Loss of brothers in arms left families devastated

Mary Sylvia Stephenson.
Mary Sylvia Stephenson.

The Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project estimates that about 5,000 men from the borough of North Tyneside perished in the Great War.

Some 1,800 casualties have already been researched by an earlier project centred on the old borough of Tynemouth and are now listed on a free and accessible database at www.
northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk

Among this casualty list are a number related to one another. Most often, this tends to be brothers. Indeed, a researcher recently found a report in a national paper from 100 years ago about an elderly gentleman from the Midlands who had nine grandsons serving in the armed forces, including three sets of brothers.

Wherever you look among the records, you find a family tragedy.

It was bad enough to lose one family member in the Great War, but spare a thought for the family of the three Adamson brothers from Shiremoor, all killed on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918.

Then there are the two Bennett brothers, Henry and John, of Palmersville, who died within two weeks of each other in October 1916.

Wallsend alone sustained nearly 1,000 casualties, and it is no surprise that numerous sets of brothers were among those to die.

Count among them the Gibson brothers, William and George, the former being the elder by two years.

Both worked underground in pits. How enticing the excitement of getting away from their hard life at the coalface must have seemed.

They joined up together in the first flush of war in August 1914 in the same territorial battalion the 1st/5th Northumberland Fusiliers.

George died on May 24, 1915, north east of Ypres. He was 18. Chances are that William was there when he died.

William was to die in August 1916, just south of where George met his fate.

Just like the deadly virus Spanish flu in 1918 that killed more people than had died in four years of battle, the war was no respecter of class or creed.

The Stephensons could hardly have been more different to the Gibson brothers.

Father Christopher was the manager of Wallsend’s Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson shipyard, and in 1908 he became mayor of Wallsend.

He helped inaugurate a new, grand-looking town hall building that year.

His daughter, Mary Sylvia Stephenson, started the clock at the opening ceremony.

Like a lot of young women of the time, she became a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment.

Egypt was the main hospital centre for the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, and sadly in November of that year, she died of dysentery. She is buried in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.

I’ve mentioned Mary before in this column as one of only two women from theborough on the casualty list for the Great War, so I was very pleased to receive an email from a fellow researcher on the project who had recently discovered a photo of her.

Her younger brother Robert Brewis Stephenson was a second lieutenant attached to the 22nd (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

On October 20, 1917, it was announced that he had been awarded the Military Cross.

Three days later, he was killed at Langemarck in the rain-sodden Third Battle of Ypres, better known to history as Passchendaele.

There was a surviving brother in each family.

The surname Gascoigne is well known, of course, in these parts so I was intrigued to discover that two Jonathan Gascoignes appeared to come from Wallsend.

One was a 44-year-old private in the 22nd (Tyneside Scottish) battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers killed on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

The other Jonathan was 23 and a sergeant in the Machine Gun Corps when he died early in 1918.

Further research confirmed that they were father and son.

If you would like to get involved in the project or have any information on casualties, click onto the website or send an email to tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk