Two Alston men, Gunner/Private Thomas William Elliott and Private John Reginald Shield, are commemorated with over 24,000 others on the Singapore Memorial in the Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore.
Thomas William Elliott was born on 20th December 1910, the son of Thomas and Isabella Elliot of Bankfoot in Nenthead. In 1939 Thomas junior was a general labourer, but then he joined the No. 48 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery as Private No.1821316.
It’s not certain, but given his role as an anti-aircraft gunner, Thomas was probably taken prisoner by the Japanese in Singapore when it fell on 15th February 1942. Thomas died in a P.O.W. camp on 20th June 1944, aged 33, and he is remembered on the Roll of Honour in St. John’s Church, Nenthead.
John Reginald Shield was born in Alston on 11th August 1914, the son of John Joseph and Clara Shield of The Hundy in Alston, and while still in his teens he joined the 2nd Battalion of The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) as Private No.3855063.
John was also captured by the Japanese at the surrender of Singapore, and he died two and a half years later in a prisoner of war camp, on 21st September 1944, aged 30. John is remembered on the Roll of Honour in the Samuel King’s School and on Alston War Memorial.
Maurice Herdman was born in Alston on 24th June 1921 to Thomas and Elizabeth Herdman. The family moved to Low Town, near Walltown, Haltwhistle, where Thomas, who had been born at High Windyhall above Garrigill, became a farmer and gamekeeper. Before the war Maurice was a clerk, he then joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as Private No.10545251.
After the fall of Singapore Maurice was listed as missing; that was until early in 1944 when his parents received news that he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Tragically, towards the end of 1945 news came through that Maurice had died on 28th May 1943 in a P.O.W. Camp in Thailand. He was 21. Maurice is remembered at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand and on the Roll of Honour in St. John’s Church, Garrigill.
Little is known about Arthur Eric Laidlow, he was born in 1924 the son of Richard Arthur and Sarah Ellen Laidlow of Haltwhistle and he was a pupil at the Samuel King’s School, probably travelling to Alston and back each day by train.
He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) as Private No.14827968 and was promoted to Lance-corporal. Arthur died on 1st June 1945, aged just 20, while the war was still being fought against the Japanese. He is one of 357 British soldiers buried in Maynamati War Cemetery, Bangladesh, and he is remembered on the Roll of Honour in the Samuel King’s School.
One soldier with an Alston connection who survived the war in the Far East was Captain, later Major, C.D. Bates. His connection with Alston is that he was a former pupil of the Samuel King’s School, beyond that nothing is known about him except that he emigrated to Australia.
In January 1942, only a few weeks after their attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese invaded the island of New Britain, part of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, and used the town of Rabaul at the east end of the island as their main base for the whole of their operations in the South Pacific. Captain Bates was posted to the island in September 1943, where he organised the islanders’ resistance and set up a spy and observation network. After several extremely dangerous months, on 24th June 1944 Captain Bates and two other officers, who were also due to be relieved, were taken off the island with some of their native allies by the destroyer Vendetta. The letter that was sent to the SKS briefly tells his story.
(Key to the abbreviations in the letter: A.I.F. = Australian Imperial Force; ANGAU = Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit; P = Papua New Guinea; X = The serviceman’s serial number in chronological order, a low number meant an early enlistment.)
A commemorative scroll for Thomas William Elliott, together with a photo of him, is in the care of Alston Moor Historical Society’s Archive at the Town Hall, as is the letter about Captain Bates.