Meet the brave boy soldiers from South Tyneside

We still remember the soldiers' sacrifice today.
We still remember the soldiers' sacrifice today.

You will remember that local historian Peter Hoy recently wrote about Ancre, the battle which marked the end of the Battle of the Somme, and which claimed the lives of 31 South Tyneside men.

Peter reveals how other brave South Tynesiders who died during the Great War were mere boys when they paid the ultimate price for king and country.

“The youngest boy from South Tyneside to die in The Great War was Mess Room Steward George Alexander Fulthorpe (who served under the alias Robinson),” reveals Peter.

“His was one of 14 lives lost when the SS Barnton was torpedoed on April 24, 1917. His birth was registered in South Shields during the June quarter of 1903. He was 14.

“We know of seven South Shields boys, aged 15, who lost their lives during the war while serving in the Mercantile Marine, and who are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial, in London:

They are: - Second Cook William Ashford, SS Ethelinda, 29 January 1918; Assistant Steward Bert Finch, SS Powhatan, 6 April 1917; Mess Room Steward James McClarence Metcalfe, SS Powhatan, 6 April 1917; Assistant Steward George Edwin Phillips, SS Zambesi, 1 April 197; Apprentice Harry Lamond Ross, SS Heatherside, 24 August 1917; Mess Room Steward Robert Forrest Rossiter, SS Saxon, 7 May 1918, and Assistant Steward George Henry Wilson, SS Guildhall, 25 June 1917.

“Thanks to Joyce Bell’s painstaking research into the names on the Whitburn Methodist Church Roll of Honour (Joyce has succeeded in identifying all 46 men named on the monument, an admirable feat) we can now identify the two youngest boys from South Tyneside to be killed in action while serving in the British Army – both aged 16.

Peter says they are Private Thomas Buzzard (16050), 2/East Yorkshire Regiment (83 Brigade, 28th Division), 23 May 1915 (Second Battle of Ypres) and Private Robert Oliver (16715), 2/Northumberland Fusiliers (188 Brigade, 63rd (2nd Northumbrian) Division), 8 May 1915.

“Thomas Buzzard was born in South Shields on July 30, 1898 and baptised in St. Hilda’s Church on August 28, 1898,” explains Peter.

“He was the younger son of Edward Ernest (a coal miner born in Bishop Auckland) and Mary Buzzard (née Wilkinson; born in Castle Eden, County Durham) of 8 Bowman Street, Whitburn (in 1911).

“His parents were married in Hartlepool during the March quarter of 1893. He had five siblings: Annie, Elsie, Minnie, Florence May and Private Arthur William Buzzard, 8/East Yorkshire Regiment, 26 September 1915 (Battle of Loos), aged 21.

“Thomas, who worked at Whitburn Colliery, enlisted in the Army Service Corps in Sunderland on August 19, 1914, but was discharged on September 1 owing to a ‘mis-statement of (his) age’.

“He successfully re-enlisted on December 12 1914, claiming to be 18.

“He arrived in France on April 28 1915. He was five foot five and half inches tall, weighed 10 stones three pounds, and had brown hair and blue eyes.

“He left ‘effects’ valued at £2 6s 4d and a gratuity of £5 to his father.”

He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

“Robert Oliver was born in Whitburn, his birth being registered in South Shields during the March quarter of 1899. He was the son of Thomas (a grave-digger, born in Whitburn) and Jane Oliver (née Rickaby, born in Haswell) of 13 Bents, Whitburn (in 1911). Their marriage was registered in Houghton-le-Spring during the September quarter of 1894. He had three sisters, all born in Whitburn: Selina, Annie and Elizabeth. He arrived in France on March 10, 1915 and upon his death left ‘effects’ valued at £3 0s 1d and a gratuity of £3 to his father.

He too is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

“Both boys were locally commemorated on the Whitburn Parish Church Roll of Honour and the Whitburn Village Green Roll of Honour.”