Friday, 18 May 2018

South Shields May 1918

Header of a map showing South Shields coast (May 1918) (D/DLI 2/3/10)
D/DLI 2/3/10 Header of a map showing South Shields coast (May 1918)
Most of the First World War maps in our collection are trench maps of France and Flanders. However, we do have one that is a bit different. It shows the coast defences of the 3rd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, in May 1918. We do not have anything else in our collection quite like it. It shows trenches, billets, stokes mortar and machine gun emplacements, bomb stores, and regimental first aid posts. 

In the first days after England declared war, Colonel Hubert Morant was in charge of getting the 3rd Battalion in order and to South Shields. He writes the following in his memoirs:
‘By 2pm [8 August 1914], the battalion (3rd) marched off and entrained for South Shields, its War Station, held during the first four days of mobilisation by the territorials and various detachments of regulars, including companies from 2nd Battalion from Litchfield.
The 3rd Battalion marched off some 200-300 men short, and I was left behind to bring on the stragglers – mostly drunk. All the afternoon I was hustling drunken men and marching them down to the station in parties as they were dressed.
At 6am next morning (Sunday), I left Newcastle for South Shields. Here chaos reigned. The battalion was finding three companies to furnish posts along the coast… Also guards at Smith’s Docks, Palmers Dock, Hawthorn, Leslie, and Jarrow, ranging from one company to a small detachment.

The remainder of the men were billeted in Westgate Road School, where men were constantly arriving… During this time, I busied myself in planning and constructing trenches for the defence of the coast. These were not up to modern standards. I had not made a trench for 25 years!'
Section of map showing the gun emplacement at Frenchman's Bay (May 1918) (D/DLI 2/3/10)
D/DLI 2/3/10 Section of map showing the gun emplacement at Frenchman's Bay (May 1918)
'A big gun (4.7?) was on its way to its position in Frenchman’s Battery, this was being man hauled at the rate of a few yards per diem. It was not until about 15 August that it arrived at the Battery, but when it was got actually into position, I do not know’.

The 3rd Battalion map shows the gun emplacement at Frenchman’s Bay. The photograph is from Britain From Above, showing the battery in 1943.
Frenchman's Battery, 1943, Copyright Historic England
Frenchman's Battery, 1943,
Also shown on the map of coastal defences at South Shields, is the seaplane sheds. These were used by the Royal Naval Air Service in the First World War. Their location made them a useful spot for refuelling planes between Killingholme, Lincoln, and bases in Scotland. The crew based there were used for escorting convoys of boats and look out for suspicious activity at sea. 

In 1972, the Imperial War Museum conducted an oral history interview with Vice Air Marshal Christopher Bilney. His first posting to an operational station after he had completed his training was to South Shields seaplane station in 1917. In the interview, Bilney describes it as:
‘A small seaplane station, with, I think, three or four pilots, and the CO [commanding officer] who was a pilot, but never flew as far as I know. Our main job was escorting coastal convoys between the Farne Islands and the Tees. The actual station was situated on the Herd Sands in the harbour at the entrance to the Tyne, and we had a [corrugated] steel hangar… and a slip way… and some workshops. The harbour was generally too small for us to take off in. If there was a strong wind, sometimes you could scramble over the sea walls. So mostly we had to go outside to try and get off the water and that was usually pretty rough.’
Section showing the seaplane sheds (May 1918) (D/DLI 2/3/10)
D/DLI 2/3/10 Section showing the seaplane sheds (May 1918)
Bilney goes on to describe the impact the commanding officer had on their activities:
‘I fear that like many of the senior naval officers, he had absolutely no idea whatsoever the capabilities of aircraft, and he used to order us out in the most impossible weather… Then go outside [the harbour] and frantically taxi around, get soaked to the skin and never have a hope in hell of getting off the water. Or go out, and it was so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, so you weren’t likely to see any enemy activity even if you got airborne’.

You can read more about other men who were stationed at the seaplane base at South Shields by following the related stories links at the bottom of the page:

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Raine sisters

Volunteer Fiona Johnson brings us the story of the Raine sisters for Nurses' Day on 12 May 2018.
Photograph showing the Entrance Hall, Brancepeth Castle, in use as a hospital ward, c.1915 - 1919 (D/Ph 90/47)
D/Ph 90/47 Photograph showing the Entrance Hall, Brancepeth Castle, in use as a hospital ward, c.1915 - 1919
I’ve recently been researching into some of the women who responded to the need for nurses during the First World War, working in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals within County Durham.

One story I found particularly interesting was that of the four Raine sisters from Brancepeth.  The sisters were part of a large farming family who lived and worked at Nafferton Farm in Brancepeth.  The two older sisters, Annie Jane and Hilda, began working as Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses in May 1915.  They nursed at their local hospital, the 7th Durham VAD hospital at Brancepeth Castle.  Just over a year later their younger sisters, Mary Hannah and Sarah, joined them as nurses at the same hospital.  The four sisters had four brothers but I have not been able to find any record of them serving in the war.  

