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, 3rd February 2017, 12:29 pm
HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, February 2, 1917.

The Town Clerk of Morpeth has just received intimation that the D.C.M. has been awarded to Corporal C. Johnston, N.F., of East High House, Morpeth, with a request to make arrangements for its presentation by the Mayor.

Corporal Johnston is at present on furlough, and the necessary arrangements for the public presentation will be made in the course of a few days.

HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, February 2, 1917.

Besides two Military Medals and other distinctions, this is the third D.C.M. that has been earned by men belonging to Morpeth.


Mr and Mrs J.B. Sim, of Stobswood, have received word that their son, Sergeant D.E Sim, Army Cyclist Corps, has been awarded the Military Medal.


HERALD WAR REPORT: Advert from the Morpeth Herald, February 2, 1917.

Councillor I. Armstrong of Morpeth has received the following message of sympathy from the King and Queen, on the death of his son, Captain J.N. Armstrong, who died from wounds received in action:—

Buckingham Palace.

“The King and Queen deeply regret the loss you and the Army have sustained by the death of your son in the service of his country. Their Majesties truly sympathise with you in your sorrow.”

Keeper of the Privy Purse


The chief mate of the “Longhirst,” Mr Thos. Lloyd, tells a stirring story of life in Hunland. The genial captain, on a visit to Morpeth, the guest of our respected townsman, Mr Chas E. Young, of Dacre Croft, gives a startling account of the treatment of civil prisoners under the German, and of her industrial population too.

Mr Lloyd was among the first batch of civil prisoners released from Ruhleben, under the age agreement, and who have within the last few days reached their destinations in the dear homeland.

The “Longhirst,” along with about 60 other British steamers, happened to be in the River Elbe on the eve when war was declared. The vessel had discharged her cargo and was coming down the river, homeward bound, when the German authorities, in anticipation of events, ordered her to anchor.

The crew were kept on their ships until October 16th, when they were removed to what are described as floating bulks, where all types of men were thrown indiscriminately together, and lived for three weeks in these floating prisons under the most wretched conditions. From the hulks they went to Ruhleben, where now a vast cosmopolitan population of men is interned.

The early days here were not much better than the unsavoury days they had left behind. Food was very sparse, and what little there was was unfit to eat, and many men preferred semi-starvation to taking the rations which the prison authorities doled out.

This deplorable state of things existed practically until the early spring of 1915, when parcels began to come through from England. The arrangements for the safe and expeditious delivery of goods sent by the families and friends of the interned men were made more perfect, and gradually the days of starvation were left behind and food became fairly plentiful.

It is pleasing to record that Mr Lloyd looked “in the pink,” and confessed that he felt equally as well as he looked.

The captain waxed enthusiastic when speaking of the manner in which they had been looked after by the Mother Country. “There isn’t a man going hungry at Ruhleben to-day,” said he, “thanks entirely to the good food coming from England.” He has not taken any food or refreshment prepared by the Germans since the spring of 1915, “and that is what all of them would tell you,” said Mr Lloyd.

Speaking of the food shortage in Germany, Mr Lloyd said that on the way from the camp to Berlin — some 6½ miles — he saw large queues of women, four abreast, standing in front of the supply stores. They were controlled by armed soldiers, and many had taken up their positions as early as 5 o’clock in the morning. The first of the ticket-holders were sure of getting their allowances, but invariably the supplies gave out before the last of the people were reached, and many went away empty.

The train which bore the released party made a circuitous route of 29 hours’ duration. It is ordinarily covered in nine hours. “We stopped at a big station before crossing the German frontier, where I paid 9d for a cup of Bovril. That, and a cup of coffee, with no milk or sugar — the coffee being sweetened by a small piece of saccharine — was all I had.

“Some of the party went in for a ‘luncheon’ — a red herring (raw) and two teaspoonfuls of fried potatoes, which cost them two and a half marks each. I shall never forget the shock I gave to the dame who served me when I asked for a morsel of butter. She abused me roundly for some time. Apparently I had committed an unpardonable offence.”


A special meeting of Morpeth Town Council was held on Tuesday evening when several matters of public importance came up for consideration. The Mayor (Councillor J.R. Temple) was in the chair.

Before commencing the business the Mayor referred to the sad loss which their esteemed colleague, Councillor I. Armstrong, had sustained by the death of his son, Capt. J.N. Armstrong, who had died from wounds received on the field of battle.

Captain Armstrong, who had had a successful scholastic career, was a young man of great promise. His promotion in the Army had been rapid, and he was looked upon as a capable officer.

He was sure that their deepest sympathy went out to Councillor Armstrong. He then moved that the Town Clerk send a letter of condolence on behalf of the Council to Mr and Mrs Armstrong.— The motion was passed by the members standing.

The Town Clerk had received an application for the use of the Town Hall on February 8th by the military for a dance. He had submitted it to the Mayor, who had authorised him to intimate that the application was granted. Since then he had an application from Mrs Gray, the Wansbeck Cafe, for the use of the Town Hall on February 15th for a farewell dance.— Granted on the usual condition.

The question of taking unoccupied land for allotments was next considered. The Surveyor stated that on Monday afternoon, he had inspected, along with the Mayor and Ald. Norman, some uncultivated land — building sites — on the Thorp estate. There were two or three sites at the top of Northborune Avenue, also in Olympia Gardens and Olympia Hill — approximately two acres of ground.

As far as he could make out the whole field was taken by Mr Kilby, but so far as that portion was concerned Mr Kilby was quite willing, if anyone wanted to have it, to give it up. The ground itself was occupied with stone and lime heaps, but there were portions of it which could rapidly be made into gardens.

The gardens at High Stanners, occupied by Seabrooke, would make 35 gardens of 360 yards each.

Mayor: How many applications have you had up to now?

The Surveyor replied that he had five applications. Mr Swinney said he had ten.

Mr Fearby: There is a vacant site at the bottom of Hood Street. Proceeding, Mr Fearby said he thought that some applicants were holding back because no inducement was given them to obtain land. Let them decide what land they were going to take over and see what number of applicants would come in.

Mr Charlton thought he could make 35 allotments over at the High Stanners. They had 15 applications altogether, and that would leave another twenty small gardens. They might advertise the land, and if they got more than 35 applications then they could procure more land. It was no use talking about getting more land unless it was required.

The Mayor thought there was not a big demand for gardens. Mr Swinney moved that the Council advertise for allotments first. Mr Jackson seconded the motion, which was agreed to.

The Town Clerk read circulars from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries dealing with the question of securing an increase in the supply of pigs. If people would, either individually or in combination, undertake the keeping of pigs in the present crisis, the stock of pigs in this country would be within a few months, greatly increased.

Quantities of valuable pig food were wasted every day in towns and villages. If arrangements could be made for collecting the waste from butchers, fruiterers, fishmongers, greengrocers, as well as from other dwelling houses, the daily loss would not only be prevented, but turned into the gain of valuable meat.

One of the circulars went on to state “that a regulation is about to be made giving power to the sanitary authorities to grant permission for the keeping of pigs either generally or in particular cases notwithstanding the provisions of any byelaw, subject to the observance of any directions of the authority in the interests of public health.

“If persons intending to keep pigs live in places where such byelaws are in force they should inform the local authority with a view to obtaining their permission. It will be necessary for keepers of pigs to obey such conditions as to clean and wholesome maintenance as the local authority may impose.”

Mr Swinney moved that the Council advertise that the byelaw restricting the keeping of pigs within a certain distance of dwelling houses be suspended, and that people be invited to keep pigs in suitable places.

The Mayor said that a smallholder had told him that if people would only keep stuff suitable for pig feeding it could be collected and used for that purpose.

Mr Swinney: There is plenty of stuff in Morpeth wasted which would keep any number of pigs. I will move that it be inserted in the advertisement that people be asked to preserve their waste food.

The motion was carried.

The Town Clerk said he had received a circular intimating that the County Council Agricultural Committee were taking steps to inquire into the supply of seed potatoes. They asked the Council to ascertain what seed potatoes were likely to be required in their district.

He sent a copy to the Mayor, Mr Charlton, and Ald. Norman. He had put the paragraph in the “Herald” intimating that the Council were taking steps, and he had several applications, which he was prepared to hand over to the committee for the purpose of ascertaining what seed potatoes were required. He read other circulars on the subject. The applications and circulars were then handed over to the committee to deal with.

The Town Clerk read a circular from the Northumberland War Agricultural Committee asking the Council to ascertain what occupiers of land in their district would be prepared to enter into contract to grow oats for the 1917 crop for the use of the War Department.

The Town Clerk was instructed to advertise asking farmers and others willing to enter into contract to send in their names and addresses.

The Town Clerk had received a letter from Mr Phaup, secretary of the local War Savings Committee, asking for the use of the Town Hall for a meeting to be held to-night (Friday). He had consulted the Mayor, and the application was granted. He had asked Mr Phaup to ask Mr Williams to come to the meeting of the Council on Tuesday night and discuss the question of war loans.

Mr Swinney mentioned that in most districts they had what was called the War Heroes’ Fund, and he thought it would be very fitting if they formed a similar fund for the borough of Morpeth, in order to show in a tangible manner their appreciation of those men given distinction on the field of battle.

His idea was that whenever a medal was presented in the Market Place to a gallant soldier, then they could, on behalf of the inhabitants, present to him a gift such as a wristlet watch. He moved that the whole Council comprise the committee in connection with the fund, and added that he felt sure every member present would support the fund with a donation.

Mr Charlton seconded the motion, which was unanimously carried.

Mr Fearby: It might be announced that we will be pleased to receive subscriptions from the public.

Councillor Swinney was elected treasurer of the fund, and remarked: “Now I am ready to receive subscriptions.” He received the following amounts:— The Mayor, £1 1s; Councillors T. Charlton, £1 1s; Geo. Jackson, £1 1s; J.H. Simpson, £1 1s; J. Elliott, £1 1s; I. Armstrong, £1 1s; R.N. Swinney, £1 1s; Town Clerk, £1 1s; Councillor R.L. Fearby, 10/6.


The Morpeth Company of the Northumberland Volunteer Regiment has many enthusiasts in its ranks — men who make a point of attending every drill. Those who are not so regular — and no doubt they could do better — would do well to follow their example.

There is ample room for an increase in the strength of the company, and those in command are doing their utmost to get more men to enrol. As we have remarked, the success of the Volunteers locally now largely depends upon the men who are over military age to come forward and join the corps. Only in that way can the detachment hope to reach full company strength.

Acting Second-Lieut. W. Duncan is orderly officer this week.

Every effort is being made to make the men thoroughly efficient, and instruction by lecture and other means is proving very helpful in attaining that end. This week the members have put in a good deal of useful work, musketry instruction with practical demonstrations, and a further lecture on bombing, have been given and followed with great interest.

Route marches are very popular, and last Sunday morning a six mile march was undertaken and greatly appreciated. These route matches would no doubt be more frequent, but the weather during the past few weeks has been against outdoor training.

The following promotions have been recommended:— Acting Sergeant R. Matheson to be sergeant-major; Acting Corporal Smiles to be sergeant of No. 1 platoon; and Private Wm. Daglish to be corporal.

Mr Percy A, Harris, M.P., hon. secretary of the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps, stated that the King’s appeal for Volunteers would be enormously appreciated and should not only get the men now volunteering to come into the new scheme, but also bring in a large number of new recruits.


LEARMOUTH.— Died in France from pneumonia, Private Thomas Learmouth, Seaforth Highlanders, the dearly beloved husband of Lucy Learmouth, Ulgham.

MACKENZIE.— Killed in action, Jan. 5th, 1917, in his 31st year, Private John Mackenzie, the second son of Jane and the late William Mackenzie, 2 Vernon Place, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. Late of Bedlington Station. Deeply mourned.

THOMPSON.— Officially reported killed in action on July 1st, 1916, Bugler Henry Donninson Thompson, eldest and beloved son of William and Elizabeth Thompson, of Barrington; also the eldest grandson of Henry and Elizabeth Donninson, of Shieldfield; also George and the late Euphemia Thompson.


Private John Anderson, Ashington, has been killed in action.

Able Seaman Henry Renner Blyth, Bridge Street, Newbiggin, has been killed in action.

Private Thos. Marshall, 93 Newbiggin Road, North Seaton, has been missing since November 14th.

Private J.R. Weir, 20 Third Street, Netherton Colliery, has died of wounds received in action.

Mr Robert Dodds, joiner, has received news that his son, Private John Dodds, R.E., has been killed in France. Deceased was formerly a clerk with Mr Baxter, builder, Blyth.

Lance-Corporal James Watson, West Yorkshire Regiment, has been missing since 14th September, 1916. News from any of his comrades will be gratefully received by Mr and Mrs N. Watson, Rennington, Alnwick.

Mr J.W. Marshall, 70 Elsdon Road, Gosforth, has received news from the War Office that his son, Private James Marshall, of the Canadians, who was reported missing on September 26th, is now believed to have been killed in action.

Mrs Mackenzie, of 2 Vernon Place, Newbiggin, has received official news that her second son, Private John Mackenzie, was killed in action on January 5th. Deceased, along with his two brothers, joined up at the outbreak of war. Private John Mackenzie, who was in his 31st year, was a well-known local footballer, having, with his elder brother, played for Hirst United, Newbiggin and Blyth Spartans.


The annual meeting of the Northumberland Agricultural Society was held on Saturday at the Corn Exchange, Berwick. The Hon. F.W. Lambton presided.

Mr Rand moved that no show be held this year:— Mr Ritson seconded the proposal, which was agreed to.

Mr Glahome moved that the society support the following resolutions recently passed by the council of the Royal Agricultural Society:— “The council, while recognising that even the maintenance of the food production of the country is absolutely dependent upon the provision of an adequate supply of skilled labour, viz., horsemen, stockmen, shepherds and farm machinists, view with alarm the continued removal of farm labour from the land by the War Office, and urge the Board of Agriculture to do all in its power to prevent such labour from being further depleted.

“That the council are of the opinion that the policy of the fixing of maximum prices of cereals is a fatal policy, because it is certain to diminish the production of food in the country. They are also of the opinion that a guaranteed minimum should be offered for all cereals for a period of at least four years, and that four years’ notice thereafter shall be given before withdrawal. This would give confidence to agriculturists.”

The Government, he said, had succeeded in causing a feeling of uncertainty among farmers, and he was afraid that that would tend not to more production, but less.

Mr A.F. Nichol seconded the resolution, which was carried unanimously, and a vote of thanks to the chairman brought the meeting to a close.