to start if they could get the land.

The Clerk said he would write again.


The Northumberland Volunteer Regiment, which came into being as a result of the volunteer efforts of the past two years and a half in this county, and is now organised as an integral part of His Majesty’s Auxiliary Force, has been raising funds for the purpose of supplementing the Parliamentary grant of £2 per man who has passed the efficiency test.

This grant, however, is inadequate for providing uniform, and not sufficient to provide a great coat, and does not allow for the expenses, which must be incidental to the raising of such a force. The total cost of uniform and great coat is about £4 per man.

The strength of the regiment is approaching 4,000, and will, it is expected, be raised to close upon 6,000 during the next two or three months. The amount aimed at is between £10,000 and £12,000. An appeal made at the beginning of last month has met with a gratifying response, a sum of over £6,000 having been received up to the present. It is hoped that the publication of these figures will stimulate response from similar quarters, and result in the speedy raising of the balance.

The fund will be administered for the benefit of the regiment throughout the county, and the money allocated in proper proportion to the various battalions and other units.

The County Commandant is Lieut-Colonel W.H. Baker-Baker, and the County Adjutant — to whom all communications respecting the Force should be made — is Captain Harry Barnes, the headquarters being 6 Eldon Square, Newcastle.