Initiative setting sights wider to honour 5,000

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The new Northumbria World War One project, as outlined on these pages in the last few weeks, is due to start.

Covering the whole of North Tyneside, excluding the already-researched area of the old borough of Tynemouth that saw 2,000 combatant deaths, it aims to produce a database to include the details of every war death connected to the modern borough of North Tyneside.

Preparatory research indicates that there were a further 3,000 casualties, making a total of 5,000 in North Tyneside.

Backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project will research each combatant’s records, diaries, letters and artefacts, and attempt to attach photographs to names.

Volunteers are needed to aid in research, as well as relatives of the deceased coming forward with information.

For practical purposes, the project has divided North Tyneside into three areas – Whitley Bay, including Monkseaton, Shiremoor and West Allotment; Wallsend and Willington Quay; and Dudley, Seaton Burn and Forest Hall.

As the project prepares to get under way, we are entering an important month in the commemoration cycle of the 1914-18 war.

Yesterday marked the 99th anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

Nearly 20,000 died on the day, many of them in the first hour of battle.

That was the biggest single loss of life in one day by the British Army, with a further 37,000 being left wounded, captured or missing.

The British artillery had pounded the German frontline for many days before the battle in an attempt to obliterate the enemy’s defences.

The idea then was for the British troops to cross no-man’s land, capture the German trenches and make huge inroads into enemy territory.

The detonation of huge mines, planted under the German lines by British miners, many of them from the Northumberland and Durham coalfields, would be a prelude to attack.

Sadly, those plans went awry even before the attack was launched.

Messages of good luck to the troops from commanding officers were picked up by the Germans hours before, and one mine exploded 10 minutes early.

The Germans were alerted, and their trenches contained deep bunkers that resisted the avalanche of British shells, giving great protection to their soldiers.

As the British went over the top, the Germans emerged from their bunkers with machine-guns and their own artillery to mow down in swathes the advancing troops.

Soldiers such as Private Jonathan Gascoigne, of the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers, a Tyneside Scottish battalion, are named on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, indicating that he had no known grave.

Pte Gascoigne, 44, was the husband of Mary Gascoigne, of Station Road, Wallsend, whose name appears, as does that of fellow Wallsend resident Private John Pallace, of the 25th battalion of the Tyneside Irish.

He died while attacking the German stronghold of La Boisselle.

Newcastle United footballer Dan Dunglinson, of Whitley Bay, was among the many from the 16th battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Newcastle Commercials) to perish on July 1.

Tyneside Scottish lance-corporal George Edward Land, of Monkseaton, and the Tyneside Irish’s Albert Wainwright, 21, of Clayton Street, Dudley, perished too.

Over the coming weeks and months, regular articles will appear highlighting the sacrifices made by these and other casualties. Anyone with information about anyone killed in the war is asked to contact the project.

The Northumbria project will have a table at Wallsend Library on Saturday, and also at the Fisherman’s Mission event at North Shields Western Quay, from noon to 4pm.

The main project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors keen to learn more about our research.