Scale of deaths not well known as First World War progressed

The remains of the Hotel de Ville in May 1917 after the battle of Arras.
The remains of the Hotel de Ville in May 1917 after the battle of Arras.

ONE aspect to the significant loss suffered by families in the borough of Tynemouth during the First World War was the extent to which the total death toll was not widely known as the war progressed.

Recent research into the local press of the time shows that the true numbers killed as the war progressed was not known but was believed to be much greater than the newspaper had recorded from its own records and research.

On August 4, 1916, two years from the outbreak of war and a few weeks after the disaster on the Somme – which had cost 78 local men their lives on the first day of the campaign – the Shields Daily News reported that it had recorded 266 deaths of local men due to war causes.

The paper noted that this was believed to be a considerably smaller number than the true losses and asked for further information from relatives.

By August 4, 1917, the total they had recorded had risen to 576 with a further 310 having been noted in the newspaper over the previous 12 months, including details of those killed or died in the first two years and now notified to the newspaper.

What is now clear from the research and analysis already available to the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project is that the understatement of casualties was considerable.

Some of this was attributable to the long delay before certain men would be recorded officially as killed, perhaps having been ‘missing’ for many months or held prisoner and dying in captivity.

The project’s information, which still has some details missing in relation to ‘date of death’ for some of the 1,674 records of men currently held in our research database, shows 49 men lost in 1914, 221 in 1915 and a cumulative total to July 31, 1916, of 646.

This was two and a half times as many as the local newspaper had reported on August 4, 1916.

This scale of loss would have been unknown to the local population, who had no alternative source of information other than word of mouth or a letter from friends and relatives.

The project has identified the proportion of casualties in Tynemouth as a percentage of the total population and adult male population as an area for research into the overall effects of the war losses on the town; and the social impact of the withdrawal of so many men from the area for more than four years of the war.

Further investigation is being undertaken into whether the losses in Tynemouth Borough are significantly greater than those suffered by similar industrial communities across the country, and the possible reasons for such a variance if confirmed.

Taking the city of Bradford in West Yorkshire as an example, that city is recorded as having suffered a loss of 5,442 men in the war (see Mud, Blood and Poppycock – Gordon Corrigan 2003).

The population of Bradford in 1911 was about 280,000 and for Tynemouth Borough in 1916 it was 58,000 (digest of annual accounts and statistics of the borough).

Given the population of Bradford would have risen before August 1914, the project found the death rate from war deaths is not greater than 1.9 per cent for Bradford but 2.9 per cent for Tynemouth.

Anyone interested to learn about the project and how to get involved can visit the Workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

The next exhibition of materials connected to local man Richard Simpson will be open to the public on May 1 at the Low Lights Tavern. The current exhibition can be viewed until the end of this month and features the story of the loss of the pilot cutter Protector.

THIS week’s list gives details of men from borough who were killed or died on April 9, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Arras.

Adey, James Henry, age 29, Private, 15th Battalion DLI, KIA 20 Vicarage Street, son of Thomas Adey, husband of Mary (nee Burdon).

Bainbridge, Thomas Emery, age 22, 2nd Lieutenant, 29th Battalion (Training Reserve) NF, (Tyneside Scottish), KIA, son of John T and Edith, 4 Curtis Road Fenham, late of North Shields.

Brown, Jonathan Arnold, age 25, Private, 1st Battalion NF, died, son of Mrs Brown, 2 Reed Street. Arras Memorial.

Clark, Alfred Thomas, age 25, Private, 1st Battalion NF, DOW, 37 Little Bedford Street, son of George Bruce and Mary Jane Brown.

Coe, John Wilson, age 31, Private, 25th Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish), KIA, 45 Sidney Street, son of Mr and Mrs Coe. Arras Memorial.

Drysdale, Robert, Private 27th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), KIA, 102 Hudson Street, son of John and Emma, 1623 Walker Road, Newcastle.

McArthur, Alexander, Private, 20th Battalion NF, KIA, 31 Elsdon Street, born Lanark, volunteered October 1914.

Ray, Joseph, age 27 Private, 21st Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish), KIA, 14 Upper Norfolk Street, son of John and Anne Hurst Ray.

Stephenson, Hudson, Private, 27th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), KIA, 74 Howard Street. Details needed.


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 details on the list should visit, e-mail or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.