How First World War affected community

Peace celebrations in Cleadon in 1918-1919.
Peace celebrations in Cleadon in 1918-1919.

It’s ironic that a bloom so closely associated with peace – the humble poppy – has provoked a war of words in Cleadon over the tidiness, or otherwise, of the site surrounding the village war memorial.

But then poppies aren’t tidy plants. When you see their red carpets across the battlefields of Flanders, it’s the very fact that they have a wild, almost defiant, beauty that touches you.

But that’s as far as I’m going to get into the argument!

Suffice to say that Cleadon and its families suffered loss in the same way as every other community during the First World War.

And once the conflict was over, it rejoiced in the same way too. This picture is of the peace celebrations that took place in the village in 1918-1919.

And although it can sometimes still feel like a tranquil, semi-rural corner of the borough, the Great War actually impacted on it in surprising ways.

There was the fact, for instance, that its environs were home to a military camp during the war (from which emanated a sensational court case in 1915 when a soldier from the Sherwood Foresters, who were billeted there, was charged with attempting to murder a colleague, having shot at him in a row over drink).

A shore defence battery on nearby Cleadon Hills must also have made an unsettling, though possibly sometimes reassuring, neighbour, such as on the occasion when its firing saw off a Zeppelin headed for Sunderland.

But a truly bizarre episode occurred just a few months after the outbreak of the war, in October 1914, when the out-house of a property in the village was demolished by shellfire.

The shot, from what was obviously a big gun, had come sailing across from the direction of Tynemouth. Numerous people heard and saw it come over Cleadon Hills, narrowly missing the water tower, and it led to fears, briefly, that a bombardment was underway from the sea.

As it was, it seems to have been a rogue shell, which landed in the yard of a house adjoining the village blacksmith’s, about 20 yards north of the village pond.

The occupant, Mrs Elizabeth Gibbon, was lying on a sofa in the kitchen at the time, and was consequently shocked, albeit unhurt, by the demolition of her wash-house.

A comment was: “It was stated that had it been a live shell, and burst, the greater part of the village would have been destroyed.”