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Sad end for an army rebel

Brunswick Memorial.
Brunswick Memorial.

The Northumbria World War One Project has endeavoured to recount the lives, and ultimately the deaths, of more than 4,000 casualties of the Great War from North Tyneside, creating a free and accessible database to all.

The project has relied heavily on Rolls of Honour, such as that produced by the old borough of Tynemouth in the early 1920s. Other sources have been newspaper accounts, family letters and diaries, church plaques and, of course, war memorials.

War memorials are numerous across the globe, as well as in North Tyneside. They are many and varied. When we walk past them we take for granted that all the information relating to a casualty is accurate, but in a small number of cases it is wrong. Accuracy is important in order to properly identify an individual. Looking for a particular name can occasionally lead the researcher up the garden path and no connection to the area is made.

An example of this difficulty is the case of Private John Scott, of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), whose name is on the Brunswick Village Memorial, just a stone’s throw from the site of Dinnington Colliery, now Brunswick Industrial Estate. Brunswick has that rare distinction of straddling the border between our borough and that of Newcastle City Council.

Two researchers have located the records of a John Scott of the DLI, although he seems to have more of a connection to West Hartlepool. However, he also worked for the North Eastern Railway at Gateshead and evidence of his possible residence at Brunswick could still be forthcoming. Nevertheless, his story is an intriguing one and gives us a glimpse into the life of a pre-war soldier who died in the First World War.

Signing up in 1903, John’s tale is a litany of charges brought against him that resulted in regular periods of imprisonment. These included drunkenness, fighting, use of insubordinate language and striking a superior officer. He was sentenced to death in January 1916, possibly for desertion, but it was reduced to ten years’ penal servitude. He comes across as a rebellious figure who had no respect for authority and was an administrative nightmare for the army. Later, he was sent back to the Western Front.

It begs the question why a man who was a constant thorn to the authorities should escape execution by firing squad while others were not so fortunate for the same or lesser offences. The answer probably lies in the fact that his frontline experience was still deemed of use, despite his misdemeanours, and the need for men to fight was palpable. Conscription had only recently been introduced, with manpower ebbing. His experience was such that he was made a corporal and trusted to be in charge of others.

John’s luck finally ran out on April 27, 1918, when he died from his wounds during the German Spring Offensive. He is buried at the Haringhe (Bandaghem) Military Cemetery in Belgium. Thankfully, his long-suffering wife received his army pension.

The project welcomes information on any of the casualties of the Great War from the North Tyneside area. Our website is northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into B9 in the Linskill Centre, North Shields, open 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday, or you can contact me at tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk