Town’s tribute to the fallen gives a fascinating glimpse into past

A march up Newburgh Street to support the war's wounded.
A march up Newburgh Street to support the war's wounded.

A fascinating and poignant new book paying tribute to the heroes from Amble and surrounding areas who were embroiled in the First World War has been released.

In Memory of the Fallen has been produced as part of a heritage project to create a more lasting memorial for the people of the town and nearby villages, such as Hauxley, Warkworth and Radcliffe.

This touching booklet, which has come about thanks to Heritage Lottery and Amble Town Council funding, focuses on life in the build-up to the war, as well as the years that followed.

There are tales of gallantry and heroism, yet ultimately stories of sacrifice and sorrow.

They are told through personal anecdotes, family recollections and coverage in local papers, including the Northumberland Gazette, which was then known as The Alnwick Gazette.

The free book has been compiled by town councillors Helen Lewis and Jane Dargue, as well as fellow Amble resident Jim Donnelly.

Coun Lewis thanked everyone who has been involved in the book and said: “Little has been written about the effect of the Great War on Amble and its hinterland, in particular the stories behind the names on the war memorials, the changes experienced by those who went to war, the community that was left behind and how the war changed the town and attitudes for future generations.

“The booklet forms only a snapshot of what this area was like then, but we hope that it will enable people, especially the younger generations, to more easily understand just what it meant to go to war and the hardships enforced by the separation and the death of a loved one.

“We hope that through this booklet we have, in some small measure, captured the spirit of our town and the surrounding villages during this life-changing time.”

The fascinating book explores life in the community before the war and the reaction to its declaration.

One extract from The Alnwick Gazette, concerning the outbreak of the war, reads: ‘The excitement in the town of Amble and indeed throughout the district this week has been intense. It reached its climax for the time being when war was declared between England and Germany’.

The booklet looks at war-time recruitment and how the area was frequently visited by Zeppelins. The gravity of the situation was not understood by everyone though, as there are accounts of people not turning out their lights at night.

One extract from the time states: ‘Amble is not yet alive to the full importance of obscuring its lights’, before adding: ‘In a certain street in Amble, there is a shop where two brilliant lights burn well into the night. At 10 minutes to 12 one night recently, the light from this business place illuminated a whole street’.

The book also explores the horror of fighting overseas.

In one extract, Private John Douglas, from Gordon Street, Amble, describes the brutality of battle and the unimaginable scenes of trench warfare.

His account was written from a hospital in Oxford after he had been ‘laid out’ at the charge of Hooge by an ‘explosive bullet which bursted on his face and shaved his head’.

He described how the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers ‘lost a lot of men’ after receiving an ‘awful cutting up’ by the enemy.

But he adds that the Germans lost thousands and remembers: ‘As soon as the enemy saw the cold steel they all started squealing and shouting for mercy, but they got none.

‘The dug-outs in the ground were full of Germans. They would not come out, so the bomb throwers just threw a bomb or two in and blew them out’.

Among the heroes featured in the book is James Calvert Spence, who was awarded the Military Cross on September 17, 1917, for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in proceeding to a battery that was suffering heavily from intense enemy shell fire and continuing to search blown-in dugouts and tending the wounded under heavy fire’.

Amble’s school federation, James Calvert Spence College, is named after him.

The book also tells the tale of some of those who were killed in action. Of the 179 names listed on Amble’s collective war memorials, retrospective reports in The Alnwick Gazette announced that the first five men from the town to be killed in action or missing, presumed dead, were Northumberland Fusiliers Laurence Fealey, George William Geggie, Alexander MacKay, Robert Stephen Mossman and William Nairn.

Fittingly, the book sheds light on the history behind the war memorials in Amble and Warkworth, as well as the monument in Radcliffe, which was relocated to Amble after the village was demolished in 1971.

The book is available from the town council office.

As part of the project, youngsters in the town produced a short film about the night during the First World War when a German Zeppelin flew over Coquet Island.

So much information was gathered for the book, the town council is planning to set up a website in the spring where all the information which didn’t make it into the book will be uploaded.

Coun Lewis said a similar project will be done for the Second World War.

Anyone who wants to contribute should call the town council on 01665 714695 or email