THE most unusual formation of the fighting forces of the First World War was probably the Royal Naval Division.
Many of the men of the RNVR found themselves pressed into service as infantry when Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1914, found himself with surplus volunteer sailors and no ships.
Many men on Tyneside had joined the RNVR before the war and with its strong naval associations it is not surprising that many from Tynemouth had opted for the ‘navy’ as a means of volunteering in the event of war.
After the debacle of Antwerp, those who made it back to the coast and avoided interment in Holland – a fate which befell several from North Shields who had strayed into neutral Dutch territory – these would-be-sailors formed the Royal Naval Division, which was embodied as a three brigades division and sent east to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and took an important part in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.
After the withdrawal to Mudros and Egypt in January 1916, the badly mauled battalions of the original naval division were reorganised and deployed into France in May 1916, now assuming the title of the 63rd Royal Naval Division superseding in title the 63rd (2nd Northumbrian Division) then disbanded and redeployed to other divisions.
The Collingwood battalion of the RND, of which many were recruited from Tynemouth, had been so badly depleted by the fighting in Gallipoli that it was disbanded.
Arriving in France just before the Somme campaign, the division was to suffer further heavy losses and in April 1917 was engaged in the Battle of Arras, incurring substantial casualties.
By this time the division was not even entirely composed of ‘sailors’, the 190th Brigade being composed of army formations.
There were many incongruities about the division’s way of doing things such as the use of naval ranks and naval timekeeping practices, which no doubt chafed on the regular army officers sent to command this hybrid formation.
The division was stood down at the end of the war and no similar formation was created in the Second World War – probably to the great relief of the War Office – despite the fact that Churchill found himself at the Admiralty again at the beginning of that later conflict.
Another unit with a chequered history which struggled to get established and with strong connection to Tynemouth Borough was the Tyneside Irish Brigade.
No conscription was enforced in Ireland but many men in the Tyneside Irish were conscripts later in the war as recruitment was not selective by reference to religious affiliation or national origin for this brigade.
Forty-six of the Tyneside Irish gave their lives serving in the four battalions of the brigade, although many more may have been killed serving in other formations later in the war after the reorganisation of the brigade structures in February 1918.
One of the casualties at Arras from the Tyneside Irish was a second generation German – Frederick Kreitzer (see casualty list), the son of Fritz Kreitzer, who had been born in Munich in the previous century and who was one of many of German origin living in Britain when war broke out.
Perhaps Frederick found less prejudice against his origin and father’s nationality in the ranks of a unit comprised of many men whose sentimental allegiance was also to another country other than England.
Being of south German origins, he may also have been a co-religionist of the many Catholics in the unit he joined.
There are many aspects of the war which will need painstaking research to understand at this remove in time but it is these oddities that make the work of the project volunteers so interesting.
The next exhibition of materials connected to a local man – Richard Simpson – will be open to the public on May 1 at the Low Lights Tavern.
The current exhibition can be viewed until the end of this month and features the story of the loss of the pilot cutter Protector.
Anyone interested in the project and how to get involved can visit the Workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
The Tynemouth World War One Commemoration project website is temporarily unavailable but should be back within the next ten days.
THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the borough who were killed or died in April 1917 in the battle of Arras campaign.
Brand, Adam, Private, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, KIA, 28th, 35 Stephenson Street, son of the late Adam and Margaret.
Case, Peter Strasshine, age21, Private, 21st Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish), KIA, 23rd, 19 Front Street, Milburn Place, son of Ellen Burn (formerly Case).
Dalziel, Thomas, age 22, Private, 27th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), KIA, 28th, 47 Little Bedford Street. Details needed.
Flanigan, Peter, age 31, AB, RNVR, Nelson Battalion RND, KIA, 23rd, 25 Albion Road, miner, son-in-law of Hannah Riley.
Gowland Alexander, age 35, AB RNVR, Nelson Battalion RND, enlisted NF June 8, 1915, then transferred, KIA, 24th, 24 Front Street, Chirton.
Jackson, William, age 23, AB RNVR, Anson Battalion RND, KIA, 28th, brother of Kenneth Jackson, also killed, son of William and Ann.
Kreitzer, Frederick, Lance Corporal, 27th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), KIA 25th, son of Fritz Kreitzer, 26 Middle Street, Tynemouth (see story).
Lakey, Norman, Private, 1st Battalion South Staffs Regiment, KIA 19th, former pupil of Tynemouth High School. Details needed.
Lambert, Edward, Davison Mosley, age 27, Private, 2nd Battalion RMLI, KIA, son of Ann Lambert, of 2 Shafto Street, Rosehill, missing presumed killed, served Dardanelles, invalided home December 31, 1915, drafted to France on December 17, 1916.
Loader, Thomas Hall, age 22, AB, RNVR, Anson Battalion RND, KIA 28th, 99 Stephenson Street, son of Thomas Hall Loader and Sarah Ann, previously enlisted NF then transferred to Drake Battalion RND.
McCabe, John, age 39, Private, 27th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), KIA 25th, husband of Margaret, 5 Back Saville Street, a stoneman at Ritson’s colliery and left a widow and seven children.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.