The response of the men of the north east to Kitchener’s call in 1914 for a million recruits to create his ‘New Armies’ was probably the greatest of all the English regions.
The suggestion of forming so called ‘Pals Battalions’ of friends, workmates and groups with similar interests found a particular resonance amongst the communities of immigrant workers across the region and particularly on Tyneside and in the region’s coalfields.
The area was home to large numbers of first and second generation immigrants who had flocked to the expanding industrial works and mines.
Their families devastated by the tragedy of the great ‘potato famine’ of the late 1840s, large numbers of migrant Irish workers were forced to cross the Irish Sea and come to the area to find work.
By the early years of the 20th century the Irish community in the north east was a vibrant and significant segment of the local population.
It was natural therefore when the Scots of the region sought to form units with a Scottish identity, that the local Irish would seek to do the same.
After some reluctance on the part of the authorities in London had been overcome, the Tyneside Irish Battalion was sanctioned and ultimately a brigade of four battalions was formed.
They would fight with distinction throughout the war alongside their Scottish counterpart as two thirds of the 34th Division, and would suffer with them the highest casualties of any brigades in the disaster on the Somme in July 1916.
On Saturday, March 14, a new exhibition telling the story of the brigade will be on display at a ceilidh and fundraising evening at Linskill Community Centre.
A display by young dancers from the Tyneside Irish Centre with music provided throughout the evening, plus an auction and raffle with some unusual and attractive lots, will be raising funds for the project to support its expansion across the borough.
Jed Grimes will be performing music from his recent CD Far from Home’, produced by the project telling the story of the courage and endurance of the local men who answered their nation’s call.
Five Strung Out will set feet tapping as an evening of traditional music with an Irish flavour will get St Patrick’s weekend off in grand style.
Tickets (£6) can be bought from Keel Row Bookshop, Fenwick Terrace, Preston Road North Shields, and from Linskill Community Centre – including by telephone on (0191) 257 8000.
The next free talk at the Low Lights Tavern will be given by Tony Ball of the Western Front Association on Tuesday, March 10, at 7.30pm, on the topic of British Military Intelligence on the Western Front.
No tickets needed but be early as seating is limited.
The project’s major exhibition, which was staged at North Shields Library in the summer of last year, is now on display at Whitley Bay Customer First Centre in York Road until March 27.
Telling the story of the local community and the tragedy of the Great War, this will be a second opportunity to see the artefacts and story of the huge contribution of the region to the war effort.
Anyone with information about anyone who was killed or died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project.
The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project or how to get involved.
The address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.