A poignant day of remembrance which was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of a teenage solder who was killed in action on his mother’s birthday has been described as a fitting tribute.
The special event took place in Shilbottle on Monday in honour of Gunner Robert Jeffrey Hughes. The 18-year-old from the village’s Lee Avenue lost his life on April 28, 1966, in Aden.
Gunner Hughes was serving with the 1st Regiment, The Royal Horse Artillery, when he was killed during fighting with dissident tribesmen in the mountains of the Radfan area. He was slain on the same day as his mother Elizabeth’s 43rd birthday and she received the tragic news by telegram a day later.
But while he was killed 50 years ago, his legacy lives on in Shilbottle. After the village’s war memorial was built in 2014, it was decided to honour the commitment that Gunner Hughes made to his country; his is the only name etched on the side of the memorial for conflicts post-dating the Second World War.
A series of fund-raising events have also been held in the village, at locations such as the Sports Club, the Farriers Arms and the Haven Community Room. Nearly £3,000 has been collected as a result and this will be spent on refurbishing the skateboard park and a plaque to Gunner Hughes will be placed there.
And as part of the commemorations, members of the Shilbottle and Hampeth Community Forum organised the day of remembrance, which attracted a large turn-out, including members of Gunner Hughes’ family and veterans.
The emotional day started with a piper playing the congregation into St James Church, Shilbottle, before the service at 11am. This was followed by a parade to the war memorial, led by marching pipe band, The Northumberland Scottish Pipes and Drums. There were also prayers at the Memorial Garden, with the bugler sounding the Last Post and Reveille.
At noon, there was a march past with the band. The parade went down Grange Road, along Kiln Lonnen, up Fallodon Avenue and back along Grange Road to the Sports Club, where refreshments were served.
Elisabeth Haddow, who is Forum chairman and vice-chairman of Shilbottle Parish Council, said: “There was a very good turn-out and it was a fitting tribute to Gunner Hughes. His family were absolutely overwhelmed. The service went very well and the band was superb.
“Forum members led the way and worked hard over the last few months to organise the day of remembrance and each and every member has to be thanked.
“Thanks too to Liz Wallace at The Farriers for organising events in her pub and Phillip Forsyth and Mark Ryder for the race night in the Sports Club. A special thanks to Jason Hood for joining the Forum and working extremely hard on his return to England.
“Through the fund-raising events, we have collected close to £3,000 for the skatepark and it has been a really good community effort.”
Gunner Hughes was the eldest son of a Shilbottle miner. A Roman Catholic, he attended St John’s RC Primary School in Alnwick and was in the first Form 1 of the newly-opened St Mary’s Secondary School on Blakelaw Road.
Three weeks before his 16th birthday, he joined the Army and after completing two years in the boys’ service he volunteered for service in Aden in October 1965. He was killed six months later.
The Northumberland Gazette reported the news. The contemporary article read: ‘A telegram which arrived at the home of a Shilbottle woman on Friday told her that her soldier son had been killed in action the day before – her birthday’.
Describing the shocking news, his mother Elizabeth told the Gazette: ‘It was my birthday on Thursday. When the telegram arrived on Friday, I thought it was a greetings telegram. I got a terrible shock’.