Identifying war casualties is not straightforward

The Battle of The Somme film will be shown at the Linskill Centre, North Shields.
The Battle of The Somme film will be shown at the Linskill Centre, North Shields.

Next week will see the commemoration of the deaths of all those who died as a result of the two world wars.

Every year, at 11am on November 11, we gather together to acknowledge the debt we owe to those brave men and women who gave their lives defending these isles, the dominions and those countries who sought our help.

The time and date is itself a memorial to the signing of the armistice in the First World War, and during this centennial commemoration period of the war the annual service has had an added poignancy.

In the immediate post war period every city, town and village commemorated their own dead with a war memorial, often in a prominent position within the community, such as the town square or the village green.

There are also thousands of plaques, nameplates and rolls of honour displayed in churches, schools, community halls and workplaces across the land.

In North Tyneside we have many such memorials. They range from the superbly crafted Swan Hunter memorial by sculptor Ralph Hedley at the Wallsend MEM Hall, the building itself a memorial to those who died, to some candlesticks in memory of the McMillen brothers at St Alban’s Church in Earsdon.

Information on many of these memorial items is being gathered by volunteer researchers on the Northumbria World War One Project to build up a picture of the sacrifice of this area for the war effort.

The aim of the project is to provide a free and accessible database of casualties within the boundaries of the borough. More than 3,200 casualties have so far been identified and the number grows daily. However, gathering the information is not as straightforward as it would appear.

The Swan Hunter memorial, for example, has nearly 200 names of those who fell in the Great War. Many are readily identifiable, like the wonderfully named Private George Blackbird. His surname made it quite easy to find information, but with others, such as C. Smith of the Northumberland Fusiliers, then, to excuse the pun, you walk into a minefield of difficulty trying to identify the right person. It can become a real painstaking effort to get a positive identification.

Many of the memorials contain the names of those who died at the Battle of the Somme.

On Thursday, November 10, at 6.30pm, the project will present a showing of the classic film depicting the battle at the Linskill Centre in North Shields. All are welcome.

The film was originally shown to packed audiences all over the country from August 1916 onwards, having an enormous impact on all those who saw it. Many of the faces recorded on celluloid that day would be dead shortly after. Mass hysteria accompanied the showing of the film as people attempted to identify their recently fallen loved ones.

The number of people who saw the film was only surpassed in the 1970s by Star Wars.

The project also has a Somme exhibition on display at the moment at North Shields Library/Customer First Centre (1st floor).

If you would like to get involved in the project, or have any information on casualties, please get in touch. Visit the website www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or send me an email to tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk for more information.

You can also call into our office at B9 in the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields.