Blue plaques put up as tribute to trawler crews

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The loss of two trawlers three weeks after the end of hostilities on December 1, 1918, was the inspiration for the placing of several blue memorial plaques earlier this month.

They were put up to commemorate members of the crews of the TW Mould and Ethelwulf, two trawlers believed to have struck mines while out with the Shields fleet in their peacetime roles after years of service as minesweepers.

Both vessels were seen by other boats nearby to be engulfed in flames following two loud explosions at about 3am.

Searches carried out at the time and later at daybreak found no trace of either vessel, and all hands were presumed lost. No bodies were ever recovered.

The 13 men from North Shields and Cullercoats aboard them are remembered on the Merchant Navy Memorial at Tower Hill in London, on which the 12,000 men of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets lost in the First World War, and who have no known graves, are listed.

After the placing of plaques at houses in Edith Street, Tynemouth, for other casualties of the war, a group of relatives, project volunteers and civic representatives, including North Tyneside Council chairman Gary Bell, mayor Norma Redfearn and Tynemouth MP Alan Campbell proceeded to the Grey Street area of North Shields. There, three crew members had plaques installed in their memory at their former homes.

Among those present was a 97-year-old son of Alfred Frederick Wales, who had travelled with his son up from Cambridge to join us. George Wales was interviewed last year, and his moving recollections of life in North Shields in the 1920s as his mother struggled to raise a family of five can be listened to on our database. They offer a sobering account of the realities of ‘the land fit for heroes’ promised to our men during the war.

Another relative, Chris Kirk, came from Cavan in Northern Ireland to remember his great-uncle John Tom Kennedy, of Coburg Street, North Shields.

Unfortunately, most of the crews lived in properties long since demolished as the bottom area of the town has been redeveloped over the past 100 years so the day included a service of commemoration outside the Old Low Light Heritage Centre at Clifford’s Fort.

It was conducted by Fishermen’s Mission superintendent Peter Dade, with a Salvation Army band providing music as those present respected the memory of the 13 men lost on a cold December night almost 100 years ago, leaving widows and orphans behind them.

Images from the day will shortly be posted on each casualty’s record at www.tynemouthworldwarone.org

A public drop-in session at Whitley Bay Customer First Centre and Library last Thursday was well attended. Many residents brought in family memorabilia and learned of the work of the project and its plans to extend its coverage across the whole of the borough. Further meetings will be held shortly to provide training for new volunteers.

The project’s information centre, in Front Street, Tynemouth, is open at weekends. A number of small exhibitions of the project’s work and publications can be viewed and purchased.

Anyone with information about anyone killed in, or who died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project.

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

Our correspondence address is: Tynemouth World War I Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.