Western Front Association, October meeting

At October’s Western Front Association meeting, Michael Hutchinson’s topic was the Teesside Pioneers in the Great War, the story of a unit raised in December 1914 by the town of Middlesbrough as an infantry battalion destined to serve in Kitchener’s ‘New Armies’, including the trials and tribulations encountered to equip and train it before it was sent to France.

Michael’s talk gave a brief history of Middlesbrough which, today, is recognised as one of the three great centres of the North East. It therefore came as a great surprise to one and all to learn that, in 1831, it was little more than a village with a population under 1,000 people.

The enormous development of the steel industry resulted in the equally rapid and massive growth of Middlesbrough.

Most of the men who responded to the call for volunteers came from that industry, so perhaps it was not surprising that shortly after being taken over by the War Office, in August 1915, the 12th (Service) Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment was selected for conversion to a Pioneer Battalion - such units were often described as ‘skilled and intelligent labour’ to work with and under guidance from the Royal Engineers.

Michael went on to describe the battalion’s service in France before it was reduced to a cadre in May 1918 and, shortly thereafter, absorbed by the 17th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment.

In September, Terry Dean, from Preston, was welcomed as he gave his talk ‘Several Battalion Commanders’ which focused on the records of five men who rose to command battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers. One of the five also commanded a Durham Light Infantry battalion.

Terry’s talk was lavishly illustrated and supported by three recorded narrators as he described the participation of the cast in the Great War and what happened afterwards to the three who survived. The eldest of the five had been born in 1858.

Part of Terry’s story focused on the youngest member of the group, Sir Gilbert Mackereth, who was born in 1892 and who later led a distinguished career with the Diplomatic Service before retiring in 1953, to live in Spain where he died in 1962.

The WFA’s next meeting, on November 26, will see Derek Gladding deliver his talk Pointers to the Great War: The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913.

Held at Alnmouth Ex-Servicemen’s Club, WFA meetings now start at 7.15pm for 7.30pm. Visitors and new members are always made most welcome. The suggested minimum donation is £1 to include a light buffet supper.