Alston Moor Historical Society
This part of the site is still being developed.
The information that we are uploading is below. However, until we turn it into "html" the formatting might be completely off. Please bear with us until we finish the page.
Please call into the "Archives Office" in the Town Hall for more info.
During the early days of the war, letters from soldiers at the Front were published in local newspapers but they were discontinued early in 1916, after which time letters of condolence began to appear.
Several weekly papers covered news from Alston Moor, The Cumberland News, The Mid Cumberland and North Westmorland Herald, The Haltwhistle Echo, The Hexham Courant, The Hexham Herald, The Penrith Herald and The Penrith Observer.
A little biographical information is given about each person here, and sometimes census return information is included.
The young men who gave their lives are commemorated on two memorials and the various churches and chapels around Alston Moor:
A = Alston War Memorial
St.A = St. Augustine’s Church, Alston, screen
St.AP = St. Augustine’s Church, Alston, plaque in porch
St.P = St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Alston
SKS = Samuel Kings School, Alston
St.J.N = St. John’s Church, Nenthead
St.J.G = St. John’s Church, Garrigill
N = Nenthall War Memorial
N&M = Naval and Military Press list, 1998, in Alston Moor Historical Society Archives
often includes names not on memorials.
Bell, John Richardson
Dowson, Joseph Henry
Hewitson, Thomas Albert
Little, William John
Lowe, John W.
Letters informing of deaths:
Walton, George Pears
Unfortunately, nothing more is known about the author of this message. Joseph was obviously undergoing training ‘Somewhere in England’ and sent a group photo with his note on the back to his sister.
The Border Regiment
Nov. 8th 1914
I have received letter alright this morning (Sunday). This photo was taken on Tuesday Sept. 3 after we were obliged to remove camp owing to recent rain which caused a complete slush in the camp field & had to take advantage of a little sunshine. We had just finished our dinners in the old camp field & were preparing to return to our new abode when (the photo) was taken.
From Your Brother Joseph
Alston Moor was very quick off the mark to welcome Belgian refugees who began to arrive in November 1914. The able-bodied men among them wanted to contribute to the allied war effort and after some months several families moved away to Tyneside. Some of the menfolk sent the following letter:
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE BELGIAN REFUGEES COMMITTEE AT NENTHEAD:
Ladies and Gentlemen, - We left Nenthead with our hearts full of gratitude for the welcome received there, and for the generous hospitality we have enjoyed for so many months. We would never have thought of leaving the place before going back to our dear Belgium, had we not been called by a task which appeals to those who cannot fight for their country. We hope that in making munitions we are helping the cause of the allies, and fulfilling our duty towards the British nation who gave homes and sympathy to the Belgian refugees. As long as we live we will never forget the generous hospitality we received in Nenthead, and we beg to tender our heartfelt thanks to all the Nenthead people who bestowed it upon us, and to the committee who took care of us with the greatest devotion:-
J. Noeninck, J. Craen, A. Knops, J. Huymans, L. Bauwens.
(CWH 24/7/1915, p.1, col.6)
Corporal John Richardson Bell
John Richardson Bell at the age of 14 in 1911 was living with his uncle Joe Richardson at Eals in the South Tyne valley. As Corporal John Richardson Bell, service number 5486, of 14th London Regiment, and later number 44499 of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, he took part in the battle of Gommecourt on the 1st July 1916, where he was wounded. He wrote from the clearing hospital at Eastleigh on 16th September 1916 to his aunt Sarah Richardson in Alston and his uncle Joe. What he did not let on was that he had crawled for several days with his wounded arm and leg before he reached the allied lines.
CLEARING HOSPITAL, EASTLEIGH, Hants.
Sept. 16 1916
My dear Auntie Jessie & Uncle Joe,
I expect you will be very much surprised to find me writing from the above address. I know that you will be very pleased to hear that I am safe in good old England once more, only slightly wounded – in the left fore arm and right knee. It was a miracle that I managed to get back to a dressing station that morning. I think Providence must have guided me, for after being hit (we were advancing at the time) I crawled almost into some Huns in a wood, and it was only when I heard them talking that I knew they were there. Immediately I got away from there several tremendous shells fell on the spot.
This is only a temporary stop, I hope to be able to get to Hospital at Newcastle, although that is uncertain.
We have a very good time here, plenty of amusements, etc., and expect to remain here until Tuesday, so that if you write by return I will probably get your letter – but I don’t know, I think it perhaps would be best to wait. As soon as I know I will tell you where I am going.
Hoping to see you soon,
And with love to all,
Your Affec. Nephew,
(Alston Moor Historical Society is grateful to a descendant for allowing the reproduction of this letter.)
Private Joseph Henry Dowson, 11th (Lonsdale) Battalion, Border Regiment
In 1911 Joseph Henry Dowson was living in a five-room house at Townhead in Alston with his widowed mother, an older brother, two sisters and a nephew. He had been born in Alston and in 1911, at the age of 26, he was single and working as a labourer with the North Eastern Railway. The family moved to Arch House in Alston, and Joseph became a farm labourer. Aged 30, he enlisted in Alston on 15th January 1915, and joined ‘A’ Company of 11th (Lonsdale) Battalion of the Border Regiment, with his service number 17518.
On New Years’ Day 1916 Joseph wrote to his mother:
We got orders on Christmas Day to move to a village near the trenches, where we were billeted in an empty house. Here we had the luxury of a cupboard, and a dry wooden floor, about seven feet by eight feet to lie on. After our past experiences it was like a sort of dream – an Arabian night entertainment. I must not forget to say that we had the additional luxury of a water pump downstairs, for though mud and water is everywhere, there is scarcely a drop fit to drink. This village however is also shelled by the Germans, and before (long) we had to seek the shelter of the cellars. One end of the roof was ruined by a German shell, and the rooms underneath were not good in consequence. When we came out of the trenches the third time we found our house commandeered, and we got a barn to sleep in.
Two of us were out on listening post one night, when we had to crouch low to avoid showing ourselves above the parapet. It was a fine moonlight night, and, all being quiet, I stood straight up to get the wrinkles out of my back when immediately three bullets whistled past my head and buried themselves in the parapet behind. I laid low after that.
The third time we went into the trenches we again had an artillery fire shelter for our dugout. The first two days were very quiet on both sides, and on the afternoon of the third day I was on sentry duty, and thinking how little like war there was in the situation. Two or three of our aeroplanes were hovering overhead, when suddenly the trenches near the village seemed to rise in the air, followed by a deafening roar, and although we were about 700 yards away, the ground shook in our trenches. This was followed by seven or eight other explosions, and tree trunks and other debris were thrown high into the air. Then the aviators began to drop bombs, and our artillery began to throw shells. In a few minutes all was activity. The German trenches suffered severely as a result of this activity, which was kept up till 8pm. The Germans kept throwing star shells in front of their trenches to guard against attack.
Their principal work is rifle and machine-gun fire, with a little shrapnel now and again, but they are of little consequence. Their trench mortars make a deafening noise, but their destructive effect is hardly in keeping with the row they make. We were relieved on New Year’s Eve. I got a glimpse of a German just before we left the trench. He was walking coolly about on the top, but he was too far off to reach effectively with a rifle.
In the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald of 12th August 1916 it was reported that Joseph had been missing since 21st July, but it was later discovered that he had actually been killed in action on 1st July, at the battle of the Somme.
Private Joseph Henry Dowson is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial and in Alston on the War Memorial and in St. Augustine’s Church. His 1914-15 Star, War and Victory medals, and his Memorial Plaque were donated to the King’s Own Border Regiment Museum in Carlisle in 2011.
(MCWH 27/2/1915, HE 21/1/1916, p.4, col.4, CWH, 12/8/1916, photo, p.1, col.3, HE 21/1/1916, p.4, col.4. CN 22/1/1916 (part only about listening post) p.4, col.4))
Private John Dryden, 2nd Artillery, Border Regiment
John Dryden was born about 1884, the son of Barron and Hannah Dryden of Fairhill, Nenthead. He enlisted early in the war in September 1914, going first for training at Shoeburyness, followed by 3 weeks in France and another week “hard drilling” and then to the trenches. In February 1915 he was named on Nenthead’s Role of Honour. (MCWH 3/10/1914. HE 16/10/1914, p.4, col.5. CWH, 6/2/1915, p.1, col.8.)
In July 1915 John wrote from France home to his mother, who was by now a widow and living in Whitehall, Nenthead. His published letter was titled:
NENTHEAD SOLDIER ON LIFE IN THE TRENCHES
Perhaps it may be of interest to you to hear of a few of my experiences since I enlisted. Since I joined the colours I have seen a lot and gone through a lot.
I thought that when we were in England we had a grand and jolly time of it, but since we left its shores we have got to know what life is. All the same I do not wish to come back yet to my native village. I left for a good cause and I intend to do my duty for my country if God spares me.
I like old England’s scenery better than the scenery out here; of course you haven’t much pleasure in scenery in a time like this.
Previous to going to the front we underwent a good amount of training at Shoeburyness, and when we went to France we had about three weeks training and rifle practice. We had another week’s hard drilling at the base, and then we were sent into the trenches.
Trench life is all right in fine weather, but in wet weather it is ‘chronic’. You are sometimes up to your knees in mud and water, but you learn to put up with those inconveniences.
Things are not so bad if there is a decent water supply at hand, where you can get a good wash and shave. So far we have been fairly fortunate in that respect. It is refreshing when you can get a good wash after you have been in those horrible places for three or four days.
The Germans like to disturb your tranquillity as much as possible, and now and again ‘Jack Johnsons’ are flying over your head. When these shells burst they are just like loud peals of thunder.
I have not received a scratch yet, but I have had some narrow escapes, and comrades have often fallen near to me. It is awful at times. Men have no idea what a soldier’s life is like until they have tried it. I do hope that more will come forward, and lend a hand in some kind of work, and do their duty.
We can see the Germans walking about the trenches on the other side, and they sometimes yell like pigs.
Parcels from home containing eatables of various kinds are always acceptable, and when one receives a parcel he often shares it with his comrades. (HE 16/7/1915, p.4, col.5. CWH 17/7/1915, p.3, col.6)
In July 1915 John was wounded and sent to hospital in Cheltenham (CWH 11/8/1917, p.1, col.1). On his recovery he returned to the front and in February 1916 another letter, this time to his friends, was also published:
The Battle of Loos was something dreadful. On that particular day, Fritz, as we call him out here, was very busy bombarding our positions, some of the shells landing close to our billets. They were not “whizz bangs” or “10 o’clocks”, but great Jack Johnson’s. They come whistling through the air like an express train, and with a report very like a loud peal of thunder. Shortly after dark we got order to move up to the reserve trenches. In the morning we were told to make ready for action, and shortly after daybreak our artillery opened fire, and sent them a good number of shells through; in fact, it was the heaviest bombardment they had got for a very long time. We just paid them back in return for what they gave our chaps at Mons. The Germans thought they were going to do wonders, but we have let them see that we are as good as they with their great guns. When our guns ceased to roar we were ordered to make a dash, and you ought to have seen our boys. Everyone seemed at his best going might and main with the bayonet. These are the times when the Huns get paid back in his own coin. In that attack, which was successful on our part, a good number of our men suffered from the nasty gassy shells. On my part, I have taken no hurt except being nearly buried a few times when the shells have burst. I must not forget to tell you that the best sight I have ever seen was when the artillery was moved forward about two miles behind us to cover the ground we had wrested from the Germans, and were I to tell you the number of guns our men had in action alone you would be surprised, but that is a secret. (PH 5/2/1916 & Nenthead Notes – photocopy from S. Danby)
Private John Dryden survived the war but he is not named on any surviving role of honour.
Lance Corporal Patrick Gilmore, Northumberland Fusiliers
Patrick Gilmore was the youngest son of Patrick Gilmore, a general dealer of the Butts. Confusingly he had nephew of same name. They were almost of an age and they attended school together as ‘Big Pat’ and ‘Little Pat’. (MCW 5/12/1914) In 1891 ‘Big Pat’ was 11 years old, and ‘Little Pat’, the son of Peter Gilmore, a mineral dealer who also lived in the Butts, was aged 7.
Big Pat left Alston to join the army when he was quite young. He was at first in the 2nd Border Regiment during the Boer War, but towards the end he was attached to 5th Mounted Infantry. He rejoined ‘E’ Company of the Border Regiment and went though Burma Expedition. He was a notable athlete and a member of the Regimental football team that won the Association Football Cup in India in 1902-03. At the beginning of Great War Patrick was called up as a reservist and was at front continuously afterwards where he saw “a good deal of fighting”. He still had a strong attachment to the town; early in 1915 he wrote to Jeffery Beadle:
We’re still pegging away here as hard as possible, but we are holding the same trenches yet, and I don’t think we will be able to advance until the weather becomes fair, as the ground here is very wet and muddy and it is nearly impossible to get over it. The Germans have been trying very hard to break through as La Basses, but they have been driven back every time with great loss of life. There is not much trouble hitting a few of them, as it is impossible to miss them the way they come; in fact they simply advance in a crowd, and our Maxim guns have play with them.
Our Regiment has lost a lot of men and is losing them steadily daily here, but nothing with what the Germans are losing. We are in a very dangerous part of the line. We have the snipers trying to pick us off all day, and they are continually sending shells of all sizes over, and it is pretty lively I can tell you, also the aeroplanes try to drop a few bombs on us now and again; but they say ‘All is fair in love and war.’ We have plenty of excitement. It wouldn’t do to have heart disease here; I think the first day out would be the last. I still think I will be home by August, and I will be up at Alston to see you all. I hope the lads who have left here are getting on well. If they happen to get out here they will see a bit more of life. (CN 27/2/1915, p.8, col.7)
Then in June another letter was published, this time to Mr. T.J. Storey, a dentist of Alston:
I have not had time for any writing lately as we have been kept busy engaging the Germans, and we had a rough task of it, but we gained our object, and we pushed them well back. We started our advance on the 26th and we kept it up for three days. Our regiment was the first to advance to take the first line of trenches, and we had a very hard battle, and I am sorry to say we have lost a great many of our lads, some of the best that could be found in the Army but we knew when we started that we had a stiff task to perform, and we also knew we were sure to lose a lot of men.
We were not sure whether we could take the position or not, as the Germans had boasted many a time that it was impregnable. But they altered their opinion when we took three lines of trenches from them and a great many prisoners in the one day. A great many of them were coming across to surrender when their own artillery caught them and nearly wiped the whole lot out. They are supposed to be the pick of the German army who are against us here, but the prisoners we are taking here are a snivelling cringing lot. All you can get out of them is ‘England soldier comrade’ and England army good army’, but it won’t wash with Tommy, as we have not forgotten the Lusitania, and we are sure to get our revenge before long.
I got slightly wounded in the knee in the last affair with a lump from one of their 6” howitzers, and I was fortunate that it was not more serious. (HE 18/6/1915, p.5, col.5)
Patrick wrote again to Mr. Storey in October 1916:
Just a few lines to let you know, after a few hard weeks engaged with the Huns, I am still alive. I am glad to state that we drove them back from a very strong position which looked impregnable. It was nearly impossible for our shellfire to interfere with them, as their dug outs were from 16 to 20 feet underground, and we had an open plain of 500 yards to cross between this trench and ours. Their machine guns gave us a lot of trouble. We captured two of them when we took the trench, and about 150 prisoners. This is my company alone, but the remainder of the company did well, too; they captured other two machine guns, four field guns and a number of prisoners. After taking the trench we pushed on for another 1,000 yards and then dug ourselves in. The Border regiment is still keeping up its good name. We can feel the winter drawing on fast, and it is very cold and frosty at nights, but I think they will let us have a couple of months at home this winter. It would give the lads a chance to pull themselves together before the spring, as it is my opinion this war will last a bit yet. (CN 16/10/1915, p.4, col.7. HC 19/10/1915, p.7, col.6)
The Hexham Courant reported in November 1915 that, “After a recent engagement (Private Gilmore) was called forward on parade and presented with a certificate.” (HC 27/11/1915, photo, p.2, col.?)
Lance Corporal Patrick Gilmore survived the war but his name does not appear on any surviving role of honour.
Private Thomas Albert Hewitson, Territorial Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers
Thomas Albert Hewitson was born on 2nd November 1894, the son of Adam (a stone mason) and Mary Alice. In 1911, at the age of 17, he was living with his father, his mother, three younger brothers, and three younger sisters at Overwater in Nenthead. Albert, as he was called, worked as a labourer on the ore-dressing floor of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium, the largest employer in the area, he enlisted in the 1st/5th, or 4th, Territorial Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, service number 242535, and he appeared on Nenthead’s Roll of Honour in 1915. (CWH, 6/2/1915 p.1, col.8)
He fought at Ypres with the 4th Northumberland Fusiliers, and was reported in May as saying that “last week’s engagement was a heavy one.” (HE 14/5/1915, p.4, col.5: HE 21/5/1915, p.4, col.5.) In June a letter from him to his father was published that read:
We spent our Whit Monday in the first line trenches. We were in the first line 48 hours, and we could see the Germans walking about in their trenches. We were shelled while we were in and a good number of our men got hit. We were brought back to the reserve trenches, and they sent ‘Jack Johnsons’ over in our trenches. I thank my God I am here today because one shell dropped a yard from me. How it missed me I cannot tell, and the men next me were badly wounded. Another shell dropped in the next trench and knocked a chap out belonging Alston; they called him J. Bennet - he was killed. William Teasdale of Nenthead had a narrow escape as well. There is a big battery just behind us in a wood the Germans have shelled the wood for six weeks to try to find the battery, but they have not succeeded. When we came here, on Whit Monday the Germans were using the gas. We had our respirators on that is why we were not gassed. They also use explosive bullets.
(HE, 11/6/1915, p.5, col.3)
In the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald of the 24th November 1917, it was announced that Private Albert Hewitson of the Northumberland Fusiliers, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Hewitson, Spring House, Whitehall, Nenthead, had been killed. He died on Passchendaele Ridge on the 26th October 1917, he was 23 years old.
Private Thomas Albert Hewitson is commemorated in Poelcapelle British Cemetery and in St. John’s Church, Nenthead. (CWH 24/11/1917, p.1, col.5, CWH 17/8/1918, photo, p.3,: CWH 19/10/1918, p.5, col.6)
John Cameron Holmes, South African forces
John Cameron Holmes was born at Grassfield near Nentsbury in 1880 and baptised on 15 April 1880 at Nentsbury Wesleyan Chapel. Cameron emigrated to South Africa where, by 1914, he had a large farm and it was there that he joined the Union of South Africa army to fight the German colonial forces.
In March 1915 Cameron wrote a letter to his father, Walton Holmes, a mine agent for the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium, the largest employer in the area:
I wonder what you would think of this country – about 100 miles of desert – we are crossing on horseback. It is a wonderful sight, nothing but sand and sand dunes. The wind blows the sand like snow into great heaps, and often moves them about. It is very hard on the horses.
We are about 1,200 strong and all the water has to be carried by train. We get one bottle a day to drink and wash in. Needless to say the washing is a secondary matter. I have not had a wash for three days, and we get worse as we go on.
There are patrols of Germans about now, and we expect a fight any day. There is a flying machine on the move, and we keep a strict look out for this. It killed three mules yesterday about nine miles away. It makes it very interesting and exciting to be near the beggars.
We move on today, and hope to be in the fun soon, in fact any day. In spite of the shortage of water, sand storms and sore eyes, we are all very happy. When the storms arise we have veils and goggles to wear; but what a country – miles and miles of sand.
We are marching over diamond fields. Fellows are always on the look out when we halt, and some have got quite a nice lot. There are some very rich fields here, and we will have marched over millions of pounds worth.
I am feeling very fit and well, and enjoying this trip. My pony was very tired after yesterday’s march, but got quite fit again in the cool evening. It makes you fed up when your horse gets sick in a place like this. We came across bones in one place – animals which had strayed and died.
I like marching. We march to places where the train brings water and food. We link our horses together at night, put a blanket down, and, after feeding, go to sleep. It is a fine experience and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
We expect to be fighting before we see any grass. (CWH 15/5/1915, p.1, col.4)
The German army in German South West Africa, now Namibia, surrendered two months later, on 9th July 1915.
Nurse Wilhelmina (Mina) Lee
Mina Lee became a nurse at a mature age. In 1901 Mina was 23 with no occupation, she was living at home at Randleholme Farm near Alston with her parents William and Catherine, her two brothers Samuel and George, and her sister Elizabeth. By 1911 she was a pupil midwife at Bristol Royal Infirmary, from where she went to Edinburgh. On the outbreak of war she went to join a privately run field hospital for the French soldiers that had been given and fully equipped by Lady Wemyss of Wemyss Castle. (CWH 26/12/1914, p.1, col.?)
Nurse Mina Lee
From the Hospital Militaire, called Wemyss Hospital after its founder, at Canley, Oise in France, which was in a chateau, Mina wrote letters home. These were sent to the local paper that edited extracts for publication:
What a rough passage we have had, nearly all the passengers sea sick. Left Boulogne at 7pm on Tuesday night, by train, very slow. We arrived at the Chateau on Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock; all very tired and black as sweeps. The Chateau will be very nice when we get it prepared. There are thirty of us, and we are all well, and getting on fine.
Letters and parcels are a mystery. Some arrive all right, others are opened, and some arrive sooner than others. The Censor must be having a lively time. Needless to say letters will be very welcome indeed.
We are not busy in the hospital just now, but expect to have a rush in about a week’s time. We can put up about sixty patients comfortably, but will have to take more, I am afraid, and all surgical cases. Lady Eva had equipped the Hospital very well, and with good doctors. The X-ray Department is at present worked by a lady; it will be very useful.
Aeroplanes and bi-planes are a common sight here, and it is very marvellous to see them. We saw one just above the Chateau the other day. It looks so strange to see people flying in the air.
The orderlies are very nice men. Our interpreter is a relative of General Booth (Salvation Army). This is an agricultural part, and the land is all ploughed by oxen, and they do look so slow. The women are plentiful here and doing men’s work. The French uniform is rather pretty but very conspicuous – red breeks and pretty blue jackets. The men are more robust-looking than ours, and much stronger. We often see the French troops passing. We can distinctly hear the cannons from the field. I think we are much safer here than at Wemyss Castle.
Lady Eva had been to Paris and the sadness there is awful. The people are mostly in mourning, and so dark the place is kept. The French simply mourn about their lovely Paris, in fact they are much more depressed than we are, and no wonder when you hear what they have gone through. I am afraid food will get very scarce here, and we have been badly off for water, but hope to get that put all right soon.
It is most difficult getting about. You must have your passport, etc., with you, and even then be sometimes be turned back. Spies are the trouble. The Government officials are very pleased with our motor ambulances; they are well fitted up with good stretchers and every convenience. We have three, so we are well off.
The French troops, when not very busy, are great at football, and the match always on a Sunday, not far from our hospital. They are very friendly and ask our orderlies to join them. The French coffee is very good, but tea they cannot make. On our off duty we go shopping, which is a consternation to the villagers in getting them to understand.
The generals from the French Army are often round, and look very smartly over the work. We had a very interesting war correspondent to lunch today. Lady Eva is well known out here, and many people come to see her.
The ward I am in has twenty beds, all surgical cases. All cases are septic, and no wonder, when wounded lie twenty-four hours before being attended to. We have prepared a good operating room, and the X-ray department, needless to say, is a great help in exploring where that awful shrapnel has done such harm.
Lady Eva speaks French fluently, and is giving the patients a good time, also Countess Gleichen, and the Duchess, who is the owner of the Chateau. The greatest difficulty is getting stores from England. We are expecting some of our own British soldiers, and won’t we be good to them! The peasants here will do anything for us; wash, mend or darn, if we can only get them to understand.
Our ambulances go out three or four times a week to the nearest station, Compeingne, for wounded. I went though a properly made trench the other day. They are wonderful inside, but to be in them under such circumstances must be awful. (CWH 10/4/1915, p.1, col.2)
In August 1915 a Roll of Honour was placed in Alston Post Office window. On the Roll was “Nurse Lee, Hospital DU, France”. (PO, 6/8/1915, p.3, col.4) In the same month extracts of another of her letters, this time written to Mrs. Oxland, the vicar’s wife, were published:
Lady Eva Wemyss had asked me to write and thank you and all the ladies belonging to your work party for the useful parcel of garments, etc., she has just received from you, and how kind it is of you to remember us so far away. The shirts, which are most acceptable and so sensibly made, are naturally coming to my ward. The small bags are most useful and necessary for the patients, in which to put their little treasures, besides helping to keep the wards tidy. The French do appreciate the English helping them in their hospitals, and I have enjoyed nursing amongst the French soldiers; they are such good patients. The only disadvantage is the language, but we get along very well, and it is often a cause of much amusement on both sides. What a success your sewing meetings have been, and what useful work you are doing for the hospitals! I can assure you it is highly appreciated. It makes a big difference when we have plenty of changes of garments, as most of the wounds have to be dressed so often.
Here we are very lucky, as Lady Wemyss keeps us well supplied, and gives all connected to the hospital a good time. Unless something unforeseen happens this hospital may be closed about the end of September owing to the centre, from which we get our wounded, being threatened with bombardment. It has already been shelled twice, so that the wounded will have to be sent elsewhere.
Our cases are all surgical. We have two very good English doctors, also French surgeons from Compiegne. We go in a good deal for open-air and sun treatment for the wounds, which often proves very successful. It is quite interesting seeing all the beds outside. The men enjoy it when it is not too hot, but the flies are most troublesome at times. Altogether this chateau makes a delightful hospital; but I am afraid we have a dreary winter in front of us. I mean to try to get into a British hospital if this is closed, to be with our own men. (HC 21/8/1915, p.2, col.8)
From France, Mina went out to Salonika to the Red Cross Hospital to join, by coincidence, two other ladies from Alston, sisters Wilhelmina and Martha James. Early in 1918 Miss Mina Lee was officially mentioned by her Commander in Chief of the British Salonika Forces for gallant conduct and distinguished services. (PO, 25/6/1918, p.2, col.5)
Private William John Little, 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers
In 1911, William John Little at the age of 30 lived with his wife Clara Maria at South Tyne Cottages, Alston. William was a traveller for a wine & spirit merchant. The couple had a little boy, William.
After war broke out William enlisted in Newcastle, and newspapers reported that he was the first recruit from Alston. Whether or not he was actually the first, he was certainly one of the first. William became number 8504 in the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers. He was one of the first men in Alston District to ride a motor cycle and as such he was granted a transfer from the Fusiliers to the Army Service Corps as a despatch rider. In January 1915 he was training at Sunderland but expected to be posted soon to Aldershot. (CN 30/1/1915, p.8, col.3)
In a letter to a friend written in May, William wrote that the Germans had got all his belongings, including part of a cake in a box through which a bullet had passed, and that the officer to whom he was acting as orderly had “had his head blown off.” (HE, 21/5/1915, p.4, col.5; PO, 25/5/1915, p.6, col.5: HC, 29/5/1915, p.8, col.4. His name was given as Litt in papers.)
Sadly, not long afterwards William was killed in action on 8th July. (HE 23/7/1915, p.5, col.5: HC 24/7/1915, p.5, col.1: PO 27/7/1915, p.3, col.4: CN 24/7/1915, p.8, col.2). On the Roll of Honour placed in Alston Post Office window, in July 1915 his name was underlined in red, indicating that he had been killed. (PO, 6/8/1915, p.3, col.4) The local newspapers reported how William had died:
How Alston Soldier met his death: Private W.J. Little.
On 8th July his company was in the trenches. He and three other men were asleep in a dugout when at 3.30pm a shell struck it and exploded. One man was killed outright and the other three all died later. Private Little, who died about six o’clock, was badly wounded in the head and legs, and from the first no hope was entertained of his life. He was buried at noon the next day in a cemetery at the west side of a wood known as Ridgewood, about one mile south east of Dickebisch and his grave was marked with a cross, set up by his regiment. Second lieutenant Bacon, in sending his sympathy to Private Little’s friends, states that he was sorry to lose such a strong fellow. He would doubtless have been a useful man if he came to blows with the enemy. Private Little, the son of Mr. W.R. Little, Alston, was the first Alston native to fall in the fight. (PO 17/8/1915, p3, col.1: HC 21/8/1915, p.2, col.7)
A memorial service was held for William John Little and three other Alston soldiers, James Bennett, Noel Oxland and Thomas Railton, the first four Alstonians to be killed in action. (PO 31/8/1915, p.3, col.1. HE 3/9/1915, p.4, col.5) Perhaps it was because he was not living in Alston at the time, but William’s name does not appear on any memorials.
