From railways to battlefields

The railways were a crucial element in the development of the transport network, and therefore the economy of the country during the Edwardian period.
The railways were a crucial element in the development of the transport network, and therefore the economy of the country during the Edwardian period.

The railways were a crucial element in the development of the transport network, and therefore the economy of the country during the Edwardian period.

Since the mid-Victorian era Great Britain had stamped rail lines all over the land.

They carried the products of industrialisation, from minerals in the ground to the factories of production and on to the consumer. They also carried the population to their places of work and leisure. Tickets were cheap enough to be within the pockets of most, destinations plentiful and demand high. A map of the Blyth and Tyne Railway during the period shows a spider’s web of lines and an astonishing number of stations.

Among the many nearly 4,000 casualties being researched by the Northumbria World War One Project are a number who worked for the North Eastern Railway Company.

Private Robert Mack worked at Backworth station as a passenger clerk, issuing and collecting tickets, attending to the mail and keeping the station tidy. He served with the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers and was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917. A comrade said: “We miss him very much as he had been with us for three years and his cheerful personality always made him a great favourite. A brave soldier and one whom we all admired for his coolness in danger.”

Osmond Brown had been a goods clerk at Tynemouth station and lived with his aunt and uncle in Heaton. As a signalman with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve he drowned in the last month of the war, west of Spain, in blizzard conditions on the SS Glena, a cargo ship transporting iron ore to Glasgow.

Other casualties include Lance Corporal Alexander Borrowdale, from Tynemouth, of the Royal Engineers, who had been a stonemason employed by NER. Private John J Willis from Annitsford worked at Seghill station. Private Arthur Clennell Fenwick, of the 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers, an accounts clerk with the NER, was killed on his first day in the trenches.

I came upon a superb website www.disused-stations.org.uk that has documented every disused station in the country. Backworth, Seghill, Tynemouth are all there. You become saddened as you witness the decline of not only the stations and lines, but part of the local community. Spick and span pre-war, by the 1970s the trains stopped going to Backworth, the station became derelict and was eventually demolished.

If you have information on casualties of the First World War from North Tyneside contact www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm. You can also email tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk