Every generation has its own stories to tell

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It’s always lovely to hear where people’s family history researches have taken them.

Every generation has its tales to tell.

A good example would be Andrew Grant who I have been hearing from. Andrew, a member of South Shields Local History Group, has been delving into the stories of his father and grandfather, both called Lewis Grant.

During the Second World War, his father worked for Coun Edmund Hill at his auction rooms in Shields, which brought him into contact with some interesting characters, ranging from Viscount Ridley (later a Cabinet Minister under Margaret Thatcher) to a Jewish former professor at Vienna University, who had fled his native Austria ahead of the Nazis and settled in the town, where he opened a book shop (it would be interesting to know if anyone remembers it).

Here, Coun Edmund Hill is seen when he was Mayor of Shields in the 1930s, presenting a cup to a winner at the old greyhound track in Horsley Hill Road.

But it was his grandfather who had a not-quite-close but close enough encounter with someone truly, thrillingly, famous - Baron Von Richtofen, the First World War German flying ace known as the Red Baron.

Andrew’s grandfather was serving during the war when, through field glasses, he saw Von Richthofen, with his personal bodyguard and his ‘flying circus,’ the nickname given to his unit of fighter planes because of the brightness of their colouring.

But one thing intrigued Andrew.

“He also spoke with admiration for the Chinese soldiers his regiment served alongside and the good relationship between the different nationalities of the Allied forces. He recalled that many of the Chinese were over six feet tall and were from northern China.”

Chinese soldiers?

Andrew did some digging and learned indeed that, in 1916, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig requested that 21,000 labourers be recruited to fill manpower shortages caused by casualties.

China wasn’t in the war. However, what became known as the Chinese Labour Corps was recruited for service in France.

By the end of 1917, there were 54,000 Chinese labourers working alongside Commonwealth forces overseas, in roles such as digging trenches, clearing mines, maintaining vehicles and loading and unloading transports.

Says Andrew: “The men mostly came from the northern province of Shandong, where they have the highest average height of any province in China - so my grandfather was right.”