Gunner John W. Lowe, Royal Field Artillery
John W. Lowe of Skelgill, just outside Alston, enlisted in the spring of 1915. (HC 1/5/1915, p.3, col.5) In August he wrote a letter home:
Just a line to let you know that I am going on all right. We are staying two or three miles away from a town, and when one enters the town one is struck by the seemingly peaceful aspect of it. The men and women are working just as usual, and the children are playing about the streets, although certain parts of the town have been nearly knocked to pieces by the German Huns, even the graves in some of the churchyards are smashed to pieces, and in some cases the churches are knocked down. I think these Germans are ‘kultured’ enough to commit almost anything.
Our life here is practically underground, and I find my experiences as a miner very useful to making a dug out. I have a dug out which I made myself. I sunk it 7 feet down then drifted 4 feet, and I put in a lot of hay, and so I am as cosy as a king.
Some of our section were playing at marbles the other day with bullets from German shrapnel. I don’t know how it comes but a lot of their shells never seem to explode. Of course that is none the worse for us. I have never known many of their ‘Jack Johnsons’ to fail. You should see the holes they make. You can easily put a horse and cart out of sight in the hole. (HE 20/8/1915, p.4, col.5)
In November he wrote again:
Since I returned to the front, after my few days’ leave, I have not been in the best of health. I expect it will be the change of climate, and probably taking off all my clothes at home. Out here in action we never have our clothes off; we have to be ready at a minute’s call to man the guns, and cover the bravest of the brave lads, the infantrymen, in case the Huns get the wind up and try to rush the goal. Recently I visited what used to be a city of renown. It made my heart ache to see the ruins of the most beautiful architecture ever erected by man blasted and shell-blown almost beyond recognition, and that is only one of the many places on the fighting front that has been ruined in a similar manner. Well we are having white frosts at nights and generally a drop of rain during the day, and, what makes it worse, your feet are always clogged with mud, but I have sent home for a pair of clogs. I think the miners of Weardale and Nenthead, who go to work in their clogs and travel over mountains and bogs, would be much more comfortable in their clogs than (we) are in boots.
(CWH 11/12/1915, p.1, col.4)
A few weeks later he wrote:
I expect you will be preparing for Xmas now – a time of peace and good will so they say. I wish it were so out here. A comrade of mine died in my arms, and I had the job of carrying him to the doctor under shell fire. It gave me a shock, but you soon come back to the normal condition again.
I had rather a queer experience in my dug out the other evening. I was awakened by a rat sitting on my face with wet feet. He came to a premature end and got a British bayonet point through him. There are rats out here almost as big as rabbits, and they have got more impudence than me, so you will understand they are pretty well furnished. (CWH 1/1/1916, p.3, col.7)
Gunner John W. Lowe, R.F.A., survived the war.
LETTERS NOTIFYING DEATHS
Private James Nicholson, Drummer (11th) Lonsdale Battalion, Border Regiment
James Dixon Nicholson, Drmr, Pte. N&M A St.A St.AP - - - St.J.N -
James was the son of James Nicholson, a hairdresser in the Market Place, Alston, and his wife Ruth. James married Alice Cousin and went to live in Ivy House, Nenthead. He was 28 when he volunteered in 1915, joining the 11th Lonsdale Battalion of the Border Regiment as Private No. 17488. He appeared on Nenthead’s Roll of Honour. (CWH 6/2/1915 p.1, col.8)
In 1911 James lived with his family in the Market Place in Alston.
James Nicholson h m 50 Hairdresser Alston
Ruth w m 52 “
William Newton s s 25 Groom at hotel “
James s s 23 Hairdresser “
Frances Ann d s 20 “
Tom s 15 Hairdresser “
Frederick Godfrey vis s 23 Railway Clerk, NER Heads Nook
A keen musician, “a cornet player of more than usual ability”, James was at first in Alston Brass Band and then in Nenthead Brass Band. James was a bugler at HQ when he was wounded in the ‘great advance’ of 1st July 1916, the Somme, and died on 3rd July. His commanding officer also died. James’ wife received official notice on a Tuesday, although she had been receiving letters of condolence during the previous fortnight.
Pte. T.W. Moffatt wrote home about his friend James, and then Captain Harris wrote a letter to James’s parents:
May I offer you my heartfelt sympathy in the loss of your son in the great advance. I was extremely sorry to hear of his death as I recognised in him one of our best men. Unfortunately we saw little of him in the platoon, as he was in headquarters as a bugler. That was our misfortune, and I feel pretty certain that he would have been a NCO long since if he had been in the ranks. He stuck to his post to the last, and was killed along with our splendid CO who was leading the headquarters over. He will be very much missed here, both by officers and men. May God give you strength to bear your sad loss. (CWH 5/8/1916, p.1, col.5. HE 11/8/1916, p.5, col.6 , HC 12/8/1916, p.10, col.2)
James Dixon Nicholson was interred in Warlon-Ballion Cemetery, in Albert, France. His name also appears on gravestone 12A in Nenthead, on the reverse of that of Isaac Cousin and his wife, whose son-in-law he was.
Private Sydney Stephens, Border Regiment
Sydney Stephens, Pte. - - - - - - - St.J.N -
From the census returns of 1901 and 1911 we get an idea of the life of the Stephens family.
1901 Holmsfoot, Nenthead
William Stephens h m 46 Lead Miner Cornwall, Liskeard
Mary w m 36 Devonshire, Buckland
Edith d 13 “ “
Emily d 12 “ “
William s 11 “ “
Beatrice d 8 N’lnd, Haydon Bridge
Sydney s 4 “ “ “
Joseph s 3 C’lnd, Alston
Florence d 2 “ “
Albert s 10mo. “ “
1911, Nenthead (4 rooms)
William Stephens h m 58 Retired Lead Miner Lishard, Cornwall
Mary w m 46 Robrough, South Devon
William s s 21 Lead Miner Grenaven, “ “
Sydney s 15 Labourer on Dressing Floor Haydon Bridge
Joseph s 13 School Nenthead
Albert s 10 “ “
Florence d 11 “ “
Bessie d 1 “
Sydney was the son of William Stephens, a lead miner, and his wife Mary. He was born in Haydon Bridge, and christened on 21/8/1899 at St. John’s Church in Nenthead. The family had moved to Wellgill (MCW 3/10/1914) by the time Sydney enlisted in the Border Regiment with the number 13015 and appeared on Nenthead’s Roll of Honour. (CWH 6/2/1915 p.1, col.8)
Private Sydney Stephens was killed in action on 15th July 1917, he had been hit by a piece of shell and died instantly. He was buried in La Belle Alliance Cemetery, France.
As if this was not devastating enough, 13 months before this, Sydney’s father and eldest brother William had died within two days of each other, and another brother, Private Joe Stephens, had died of wounds in France in September 1916 aged only 19. (CWH 28/7/1917, p.1, col.7: CWH 18/8/1917, photo, p.3).
A letter from Private Robert E. Armstrong of Nenthead sent to Mrs. Cox in Nenthead read:
I have got some sad news for you. It has fallen to my lot to tell you that poor Sydney Stephens was killed on the 15th. He got hit by a piece of shell and died instantly; so we have this consolation that he died a painless death. I have lost the only pal I had from Nenthead, and it has upset me a great deal. I thought I would write and tell you, as it might be some time before you got to know, and it is not a job I like. Would you kindly tell Mrs. Bost, who frequently sent him parcels. (CWH 28/7/1917, p.1, col.7)
Renee Bost was the French wife of a Belgian clerk of the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium for whom Sydney worked.
Lance-corporal James Swindle, 24 Company Machine Gun Corps (Infantry)
James Swindle, Pte./L/c. - - - - - - - St.J.N -
In 1911 James lived with his family in a 3 room house at Hill Top in Nenthead .
Joseph Swindle h m 44 Lead Miner, Haggs Mining Co. West Allendale
Annie w m 43 Weardale
James s s 17 Labr. Dressing Floor, VM Zinc Co. West Allendale
John W. s 12 School “ “
Joseph Sidney s 6 “ “
Annie Hilda d 3 “ “
James Swindle was born at Coalcleugh in the West Allen valley, where he attended Carrshield school and Shield Ridge Sunday School. The family moved to Nenthead where James became a member of the Wesleyan Methodist choir. He left school to be a labourer on the dressing floor of the zinc works. He left home to join the Border Regiment in Carlisle and from there went for training at Shrewsbury (CWH, 17/7/1915, p.5, col.8: HE 16/7/1915, p.4, col.5: PO 20/7/1915, p.7, col.3), but he was transferred to 24 Company of the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) as Private No. 43055.
In August 1917 his parents, Joseph and Annie, then living at Stone Cottage, Fairhill, Nenthead, received news that their eldest son had been killed in action. He was killed on 31st July 1917 aged 23. A letter from one of his mates at first raised hopes that this report was wrong and cast doubt on it, but sadly it turned out to be true. (CWH 18/8/1917, p.1, col.4 [states wrongly 28th July]: CWH 17/11/1917, photo, p.1, col.5: HE 23/11/1917, p.4, col.3: HC 24/11/1917, photo, p.2: HH 24/11/1917, p.8, col.6)
James’ parents received a letter from a Lieutenant Scully:
It is with great regret that I write this note sympathising with you in the loss of your son Jim. He was one of the kindest and smartest young soldiers I have ever had under my command, and was in charge of as fine a machine-gun crew as one could hope to fine anywhere is France. Early on, soon after he had joined the company, I marked him down as a man for promotion, and I think I was justified in recommending him for the Lance stripe that he gained some months ago. He was always extremely thorough in his work, his gun never failed to carry the palm as the cleanest and best kept in the section.
He was killed in action on the 31st July, a glorious action, but one which took its toll of us, though we succeeded in wresting from the enemy two very strongly defended ridges which had dominated us for two years. He was advancing under one with the rest if the battery, and carrying his gun when (at 4.15am) a shell fell at his feet and killed him instantly. It is merciful to know that he did not suffer. Only one member of his gun team escaped unhurt. His chum, Bert Webb, was wounded in the face by the same shell and, although the wound is serious, I think he will recover. Webb and your son were two of the closest friends I have known, and I am very sorry to lose either one of them.
All this information about your son I have gathered from his companions who saw his end. I myself did not see it, as I was in front of the battery trying to control the advance of the line, which was 200 yards long – both my officers had been hit at the time. As soon as I can tell you definitely I shall let you know exactly where your son is buried. I am moderately accurate in saying that this grave is just south of the main road 200 yards west of Hooge. Please accept my very deepest sympathy in your bitter loss, and rest assured I shall do all I can to perpetuate your son’s memory.
(HC 24/11/1917 p.2, col.4)
James is remembered at Tyne Cot Cemetery. A year after his death he was remembered in the Memoriam column of the Mid Cumberland and Westmorland Herald: Lance Cpl. James Swindle, son of Joseph and Annie, Stone Cottage, Nenthead, killed 31/7/1917 age 23. (CWH 3/8/1918, p.5, col.6)
2nd Lieutenant George Pears Walton, 4th Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers
George Pears Walton was the son of John Pears Walton and Frances Mary Walton of High Acomb House, Acomb, and Greenends, Nentsbury. He was the grandson of the successful lead mining adventurer Jacob Walton, who has a memorial to him beside Alston Town Hall. George was educated at Sedburgh School, where he was a head of house and a member of the school rugby team. He was a well-known Tynedale player a member of Tynedale football club that won the cup in 1911. He went to Durham College of Science where he played in the college 15. Following this he went to Canada, but returned in 1912 to assist in the management of firm of Walton and Cowper, colliery and mine owners.
George Pears enlisted as a private on 14th December 1914 and received a commission in the 4th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers on 15th April 1915. He went to front in July 1915 where, as well as fighting, he took part in several football matches behind the firing line. He was slightly wounded early in August 1916 and taken to No.24 General Hospital, Etaples, with a gunshot wound to his right arm, which was also fractured; his condition was painful but not serious. (HC 23/9/1916, photo, p.8, col.3: HE 22/9/1916, p.5, col.4).
George received a severe wound to his arm on the Somme on 15th September 1916, and when he returned to front - almost two years later - in June 1918, he was attached to Lincolns. (HC 7/9/1918, photo, p.4, col.3: HH 7/9/1918, p.6, col.3) Soon afterwards he was killed in action, on 22nd August 1918 at the age of 29.
The character of Lieutenant George Walton was described in a letter from his C.O. to George’s brother, John C.P. Walton of Greenends:
Dear Mr. Walton,
It is with deep sorrow that I write to offer my very sincere sympathy with you. Your brother was killed during the present British advance. He was hit on the 2nd August, after the battalion had been through some very hard fighting, and while his company were advancing to take a most important enemy position. Ever since joining this battalion your brother has proved himself to be a very gallant and fearless officer, and his loss is one which I keenly feel. His work, when we were holding our original line of trenches, was excellent, and during that time he carried out some very successful and daring patrol work. He had got his platoon well together, and under him they had reached a high standard of efficiency. I do trust that the knowledge that your brother died so gallantly in action may provide some small consolation to you in your sorrow. I hope you will excuse this very indifferent letter of sympathy, but we are still hard at it, and conditions are difficult for letter writing. You might like to know that your brother was buried by our chaplain and that I was able on his grave to erect a cross. (HC 14/9/1918, p.4, col.3: HH 14/9/1918, p.6, col.6)
The CO of the Northumberland Fusiliers, under whom Lt. Walton served, also wrote:
Dear Mr. Walton,
It is with sincere regret the death of your brother George is announced in the papers. Please accept the deepest sympathy of all ranks here, in your bereavement. I saw a good deal of your brother after he joined me, and although he went to another battalion for a time, he frequently wrote to me. He was, as you know, of a retiring nature and didn’t push himself in any way, but he did his work very well, and was always keen and willing, which is a very great thing nowadays. It may interest you to know that I never knew an officer who tried so persistently to make himself fit, and when he managed the doctors to do it, he kept writing me letters, and afterwards he interviewed me frequently, with a view to hurrying up his return to France. He certainly left no stone unturned, and made me say it was not I who was keeping him back. It is quite refreshing in these days to see such enthusiasm and I well remember seeing him just before he went away, when he was all smiles and thanked me for getting him off. Would you send me a copy of your brother’s photograph, and please correct the enclosed memoir. I should like to publish same in our regimental paper – St. George’s Gazette – with renewed sympathy. (HC 14/9/1918 p.4, col.3. HH 14/9/1918, p.6, col.6)
2nd Lt. George Pears Walton was buried in Queens Cemetery, Bucquoy, and commemorated in St. John’s Church, Nenthead.
Private Ernest Wymes, (11th) Lonsdale Battalion, Border Regiment
Ernest Wymes, Pte. - A St.A - - - St.J.G - -
In 1911 Ernest lived with his family in a three room house at Pasture Houses near Garrigill.
Arthur Wymes h m 42 Labourer Newcastle
Florence w m 41 “
Ernest s s 18 Farm Servant “
George s 13 “
Florence d 7 Ill Health “
Catherine d 3 School “
Before the war Ernest Wymes lived in Crown Lane, Alston, with his wife Hannah and their two children. As Private Ernest Wymes, No. 17418, of the 11th Lonsdale Battalion, Border Regiment, he was named on Garrigill’s Roll of Honour. (HE 2/4/1915, p.5, col.2) On 4th August 1917 he died of wounds, aged 24. (CWH 22/9/1917, photo, p.1, col.3. PO, 25/9/1917, p.3, col.3)
A nurse wrote from a hospital in France to Ernest’s wife that there had been a heavy bombardment of the village where he was stationed. Ernest was wounded in back of head, his comrades gave first aid then carried him to nearest dressing station. Early in morning of 4th September he was admitted to hospital, but he passed away at 6pm. He had been unconscious all the time and there was no suffering. The letter concluded:
It may comfort you somewhat to know that everything possible was done for your husband and that he had every care and attention during the few hours he was with us. He will be laid to rest in the little cemetery here, and a cross with his name will mark his resting place.
Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant J. Kennedy of Ernest’s battalion wrote that Ernest had been wounded but at the time of writing the sergeant did not know about Ernest’s death:
During a heavy bombardment of the village in which our stores are, your husband was unfortunately wounded early yesterday morning. His comrades rendered first aid and then carried him to the nearest dressing station where he was found to be suffering from a severe injury to the back of the head. After being properly dressed by a doctor, he was taken to a hospital some miles away and from which I hope to get further news this afternoon. (CWH 22/9/1917, p.1, col.5)
Ernest Wymes was buried in Adinkerke Cemetery. He left his wife Hannah and two children.