The sisters continued to nurse at the hospital for varying lengths of time, with Hilda and Mary Hannah returning to the family farm when they finished nursing.  However, both Annie and Sarah went on to complete nursing training at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and it was their stories I particularly enjoyed researching.
Photograph showing a group of wounded soldiers, with nurses, taken on an outing to Tow Law, 17 May, 1916 (D/Ph 90/45/1)
D/Ph 90/45/1 Photograph showing a group of wounded soldiers, with nurses, taken on an outing to Tow Law, 17 May, 1916
Annie trained as a nurse between 1916 and 1919 and was listed as a registered nurse in Brancepeth in 1925.  In 1927 she married Otto Gruber Wilde, a medical professional originally from Ireland.  Otto spent time over the next ten years or so in Ghana, and Annie joined her husband for part of this time.  After their time in Africa, Otto and Annie returned to England and settled with their family in Surrey.  

Sarah completed her nursing training after her sister, between 1923 and 1926.  She initially worked as a nurse in Browney Colliery but then began to travel widely during a long career in nursing.  She spent time all over the world including Palestine, Egypt, Bermuda and Canada. 

Researching more into the lives of Annie and Sarah, who readily answered the call for nurses needed to work at the VAD hospitals, made me reflect on what their lives would have been like if they had not done this nursing during the war.  Although impossible to know, I wondered whether they may have followed the pattern of their mother’s life, marrying and becoming farmer’s wives, or perhaps Annie would have continued her training as a dressmaker which she was doing in 1911.  

However, following their time at Brancepeth Castle, Annie and Sarah must have developed a love of nursing that led them to train for a career, using the skills and experiences first gained during the war.  This guided both of them into lives dominated by their nursing and opportunities to travel to other parts of the world, a stark contrast to their previous lives in County Durham.   

For more information: 
Mary Hannah Raine

Sarah Greenwell Raine

Hilda Raine

Annie Jane Raine

Brancepeth Castle

Friday, 4 May 2018

A Zeebrugge Casualty

This week, Steve Shannon brings us another story from the Zeebrugge Raid of April 1918.
“The ‘Vindictive’ at Zeebrugge: The Storming of the Zeebrugge Mole.” Charles J de Lacy, 1918. IWM Non-commercial licence © IWM (Art.IWM ART 871)
“The ‘Vindictive’ at Zeebrugge: The Storming of the Zeebrugge Mole.” Charles J de Lacy, 1918. IWM Non-commercial licence © IWM (Art.IWM ART 871)
One hundred years ago, on Tuesday 30 April 1918, the funeral cortege of a 19-year-old sailor made its way from a small terraced house in Warwick Street, Sunderland, to Mere Knolls Cemetery. Crowds watched as the flag-draped coffin passed by carried on an artillery gun carriage. It was accompanied by buglers and a firing party from the Tyne Garrison, sailors from the Royal Naval Reserve, Sunderland Borough Policemen, workers from the local shipyard, and the Mayor of Sunderland. 

Just a few days before, Sergeant William Sutherland of the Sunderland Borough Police had been informed by the Admiralty that his son, William Leonard Sutherland, had been mortally wounded. It happened during the Royal Navy’s unsuccessful raid on Zeebrugge in Belgium, to block U-boat access to the North Sea. After the raid, the young sailor’s body had been brought back to Dover and would, if his father wished, be sent on to Sunderland for burial.

William Leonard Sutherland had worked in a blacksmith’s shop in Austin’s Shipyard before he enlisted in the Royal Navy. Though only 19 years old, the Zeebrugge raid was not his first action, as he had been aboard the battleship HMS Conqueror at the Battle of Jutland, in May 1916.

In February 1918, a call had gone out for volunteers from the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet for special duties. Over fifteen hundred sailors volunteered, including Able Seaman Sutherland, and after training he was assigned to HMS Vindictive. This old battle cruiser, specially equipped with howitzers, flame throwers and mortars, and towing two River Mersey ferries, Daffodil and Iris II (the latter of which was commanded by George Bradford), was to land a raiding party of marines and sailors. Under cover of a smoke screen, they were to attack the mole (stone breakwater) protecting the entrance of the Bruges canal and destroy the German defences. This would allow block-ships to be sunk in the canal. The plan, however, went badly wrong and the three ships came under heavy fire and were forced to withdraw, after suffering heavy casualties. According to reports at the time, Able Seaman Sutherland was the last raider to be wounded by the last German shell to hit the Vindictive, as the surviving raiders clambered back on board.

The Zeebrugge raid cost the lives of over two hundred British sailors and marines, with a further three hundred men wounded. Many of the dead were returned to their families for local burial. In Mere Knolls Cemetery, Able Seaman Sutherland was buried next to his mother, Sarah Jane, who had died in 1903. 

For further information:
Sunderland Daily Echo, Monday 29 April 1918.

Sunderland in the Great War by Clive Dunn. This book has a photograph of Able Seaman Sutherland’s grave in Mere Knolls Cemetery.

North East War Memorials Project: