During WWI there were numerous groups of entertainers prepared to give their time freely and perform throughout the country to cheer up and boost the morale of soldiers at their camps and wounded soldiers in hospital.One such group was the ‘Happy Heatonians’ managed by Bob Colston, who lived at 127 Clifford Street, which was a 3 room flat in Byker. In 1917 Bob Colston (36), a postman, was living at home with his father, mother and sister.
It is not known when the ensemble was formed, but the first mention of Bob Colston performing as a comedian, was reported in the Daily Journal, Friday, 26 February 1915. This took place at the Collingwood Restaurant, Newcastle where the first annual dinner of the Scotswood Checkers of the Fuse and Shell Department at Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd took place. About 80 members attended.
Members of the ‘Happy Heatonians’ mentioned in subsequent newspaper articles were as follows (Not all appeared at each venue and they were not necessarily from Heaton.):
Mr Bob Colston – Organiser, Comedian and Mimic
Mrs G D Tetley – Mandolin Duettist
Miss Cockburn – Mandolin Duettist
Miss Peggy Lowrey – Banjo and Mandolin
Mrs T H Booth – Banjo and Mandolin
Little Rita* – Juvenile Entertainer
Madam Laura Fraser – Entertainer at Piano
Miss Gerty Moskow ** – Mezzo Soprano
Miss Lily Farrell – Comedienne
Corporal Bob Maitland – Scotch Comedian
Mr Taylor Scorer – Baritone
Miss Enid Carverhill – Comedienne
Miss Bella Angus – Soprano
Mr J B Cavan – Actor, Vocalist
Miss Lily Nicolson – Accompanist
Miss G. Makon
Mr G W. Beautyman
*Rita May Barker of 20 Tenth Avenue, Heaton, the daughter of William, a commercial traveller (flour milling) and Sophia, seem to fit the bill. She would have been aged 13 in 1917.
**At first we thought this must be a stage name but it is her real name as recorded in the 1911 census. The was the daughter of Samuel Moskow, a watchmaker and jewellerand his wife Julia. they lived in Elswick with Gertie’s sister and brother, Lily and Abraham Jacob.In 1917, she would have been 19 years old.
Newspaper Reports and Venues
23 January 1917 – North Shields YMCA – Variety concert to a crowded audience.
17 May1917 – Newcastle Naval Hostel – Where 587 men lived
12 October 1917 – Residents of Greystoke Avenue and Jesmond Vale arranged for a party of wounded soldiers to have tea and supper and be entertained by a programme of music performed by the ‘Happy Heatonians’.
27 October 1917 – Blyth YMCA Hut – Where a crowded audience of soldiers were given a concert.
4 December 1917 – Cambridge Hall, Northumberland Road – A fund raising concert for St John Ambulance, under the patronage of the Lord Mayor. Over 200 members of St John Ambulance are on active service.
29 January 1918 – North Wylam, Holeyn Hall, home of Sir Charles Parsons, the inventor of the Steam Turbine and of Turbinia fame. During WWI his private residence became the 14th Northumberland VAD Hospital, where a variety concert was given for the wounded soldiers.
18 November 1918 Holeyn Hall – A concert, directed by Mr Bob Colston and arranged by Mrs Manning of Wylam, was given for the wounded soldiers.
12 December 1918 Holeyn Hall V.A.D. Hospital Saturday Night Entertainment Committee offered their thanks to friends who have kindly entertained the wounded soldiers during the year. Amongst them was Mr Bob Colston. Others with Heaton associations that maybe of interest were:
Heaton Juveniles Dramatic Entertainment run by Madam Kendall and Mr Alfred Braford;
Addison Wounded Soldiers Entertainment Committee, who on 10 occasions invited the soldiers to half day entertainments at Wylam Institute and also at Ryton and Newcastle;
Addison Branch of St John Ambulance Association;
Addison Male Voice Choir.
The last three would have been associated with the Addison Potter colliery and village, just west of Blaydon and named after Addison Potter, the owner of Heaton Hall and the colliery.
1 August.1919 West Moor – A second ‘welcome home’ was held in the West Moor Council Schools for the soldiers residing in the West Moor and Forest Hall districts, who enlisted from Burradon Colliery.
The above was the last reported performance of the ‘Happy Heatonians’, nine months after the Armistice took place.
It certainly seemed that during WWI (as now!), ‘Heaton had Talent’ in abundance and it was put to good use, entertaining wounded servicemen, munitions workers and helping with fund raising events, all under the direction of Bob Colston.
Note: We cannot find any evidence that Bob Colston was conscripted to fight in WWI. He does not appear in the Newcastle Absent Voters List to indicate that he was away on active service. Whether he was not fit enough to join up is unknown, but his occupation was given as postman in the 1911 Census. Being in his mid thirties he would not have been too old to join up and fight for King and Country.
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group.
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