Tales of bonds formed with lives of those lost to war

The Soldiers' Stories
The Soldiers' Stories

Over the seven years of the Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project’s research more than 3,900 men and women have been investigated, and for some researchers there have been individuals for whom they have come to establish a bond of affinity and emotional empathy.

Project researcher Marie Caffrey has researched many hundreds of men, both from the local North Tyneside area as well as many who fell under the scope of our Dominion Geordies project – www.dominiongeordiesinWW1.co.uk
That work considered the lives of men who had emigrated from Northumberland and Durham to the Dominions of the British Empire in the years before the Great War and then enlisted into the forces of their new homelands.

Some of the men who have sparked a special emotional bond with Marie will feature in a talk that she will present at the next in our regular series of monthly talks at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, North Shields, at 7.30pm on Tuesday, March 20.

Marie joined the project in 2014 on retirement from full-time work, but had been a keen researcher into family history for many years. Since then her skills have helped us to resolve many mysteries, contradictory evidence and apparent dead-ends in our research work.

For Marie, the start of our work on the casualties from Whitley Bay led her to uncover the fact, previously unknown to her, that a casualty of the war had lived in her own home in the centre of the town 100 years ago. The emotional bonds she came to have with Waldemar Brunstrom will be highlighted, including the culmination of those links when she was able to visit his grave in France last year.

More remarkably, the work to research the casualties of Wallsend led her to uncover the sad story of her husband’s late grandfather Andrew Neil, who had died from the consequences of war injuries, but was not given an official war grave headstone.

The story of Andrew Neil will feature, along with remarkable facts about other men and women, some of whom had tragic lives and others who demonstrate the response of ordinary people to the extraordinary events into which they were thrust.

They range from a Newcastle United footballer, through to a shipyard worker who emigrated to Australia and his remarkable later life born of terrible injuries, the brother and sister who were lost to the war – children of a former mayor of Wallsend, and a young officer from Whitley Bay, John Anthony Gibson. His endurance of injuries that finally claimed his life were recounted in an emotive and frank letter uncovered at the National Archives in Kew, written to Gibson’s mother by a famous US airman lying in hospital alongside him.

Their tales and others will show the tragedy of the loss occasioned by the war and how their lives 100 years ago can strike a chord today with researchers and bring forth feelings of emotional attachment to them.

New volunteers are welcome to join the project. The commitment of time is entirely at your discretion. To find out more contact: tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into the workroom at Linskill.

The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war. The Memorial Garden is open for public visits during the opening hours of the centre, 8am to 5pm daily.