Sheer scale is overwhelming

Soldier Shiremoor
Soldier Shiremoor

Anyone who shows an interest in the First World War, whether through family, local history or any of the multitude of aspects of that period, will be aware that the bewildering mass of information can become a minefield in understanding what really went on and the lives of those who took part.

Here in North Tyneside the Northumbria World War One Project has been gathering information on all combatant deaths from the area who died because of that tragic conflict to produce a free, accessible database that attempts to gain a greater comprehension of such a complex and pivotal moment in world history.

Research of casualties has so far identified 4,000 from North Tyneside, with new-found fatalities being added every day. The project has concentrated on service records, births, deaths and marriages, as well as occupations, and indeed any information that helps build up a picture of each casualty.

After 12 years studying most topics around the Great War, from the advanced technology it spawned to the art it produced, I am still fascinated by the total picture.

The first thing that strikes you, apart from the staggering 38 million worldwide death toll of military and civilians, is the sheer scale of the endeavour. To put the country and the Commonwealth on such a war footing took a considerable deal of planning. This was the first great technological war, where armies and navies could pulverise each other with frightening ease.

Finance, mass production, the utilising of labour – all were harnessed before a soldier, sailor or airman took to war. The reorganisation of production in the coalfields, shipyards, munitions factories and the labour force, including the introduction of women into jobs traditionally held by men, was a monumental task.

Ultimately though, it is the human story that predominates, as it surely must. The project has thrown up many a heartfelt family tragedy.

In West Allotment, the three Adamson brothers, all with the middle name Varley, are commemorated on the Angel Memorial. The Gascoignes of Wallsend also suffered greatly, with father and son, both Jonathan, dying on the battlefields, along with cousin Christopher.

There are the two MacMillen brothers, whose names are on the memorial at Shiremoor, and like the Moan brothers from Wallsend, do not have a Commonwealth War Grave. Two of the casualties were shot at dawn for desertion, perhaps a deeper tragedy much harder to comprehend.

The loss to those families is still being felt today as relatives who have contributed their stories to the project can testify.

If you have any information on casualties of the war from North Tyneside please contact us via www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm. You can also email tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk

An exhibition is running at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre on North Shields Fish Quay highlighting the contribution of more than 800 men who joined the American army after emigrating to the USA and who gave addresses in the north east as their place of birth. The Geordie Doughboys runs until July 16.