THE First World War touched peoples lives unlike any previous conflict – both in terms of the scale of cost and family tragedy over more than four years.
Before the war had ended, and even when the final outcome was far from clear, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) was amongst those calling for a commitment from the survivors that the sacrifice of the individuals and their families should be memorialised in a tangible and unique manner.
The Imperial War Graves Commission (re-named Commonwealth in 1962) was founded in 1917 on the basis that the dead were to be remembered in perpetuity: something previously reserved for only a handful of those who have passed through life – kings, emperors and others who have sat in splendour over their fellow men.
Founded by the grant of an independent charter in May 1917, the commission was comprised of representatives of all the Dominion governments, India and Great Britain.
The member states were to contribute to the costs of the creation of the cemeteries and memorials which are now so familiar, on the basis of a proportion based on the numbers of fatalities from their armed services and related civilians eligible for commemoration.
The concept of commemoration in perpetuity was emphasised by the chairman of the commission speaking in 1920 when it was clear that no repatriation of hundreds of thousands of the dead being possible, remembrance in the manner accorded to kings and others in Westminster Abbey and similar places of national importance, could only be achieved by the creation of memorials and cemeteries abroad which would in all respects accord the same level of honour to those who had been lost.
He said: “The cemeteries which are going to be erected to the British dead on all the battlefields in all the theatres of war will be entirely different from the ordinary cemeteries which mark the resting place of those who pass out in the common flow of human fate from year to year.
“They will be supported and sustained by the wealth of this great nation and Empire, as long as we remain a great nation and Empire, and there is no reason at all why, in periods as remote as our own from the Tudors, the graveyards in France of this great war, shall not remain an abiding and supreme memorial to the efforts and the glory of the British Army and the sacrifices made in that great cause.”
Some of the content of that speech has been overtaken by events over the last 100 years, but what has remained undiminished has been the commitment of all the nations represented on the commission and the governments of those now sovereign independent states, to aid the maintenance of the cemeteries and memorials in the pristine condition in which any visitor will find them today.
In the fifth annual report of the commission for 1923-24, Sir Fabian Ware, in January, 1925, noted the enormous scale of the task in arranging and establishing memorials for the 1,019, 882 dead to be accorded some recognition; be that in a marked grave or a name inscribed on one of the many memorials to the missing planned across all theatres of the war.
In Belgium and France alone, more than 1,000 British war cemeteries were being established, and similar attention paid to those resting in more than 1,500 communal cemeteries and British extension cemeteries.
Ensuring that the commission could honour its commitment to remembrance in perpetuity was greatly assisted by the decision of the Belgian and French governments that the resting places of the British dead were to be regarded as having been transferred in perpetuity to the care of the commission, who to this day exercise absolute authority over any application to disturb or seek access to commission cemeteries for the purposes of new development.
The creation of the electronic database recording the local victims of the war and the commemoration event planned by the Tynemouth Project for August 2014 will be but a small part of the massive programme of national remembrance which will remind the population today of the commitment made almost 100 years ago.
Anyone with information on the casualty list, or of relatives who fought in the war, can visit the Workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the former Tynemouth Borough who were killed or died in March 1919.
Forrest, Thomas, age 25, Private, 1st Company Southern Divisional Train, RASC, accidentally killed 20th, Cologne – Germany, son of John and Hannah, 8 Hylton Terrace and Wood Hall, Barrasford.
Gray, James Adam, age 21, Private, 720th Labour Corps, died 13th, son of Adam and Catherine, 15 Hylton Street, previously Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), transferred to Labour Corps April, 1917, gassed November and discharged no longer fit for service, died in Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Southampton, SDN – ‘after 12 months suffering gas poisoning and shell shock’.
Grenyer, Alfred James, age 33, Engineman, RNR, HM Trawler Bombardier, drowned, 27th, 56 Coronation Street, son of Benjamin and Ann, husband of Ellen. Details needed.
Rushton, Thomas, Gunner, 353 Siege Battery, RGA, 2nd, 5 Middle Street, Tynemouth. Details needed.
Sword, John Robert, age 43, Driver, 131 Battery, RFA, died, 21st, 56 Bedford Street, husband of Mary Ann, son of Cuthbert and Caroline, labourer, NER, buried Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia) British cemetery. British Expeditionary force to Transcaucasus – also on Haidar Pasha Memorial, Turkey.
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.