Monthly Archives: April 2015

Knitting Laws

During the First World War, the occupants of 15 Tenth Avenue, Heaton were a Mr and Mrs Laws and their nine children. We’ve been researching the family, and in particular Mrs Laws, for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project.

Comforts for the Troops

Deborah Dye was born in Sunderland in 1871, the daughter of a master mariner. Prior to her marriage to John Laws at the age of 20 years, she had worked as a dressmaker. You might think that Mrs Laws would have had enough to do, looking after her large family, but following the outbreak of the war, when she was in her mid-forties, she used her needlework skills to help the country. there are frequent mentions in the local newspapers of ‘Mrs Laws’ as a wool distributor and organiser of knitting of “comforts for the troops”.

There was major drive during the War to encourage those at home to knit clothing for sons, brothers and husbands at the front to keep them warm. It was also a way in which those at home could provide support and care for loved ones.

Knitting for the troops was promoted via popular culture

Knitting for the troops was promoted via popular culture

More unusual items of clothing included balaclavas with ear flaps that could be lifted so that soldiers could listen for the enemy and gloves that made it easier to fire a gun. Magazine and yarn manufacturers were mobilised to produce a range of special knitting patterns for these items. As wool became scarce, outgrown jumpers were unpicked to be knitted up again and sent to the front.

WW1 knitting pattern

WW1 knitting pattern

Most famously there was drive to knit socks. Lord Kitchener apparently asked Queen Mary to lead the movement to knit 30,000 pairs of socks, which were particularly important in maintaining foot hygiene and preventing “trench foot”. This was a harsh form of athlete’s foot, which at its severest, could lead to soldiers being unable to take part in combat. Nor were these knitting drives confined to Britain. 1.3 million pairs of socks were knitted by Australian women too!

Vested interest

But Mrs Laws may not have been acting purely out of altruism. Her two eldest sons and possibly two younger sons served in the forces during the war. William Joseph Laws reached the rank of Lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers, for a time working with the Chinese Labour Corps. The Chinese Labour Corps, comprising 140,000 Chinese workers were recruited by the Allies during the War to undertake a range of support work for the forces, to enable soldiers to fight on the front line. It seems that this corps was overseen by allied regiments. We know too that the Laws’ second son, David Neville Laws, served in the Merchant Navy. It may well have been that by organising the knitting, Deborah Laws felt that she was doing something to help her boys, their friends and other young men like them.

Long Life

John Laws, who in 1911 was a district manager for a drinks company, perhaps the job which brought the family to Newcastle, was to die in 1937 but Deborah lived to the age of 91 years. She died in Newcastle in 1962.

Can you help?

This article was researched by Jeanie Molyneux for Heaton History Group’s ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. If you can add to the story of the Laws family or anything mentioned in the article, please contact us, either by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are also looking for local volunteers to help teach children of Ravenswood Primary School to knit. If you think you might be able to help, please contact Chris via the email address above.

Rachel Parsons: queen of the machine

Rachel Parsons (1885–1956) was an engineering trailblazer, but she has disappeared from the pages of history – until now. The daughter and heir of Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine, she was the first woman to study mechanical sciences at Cambridge University and went on to become a director of Heaton Works, her father’s firm.

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel and Charles Parsons

Rachel and Charles Parsons in Charles’laboratory at Holeyn Hall, Wylam

During the First World War, she taught hundreds of women to make munitions and later founded the Women’s Engineering Society. In 1956 she met a violent death at the hands of a stableman who was well known to her.

Woman at Parsons' Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Woman at Parsons’ Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

The remarkable story of Rachel Parsons and the Parsons family will be told by Henrietta Heald, author of William Armstrong, Magician of the North, a highly acclaimed biography of Baron Armstrong of Cragside. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 12 August at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 10 June, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

Women of the Roman Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire for many generations and its military installations and personnel have had a great deal of attention from archaeologists and the public alike over the years. This lecture looks at the evidence for women also being present on the Wall. Who were they? Where did they come from? What were their lives like? are all questions that will be addressed with some surprising results at our talk on Wednesday 22 July 2015 (7.00pm for 7.30pm).

'Regina' from South Shields

‘Regina’ from South Shields

The speaker is Lindsay Allason-Jones, OBE, BA, Mlitt, FSA, FSAScot, FMA, FRSA. Lindsay Allason-Jones was Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies and Reader in Roman Material Culture at Newcastle University until she retired in 2011, having previously been Director of Archaeological Museums for the University, responsible for the Museum of Antiquities and the Shefton Museum of Greek Art and Archaeology. She is a Trustee of many of the Hadrian’s Wall museums and serves on the Board of Management of the Great North Museum. She is currently Chair of the Marc Fitch Fund and a Council Member and Past President of the Society of Antiquaries. She’s also, by all accounts, a very engaging, as well as extremely knowledgeable, speaker.

The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm.

Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 14 May, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

Newcastle’s War Hospitals

Newspaper articles from the First World War documented many gifts from the public to war hospitals in Newcastle. These included: a muffler, games, two pairs of socks, one pair of bedsocks, magazines and stationery from Mrs Lumley of Sixth Avenue on behalf of the British Women’s Temperance Association to the Northumberland War Hospital; lettuces from Mrs Wood of Seventh Avenue to the No 1 Northern General Hospital; a contribution from Mrs Whitfield of Ninth Avenue to purchase a bell tent for the Northumberland War Hospital and a gift of cigarettes by William Castle of Tenth Avenue to ‘Armstrong College Hospital’, all of which came to light during research for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project.

In total, Newcastle had over 3000 military hospital beds as well as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in Pendower Hall, run by the Red Cross and a St John’s Ambulance Hospital in Jesmond, both of which would have been used for convalescence. Patients would arrive by train and were cared for by huge numbers of doctors, nurses and orderlies, often drawn from providing care to the rest of the population or given only basic training as volunteers.

No 1 Northern General Hospital

Work on the building of Armstrong College, now the original buildings of Newcastle University, had started in 1888, with the third and final stage being completed in 1914. However, before the college could occupy the building, it was requisitioned by the government along with the rest of the college buildings for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital on the outbreak of World War I. The No 1 Northern General Hospital had capacity for 104 officers and 1420 other ranks. The hospital worked very closely with the Royal Victoria Infirmary, which had only recently opened (the last patients having moved from the old infirmary on Forth Banks in 1908).

The arrangement included provision of an additional 112 beds for military use at the RVI, created in the spaces between the ward blocks, as well as the RVI providing specialist functions such as x-ray, an arrangement that was not without its problems. On 9 October, Lieutenant Colonel Gowans, Officer in Command of No 1 Northern General wrote to the matron of the RVI, informing her that the army would, due to the pressure of war demands, be removing Territorial Army Nurses from staffing these beds at the RVI.

A special meeting was called on 15 October, to which Colonel Gowans was invited, which evidently became quite heated. The argument was around who should bear the cost of nursing patients in the military requisitioned beds as well as how and at what cost, additional accommodation could be provided for the extra nurses. The house governor estimated that the additional cost to the RVI would not be less than £1,000 per year and senior staff of the Infirmary were of the view that this should be borne by the Government. An additional cost of 6d per head per day was suggested, on top of the 3/- per day already paid. Colonel Gowan questioned whether there was indeed any additional cost to be borne by the Infirmary, at which point the house governor replied:

that it was a well known fact, easily verified by any of the reports of the large hospitals, that a hospital bed cost about £100 per year to maintain; as 3/- per day came to £54 per year, there was a balance on the wrong side of between £40 and £50. Moreover, about half of the operations performed on territorial patients had been done in this Infirmary and at the cost of this Infirmary, and in the theatres nursed by civil nurses; that the electrical treatment for the Armstrong College had been done in this Infirmary by our nurses; that the X-ray work for the College had been done here and that we had borne the cost of all plates, materials etc, with only one orderly to assist in the department; that all the bacteriological and pathological work had been done here; that Mr Wardale uses the large operating theatre in ward 3 for military cases from the college; that many thousands of the troops had been inoculated in the Infirmary; that the mortuary and post mortem rooms were used by the College; and that by making use of these departments, they have saved themselves the expense and trouble of providing and running these departments themselves. It was stated again that the Committee desired to make no profit out of this matter, but they thought it desirable that the help which they had already given should be recognised rather more in the future than it had been in the past.”

Colonel Gowan’s response is not recorded!

This incident aside, it is evident that the RVI and the military hospital worked closely together throughout the war. Many of the RVI’s medical staff received honorary commissions and spent periods of up to a year caring for troops either at the front or in UK military hospitals. So much so, that the RVI’s 1916 annual report for the surgical department records that four of the eight honorary surgical staff and two of the four surgical registrars were away throughout the year on military service ‘throwing much extra work on those who were left’, so much so, that statistics on the surgery carried out were not available, but the report does acknowledge that work done by senior students to fill in for house officers.

The RVI also provided training for Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Nurses, who received a month of basic training before being used to supplement the qualified staff, both at home and at the front. The VAD nurses can clearly be seen in the staff photo of the 1st Northern General as they wear a Red Cross on their apron.

1st Northern General Staff 1916

1st Northern General Staff 1916

The RVI and the military hospital also worked closely on the creation of a military orthopaedic Hospital, following a model already established in Leeds. The intention was to provide specialist rehabilitation facilities for soldiers who had lost or damaged limbs. An initial meeting was held on 25 September 1917 to discuss plans for a facility with up to 1500 beds, to be built on the RVI site. On 15 October, a meeting of the Committee and local dignitaries welcomed the former King Manuel II of Portugal, who had been deposed in 1910 and made himself available to the allies in support of the war. He was assigned to a post in the British Red Cross, much to his disappointment, but played a very active role in supporting the organisation during the war. The Red Cross promised to provide funding of £2,500 for equipment and a further £10,000 was promised from the War Office, but only when a total of £45,000 had been gathered from local fund raising efforts. It was September 1918 before the funds were raised and when, on 3 December, the Committee received a letter from Major General Bedford asking that completion of the centre should be expedited so that patients could be moved from the Northern General, so that the College could be evacuated, building still hadn’t started. By June 1919, the work was finally underway having been slowed down by the lack of builders and materials, although arguments were still going on in 1924 about the ownership of equipment and facilities. The three wards eventually built (pavilions 1,2 and 3), along with other support and facilities remained in use until the 1970s.

Despite the many hardships and difficulties the war posed for soldiers and staff, there was also evidence of the comradeship and sense of humour of those working together in the hospitals, as can be seen by this playbill for entertainment put on during the war. The spoof adverts in particular provide a window on the circumstances they were living through.

HOSPParasite programme 1 (2) HOSPParasite programme 2 (2)

HOSPParasite programme 3 (2)


Northumberland War Hospital

On 24 February 1915, Alderman William H Stephenson informed the city council that arrangements had been made with the government authorities for the utilisation of The City Asylum as a hospital for the forces, and for the patients being temporarily accommodated in other asylums.

The City Asylum, which we now know as St Nicholas’ Hospital in Gosforth, had opened in 1869, having been built on a 50 acre farmstead, known as Dodd’s Farm. It was built in response to chronic overcrowding in local hospitals for the mentally ill and reflected the latest medical thinking concerning care of the mentally ill. It had capacity for over 400 patients and included its own farm among other amenities.

Plans moved quickly, reflecting the urgent need for hospital provision for injured troops brought home from the front and, on 19 May 1915, Alderman Stephenson, chairman of the Lunatic Asylum Visiting Committee presented a report to the council setting out the arrangements for the operation of the Northumberland War Hospital.

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 3 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 4 (2)

HOSPwar hospital xmas card 5 (2)

In order to clear the asylum of patients, arrangements were made to transfer them to the care of other nearby local authorities. The report noted that the Board of Control had permitted a certain percentage of overcrowding in the receiving asylums. One can only imagine the impact of these arrangements on the mentally ill patients, uprooted and moved around the region. However, it freed up a substantial and modern hospital site to meet the urgent need to care for injured troops returning from the war.

Alderman Stephenson’s report goes on to set out the arrangements for the operation of the hospital for the duration of the war. The Visiting Committee were to retain the lay administration of the hospital, with the payment by the Army Council of:

• Charges in connection with the buildings and equipment; and
• Charges in connection with the maintenance of staff and soldier patients.

The hospital was handed over as a going concern with the whole of the staff, medical, engineering, stores, farm etc and the nursing and attendant staff. The War Office was to assume sole responsibility for the medical care and treatment of the soldiers and the management of the hospital. Lieutenant Colonel Prescott DSO RAMC was appointed Administrator and the Acting Medical Officer of the Asylum, Dr McPhail was appointed Registrar, with the rank of Major. The nursing staff was augmented and the whole of the male attendants at the asylum transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps for the duration. The nursing staff were to be accommodated in a newly built nurses home and additional villa blocks, which were still under construction. The medical staff were to be accommodated in tents in the grounds. The Northumberland War Hospital, when it opened in the summer of 1915 had accommodation for 1040 patients, two and a half times the number previously accommodated on the site, which gives some indication of both the degree of overcrowding and the urgent need for hospital provision.

Brighton Grove Hospital

In addition, in Newcastle alone there was specialist venereal disease provision for 48 officers and 552 other ranks at Brighton Grove Hospital (on the site of the old Newcastle General). Sexually transmitted disease (Venereal Disease or VD) was a huge issue in the forces before the days of effective barrier contraception or treatments. When British soldiers set off for the trenches in 1914, folded inside each of their Pay Books was a short message. It contained a piece of homely advice, attributed to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, which included:

You are sure to meet a welcome and to be trusted; your conduct must justify that welcome and that trust.
Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound, so keep constantly on your guard against any excesses.
In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women.
You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

In his memoirs Private Frank Richards, who served continuously on the Western Front, recorded men’s responses to these words: “They may as well have not been issued for all the notice we took of them.”

Licensed brothels had existed in France since the mid-19th Century – the war saw the trade flourish. Brothels displayed blue lamps if they were for officers and red lamps for other ranks. Outside red lamp establishments, queues or crowds of men were often seen.

Cpl Jack Wood compared the scene he witnessed to “a crowd, waiting for a cup tie at a football final in Blighty“. Others saw brothel visits as a physical necessity – it was an era when sexual abstinence for men was considered harmful to their health. Physical need made it more acceptable for married men, rather than single men, to visit prostitutes. Twenty-four hours before the major British offensive of the Battle of Loos, Pte Richards saw “three hundred men in a queue, all waiting their turns to go in the Red Lamp”.

Brothel visits could also be a way to avoid death. They gave soldiers a chance to swap time in the trenches for a few weeks in a hospital bed. According to Gunner Rowland Myrddyn Luther, who enlisted in September 1914, and served through to the Allied advance of 1918, a great many soldiers were prepared to chance venereal disease, rather than face a return to the front.
The numbers infected were “stupendous“. Around 400,000 cases of venereal disease were treated during the course of the war. In 1916, one in five of all admissions of British and dominion troops to hospitals in France and Belgium were for VD.

Walkergate Hospital

Council Minutes record that Mr Stableforth had been approached by the military authorities requesting that the Sanitary Committee could handle their cases of infectious diseases at Walkergate Hospital (Walkergate had been built in 1888 as an infectious diseases hospital). It was reported that there was insufficient accommodation, but that it had been agreed that two additional pavilions could be constructed to accommodate the military patients. The design of Walkergate, and presumably the temporary ‘pavilions’ was to provide a single story ward with a long covered verandah, where patients could be wheeled outside for fresh air, which was considered vital to their recovery, particularly with conditions such as TB. A subsequent minute records contracts with:

• Stanley Miller to build the new pavilions at a cost of £2,126/8/-;
• Walter Dix and Co to provide heating and hot water at a cost of £261/2/8; and
• William T. Wallace for making roads into the new pavilions.

The pavilions were built on the east side of Benfield Road, opposite the main hospital and were intended to be removed after the war. In practice, they remained in use, though not as part of the hospital until 1979.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Heaton History Group member, Michael Proctor, as part of our HLF funded project, ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’. A display about the civilian war effort of the people of the avenues will open at the Chillingham pub in early May 2015 and will be in place for approximately two months.

Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for permission to use the photographs in this article.

If you can provide any further information about Heaton connections to the hospitals, please either leave a message by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Henner Hudspeth

Hearing Henner Hudspeth

We recently published Jean Walker (nee Pretswell)’s account of growing up on Cardigan Teraace. She referred to her next door neighbour: ‘On the left side, at number 11, was Henner Hudspeth. He had a dance band and used to practise in the house – noise pollution! It wouldn’t be allowed nowadays!’

Henner Hudspeth

Henner Hudspeth practising his accordian

Bandsman

Jean’s memories prompted Heaton History Group member, Ian Clough, to do some further digging. Ian takes up the story:

‘No sooner had I read Jean’s recollections, than my memories were transported back in time, vividly picturing the painted sign above the front door of number nine Cardigan Terrace reading ‘PRETSWELL’S REMOVALS’, when I remembered my friend, Tricia Easby, once telling me that her father Henry Hudspeth was born at number 11. And sure enough he is found there, aged two, in the 1911 census, “But who was Henner Hudspeth?” , I hear you asking. Well, stick a lad in a group of others long enough and the chance is he’ll end up with a nickname and that’s what happened to Henry Hudspeth, the Victor Silvester of Heaton aka Henner Hudspeth. Here he is as a young man playing accordion in Al Moore’s Band at The Heaton in 1933:

Al Moore's band at the Heaton, 1933

Al Moore’s band at the Heaton, 1933

‘And here, with a little imagination we can read the banner as ‘HENNER HUDSPETH AND HIS BAND’ and the singer is apparently ‘Edna’, the name pencilled on the back of the photo but Edna who? Henner formed a dance band and played at the time when ballroom dancing was in its heyday. The band played at many venues but the principal ballrooms in Heaton at the time were ‘The Heaton’ and the ‘Grosvenor Ballroom’. The latter is still to be found on Chillingham Road.

