Remembering teenage tragedy

An autumn scene at the weir at Guyzance.
An autumn scene at the weir at Guyzance.

Villagers and veterans will gather this weekend to pay tribute to 10 teenage soldiers killed in a wartime training exercise.

The Army recruits died on the River Coquet near Guyzance when their boat was swept over a weir and capsized on January 17, 1945.

The tragedy will be commemorated on its 70th anniversary this Saturday at 11am at the weir at Guyzance.

Three members of the Durham Light Infantry Association, including 88-year-old Burnett Seyburn, who was an 18-year-old Lance Corporal being trained to fight in the Far East on the day the accident took place, will be attending the service.

The troops were told at the time that they could not speak of the incident, but local historian Vera Vaggs discovered that the deaths had been reported in a newspaper at the time.

A coroner recorded that they had drowned while carrying out a military exercise in an assault boat, which had been accidentally swept over the weir, throwing them into the water. It was said that two days earlier, the exercise had been abandoned when two local men warned the officers it was dangerous.

The bodies were found at various places downriver in the following days and months, the last being recovered on May 28.

The young soldiers, some from the 10th Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, came from all over the country.

One of them, Private John William Wilson, is buried in St Andrew’s Cemetery at Newcastle.

The dead were Percy Gibson Clements, a shipyard slinger; Mark Sreidlieb, chemist; Alexander Leighton, window cleaner; John William Wilson, warehouseman; Ronald Herbert Winteringham, apprentice butcher; Kenneth Lee, butcher; Edwin King, apprentice pulp maker; Maurice Masterman Peddelty, clay differ; Harold Yates, shop assistant; and Norman Ashton, amusement park attendant.

Mrs Vaggs helped arrange the placing of a memorial at the site in 1995.

The poem on the copper plaque, by now deceased Northumbrian-Scots war veteran Charles Dick, who was captured at Dunkirk, ends: “Hallowed be the memory; of the forgotten ten; who shouldered arms as virgin boys; and died as active men.”