Near the end of April 100 years ago, thousands of soldiers from the North East - newly arrived in the front line – were pitched into the horrors of a First World War battle.
Among them, as the fighting raged around the village of St Julien in the Second Battle of Ypres, were brothers George and Howard Hunter from Gosforth in Newcastle, and miner George Grieves, who lived in the Lower Ouseburn valley in the city.
George, 28, and Howard, 26, were both captains in the 6th battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.
Both were killed on the same day - April 26 - at St Julien as was Lieut. A. R. Garton, the fiancée of the brothers’ sister.
The brothers were the first Gosforth men to die in the war.
Their parents dedicated a stained glass window at St Nicholas Church in Gosforth to the brothers, and on Sunday the congregation remembered them in their prayers.
Congregation member Jonathan Kemp, a Newcastle solicitor who has researched the story behind the window, said: “I was really affected by it and one can only imagine what the parents and sister went through.”
Both brothers had been pupils at Newcastle Royal Grammar School, and both were members of the county cricket team.
George became an architect on leaving school. Later he joined his father’s firm, and in 1913 became a partner in the business of Hunter & Henderson, stockbrokers of Newcastle.
A brother officer wrote: “He led his men with great courage and a total disregard for himself, and was right in front of the enemy’s position when he was killed by a shell fired at short range.”
Howard became a medical student on leaving school, studied surgery at St Bartholomew’s, London, and in Vienna, and was working at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
The Durham College of Medicine Gazette said: “We have all heard with pride and aching heart of his entry into action. The first torrent of bullet and shell only seemed to increase his absolute indifference to danger, and his example and courage infected the whole company.
“He led his men through a crossfire of machine-guns and shrapnel, trying to reach the German trenches by a series of rushes. When close to his objective he was struck on the leg but stuck to his job, gamely cheering on his men.
“We can imagine his bitter disappointment when he had to fall out so near the end of his task. While being helped to the rear he was struck again in the chest and almost immediately dropped dead.”
Lieut Garton is mentioned in one account: “Lieut. Garton, in spite of heavy machine gun fire and shells, cut a gap in the wire and, turning around smiling, said, ‘come on boys!, We will get at them now’, but he was killed before going much further.”
The window to the brothers in the Lady Chapel at the church includes words from the Book of Samuel: “They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided.”
The church also contains a roll of honour to the 98 Gosforth men who died in the war and over the next four years, on the anniversary of their deaths, they will be remembered in the congregation’s prayers.
There will also be prayers for reconciliation and peace.
The 6th Battalion, part of the 50th Division, had embarked to the Continent on April 22 and was sent to Ypres.
According to Durham County Record Office, more than 5,000 men left the North East together and headed for the frontline in Ypres.
To mark the 100th anniversary of their journey, the Durham Office has launched a free exhibition telling the story of Durham Light Infantry soldiers who took part in the battle.
The men belonged to five territorial battalions which recruited volunteers from every corner of the old County Durham, from Gateshead to Darlington and from Sunderland to Barnard Castle. Within days of arriving in Belgium, the men were fighting for their lives in the Second Battle of Ypres.
The exhibition, in County Hall, Durham, uses the men’s own words to describe their journey and experiences and features maps, photographs, paintings and a roll of casualties.
The battle lasted until May 5 and involved the first mass use of poison gas by the Germans.
Gill Parkes, principal archivist at Durham County Record Office, said: “The 19th of April 1915 was a momentous day for thousands of Durham men as they disembarked at Boulogne en route for the Western Front, little knowing that within days they would be under enemy fire and clouds of poison gas at Ypres.
“This exhibition describes their baptism of fire through April and May 1915.” One of the items featured is a photograph of the rendezvous of the 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Brigade at Steenvoorde, Belgium, on April 23, 1915.
Taken from the album of Captain Percy Lyon, it shows officers from D Company, 6th Battalion DLI stood in front of soldiers waiting for transport to the front.
It is captioned: ‘We wait our turn, the men employed alternately in devouring their rations and making their wills’. The exhibition has been put together as part of Durham County Council’s Durham at War project, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
It is located at the entrance to the Record Office in County Hall and is open Monday to Friday from 8.45am to 4.15pm.
Newcastle miner who died in battle is in family exhibition remembered
Also killed at St Julien was miner George Grieves, and an exhibition on his life has opened at his home area of the Ouseburn in Newcastle, based on an archive created by his family.
George, pictured, died on April 26 – the same date as the day he was married a few years earlier. It was also the same day as that on which George and Howard Hunter were killed.0
The exhibition is in the foyer of the Ouseburn Trust’s offices at Arch 6, Stepney Bank until May 31.
George lived at Millers Hill, Ouseburn.
When he met Jane Eleanor he was already a widower at 25-years-old.
They had three children, Charles. Mary and Annie. When George went to war Jane was expecting their fourth.George was 32 years old and had been working for 20 years.
After six weeks training with the Northumberland Fusiliers he set off to Belgium with the 50th Division.
At 8. 30 am on April 20, they left their base at Seaton Sluice and, by train and ferry, landed at Boulogne 16 hours later. The journey to Ypres included 30 miles of marching.
Jayne had their fourth child on July 6, 1915. She named him George. He died after an attack of measles in 1916.
Mary had two sons. Annie had a son and three daughters. Charlie, the first born left school aged 12 and worked on the bus system for 40 years.