From coal pit to the cockpit

G W Brydon
G W Brydon

The Northumbria World War One Project is researching North Tyneside casualties of that conflict 100 years ago, building a public database that will help present and future generations understand the profound impact the war had upon local communities.

More than 2,000 casualties have so far been identified, with a further 2,000 under research.

One of our researchers has uncovered the story of George William Brydon, from Annitsford, whose name appears on the Dudley War Memorial.

Born on June 30, 1898, in Amble, George came from a large family. He had 11 brothers and sisters, but his parents died early in his life. He worked as a miner.

The vast majority of casualties from the area either worked in the shipyards or collieries. Most joined the army when war came, with the county battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers, the most popular. Many joined the maritime services, the Royal Navy, Mercantile Marine or the Royal Naval Division.

George joined the fledgling Royal Air Force on June 18, 1918, as a lowly Private 2nd Class (British Army ranks were still being used), working as ground crew at the RAF Recruiting Depot in Blandford, Dorsetshire.

The RAF had been formed on April 1 of that year, growing out of the original air service, the Royal Flying Corps. At the start of the war, the flimsy craft of the RFC were used more in a reconnaissance role, but as the war progressed they became more attack minded so that by the last year of war there was an array of attack planes and long-range bombers.

As a raw recruit George would have received training in maintaining the aircraft. Like many young men of his age, I’m sure he felt great relief at escaping the grim reality of the pit. He would be out in the fresh air, eating well, leading a more healthy life and learning skills that would perhaps take him out of mining.

Maybe he was allowed to sit in the cockpit while the pilots were resting. Perhaps he had ambitions to be a flyer himself.

Sadly, George was in service a mere 11 days when he had a terrible accident. Whether it was through inexperience or carelessness, he lost his life while winding up a propeller on a plane ready for take-off. He was killed instantly.

George is buried at Pegswood Cemetery, near Ashington. There was no mention of his death in the local press and no death notice, but no doubt he was greatly mourned.

If you would like to get involved in the project or have any information on casualties contact or call into our office in the Linskill Centre, North Shields, open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm. Alternatively, email