Events to focus on history and consequences of war

The Response monument in Barras Bridge, Newcastle.
The Response monument in Barras Bridge, Newcastle.

Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project is supporting the Third Tynemouth (Ritson’s Own) Scout group at its open day this weekend.

The day will focus on Fred Greenacre, who died as a prisoner of war in Germany in July 1918, but who had previously been a significant figure in the establishment of the Scout movement in North Shields.

The day will feature the role of Fred and Colonel Ritson, a family owner of the Preston colliery, who was Lieutenant Colonel of the 16th Northumberland Fusiliers.

This battalion of the regiment was raised in Tyneside by the Newcastle and Gateshead Incorporated Chamber of Commerce and is one of the battalions commemorated on the famous Response war memorial, which stands in the Haymarket in Newcastle in the grounds of St Thomas the Martyr Church – one of the finest memorials of the First World War.

That memorial was funded by the Renwick family, another of the important families on Tyneside, who along with the Ritsons played a major part in stimulating and organising the upsurge of support and recruitment of volunteers.

The Ritson family owned three collieries in the north east; at Pontop and Burnhope in the Consett area, as well as the Preston Colliery in North Shields.

The miners’ families of Preston colliery paid a heavy price for their enthusiasm to follow their owner to war – 61 miners from Preston died in the war.

The open day is on from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday at the base in Billy Mill Lane, near Tynemouth Squash Club and former Cannon Inn on the Coast Road.

LECTURE SERIES

The final lecture in the project’s highly acclaimed series, organised in conjunction with the University of Northumbria, was delivered by Professor Joanna Bourke, of Birkbeck College, London University, on Tuesday, on the subject of armistice and disability.

Prof Bourke’s lecture was a thought-provoking and saddening exposition of the reality of the experience of those who survived the fighting but returned broken in body and/or mind, and who, despite the grand promises of the wartime years, found that they were to be reduced to an inconvenient and burdensome expense in the eyes of governments over the next 50 years.

The case history of one north east veteran, Lt Francis Hopkinson, a son of the vicar of Whitburn, from a comfortable family of the established middle class, was a sobering story of one man’s struggle to receive fair treatment and recognition of the extent of his disability, as he lived out a further 57 years of his life with a severe amputation of his leg.

He required three unsuccessful amputations leaving him in mental distress and chronic and daily pain for more than half a century.

His case involved numerous unsuccessful attempts to convince the authorities of the true extent of his disability including shell shock. For Hopkinson and thousands more, the war never ended up to the day of their deaths.

More than 80,000 cases of mental disability, related by Prof Bourke in her outstanding presentation, who were still recognised in the 1930s but seen then as an uncomfortable burden for the exchequer rather than a responsibility to make proper provision for the men and women who had in reality ‘lost their lives’, even if they lived on broken in spirit unable to resume a normal life outside mental institutions.

CONTACT

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 or to get involved.

The correspondence address is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.