Demobilisation proves more troublesome than going to war

WHEN the First World War broke out in August 1914 a well-oiled plan was immediately put into action and the first units of the small British Expeditionary Force were mobilised for transfer to France in a matter of days.

Plans worked out in advance meant horses, wagons and trains to get units to the Channel ports all slotted together like clockwork.

Similarly, in September 1918, the government, sensing that defeating Germany was now only a question of when and not if, began to plan for the mass demobilisation of more than four million men.

Elaborate plans on paper were devised to cope with the need to maintain units in a condition for possible reconstitution for further offensive action, although this was not considered likely.

The lottery of who went home first seemed unfair to some, when men who had been with a unit from being raised in the heady days of autumn 1914, saw young conscripts only recently come out to France being packed off home whilst they remained in a state of limbo not even knowing when they might be likely to get the eagerly awaited notice of being in the next draft.

The history of the 19th (Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (Pioneers), recorded meticulously throughout the war by their Adjutant Captain C H Cooke MC, shows that they had been in France since January 29, 1916, following being raised by the Newcastle and Gateshead Chamber of Commerce in November, 1914.

Writing in the official commemorative historical records of the battalion, Capt Cooke noted with some of the acidic disdain which those who had done the actual fighting of the war reserved for those at home, the complexities and apparent unfairness of the process by which men were withdrawn from units and transferred home for demobilisation.

Men were allocated a group number for demobilisation which was entered into their pay-book and they had to go according to that classification regardless of time spent at the front or other circumstances.

Even miners, desperately needed at home, were not in the first group but were soon making their way home once Cooke had worked his way through the mass of paperwork required by the higher authorities.

Cooke calculated that it took ‘one yard, one foot and two and a half inches, (140cms approximately) of paper to demobilise any one man.

A few unfortunate men and officers found that they were designated for retention on the cadre, a nucleus of experienced men who it was decided would be the final group retained until it was finally decided to disband any particular unit.

For the many men of Tynemouth who had enlisted in this unit, the war would finally be over on May 3, 1919, but for some it had ended much earlier in their deaths or permanent disability.

The three volumes of histories of the 16th, 18th, and 19th Battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers, raised by the Chamber of Commerce in 1914, provide a wealth of information for anyone keen to research a man in their family who may have served with those units.

The local studies section of North Shields library holds copies of all three volumes but these can only be viewed in the library.

Some copies are to be found in local bookshops from time to time but can cost up to £85 each depending on condition.

Every man who served and the families of those killed were presented with a copy.

A few tickets for the next talk to be held at 7.30pm on February 26 at the Low Lights Tavern, on the topic of the campaign in Mesopotamia, are still available from Keel Row book shop or the project workroom and the Low Lights.

Anyone with information on those in the casualty list, or of relatives who fought in the war, can visit the Workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the former Tynemouth Borough who were killed or died in February 1920 and 1921.

Spink, Joseph Stalker, age 40, Sapper, Tyne Electrical Engineers, RE, died 3rd, gastric ulcers, 21 Murton Row, Percy Main, husband of Mary Jane nee Hetherington, engine fitter, Backworth Colliery, home service only. No CWGC records.

Wear, Abraham, age 37, Sergeant, 25th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Irish), previously 21st Battalion Tyneside Scottish), discharged October 21, 1918, permanently unfit for further service, died February 19, 1920, 28 Post Office Lane, son of Mr and Mrs Anthony Weir, of Australia, he left six children. Buried in Preston cemetery.

Appleby, Robert, age 46, Northumberland Fusiliers, died at home, February 26, 1921, 54 Linskill Street, husband of Mary Elizabeth (Polly).

Elston, Stanley Gordon, age 30, Private RAMC, died February 5, 1921, 2 Silver Street, Tynemouth, son of Elias and Jane, of Crediton, Devon, husband of Mary A, nee Casey, 1911 –serving with RAMC in Hong Kong.

Lowe, Anthony, age 39, Gunner RGA, 95th Siege Battery, previously Private RAMC, transferred to RGA October 27, 1917, died February 28, 1921, 149 Grey Street, husband of Mary Jane nee Brown.


KIA – killed in action

DOW – died of wounds

LAS – lost at sea

NF – Northumberland Fusiliers

DLI – Durham Light Infantry

RND – Royal Naval Division

RNR – Royal Naval Reserve

RFA – Royal Field Artillery

n Anyone with information on this week’s list or who wants to find out more about the project, should visit, e-mail or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.