Middlesbrough’s All Saints’ Church First World War memorial, commemorating the lives of local men from Gjers Mills ironworks, was recently replaced following the award of an £8,500 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The “They answered their Country’s Call” project takes its name from text that appeared on the war memorial which commemorated those who died from the parish before it was stolen and damaged in 2007. This project will explore the impact of the First World War on Middlesbrough, its industries and churches, with the replacement of the war memorial one of the highlights of the year-long scheme. The project will also include a programme of education activities and public events, a First World War Exhibition at the grade II* listed church, digitisation of historic material and repair work to the damaged original war memorial.
Local partners Middlesbrough Council, Teesside Archives, TeessideUniversity student volunteers and William Lane Foundry, which has housed the damaged war memorial since it was recovered following an appeal, have joined forces to make the project possible.
All Saints’ Father Glyn Holland said “We are delighted that after several years since the loss of the war memorial we are now able to remember those ironworkers and managers from the area that worked at Gjers Mills, answered their country’s call and sacrificed their lives during the First World War”.
Project Manager Tosh Warwick added: “The support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and local partners will ensure “They answered their Country’s Call” will help preserve the memories and heritage of the Middlesbrough people who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War”.
Explaining the importance of the HLF support, the head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond. We are enabling even more communities like those involved in “They answered their Country’s Call” to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”
I chatted with Edward Bilcliffe and Stuart Williams from William Lane Foundry about the First World War plaque.
Q: It is very appropriate to be working on this plaque with it being from another foundry, Gjers.
EB: These are businesses that were in the old ironmasters district and we are the only business left with that tradition. We’ve had this for seven years and we were desperate for it to go back in the church in pristine centenary period. So it is nice that it has finally come to fruition particularly when we are in the centenary period of the first World War. So, yes it is nice to be associated with it.
Q: I know that you are very proud of the part William Lane Foundry has in the history of the town.
EB: Yes, without a doubt.
Q: This is putting back some of the history.
EB/S: Yes and I think at the time it was going to be a horrendous cost of £3k to get a patten done in the old fashioned way. We can now do it in the CNC basis so it is much cheaper and makes it an affordable prospect. I think at the time we offered to cast it for nothing or even use the original plaque as the metal to put back into the new one. We were going to do that for nothing at the time but even so that was too expensive. Again we were happy to contribute in a small way to try and put it back on the wall. It is commemorative of people in our industry at the time who gave their lives for king and county.
Q: A century on it is going to raise awareness again of the sort of people from Middlesbrough fighting in that conflict.
EB: Exactly, everybody.
Stuart: On there you have got the Middlesbrough Pals on the 1st and 4th Yorkshires. It would have been the 12th battalion, the Middlesbrough Pals, which my grandfather was in. I am doing a bit of research. I found out that Charles Watson, who is on the plaque was fighting alongside my grandfather in the same street battle. Charles unfortunately was shot and killed. My grandfather was shot and wounded and taken prisoner of war on the same day that Charles died.
Q: What was your grandfather called?
S: My grandfather was called Samuel Till and he actually worked at Dorman Long. But I think he lied to join up.
Q: Was he too young?
S: No because the trade he was in was steel making and they didn’t want steel makers to go into the war so what he said he was, that he was a bricklayer. If you were a bricklayer, a joiner or a blacksmith, you were allowed to go in. So I think he lied to enlist.
I know he landed in France on June 2nd 1916 and went straight into battle. They weren’t really trained, they were territorials. He has gone into the fighting to be captured. I think it was the German Spring Offensive in 1918 and that’s where he was fighting in a village. That is where the Germans came on strong. I do remember my mother saying that he was street fighting.
You don’t know whether he was lucky or unlucky to be shot and wounded where Charles was killed.
Q: The final year of the war, then?
S: Charles was killed on 12th of April and my grandfather was captured on 12th April 1918, so it was towards the end of the First World War in the German Spring Offensive. The Yorkshires ended up in a prisoner of war camp in Germany where they were subjected to working in the salt mines. Some even in the prisoner of war camp were shot and killed from the Yorkshire Regiment.
Q: Again you think of the Second World War with prisoner of war camps.
S: No you have got to think that the WW1 was the first time we were bombed. Hartlepool was bombed. On that plaque it mentions HMS Nottingham that was trying to defend Hartlepool in 1914. She went down in 1916.
There were the first zeppelin attacks, the first tanks, the first aeroplanes. So a lot happened.
Q: So there is a lot of history contained on that plaque.
S: A lot of history. Just digging into a few names it is surprising what you can conjure up.
Q: The Green Howards and the Yorkshire Regiment continue the links with Middlesbrough.
S: Yes, it is Middlesbrough’s battalion. They were known as the Teesside pioneers, Middlesbrough pals.
Q: Again you equate Pals regiments with elsewhere, Lancashire towns etc.
S: No, Middlesbrough was the pioneer. 12th battalion.
Q: With Hartlepool having been bombarded early in the war there was quite a lot of feeling in this area, at the start of the war, wasn’t there? They raised a lot of money for tanks etc. Maybe a lot enlisted straight away too.
S: I think there was a First World War tank on Redcar sea front and it was melted down for the Second World War war effort.
HMS Nottingham lies just off the north east coast. August 1916 she got torpedoed. Trying to take the U Boats out of the war and got hit. Mr Dodsworth, on that plaque was killed on it, whereas about 340 were saved.