Project seeks to re-unite family with discarded memento of loss

A plaque to mark the death of Peter Atkinson in the First World War.
A plaque to mark the death of Peter Atkinson in the First World War.

THERE has been widespread outrage and condemnation recently of the desecration and theft from war memorials for the scrap value of bronze plaques and imagery recording the sacrifices made in two world wars.

However, a different twist to this theme came to the attention of the Tynemouth World War One project when James Hammond brought a memento of the war which he discovered in a scrap yard.

The object, pictured, – in memory of Peter Atkinson – is an example of the over one million plaques issued to the families of men killed or died in the war.

The damage may be the result of his family following the general intention when these were issued in the early 1920s that they should be displayed on the door frame of the house from which the deceased had left to serve his country and not returned.

The delay in issuing them –often referred to as the ‘Dead man’s penny’ – seems to have resulted in few families following the proposal.

In certain parts of the country a few are attached to the local war memorial.

Although they are quite a common item for a family to have in their possession even to this day, they have little scrap value but enormous sentimental value.

The project wants to hear from anyone who believes they may be related to Peter Atkinson, who was also known as Smith, and who was resident in North Shields in 1914.

The finder has donated this plaque to the project but we would be delighted to re-unite it with the family if they can be traced and show their connections to Peter Atkinson who was reported missing on June 30, 1916, and declared killed in action.

The project has now made significant progress in reviewing the Shields Daily News through to 1917.

Some interesting items are relevant to men featured in this week’s casualties list.

Frederick Osbon was a former pupil of Tynemouth High School.

A civil servant, he enlisted in Edinburgh in the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Royal Scots and was killed, according to reports from friends, in a charge into battle at the Dardanelles on June 26, 1915.

George Alfred West was a gunner serving in France and Belgium.

The Shields Daily News of September 29, 1914, relates that a ‘cheery and interesting postcard has been sent by gun-layer West’ of the 24th Company Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery.

Gunner West wrote: ‘still alive, all well. Tobacco is very scarce out here, so you might send me some twist like you sent to Cambridge. The ‘News of the World’ will be very acceptable, as we get very little news here. We are in action every day; up till now we have had no casualties (25th). The weather is fairly decent and we get plenty of food, so we can’t grumble’.

He died of wounds on June 23, 1915, and is buried in Bedford House Cemetery.

A casualty of the war was defined only by reference to a man having been under military discipline, regardless of when or where, death occurred during the period of hostilities.

The case of Henry Whitehead, 53, illustrates this point clearly. A member of the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, he was a territorial soldier too old to be sent overseas or may have declined to serve abroad – no territorial soldier engaged before the war began (or before 1916 and the introduction of conscription) could be required to serve abroad.

As territorial battalions were filled in 1914 by eager recruits keen to serve overseas, a second home service battalion was often formed to hold men too old, too young or unwilling to serve overseas, who were tasked with home defence duties such as guarding sensitive industrial plants or coastal patrols.

Henry Whitehead died on June 20, 1915, the husband of Mary Jennings (formerly Whitehead). She had perhaps re-married by the time the Tynemouth Roll of Honour was published in 1923.

Anyone interested to learn about the project and to get involved can visit the Workroom at Room B9 – Linskill Community Centre from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the former Borough of Tynemouth who were killed or died in June 1915 and 1916.

Atkinson, Peter (aka Smith), Private, 22nd Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish) KIA, June 30, 1916, 23 Lansdowne Terrace, worked at Maud Pit, Backworth. See story –pic of ‘medallion’.

Donnelly, Michael, Corporal, 2nd Battalion, DLI, KIA, June 10, 1916, former Wellesley boy. Buried Potijze Cemetery.

Hook, James, Private, 21st Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish), DOW, June 5, 1916, 2 Queen Street. Buried Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt L’Abbe, France.

Mavin, James Elliott, age 36, Corporal, 1st Battalion NF, KIA, June 16, 1915, 11 Front Street, Milburn Place, formerly labourer at Pyman Bell and Co, husband of Miranda Amelia, of 23 North Street, father of James William, Richard Elliott, Miranda A. and Emmanuel D, son of the late Robert and Sarah. Menin Gate Memorial Ieper (Ypres). See story.

McEwan, Charles, Private, 1st Battalion NF, KIA, June 18, 1915, 28 Nile Street, brother of Mrs Margaret Ann Whyte. A veteran of the South African War. Buried Poelcapelle Cemetery, Belgium.

Osbon, Frederick, age 20, Private, 4th Battalion Royal Scots, KIA, June 28, 1915, 56 Park Crescent, son of Mr F. Osbon, he was a former pupil of Tynemouth High School. Helles Memorial, Dardanelles. See story.

Smythe, Robert, age 18, 1st Battalion NF, KIA, June 1915, 17 George Street, Willington Quay, born North Shields. Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

Whitehead, Henry, age 53, Private, 2nd/5th Battalion NF (TF), died June 20, 1915, husband of Mary Jennings (formerly Whitehead). Buried Preston Cemetery. See story.

Key:

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 www.tynemouthworldwarone.org, e-mail contact@tynemouthworldwarone.org or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.