The South Tyneside boys who sacrificed so much

Troops during the First World War.
Troops during the First World War.

Today local historian Peter Hoy continues his account of the boy soldiers from South Tyneside who sacrificed so much fighting for king and country during the First World War.

He reveals that on Wednesday November 17, 1920, the Shields’ Gazette published a short letter from the proud father of William Wiltshire, of 70 Catherine Street, South Shields, who had served overseas at the Dardanelles and in France. William had enlisted in the Northumberland Fusiliers when he was 16 years and three months old.

“In response to this letter, the Gazette published two more letters from soldiers’ fathers a week later. In the first, we are informed that Anthony Robertson, of 29 Berwick Street (off Stanhope Road), was born in South Shields on May 10, 1900.

“He had enlisted in 3rd/9th Durham Light Infantry (Territorial) in May 1915 when he was just 15 years old.

“He arrived in France in March 1916, and spent his sixteenth birthday in the trenches.

“He was discharged for being underage in June, 1916.

“Yet in May 1917 he enlisted again, this time in the Grenadier Guards. Anthony Robertson’s death was registered in East Retford, Nottinghamshire, during the June quarter of 1971, aged 70 or 71.”

The other letter was from Mr William Martin, of 91 Palmerston Street, South Shields.

“He proudly informed Gazette readers that his son, William Alfred (born in South Shields on September 29, 1900), had enlisted in the West Yorkshire Regiment as Private 19935 on 10 May 1915, aged 14 years seven months.

“He had attended Holy Trinity Boys’ School, being admitted on August 17, 1908, and left on July 15, 1914.

“He was on active service at Gallipoli after undergoing four months training.

“He was then drafted to France, and discharged as being under-aged after being slightly wounded.

“He afterwards enlisted in the Royal Navy, and remained on active service to the end of the war.

“I had confidently presumed that William Alfred Martin would be the youngest boy to serve in The Great War, however this was not the case!

“I was extremely surprised recently to discover from the Dominion Geordies spreadsheet that two South Shields’ boys had enlisted in the Australian Army aged 14.

“Stanley Common was born on March 28, 1904 (South Shields, June q. 1904) and Anthony Vincent Burke was born on April 13, 1904 (South Shields, June q. 1904).

“Both boys had acknowledged their real ages, and had made no attempt to lie about their ages, yet, despite all the rules and regulations aimed at preventing such an occurrence, had been allowed to enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War.

“All of these boys deserve to be commended for their patriotism and courage.

“They were the product of an era which bred real men, our finest ever generation.

“Yet, might the photograph on this page be the youngest South Tyneside boy to serve in The Great War?

“He was Private Isaac Atkinson, 1/West Yorkshire Regiment, killed in action on October 19, 1915, age unknown.”