Seaport town a cosmopolitan microcosm of imperial nation

The gravestone of William Jackson Smith Muckle, who died in Italy during the First World War.
The gravestone of William Jackson Smith Muckle, who died in Italy during the First World War.

IT is often considered the country today is a diverse one with a rapidly changing society reflecting cultures from afar.

Yet the town of North Shields in the years before the First World War was already a mixed community.

People from across the globe residing in squalid and cramped accommodation offered in numerous ‘licensed lodging houses’ sitting ‘cheek by jowl’ with the pubs and shops offering wares along what was known as the ‘Low street’.

This collection of five blocks of buildings ran the length of the north side of the harbour town’s riverside, from the New Quay with the ferry landing for South Shields along Liddell Street, Clive Street, Bell Street through to Union Quay and the Fish Quay.

Wards Directory for 1915-16 (a cross between an electoral register and a phone directory) includes names resonant of Scandanavia, eastern Europe, Greece and the Levant.

Included is Joseph Crispin, a man from much further away.

Born in Sierra Leone, his name does not betray his west African origins.

The merchant vessel on which he served as a mess room steward –ss Eros (London) – was lost on August 19, 1918, off the east coast near Scarborough.

A report of an inquest as reported in the Scarborough Mercury of August 23 tells of his being brought ashore alive but subsequent death in hospital.

“The vessel was laden with coal ... It was torpedoed and sunk about three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. The crew consisted of 21 men.”

The three on whom the inquest was held died in hospital after being landed.

The names of the three deceased were Albert Kennedy, 30, ship steward, of 20 South Pine Street, Gateshead; Lancelot Burn Marshall, 35, chief marine engineer, of 106 Fort Street, South Shields; and Joseph Crispin, about 21, mess room steward, of 26, Clive Street, North Shields.

Crispin’s name is included on the Tower Hill Memorial alongside those of his six shipmates lost to enemy action, including Joseph Brown, of Argyle Street, Tynemouth – the first mate.

However, the Tynemouth project’s research has failed to find any record of Joseph Crispin’s burial locally in Scarborough or elsewhere.

It can only be speculated if his family in Sierra Leone ever learned of his fate and resting place, thousands of miles from his home.

Death far from home was commonplace during the war.

As reported in the local press, one man, William Muckle, was laid to rest in Cremona, Italy, at about the same date as Joseph Crispin would have been buried somewhere in England.

The Shields Daily News on September 5, 1918, reported: “Official information has been received by Mrs Muckle, 6 Saint John’s Street ... that her husband, Private William Muckle, R.A.M.C., died suddenly on August the 25th at the 29th Stationary Hospital, Italy, of which he was one of the staff, and (previous to going to Italy he served in Salonika).”

He was 39 and before joining the forces in 1915 was employed as a fitter by the River Tyne Commissioners, and was a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade, Percy Main division.

He was buried on August 26, at Cremona with full military honours, the whole of the unit attending, including matron and nurses, likewise a detachment from an Italian hospital.

He left a widow and five children to mourn his loss.

Anyone with information on this week’s casualties or anyone killed or died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project. The project workroom is open from 1000 to 1600 each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project and how to get involved.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details men from the former Tynemouth Borough who were killed or died in August 1918.

Charlton, William Godfrey, pictured, age 20, Lieutenant (Acting Company Commander), 15th Battalion DLI, KIA, 26th, School House, Seaton Delaval, son of John and Anne Fenwick Charlton, grandson of late G F Hedley, of Hexham. Former employee of Lloyds Bank, North Shields. Admitted to Inns of Court, pupil barrister, July, 1915, Entered France June 1916, severely wounded July 7, 1916, returned to France June 1918, killed August 26.

Crispin, Joseph, age 22, Mess Room Steward, ss Eros, LAS, 19th, born Sierra Leone, died in Scarborough. No trace of grave, listed on Tower Hill Memorial - See story.

Crowe James Alexander, MM, age 23, Sergeant, 12/13th Battalion NF, KIA, 28th, wounded at Passchendaele, awarded Military Medal, 27 Elsdon Street.

Crozier, James William, age 32, Private, 18th Battalion DLI, DOW, 4th, 11 Vicarage Street, son of Elizabeth and late John Robert, brother–in-law Fred Allerton and brother John Robert also died in war.

Garvie, James Alexander age 22, 2nd Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion KOSB, KIA, 21st, born Leith, 591 Bathurst Street, Toronto, son of William A Garvie, of 28 Rosemount Avenue, Toronto. Details needed of connection to North Shields.

Malcolm, James Dalrymple, age 22, Private,13th East Lancs Regiment, died New Zealand Stationary Hospital, St Omer (Souvenir) cemetery – 3,177 casualties died of wounds buried here. Formerly with (28th Tyneside Scottish) NF.

Muckle, William Jackson Smith, age 39, Private, Royal Army Medical Corps, died suddenly, 25th, 6 St John’s Street, Percy Main, brother of Thomas, LAS, 1917, son of William Peter and Catherine, buried Cremona, Italy - See story.

Rowntree, Anthony, age 37, Private, 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, died date unknown – shown 27th on Roll of Honour, reported missing in action April 10, 1918, buried Terlincthun Cemetery, near Base -Pas de Calais.


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 information on this week’s list or who wants to find out more about the project, should visit, e-mail or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.