Follow war graves trail to hear tales of the lives lost
On Sunday, September 11, as part of the Heritage Open Days programme designed to open up local areas of historic interest, the Northumbria World War One project will be involved in two walks around local cemeteries, highlighting the casualties from the Great War of 1914-18 who are buried there.
The walk will feature the two biggest cemeteries in the North Tyneside area, namely Preston Cemetery at the end of the Coast Road and Church Bank, between Wallsend and Rosehill.
Many people are totally unaware of the existence of First World War graves in these cemeteries. Preston has more than 150 casualties buried there, all researched and available on the project’s free and accessible website, www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk while Church Bank has nearly 50 casualties from that conflict currently being researched as part of the ongoing project.
Any soldier killed on the battlefronts of France and Flanders, or in the more ‘exotic’ locations like Gallipoli in Turkey, or in Greece, Italy or Africa were buried close to where they fell. No one was brought home, regardless of their social or financial position in society. There were no exceptions.
Those buried on ‘home’ soil had died here, some with war wounds sustained some time previously, brought back to ‘dear old Blighty’ to a hospital were they subsequently died.
For many the cause of death could be one of any variety of illnesses. Most people will have heard of the bouts of Spanish Flu that swept Europe towards the end of the war, taking more lives than that of the four murderous years of war combined. Indeed the project’s researchers have recently uncovered evidence that one man, buried in Church Bank, took his own life in a local hospital. The tragedy of war knew no boundaries.
Able Seaman Samuel Hutton Lawson, a 23-year-old former miner whose parents lived in Vine Street in Wallsend, died on November 18, 1916, of gunshot wounds to the spine, sustained five days earlier in the Battle of the Ancre, the final phase of the momentous Battle of the Somme that had lasted five months and cost the lives of a million combatants from both sides.
Although Samuel’s rank was a naval one he fought on land with the Royal Naval Division, formed from Royal Navy and Royal Marine reservists and volunteers, who were not needed for service at sea. His wounds were serious enough to guarantee him a trip home for hospital treatment. Sadly, the journey was too much for him and he died onboard His Majesty’s Hospital Ship, Aberdonian.
Henry Chesterton had a more tangible connection to the sea. He was a deck hand on HM Trawler Glatian which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty in November 1914 and then converted to a minesweeper. The Glatian’s job was to keep the Tyne and the Tees clear of deadly German mines, causing havoc with shipping along those channels.
Henry was born in Longford in Ireland in 1868. Sometime shortly after his birth his parents moved to England because he appears on the 1871 Census living in Newcastle. Many Irish people moved here in the years following The Great Famine in Ireland of the late 1840s. He marries Mary Lennon, from another Irish family and has 5 children. His working life appears to veer from sailing the seas to coal mining then back to the sea again by the start of the war.
He passes away at the age of 49 on March 11, 1917, his death described on official documents by the terse and unhelpful phrase ‘Died from disease’.
Both Sam Lawson and Harry Chesterton are buried in Church Bank Cemetery in Wallsend and, along with other men from North Tyneside who died in the Great War, are being researched by members of the Northumbria World War One project who have estimated some 5,000 men from the borough perished during and after the conflict. Over 1800 casualties have already been researched in an earlier project that centred on the old borough of Tynemouth.
If you would like to get involved in the project or have any information on casualties click onto the website or send me an email [email protected] northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk