Help for families back at home

A soldier watches over No Man's Land. Photo courtesy of PA.
A soldier watches over No Man's Land. Photo courtesy of PA.

Today local historian Dorothy Ramser concludes her dramatic account of the brutal First World War Battle of the Somme.

“On July 15, the Gazette featured a Shields soldier’s rousing story of the Tyneside Scottish troops’ first day of the Somme,” reveals Dorothy.

Private John S Walters wrote to his friend Mr Fenwick of South Shields: “Just a few lines to let you know that I have been wounded in the foot and am now in hospital.

“I was hit on the 1st of July in the great advance. It was a sight I will never want to see again as long as I live, I can tell you.

“The boys went over just as though they were going to a football match, and the Tyneside Scottish played the pipes right up to the Germans’ front line of trenches.

“We went over at half past seven on the Saturday morning and the sun was scorching hot. We were not long in taking their trenches and a lot of prisoners – a brigade general and all his staff. The boys began to bring back all sorts of things, helmets,watches, rings, pipes and various other things.”

Back home, many families were facing hard times with their menfolk away at war. As a result, a local newspaper launched an appeal to raise funds for dependants of soldiers from the Tyneside Scottish Brigade.

“It received many requests from wives for partly-worn clothing and boots for their families,” Dorothy reveals. “They had, at that time 800 cases of appeals for assistance, and as far as had been possible with the funds they had available, they were able to give financial and other help.”

The newspaper reported that it received a steady stream of letters from soldiers of the Tyneside Scottish Brigade, to tell them how much they appreciated the help given, and the fact that their families had someone to turn to in case of difficulty.

Specific cases listed included a mother of four boys and two girls, all under 16.

“With the boys barefooted, the mother received 29 shilling separation allowance, minus four shillings rent, leaving 25 shillings per week for seven persons.

“Then there was a mother of three boys and four girls, all under 16, one of whom was sick. Net income, after deducting rent, was 22s 6d.

“Also, a mother of seven girls and three boys, again all under 16, had to rely on a net income of 30s 10d, while a mother of four boys, all under 11,one of them being a baby in hospital, and the other three sickly, urgently needing boots.

“A mother of 10, eight of whom were under the age of 16, also sought help.”

And the public were quick to rally round to help, providing the appeal organisers with babies’ clothing, children’s clothing, women’s clothing and children’s boots.

Dorothy goes on to reveal that after long and bloody fighting, on April 22, 1922, Marechal Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander, during the final year of the war, unveiled the Tyneside memorial seat at La Boisselle.

“The central plaque depicts a warrior on horseback fighting a dragon. The inscription reads: ‘Greater love hath no man than this he lay down his life for his friend’ and ‘Think not that the struggle was in vain’ – poignant words to describe the valour displayed by the men of the North East 100 years ago.

“Nearby, at the Lochnagar Crater, is a wooden cross, erected in honour of the Tyneside Scottish and Irish Brigades, in 1986. The wood used was from beams from a church in Durham.

“A simple but perfect place for visitors from the region to place wreaths in memory of loved ones.

“Charles Howey is remembered in St Hilda’s Church, at the market place in South Shields, where a beautiful plaque is displayed of the fallen, paid for by the Durham Miners’ Association.

“We must never forget the sacrifice made by these ordinary men from Tyneside.”

In conclusion, Dorothy recalls the words of Rupert Brooke.

If I should die, think only this of me;

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.