Henner Hudspeth and his band

Henner Hudspeth and his band

And below, the band is caught in full swing but had they literally gone to the dogs playing at Brough Park? The music stands would suggest so.

Henner Hudspeth's band

Henner Hudspeth’s band

The Hudspeth family

‘Henner had good taste, marrying a Heaton lass, Anne (Nancy) Sweeney from Plessey Terrace, at St Gabriel’s Parish Church in 1939.

Henner and Nancy Hudspeth on their wedding day

Henner and Nancy Hudspeth on their wedding day

‘And here are other members of his family, as mentioned in the 1911 census’.

Henner Hudspeth with his mother and father

Frank Hudspeth with his mother and father

Emma Hudspeth

Emma Hudspeth

Arthur Hudspeth

Arthur Hudspeth

The final photograph is of older brother, Arthur, who as previously mentioned in the article, ‘Cardigan Terrace: the memories live on’ was killed in WW1. He was a teacher at Westgate Hill School and is remembered on the Cuthbert Bainbridge Wesleyan War Memorial, now held in storage at St Cuthbert’s on Heaton Road.’

Can you help?

Lots of readers must have heard Henner Hudspeth and his band or danced at the venues mentioned. Please share information or your memories either by adding a comment to the site (by clicking on the link just below the article title) or emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Fred Robinson's gravestone

Fred Blenkinsop Robinson: teenage soldier who died of flu

Frederick Blenkinsop Robinson was born on 19 March 1900 and lived his entire life on Sixth Avenue, Heaton. He was the third of four children born to Joseph and Margaret Robinson. Joseph was a commercial traveller, born in York. He married Margaret Jane Blenkinsop of Newcastle in 1895 and the couple lived at no 13 Sixth Avenue. The 1911 census shows Joseph, aged 39 and Margaret, aged 41, living with their four children: Margaret May, aged 15; Joseph, aged 13; Frederick Blenkinsop, aged 11; and Thomas, aged 9. The family also had a lodger, William Blenkinsop, a 26 year old railway porter, who must have been a relative of Margaret.

Young life

Fred would have been only 14 at the start of the war and, like his siblings, was a pupil at Chillingham Road School. After leaving school, he became an apprentice fitter at Henry Watson and Sons Engineering Works in High Bridge, Walkergate. The company made cylinder blocks for commercial and marine engines as well as specialist pumps. An article in Commercial Motor on 5 September 1912, notes that the London General Omnibus Company were using cylinder blocks and pistons from Henry Watson and Sons exclusively for their B-type buses. The article particularly praises the quality of the work produced at the Walkergate factory in a new foundry specially built to produce commercial vehicle engines components.

Fred was almost too young to have been involved in the war and certainly too young to have fought at the front (young men could join up at 18, but weren’t posted to the front until they reached 19). Yet he died on 1 March 1919, 18 days short of his 19th birthday, some four months after the end of the war and is listed as a casualty of war, buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at Byker and Heaton Cemetery. 

Fred Robinson's gravestone

Fred Robinson’s gravestone

His is a particularly sad story among many such stories from the war.

Military service

It is likely that Fred’s older brother, Joseph, had joined the forces when he was 18, two years before although no record of his military service survives. We know that he survived the war and is mentioned in a list of family in Fred’s military record. Fred was obviously keen to sign up to do his military service, as he attended his initial medical assessment on 26 March 1918, one week after his 18th birthday. He passed this and was enlisted on 19 April. On 19 August, 102540, Private Frederick Robinson of the 5th Reserve Battalion of The Durham Light Infantry was called up and posted to Sutton on Hull in East Yorkshire for his initial training.

Fred was in hospital – the St John’s VAD Hospital in Hull – when the armistice was signed, having fallen ill with diarrhoea on 10 October, which he took 35 days to recover from. He might reasonably have expected that his time in the army would either be short or would at least involve less risk of death or serious injury. In Fred’s case, his discharge was rather shorter than he might have expected. By December, a process of discharge on the grounds of disability had started. On 13 December in a personal statement, Fred records that he has chronic discharge from both ears and resultant deafness. This had started about a month before he had joined up, but had got worse since.

When he examined Fred on 30 January, Lieutenant JD Evans of the Royal Army Medical Corps recorded that ‘there is a high degree of deafness and discharge from both ears. He says that this is worse since joining the army and he has certainly become more deaf since joining the unit. He is utterly unable to hear any commands unless they are shouted close to his ears and he is quite unfit for camp life.’ He recommended discharge on the grounds that he was permanently unfit. Today, we would think little of an ear infection which would be quickly and effectively treated with a course of antibiotics, but in 1918 it could be a permanent disability, leaving lasting damage even if and when the infection cleared up.

On 2 February, Fred was transferred to the OC Discharge Centre at Ripon to prepare for discharge. Six days later, he was admitted to the Military hospital at Ripon with influenza. The medical record notes that he was admitted unconscious, before going on to develop bronchopneumonia and late emphysema. On 26 February, an attempt was made to relieve the emphysema surgically, but to no avail. Fred died on 1st March, with his family with next of kin with him.

Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic ran from January 1918 to December 1920 and was unusually deadly It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them: three to five per cent of the world’s population. Two factors made it particularly deadly. Firstly, the unique conditions of the war. While the location of the first cases is disputed, the crowded and unsanitary conditions at the front made an ideal breeding ground. What is more, cases of flu are often limited by having sufferers stay at home. During the war, the opposite happened, with those affected transferred away from the front to hospitals both locally and in the soldiers’ home country, spreading the disease around the world. Secondly, flu most often affects the weakest, killing the young and old and those with existing medical conditions. The 1918 pandemic killed mainly healthy adults. Modern research has concluded that the virus killed through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body’s immune system). The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; but papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII), creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, thus the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

 Commemoration

In his report of Fred’s death, Major PW Hampton noted that ‘in my opinion death was attributable to service during the present war, viz exposure and infection on Home Service’. By doing so, he ensured that Fred could be buried in a Commonwealth War Grave and that his family would be entitled to a memorial scroll and plaque as well as service medals. This must have been of some comfort to his grieving family. Fred’s service record includes a copy of the slip that accompanied the memorial scroll to confirm receipt. This notes that the plaque will be issued directly from the Government plaque factory.

After the end of the war in 1918, Britain began the long process of commemorating the service of those who had lost their lives during its course. As part of this, the government issued to their next-of-kin (in addition to any of the standard campaign medals an individual might have been entitled to had they lived) what was known as the Memorial Plaque and the Memorial Scroll. The plaque was a bronze disc, about 5 inches in diameter, and depicted Britannia holding a trident whilst standing with a lion, holding an oak wreath above a rectangular tablet bearing the deceased’s name cast in raised letters. Rank and regiment was not included, since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals.

WW1 memorial plaque

WW1 memorial plaque

This was complimented by the Memorial Scroll, which provided additional information as to rank, branch of service or any decorations awarded.The scroll itself was a little smaller than a modern A4 sheet of paper, printed on thick card, and came in three main varieties. Those to the Army had a large blue H in the main text, with the rank/name/regiment hand-written at the bottom in red ink. Those to the Navy had a large red H, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in blue ink. Finally, those to the RAF had a large black H in the main text, with the hand-written naming at the bottom in both red and blue ink.

WW1 memorial scroll

WW1 memorial scroll

Clearly there was some delay in the issuing of plaques as a letter from Fred’s mother, Margaret, dated 13 November 1921 enquires about a memorial plaque and medals.

Margaret Robinson's letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

Margaret Robinson’s letter requesting a plaque and Victory Medal for her son

.

Fred was also commemorated on war memorials at Chillingham Road School and St Gabriel’s Church in Heaton.

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

Chillingham Road School War Memorial

St Gabriel's Church War Memorial

St Gabriel’s Church War Memorial

Postscript

Fred wasn’t the only young person from the Avenues or from Heaton known to have died of flu (or as the result an unnamed disease thought likely to be influenza) during the 1918-19 pandemic. They include:

Able Seaman John James Hedley of 12 Eighth Avenue, husband of Corrie Hedley and formerly a boot salesman, who died on 16 October 1918 and is buried at Saint Andrew and Jesmond Cemetery.

This list will be updated as our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research progresses.

Heaton Avenues in Wartime

This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, with additional input by members of our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ research team. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If you have further information about anything relating to the article, please get in touch either via this website (by clicking on the link immediately below the article title) or by emailing: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org