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No let-up in war death toll

Royal Field Artillery.
Royal Field Artillery.

Now in October 2018 we are in the penultimate month of the centennial commemorations of the First World War.

The civilian population, and indeed many of the combatants, of 100 years ago, would have been unaware that hostilities would finally cease in less than a month’s time after four years of war characterised by huge loss of life and appalling crippling wounds on all sides.

However, by October 1918 the German army was in almost total disarray. Rather than fight to the death, many surrendered as they became overrun by allied forces.

The Kaiser’s army had shown ingenuity and tenacity thus far, but those attributes were breaking down. Many of Germany’s elite troops had perished in the failed Spring Offensive and there were no more reserves. News of a starving population back home did nothing for morale.

Despite British successes, combatants were still dying daily in alarming numbers. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website is very revealing for this month.

An astonishing 45,000 lost their lives, over 33,000 serving with UK forces. In North Tyneside, the Northumbria World War One Project has identified 142 casualties for the period.

One of the men who died that month was Sergeant Donald Campbell. He was a driver with the Royal Field Artillery, leading the horses harnessing artillery pieces, moving forward as the Germans were driven back. It was now a war of movement again after nearly four years of stalemate.

Sgt Campbell died from a gunshot wound to the neck on October 12. He had been a tramway motorman with the corporation and had lived at Walker Place in North Shields.

The previous year he had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry in action.

“When heavy enemy bombardment caused several casualties to his battery and ignited an ammunition dump, he called to the detachments to keep on firing, and ran and beat out the fire unaided; after which he extricated two severely wounded men from the gun-pit and carried them to a place of safety.

“It was due to his cool courage and promptitude that the guns were kept in action throughout the shelling.”

He left a wife and four children.

The project’s centennial commemorations end on Armistice weekend, November 9-11, with a series of events. An exhibition at the Memorial Hall in Wallsend starts on November 3 and is open from 10am to 4pm daily.

The Armistice weekend begins with local bands and choirs on the Friday night. Saturday is devoted to talks, with speakers including Newcastle United historian Paul Joannau, who will discuss the Magpies’ war contribution.

Tickets for the Friday concert are £7 from the Memorial Hall or our office in the Linskill Centre, North Shields.