Tyneside soldiers march to Alnwick in World War One Centenary

The parade marks the centenary of the Tyneside Scottish's arrival at Alnwick training camp

For around 1,000 Tynesiders, it was the moment when the patriotic rush to join the army turned into the harsh reality of preparing for the front line.

On January 29-30 a century ago, the 20th (Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish), marched from Newcastle to their training camp in Alnwick in Northumberland.

On Sunday, their arrival in the town was commemorated by a parade led by the Northumberland ACF Pipe Band which included civic dignitaries, veterans, serving military personnel, historical associations, and members of the Royal British Legion and Western Front Association.

The parade through the town was witnessed by relatives of those who served in the Tyneside battalions.

It was one of several weekend events organised by Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group to mark the march.

“The march was a tangible, symbolic moment,” said the group’s 2015 events project manager Dave Barras.

Immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, there had been a surge in recruitment for the Tyneside Commercials, the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish battalions.

The Duke of Northumberland gave over land at the Pastures near Alnwick Castle for the building of a training camp.

For the first few months the Tyneside Scottish had been billeted in Newcastle.

“The march was the time the army scooped them up and said you are going to be soldiers,” said Mr Barras.

“It was the passing moment when they left their homes, their families and their working lives in the mines, shipyards and factories.”

The motto of the Tyneside Scottish was “Hard As Hammers.”

Mr Barras said: “I think they would have decided to march from Newcastle through Northumberland to Alnwick partly out of machismo and to put on a show.

“However part of their training was also route marching.

“But it would have hit home that they were now leaving and going off to war for real.”

The memories of one of the marchers, Tom Easton, are preserved in Northumberland Archives.

He recalled communities along the route, such as Seaton Burn, turning out to offer the soldiers refreshments.

Tom Easton was put out to find that his overnight accommodation was a stable in Morpeth.

But he remembered that Felton was decked in bunting to welcome the marchers and barrels of beer were opened in the local fields.

“For a long time there were folk memories in Felton of the time the soldiers marched through,” said Ian Hall, author of the book Alnwick in the Great War.

“The march marked the first time these soldiers had left their home area. It was the beginning of going to war.”

When the marchers reached Alnwick, they were welcomed by the band of the 16th battalion and the townspeople.

Of the enthusiasm which greeted the troops - and was probably shared by them - along the march, Mr Barras said: “At that time they didn’t know any different, as all the horrors were yet to come.”

Eventually, the four Tyneside Scottish battalions were together at the camp, making up the 102nd Brigade.

Training was interspersed with inter-battalion football and boxing matches, and the local newspaper published a weekly Hut Camp News section.

In August, the Tyneside Scottish began to leave Alnwick Camp for Salisbury Plain, where they joined the 34th Division.

They were to suffer terrible losses on the first day of the Battle of the Some on July 1, 1916, at La Boiselle.

The march was also marked on Saturday by an event of commemoration St Thomas’ Church at Barras Bridge in Newcastle and an evening of talks by experts at Felton Village Hall.

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