Special service to honour First World War hero

A special service was held to dedicate the headstone for Sgt Andrew Neil at Church Bank Cemetery, Wallsend.
A special service was held to dedicate the headstone for Sgt Andrew Neil at Church Bank Cemetery, Wallsend.

A special ceremony has been held to honour a soldier who died for his country nearly 100 years ago.

Serjeant Andrew Neil had not previously been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as he had been discharged from the Army while serving during the First World War before he passed away.

Sgt Andrew Neil's headstone at Church Bank Cemetery, Wallsend.

Sgt Andrew Neil's headstone at Church Bank Cemetery, Wallsend.

However, an application was presented to the Commission in 2015, and Andrew received a CWGC headstone to commemorate the sacrifice he made after his previous burial spot remained unmarked.

A special ceremony was held last Sunday at Church Bank Cemetery, Wallsend, after is story was uncovered by his relative and Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project volunteer Marie Caffrey.

She spent two years in correspondence with the CWGC in order to get his resting place properly recognised.

Andrew was born in December 1879 in Wyke, Yorkshire and later married Sarah Jane in 1901 in Gateshead and had nine children.

Sergeant Andrew Neil.

Sergeant Andrew Neil.

Before enlisting with the 5th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers in September 1914, he was a chemical worker at the Castner Kellner Company in Wallsend.

Andrew arrived in France in April 1915.

His battalion was immediately rushed into the front line at Ypres, Belgium where, on April 22, the German Army launched a major offensive, hoping to smash through the thinly held British defences about the town.

In over a month of desperate fighting, the British line was pushed back to the outskirts of the town, but it never broke.

Andrew was wounded in May 1916 and evacuated to Britain.

Andrew’s wounds were so severe that he lost both his eyes and was hospitalised in London before being admitted to St Dunstan’s Home for blind soldiers for rest and training.

During this time, he developed Jacksonian epilepsy and was discharged from the army in October 1916.

Andrew later died, aged 39, at his home on Westmorland Street, Wallsend in May 1919.

Tragically, two weeks after Andrew’s death, his wife Sarah Jane gave birth to a little girl, May Kemmel Neil, but she died at just few weeks old.

His wife then succumbed to tubercular meningitis in August 1919, leaving her two eldest daughters to bring up the family of seven orphans.

Both Andrew and Sarah Jane are buried at Church Bank Cemetery, along with their older daughter, Andrena, who passed away in 1922, aged 20.

More than 50 members of Andrew’s extended family, including Marie who is married to Andrew’s Grandson, attended the service alongside the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear Mrs Susan Winfield OBE, North Tyneside Council officials and members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Association.

They spoke about his life at his graveside and the service will be presided over by Reverend Tim Duff before his headstone was dedicated.

A Bugler sounded the Last Post.

At the conclusion of the service Andrew Neil’s grandson Phil Caffrey sang his own composition ‘Delicate as Paper’.

For more information about Andrew Neil see www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk