The role of emigrant war heroes told at exhibition

Northumbria World War One Project's latest event.
Northumbria World War One Project's latest event.

The Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project has been engaged in partnership with Northumbria University over the past ten months in an Arts and Historical Research Council funded project looking at the story of the men and women, of the North East (Northumberland and Durham), who emigrated to the former Dominions of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in the years before the First World War.

The project is looking at more than 7,200 men and women, who served and had been born in the North East of England before moving to their new homelands, either as adults or with their families.

An exhibition featuring the stories of some of those emigrants is to be opened at the Discovery Museum in Blandford Square, Newcastle, tomorrow.

The most famous man featured is John Simpson Kirkpatrick, of South Shields – ‘the man with the donkey’ – who was killed by a sniper’s bullet as he helped a wounded comrade down the steep gullies and ravines of the Dardanelles peninsula with his faithful helper Murphy (an army pack donkey) in May 1915, just a few weeks after landing at ANZAC cove with the Australian Army Medical Services on April, 25

The exhibition also features a number of local men who had equally interesting stories, including two recipients of the VC – George Burdon McKean, of Willington in Co Durham, and Hugh Cairns, of Ashington, as well as John Collinson, of Wallsend (News Guardian, July 21,2016), the man reputed to have made the first recording of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in 1926.

Isaac Ivan Finn, of South Shields and later Canada, suffered a serious injury from a shell explosion and when operated on the surgeons found his pipe had been blasted into his body. Too ill to return to active duty he spent the rest of the war in the USA seeking British and Canadian expatriates to enlist in the Canadian forces while keeping his pipe close by and in daily use.

These Dominion Geordies and several others feature in a special edition of our well-known Tyneside Tommy dog tag labels attached to bottles of the popular ale produced for us by Three Kings Brewery.

There are now 30 Tyneside Tommy story labels to collect including the special ‘Somme’ edition of nine Tyneside Tommies, featuring men of North Tyneside lost in that campaign. All the new ‘tags’ can be obtained with Tyneside Tommy ale from the usual outlets selling the beer.

The two major exhibitions we produced this year – Tyneside and the battle of Jutland and North Tynesiders and the Battle of the Somme – have been relocated until September 3. The Jutland exhibition is at Wallsend Customer First Centre and the Somme exhibition has been moved to the White Swan Centre at Killingworth. Further venues after September 3 will be announced in the coming weeks.

The first of the autumn talks in our regular series at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, North Shields, will be given at 7.30pm on Tuesday, September 13, when Colin Hatton, of the Durham Branch (Stockton) Western Front Association, will talk on the Railways of the First World War.

It is not widely known that the army laid more than 1,000 miles of narrow gauge railway in the British frontline areas to secure supplies of vital material, food and ammunition to the fighting men.

The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war.