Victims from all walks of life

George Houghton
George Houghton

The Northumbria World War One project is researching the fatal casualties of that war who were from the North Tyneside area along with information on their lives before the outbreak of war.

The majority of casualties either worked in coalmines or the shipyards. Some though had more unusual jobs, such as 2nd Lieutenant George Houghton, of Whitley Bay.

In the 1911 Census George is 29 and living with his wife Hilda Louise and their young son George in Ilfracombe Gardens in the town and his occupation is ‘Theatrical (Pierrot)’…in other words a clownlike mime artist, popular among audiences of the time.

From newspaper accounts he takes over the running of the new Whitley Bay Kursaal, renamed the Playhouse, along with business partner, a Mr Ambro, in March 1913.

As well as manager/proprietor of the venue and running successful concert companies, George performed on stage in a variety of roles. He is believed to have had a fine tenor voice. The photograph of George is from a promotional flyer from the opening concert at the Kursaal, featuring the ‘Debonairs’, one of his concert companies. He clearly had film star looks. Incidentally, Kursaal was a German name for an entertainment venue that was to become unpopular during the war.

The photograph, along with those of other performers, was taken by the celebrated Whitley Bay photographer, Gladstone Adams. Adams was a remarkable character. As an accomplished photographer, he became Newcastle United’s first official snapper, an inventor of early versions of the windscreen wiper and indicator, as well as the sliding rowing seat.

His served in the war as a photo reconnaissance officer in the Royal Flying Corps, a dangerous role in flimsy aircraft. He identified, and later arranged the burial of the top German pilot Manfred von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’, after he had been shot down and killed in 1917.

During the war George Houghton joined the West Yorkshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant, later being attached to the Dorsetshires. He entered France in May 1917 and spent much time on the frontline. At the beginning of August 1918 he spends a few days on leave back home. It would be for the last time. On the 27th of that month he is killed in action and is buried in Warlencourt British cemetery in the Somme area.

His death came as a shock to his family and many friends in the world of the theatre. The Seaside Chronicle records that “…he was most popular, his genial disposition endearing him to all…”. He left £785. 4s in his will to Hilda, a substantial sum for the time.

If you have information on any casualties, contact www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into our office at B9 in the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields.