Rothbury, History Society

North East at war

Apart from D Dan Jackson’s PhD in British History, he has been one of the leading members of an ongoing research project into the impact of World War I on the Tynemouth borough, and spoke about it at Rothbury and Coquetdale History Society.

This is now being coupled with a project to trace the 7,000 men in the Dominions – Canada, Australia, Newfoundland, etc – who also fought in World War I. The researchers are keen to hear from anyone with family information.

World War I came at the end of a history of marshal valour and customs. Dan felt that it was a popular war, celebrating northern men fighting battles. The men of the hills, the Tyne and pits, all tough jobs, had the heart for war.

At the start of the war, employment was high and wages, particularly in the mines, were so high that many women did not work.

Dan pointed out that ever since the Romans left, the North East had been in more or less constant war or expectation of war – the Dark Ages, Vikings, and since the Norman Conquest, 700 years of war between England, Scotland and France. It is said that fighting in the North killed as many as the plague elsewhere.

The army had been continually fighting abroad and was said to be “sparky men and magnificent soldiers – if well led”. Dan suggested that the fighting spirit, macho culture and determination to win had become part of the North East’s DNA.

The men of the North East were tough and used to hard, physical, dangerous work. They could tolerate the awful conditions, dangers, and prospect of death. They kept cheerful, even after huge losses, feeling a sense of purpose and pride at winning.

Pits had even formed marches to join up, answering the call from such posters as the one for the Tyneside Scottish Battalion – “Enrol now – harder than nails”. The pits became so depleted that men were recalled from the trenches. Seventy-five per cent of eligible men volunteered. That finger-pointing advertisement, coupled with the tradition to ‘drop everything’ to go to defend your village, border or country was irresistible.

In the North East one in seven recruits was killed – the national average was one in eight, but some towns, villages and streets, bore the heaviest burden. Battalions were made up of neighbourhood groups and families, where nearly all could be killed in one battle. A marked street map of Tynemouth made this very clear.

After 1916, with the highest rate of deaths, new recruits were allocated to where they were needed.

During the rapid industrialisation of the North East, Lord Armstrong (Reiver name) had been researching and manufacturing armaments, not only for British control overseas and wars, but also for worldwide sale.

The next talk is What’s in a Name? The origin of place names of Coquetdale, by Dr Johnathan West. It includes a short AGM. It takes place tomorrow (Friday), at the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury, at 7pm for 7.30pm. Refreshments available. All welcome. Visitors £2.