Mascot Sammy survived gas, but not friendly fire

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As we approach the end of the centenary of the first full year of the Great War, we can reflect on three notable events in a year which brought no victories and a realisation that the cost in human terms would be far beyond anyone’s imaginings in the heady days of autumn 1914.

A minor success at Neuve Chapelle, France, in March 1915, as the winter ended and the protagonists geared up for renewed fighting, was not to be followed up, and in April, the war took a turn for the worse when Germany unleased the horrific, if not strategically significant, new weapon that was poisonous gases.

That unwelcome development came just as the four territorial battalions of the 149th brigade of the 50th Northumbrian Division crossed to France on April 20.

Just six days later, at the Battle of St Julien, part of the overall campaign known as the Second Battle of Ypres, this local formation so eager to join the fray would suffer terrible losses, including that of its commanding officer, Brigadier-General James Foster Riddell, of Warkworth.

Far to the east, the ultimately-disastrous Dardanelles adventure was beginning. It would claim the lives of many local men and provide the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) with one of its enduring heroes, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, alias the man with the donkey.

A native of South Shields, Simpson had helped out on the beach of his home town before sailing to the southern hemisphere and a new life.

He would lose his life on May 19, 1915, ferrying wounded men down the arid ravines and gullies of the unforgiving landscape of the peninsula with his donkey Murphy.

In December, his corps would be withdrawn and the attempt to force a way through to the Black Sea was abandoned in January 1916, when the British contingent was safely evacuated.

Back in Europe, the first major British offensive, at Loos, from September 25 to October 19, would prove to be a bloody and costly failure.

Some 35 men from the borough of Tynemouth would have their names included among the 20,000 missing soldiers with no known grave featured on the Loos Memorial.

One survivor of the bloody encounters of spring 1915 at St Julien, Aubers Ridge and Festubert was Sammy a four-legged mascot of the 4th battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

The plucky dog survived being gassed at St Julien only to die in 1916, however, when he strayed into a training exercise and was killed by friendly fire.

Sammy’s body was returned to England, a concession denied to the families of men killed in the war, and is now to be seen in a glass case at the Fusiliers’ Museum at Alnwick Castle.

The commemoration project will be represented at the North Shields Victorian Christmas Market this week-end and will have a range of publications and products for sale to provide a festive gift with a difference.

Tyneside Tommy Ale, now featuring brief stories of 12 local men killed in the war on its label, has proven to be very popular.

Its maker, Three Kings Brewery in North Shields, an associate company is now brewing a beer for dogs.

Called Woof, it is non-alcoholic and can be bought separately or together with dog biscuits made with residual products from the brewing of Tyneside Tommy.

Sadly, Sammy never got to enjoy a bottle of Woof.

Anyone with information about anyone from North Tyneside killed in the First World War is asked to contact the project.

The project workroom is at Linskill Community Centre, in Trevor Terrace, North Shields, and it is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors or anyone wanting to get involved.

The memorial garden is open for public visits from 9am to 5pm every day at the Linskill Centre. Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.